by Guest Contributor Steven McConnell
1. Why Are You Here?
It’s tempting to begin this article with some sound business advice, like social marketing tips and SEO revelations. Those are important, but there’s no shortage of that kind of advice on the Internet.
What I find not many people in photography community talk about is the need for the right headspace from which to build your business.
I need to make a quick side note – when I mention “building your photography business”, I include every photographer who works as a freelancer, who is represented by an agency or who actually has a physical business/studio. The methods through which we get clients may differ, but at the core we are all business owners first and photographers second.
Back to my original point – business skills are completely useless to you if you don’t ensure that your head is in the right place to start your photography business.
To see what I mean, watch this short TED video, where Simon Sinek shares gives an insight into the minds of powerful business leaders:
The point he is making is that until you know for sure Why you’re in business of photography, you don’t stand much chance of making it against your competition.
2. What’s Your Dirty Secret?
And I think Simon is on the right track, but he stops a little short.
It seems he is hinting at the need to artificially create an answer to “Why am I starting a photography business?”, and then to communicate it through your marketing in order to have a positive impact on your customers.
I’ll assert that it’s not enough.
Most people struggle with, or completely avoid, answering “Why?” because of a dirty little secret: they actually know the real reason very well, but it’s not something they want to share with their potential customers (or agents they’re showing their portfolio to).
And the real reason is something like this: they’re starting a business because they hope to get rich (and they think then they’ll be happy). Or, they finally won’t have a boss telling them what to do. Or, something else along those lines.
I invite you to consider this: in order to succeed as a photographer, you need to find a deeper, greater, more inspiring reason for you to take this plunge.
3. What Do You Care About Most?
Here’s the best way I know to find this reason. Ask yourself this question:
“If I won $100,000,000 (yes, a hundred million dollars), what would I spend the rest of my life doing?
Sure, you’d spend some time having a good time and spending your fortune, but after a while you’d have to stop and think – what are you going to do with the rest of your life? What’s your life going to be about?
Your basic needs are very much taken care of. You can live like a king just off the interest your money makes. And you can buy – and have probably already bought – just about everything you’ve ever wanted.
I challenge you to deeply examine that question. Do not continue reading this article until you at least take a decent shot at answering it. Go sit in an empty room and meditate on it if you have to. Look within you for an answer, because that answer is the most important thing you’ll discover in your entire life.
Do not continue reading until you do it.
4. What Did You Discover?
So, who are you at heart? Deep down, what do you dream about? What was your answer? Would you:
– Travel? If so, where would you go? And why?
– Paint? If so, what would you paint? And why?
– Take photos? That’s a likely one since you’re here, right? If so, what would you photograph the most? Why?
– Build something? What would you build? Where would you build it? And why?
– Start a website? What would it be called? For whom? Why would people go there?
– Invest into something? What kind of company or organization? How much? Why?
– Donate to a cause? Same as above!
– Learn about something? What would you love to study? Why that?
– Start a family? What would it look like? Why now?
– Go meditate and eat grasshoppers somewhere on a mountain in Tibet? What are you hoping to discover? Why?
Now, take away the hundred million bucks and start looking for ways to include that, which matters most to you, in your photography business. Keep reading to find out how.
5. The Secret Sauce.
Ask yourself this: how would you connect your answer to the above question to the day-to-day operations of your photography business? To put another way, what will you do as a photographer which will, to some degree, reflect what you care about most?
If travel is important to you, how can you combine that with photography? And if you’re a techno-geek, how can you use photography to make a difference in that field?
Your photography business has to, at the very least, be somehow related to the answer you gave. But ideally (for full points!) you must create the kind of photography business which will make a real, meaningful difference in the field that you care about the most.
Don’t choose to become a fashion photographer just because it’s “cool”. It’s not. And don’t become an advertising photographer because you think you’ll get stinking rich shooting photos for Telstra billboards. Those are surface-level motivations which will not help you on your journey.
Do this exercise to find an authentic, powerful answer to “Why?” that Sinek is talking about.
It will give you an edge in positioning yourself in the sea of other photographers and help you communicate about your business in a way which makes people sit up and listen.