We’re in the middle of a series for photographers and aspiring entrepreneurs called “Making the Leap” where we’re sharing our ten practical steps for going from part-time photographers to full-time. Or, as author Jon Acuff puts it, going from your day job to your dream job without it becoming a nightmare. If you’re just joining us, you can catch up here:
Making the Leap
Step 1: Get Debt Free
Step 2: Get a Mentor
Step 3: Get Educated
Step 4: Get the Necessities
Step 5: Get a Team
Step 6: Get Branded (Part 1)
Step 6: Get Branded (Part 2)
Step 7: Get Busy Loving Clients
Step 8: Get in Community
Step 9: Get a Fresh Perspective
Step 10: Get to Praying
According to world-renowned author and business thinker, Malcolm Gladwell, to be an expert at anything, to be excellent at anything, you have to commit to the right kind of guided practice… for 10,000 hours. It’s called the “10,000 Hour Rule.” Before the Internet, for someone to become an expert photographer, they needed to go to photography school and/or apprentice under an expert photographer for years and years. But real people only have so many hours they can teach every day, so to get 10,000 hours with an expert, it would take a whole lot of time. Now, because of the wide availability of information and educational instruction online, photographers can pack in as many hours of expert advice as fast as they can handle it, from as many different teachers as they want, at any time of day. So, even though it still takes 10,000 hours to become an expert, you can get there faster than ever before.
For us, that meant going into overdrive, and we saturated ourselves with as much knowledge as possible from as many people and sources as we could, but that didn’t include just photography education. We realized early on that most small businesses fail within the first five years, and we’d read that most professional photographers spend at least 80% of their time on business, not photographing, so we focused our time, energy, and money into two areas: photography education and business education, which we will break apart below.
1. Read Photo Blogs
Someone told us recently that we’re the average of the five people we spend the most time with. That totally applies to photography, too. Early on, we identified who we thought were the best wedding photographers in America (for different reasons) and we started blog-stalking them religiously. We read their blogs every. single. day. Sometimes more than once. We wanted to take the things we loved about each of them and apply it to our own business. If we were going to be the average of five people, they might as well be the best five, right? A lot of new photographers do the opposite. They read local photographers’ blogs and keep up with people at their level and in their price point. The problem, though, is that when you do that, you don’t learn as much or grow as much. We chose to follow some of the most famous wedding photographers in America. You can start with these five (and little old us!) if you want. Read them every day and really study them. What sets their shooting apart from the rest? What makes you keep coming back for more? What are they doing business-wise that you’re not?
Here are the five primary wedding photographers that we loved early on (and still do!) and the reasons why we still follow them today:
Jasmine Star, Orange County, California
She’s the most well-known wedding photographer in America, and that is something worth paying attention to! We love her writing style and social media presence.
Zach and Jody Gray, Nashville, Tennessee
They’re our favorite husband and wife team, and they’re rock stars when it comes to teaching technical photography and all things business.
Katelyn James, Richmond, Virginia
Hands down, she’s the biggest industry up-and-comer. She’s a master at shooting details and posing couples — and we love her color, too!
Melissa Jill, Phoenix, Arizona
She’s the expert on growing a profitable photography business, and she changed the way we shoot receptions. She’s a jack of all trades and a master of all, too, and that’s rare.
Justin and Mary Marantz, New Haven, Connecticut
This one is eye candy for us. We just love their classic photography and romantic personalities. Their blog is full of amazing inspiration and education.
If you don’t have a Feedly account yet, you need to get one! This is how we keep up with our favorite photographers all in one place. Their blogs are delivered right to our phones and computers the minute they’re published. We’re all about saving time and steps, and this is one of them!
2. Read Inspiration Blogs
There are literally hundreds and hundreds of wedding inspiration blogs in America. You could get lost in the morning reading all of them and not realize it until late at night — and that’s not good for business. We focus most of our attention of the number one wedding blog in America: Style Me Pretty. They’ve got the best combination of style and photography that we want. Also, since they post multiple times per day, this one’s a no-brainer for us if we only get to choose one wedding inspiration blog. Plus, we got featured there for the first time this summer, and we’re still pretty exited about that!
3. Watch Creative Live
CreativeLive is a FREE online classroom for creatives that caters to photographers. You can watch free classes almost every day from world-renowned photographers. You only have to pay if you want to download the course after it’s over, but we just watch live! Be careful, though, because just like reading too many blogs, you can watch too much Creative Live. Look at their calendar at the beginning of the month, and budget time for one class or part of one class. We always look for our favorite photographers and/or content that’ll help us in an area we want to improve. Every once-in-a-while, if there’s content that we just know we’ll reference for years into the future, we’ll purchase a course at the early-bird rate to save some money. We’ve always gotten great value when we’ve done this, because we’ve watched most of the courses a few times.
4. Attend Workshops
We attended a few strategic in-person workshops over the past few years that skyrocketed our business. You can learn a lot online, but there’s just something about being there in person that takes you to the next level. If you’re keeping up with your favorite photographers on their blogs and through social media, you’ll know as soon as they announce when and where they’ll be teaching. If they’re coming to your hometown or somewhere close, definitely go! If not, it just might be worth it to fly across the country for one targeted workshop experience. If you’re looking for more information about The AJ Workshop, you can find it here!
5. Coaching Sessions
If large group instruction isn’t your thing, or you need help in one very specific area, coaching sessions are a good investment, because you’ll get answers to the exact material you want. It’s specific, specialized instruction at its best. We offer coaching sessions near our home in Scottsdale, Arizona and we spend the time teaching about anything you want to learn about: how to shoot manually, how to use an ExpoDisc, Lightroom training, website and brand critiques, overall business consulting, marketing the sky’s the limit! We’ve seen some pretty incredible transformations in a very short amount of time!
Charlie “Tremendous” Jones said, “You’ll be the same today as you are in five years, except for the people you meet and the books you read.” This is the truest statement in the world and we always try to remember it.
1. The People You Meet
The first time someone paid us for photographing them, we had a business — but knew nothing about it. We’re firm believers that you don’t have to be the smartest people in the room to be the most successful. We just have to be the wisest, and wisdom comes from learning from the mistakes and successes of people with more life and business experience than us. So, when we first got going, we made a list of everyone in our life and our parents’ lives who owned a successful small business. We called them all and asked them to meet us for coffee — our treat! We learned so much from those meetings and we’re so grateful that those small business owners took time out of their schedules for us. For the price of a cup of coffee or lunch, you’d be surprised at how much you can learn and how much people are willing to share. It’ll be overwhelming at first. They’ll throw a lot at you. But just try to walk away having learning one new thing, and it’ll have been worth your time.
2. The Books You Read
Most creatives aren’t big non-fiction readers, but to run a successful, profitable business that lets you do what you love to do, you have to be good at business, too. Aside from meeting with small business owners, reading the best business books in America impacted us a ton. If you can carve out just 15-30 minutes per day to read business books, you’ll be surprised at how much you grow in a short amount of time. We’ve made a list of our ten favorites with some explanations of why we love them so much. Read these over the next year, and watch your business boom.
This is the ultimate book for anyone on the fence between their day job and their dream job. It’ll change your outlook and help you make a smart transition from one to the other. Plus, the author’s really funny, so turning the pages is actually pretty fun.
If you wanna get fired up about business and life, this is the book for you. You’ll wanna attack every day and chase your dream. Did we mention we love Jon Acuff?
If you need a clear, straightforward business book to get you started, this one’s for you. Dave breaks down the playbook of how his business went from a card table in his living room to a multi-milion dollar company and one of Nashville’s best places to work.
You’ll think differently after reading this book. You’ll always be thinking of ways to stand out from the crowd and cut through the marketing noise to reach your audience.
Seeing example after example of companies who were almost identical until one surged ahead is an incredible lesson in being better than average. If you only read this book for the boulder analogy (you’ll know it when you see it), it’ll be worth your time.
Don’t cry when you read this. We almost did. Okay, let’s be real, Amy totally cried. And that’s exactly what we needed, a reality check, a kick in the pants, and a challenge. Every good business needs systems in place so that things don’t fall through the cracks. Approach it from this angle: How does this apply to photography? You’ll be just fine and come out with such valuable wisdom that it’ll make the tears worth it.
If you want to get excited about loving and serving other people, this is the one to read. Powerful stuff.
Time management! We cut our cable and stopped reading the news for more than a few minutes per day after reading this book. The principles here will save you time at work and get you more time doing the things you love.
The oldest book on our list, and perhaps one of the most important! You’ll learn how to uplift people in this book by taking the focus off yourself and putting it on other people.
If you’ve ever had a “case of the Mondays,” then pick this book up. It’ll help you see the light at the end of the tunnel and find vocational freedom.
If you have any questions about this third step, please leave your comments down below or shoot us an email and we’ll do our best to answer them!
Here’s What’s Next…
Next, we’ll dive in to Step 4: Get the Necessities. We’ll talk about all the gear we purchased and the order we purchased it to shoot portraits and weddings successfully. Thanks for checking in, friends! Let’s make each other better and serve on.
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