Top 12 Lessons Learned from 1 Year in Business as a Full-Time Photographer
The start of the year has brought a lot of changes, goal setting, and travel planning for the year, and it also marked my first year that I have been a full time photographer. Being a full time creative has been the most challenging yet rewarding career path I have ever embarked upon, and there were definitely a lot of hard lessons to learn. Here I share some of the things I learned and hopefully they will help you whether you are an aspiring photographer, small business owner, or just curious!
1. Make a 12-month business plan
Even if you’re not entirely sure where the year is going to take you, setting up at least an outline of a 12-month plan can be very beneficial. You can keep track of where you are progress-wise, what goals you did or did not accomplish, and adjust those goals as needed to be more realistic. Beginning this second year of business, I went over my previous 12-month plan, and it felt so amazing to look back and see that I had accomplished a lot of the goals I had set. A few were also quite unrealistic, but that is okay because year 1 is pretty much a lot of figuring things out. My 12-month business plan for this second year is a lot more detailed and nuanced, as I have a more clear goal for where I want to be and I know better what I can accomplish in a year.
2. Have diverse income streams – and put money aside for taxes!
Landscape photography in particular is sadly no longer a one-stop shop for making a living. Stock photography and print sales have plummeted, and while I label myself as a travel and outdoors photographer, I share a lot of similar challenges as more “traditional” landscape photographers. To make ends meet, you need to diversify your income streams to as many sources as you can – be it commercial photography, weddings, social media related, or maybe even a part-time job that’s unrelated to photography. Other ways you can diversify your income can include: content creation for brands, affiliate sales (on a blog, your social media accounts, etc), selling products (ebooks, presets, photography courses etc), or selling a service such as teaching/coaching, or leading workshops or tours.
KEY: make yourself a separate business bank account and make sure you put money aside for taxes, because you definitely don’t want to end the quarter suddenly needing to pay a huge chunk of change and have no means to do so.
3. Surround yourself with a supportive community
One of the best things you can do as a photographer is surround yourself by people that inspire you, people who push you to work hard, people who can teach you, and people who support your work. I have learned so much from other photographers over the past few years, and it is so helpful to have people around to commiserate with who understand what I am going through as a photographer and as a small business owner. Photography can be a lonely job, with no coworkers and fewer social interactions, and your family and friends may not understand your career choice or what you do, which all can all feel quite isolating. Year 1 in business is a tough slog, and you’re going to need people that lift you up if you are going to make it through.
4. Play the long game
Unless you have a photograph go viral, you are NOT going to be an overnight success. It’s really easy to see other photographers on social media and think they just arrived on the scene, but every single one of them has spent YEARS building up their business and pushing themselves to be a better photographer. If you want to be a full-time photographer, you need to be okay with putting in years of work before you see a true payout.
5. Get outside your comfort zone
As a photographer, most of your best shots are probably not going to be somewhere you just walk up to a location, in perfect weather, snap a shot and leave. Most times you are battling crazy weather, you probably haven’t slept much, and you’ve visited this location for three years straight before all the conditions lined up perfectly. As smartphones and cameras improve, it becomes harder and harder to stand out from the pack, which means pushing yourself to your creative limits. On the business front, you need to constantly be putting yourself out there. I get asked all the time how I get jobs with certain brands, and I would not have worked with any of them if I sat around and waited for them to come to me. I reach out every single week, facing rejection after rejection, all chasing the one single yes that leads to a job.
6. Educate yourself
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7. Learn how to dedicate your time effectively
8. Be willing to sacrifice
9. Social media isn’t everything
10. Ignore everyone else’s path
11. Take care of yourself
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Hey I’m Rebecca!
I’m a freelance travel & outdoors photographer and blogger living in the US but you can find me adventuring around the globe! On this blog I share tips to help you improve your photography, inspiration to explore the outdoors, destination guides, and travel tips, and more to plan your own adventures!
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