I first started my photography business almost 8 years ago to this date. When I first began, I had no idea what the hell I was doing. Three years later, and I still had no idea what I was doing.
When you go to school for five years to study a non-business related subject like engineering, you don't quite learn a lot about business. All I knew about business from college were the basics like supply and demand that I had learned in my micro-economics class. But to understand the broader scope of what it took to start and run a successful were lost to me.
In college, I never had the intention of starting a business. I thought I'd graduate with an engineering degree, and live my life as an engineer working in a field like aeronautics since I had always been passionate about aircraft. But just like most college students who are struggling to find money, I began to get back to the entrepreneurial instincts that I had when I was younger, and find more creative ways to developing more income.
Photography was a no-brainer. I realized that it had always been a passion of mine, but I never took it seriously. In 2010, I bought my first camera that was capable of shooting manually. In early 2011, I created my first website off of a Wix template. I started out photographing cityscapes, nature, and architecture. I watched hours of YouTube videos and read countless blogs to soak up any information I could about becoming a better photographer.
In August 2010, I photographed my first wedding, and thus began the start of Andrew Smith Photography. Facebook was critical in growing from there on out (back when it was cool). I'd post photos from weddings I had just photographed, and soon after I was receiving inquiries left and right. I had such a blast working with couples, and creating memories from their special day. However, it was nowhere near becoming a viable business. My first full year of shooting weddings I had booked 25 weddings. That was pretty incredible to go from 1 in 2010, to 25 in 2011! However, when you're charging $350-$850 for packages, it doesn't quite make a sustainable business model.
You see, at that time I had been so focused on becoming a better photographer, that I had completely neglected the business aspect of what I was trying to do...starting a business! In addition, it didn't help that I had also started a full-time engineering career making an income that provided just enough to live off. So from there on out, things got comfortable, and I did the bare minimum to make some extra money doing weddings. I was also pretty clueless about running a successful business up to this point.
At this time, I was pretty introverted when it came to business. I certainly suffered from imposter syndrome, and I made no effort to meet other photographers. I viewed everyone as a competitor and was terrified of what others thought of me. Because of this, I was trying to do everything on my own.
It wasn't until I started following certain photographers that shared about their experiences with photography communities when things changed. I started getting into different photography groups on Facebook, that helped serve as support groups. I saw so many people sharing information on how they did certain things, and encouraging people along the way. It completely broke my perception that the industry was some sort of every man for themselves mentality.
For three years I thought I could do everything myself, and because of that thinking, my business (or lack thereof) suffered. I had developed such a narrow perception of what was possible, and what was needed to grow. By joining these Facebook groups, and becoming part of a community with individuals that had shared interests, my world opened up.
The first community I joined is a group called Shoot and Share Photographers. The entire premise behind "shoot and share", was that as a photographer you would shoot a session, then share the photos in a way that makes it easy for them and others to share as well. I soon learned that Shoot and Share was affiliated with a company called PASS, who developed software that made it easy for photographers to share their images from sessions. Up till this point, I was delivering all my images via a USB thumb drive, so to me, this new concept seemed perfect.
Shoot and Share soon led me to discover new ways of doing things, and new communities as well. Through the Shoot and Share community, I stumbled upon a company called Showit that provided an easy to use website builder. Showit created their own community for individuals that used their platform and appropriately labeled them, "Showiteers".
Around this time, I started to understand the importance of surrounding yourself with amazing people and building community. I thirsted for more connections and soon found myself attending conferences like the Wedding + Portrait Photographers International (WPPI) in Las Vegas and Showit's United Conference.
I soon found my business begin to flourish. I had a community of peers that wanted to see my business succeed. I then carried this love for making connections and being involved in communities over into my other ventures. I realized that I couldn't do it alone. I needed a support system to help push me forward. It made me understand that I wasn't alone and that great things can happen when people come together to help one another.
Two years ago, I began leading a group in Cleveland called Tuesdays Together. Tuesdays Together is an event supported by The Rising Tide Society, where entrepreneurs, creatives, and small business owners come together on the second Tuesday of each month to discuss a business topic, and connect with others. The motto for the group is "Community over Competition", and the outcome is just that. Everyone understands that by working together to help one another, that we can all lift each other and our businesses higher.
So, my advice to you is this...if you feel a bit lost in life or business, go out and find a community that shares in your passions. You'll find an incredible group of people that are rooting for you.