It’s May 2020 and I’m 3 months away from my 6th year anniversary being in the photography business. There’s been many months without income, a constant journey of self-improvement, and a never ending battle to find new ways to satisfy my customers’ never ending needs.
Like many of my creative counterparts, I started my business journey because photography was and still is a very satisfying activity. I got my first taste of the addictive feeling of appreciation by doing free events for people in 2014. Fast-forward a year when I started attending NYU, I quickly fell in love with portrait photography and took advantage of every opportunity to shadow someone, consult a Youtube tutorial, and take photos of people in the street.
The very first time I got commissioned to take some actor’s headshots, I was equipped with a $50 flash, a 14 inch umbrella, and a $10 light stand. To be frank, I don’t even remember how I got commissioned, but the feeling of having someone pay me for something I truly enjoyed was intoxicating enough.
I’d argue that many creatives like myself had their humble beginnings this way. Like myself, they were fueled with the vision of earning a living from their passion. Perhaps they were thrilled to be their own boss, to make their own schedule, and desired to sustain that feeling because the job they had just wasn’t doing it for them. Then one month goes by, perhaps two, and they didn’t get another client but the passion they had withered the financial drought. And I’m sure many have made and will continue to make the mistake of neglecting the business side of running a creative enterprise because unfortunately, creativity is divorced from business education in many colleges and a freelancer is just too caught up in his or her recent intoxication of getting paid for doing something they love.
After having 6 years to reflect on this issue, I think that there is one key factor that distinguishes people who build successful creative businesses from the creative who decide to start a creative business. And that is that the latter enjoys doing the creative work i.e, the editing, styling the hair, or baking the cakes, while they fail to understand that unless they switch gears to implement a Marketing Strategy they’ll never get the desired amount of clients to reestablish that creative adrenaline rush we all desire.
After spending a lot of time speaking with creatives about their business challenges, I’ve condensed those challenges to the following areas:
Setting a price for the business
Understanding how to brand themselves
Using Marketing to attract customers
Understanding the importance of tracking revenue, sales, & expenses
And why it’s important to distribute content on multiple platforms
Now, while there is no standard way to tackle these problems, I strongly believe that a large part of being able to solve them comes down to looking at yourself in the mirror and asking yourself, “do I enjoy creating the thing more than I love creating the business around it?” And “if I enjoy one more than the other, how do I begin the process of learning some of those skills or getting a partner to help supplement my lack of skills?”
I urge you to do this process today, even if it’s only asking yourself which do you love more.. Doing this will challenge you to understand who you are, what you love to do, and is by no means easy. But while it’s not easy, it's important for all of us at some point in our creative ventures.
I believe in deploying self-awareness around who you really are versus what you’re trying to be, but no one ever told us that.