Realities of running your own photography business
Talking all things money, work/life balance, mindset and the day to day realities of running a photography business
I’m very aware that I don’t share a huge amount of behind the scenes stuff when it comes to the business. I find it SO much easier to share the beautiful images of my gorgeous clients than I do to talk about myself. But what I’ve noticed recently is that many people (including my friends/family) seem to think I’m living a different, perhaps more exciting and successful small business life than I really am.
Now, full disclosure – I LOVE my business and I am really *really* proud of what I have achieved – but with the highs, there are also plenty of lows! And so I guess I just wanted to give you a bit more of an honest insight into what small biz life has looked like for me these past couple of years and some of the things I have done to actually make it work.
What is REALLY involved in the day to day of running a photography business
Running a photography business involves about 15% actual photography. The majority of my work is editing, marketing, copywriting, accounting, education, administration, planning and customer service.
I think one of the BEST things I have done (and am continuing to do) for my business is investing in non-photography related education. I’m a podcast addict but I very rarely listen to photography podcasts – I listen to business/marketing podcasts. I have invested in copywriting courses, social media and SEO workshops and business mentoring (I’m going to write another blog post to talk a bit more about the best things I’ve invested in for my business soon!).
I also have a background in social work and administration so I started small biz life with a fairly solid grounding in working with and connecting to people, as well as having a fairly detailed and organised admin brain - both of which have been an enormous benefit. When it comes down to it, I think it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that in order to be more successful, we need to be better photographers - but you need to be able to do a hell of a lot more than take decent photos if you’re going to have any chance of running a successful photography business.
The work / life juggle - what that looks like for me
Our kids go to childcare 3 days per week - I work from 7am-4:30pm on those days. I do newborn shoots midweek and then try to schedule sunset/sunrise family sessions for the weekends. More recently I’ve started trying to keep one weekend free per month and book extra sessions in on the other weekends so that we can have one full weekend together as a family each month (I find it hard to switch off and be fully present at home if I know I have a shoot later that day).
I also try not to work nights..buuuuuuut, I’m failing (miserably) at that lately!
Having the kids in childcare those 3 days really is a godsend. As a mum, I think maybe it’s just hardwired into my brain to feel some level of guilt about it but I’ve come to realise that I am a MUCH more present and happier as a mum when I have set days for work and set days with my kids. I do try really hard not to work on the days I am home with the kids and I feel good about doing that when I know that I have my child-free days around the corner.
Also – having the kids in childcare gives me more time to focus ON my business rather than just working IN the business and without doing this I don’t think I would have been able to grow the business in any real meaningful way.
Money, money, money, monnney (monnnnney)
I contemplated not including this next bit, but hey, I feel like I’m on a roll and that it’s important to share…On average, I usually work around 50 hours per week in and on my business (when I actually sat down and calculated that, it was a bit of a shock!!)
After expenses, tax and super, the salary that I actually take home from the business is only JUST starting to break even with what I would earn working PART TIME in a social work role (which is what I was doing before I launched the business).
I’m sure there are plenty of people that could successfully work less and earn more that would be reading this and questioning what the hell I’m doing!! And sure, maybe I have some improvements to make, but this is just where I’m at right now.
But seriously, I really do believe that if you’re thinking of starting your own photography business (or any small business really) you NEED to do it because your passionate about it, not because you think you’re going to get rich from it!! Because the thing about working those 50 hours a week ? I freakin love it. Sure sure, some nights I would much prefer to be sleeping rather than editing, and sometimes I’m a living nightmare to be around because I’m feeling like I’m dropping the ball in all aspects of my life..but ultimately, I’m passionate about the work I’m doing and so it makes the long hours worthwhile. If I was in this to make a quick buck I’m fairly certain I would have thrown in the towel a few months in!
Getting my head around my business finances
On the topic of money, financially one of the best things I did was read the book profit first (thanks to the hot tip from my photographer pal, Lecinda!) – it gives you a really clear and simple way to manage your business finances. I’m embarrassed to say that for the first 18 months of business, I had all of my business income going directly into our shared personal accounts and I treated it *all* like my salary… I was, of course, aware that I would need to pay tax and I was conscious of making sure we weren’t spending everything and that there was enough in our savings to cover what I thought my tax bill would be – but it was all just guesswork and I never really had a clear picture of the businesses financial position. I also felt like I had to use OUR money to buy anything I needed/wanted for the business, so felt the need to run every purchasing decision past my husband first.
Now I have 4 different business accounts and each week I transfer a percentage of my income to our personal account (my salary) and then the rest gets divided into tax, super and business expenses.
Six months into this process and honestly, I can’t tell you how good it feels to have such clarity on the business financials! So mentally freeing!!
Around the same time we started following the Barefoot Investor for our personal budgeting and the powers combined of those two systems have been life changing! No exaggeration!
Living month to month
One of the really challenging aspects of running my own business, for me personally, is never knowing what the next month is going to bring – the business is still only 2 years old and when I look at my busy/quiet periods in that time, I’m yet to work out a really clear and predictable pattern.
Sometimes, I will book out a month and a half in advance and I always feel a huge sense of relief when this happens, because then I know next month is going to be OK. But more often I get to the start of a new month and I still have a few sessions to fill and I’m not going to lie, it makes me anxious because then I know I need to hustle to hit my targets for the month.
On that note – my salary is different every.single.week. Some weeks I have a bunch of invoices due at the same time and it’s happy days and other weeks …..nada. Getting used to that and adapting to no longer having a reliable/consistent income is hard and takes some time to get used to!
The last thing, and for me, this is probably the thing I struggle most with…imposter syndrome. I tell people ALL.THE.TIME, not to compare yourself to other people, everyone is at a different stage of their creative / business journey…you should only compare yourself to where you were 12 months ago (that really is awesome advice) but maaaaaan, it can be HARD to practice what you preach!
It’s something that bothers me less now than it did 6-12 months ago and I do think I have gained a little more perspective and I have a bit more insight into when my self-talk is particularly negative and unhelpful (and irrational) …but honestly, there have been times where I look at my work and feel like I’m a complete fraud.. like, I’ll look at a photo I’ve taken and my self-talk is all -
“this is the worst photograph anyone has ever taken in the history of the world… who are you to ask people to pay you money to do this!??! Boo Jess, BOOOOOO!”
Friends or clients will compliment my work and I try and explain their compliments away -
“oh you HAVE to say that because you’re my friend”
“yeah, you think I’m talented but you haven’t seen *insert 10000 other amazing photographers* work… if you saw what THEY created, you would throw garbage at me!”
I have completely self-sabotaged myself and talked clients out of booking me for jobs that I haven’t felt good enough to do (I did this really recently, I’m embarrassed to admit). I STILL get nervous before sessions and sometimes lose sleep over feeling like I haven’t done a good enough job.
In saying all of that, there have been some pretty gigantic improvements in my mindset this past year. Although I still get nervous – I don’t get anywhere near as nervous as I used to and I don’t lose anywhere near as much sleep as I used to! When I get a booking enquiry now, my first instinct is not to reply and say “are you sure you want to book me!? Haven’t you seen X,Y,Z photographers work!?”.
I’m more confident than ever that I can produce images my clients are going to love and also fairly confident that I can provide an overall experience that will be enjoyable for them. That’s a REALLY nice headspace to be in.
PHEW…so there you have it… I have tried not to hold anything back here and I hope you have found the realities of my experience of small biz life either relatable or useful! There are many amazing and rewarding highs and ultimately I’m so happy to be able to do something I’m truly passionate about… but I just wanted to share that there are lows too - there are hard bits and some days/weeks/months there will be more hard stuff than good stuff !!
I’m going to put together another blog post soon, sharing some of the things I have benefited the most from and found the most useful since starting my business, so stay tuned for that one.
Also, if you want more of a behind the scenes look at business, photography tips/tricks and access to discounts and special offers, feel free to join my mailing list ! There is a discount just for subscribing and I never ever EVER would spam you with painful salesy stuff. Pinky promise.