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.

Often I work from home in my PJs on the couch…sometimes I get dressed and sit at my desk like a grown up! Image credit: Lecinda Ward Photography

Often I work from home in my PJs on the couch…sometimes I get dressed and sit at my desk like a grown up! Image credit: Lecinda Ward Photography

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

Me and my babies - Image credit: Amy Rushbrook Photography

Me and my babies - Image credit: Amy Rushbrook Photography

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.

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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!

very rarely do I look this cool, calm and collected when working from home.

very rarely do I look this cool, calm and collected when working from home.

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!

Mindset matters

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.

I like to coordinate my outfits to the colour of my house, wherever possible.

I like to coordinate my outfits to the colour of my house, wherever possible.

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.

photography business tips - the realities of running your own photography business - By Jess Worrall Photography

Melbourne Maternity Photographer - By the seaside

I’m just gonna say it….

I have the best clients ever!

Honestly, Nhi & Joey could not have been more fun, more adorable or more adventurous if they tried !! Can you believe that this is what “we are awkward in front of the camera” looks like !? Ummmmm, say what now!?

Newborn photography and family photography sessions where there are babies and kids involved are a GREAT way to ease some professional photoshoot awkwardness - because they give the adults something to focus on OTHER than the camera. I’m not going to lie to you guys, maternity sessions where there are NO newborns or children involved can sometimes feel a wee bit more awkward…because it’s just us and your baby bump…no wild distractions…dum dummmmm.

My 2 biggest tips for dealing with those nervous butterflies and the photoshoot awkwardness are -


1. EMBRACE IT

Seriously, MOST PEOPLE feel awkward when a camera is pointing at them… I sure as hell do ! But if we can all just acknowledge that fact and then you can both laugh with one another about how you feel like complete nutters, you can do your most ridiculous zoolander poses and shake-it-OFF! Because honestly, all those awkward laughs and stupid jokes almost always end up in real genuine laughs and smiles once you’ve warmed up a little. Plus, you probably FEEL more awkward than you actually look - Joey & Nhi were so relaxed and at home with one another that any awkwardness they were feeling just didn’t translate into their images at all. Am I right or am I right !? (spoiler alert…I’m right #ialwaysam #askmyhusband).


2. Find a photographer who makes you feel comfortable

It’s OK to feel a bit awkward, but you still should feel comfortable and trust in your photographer!! A good photographer will help to guide you to be your most natural selves, help you to connect with one another, photograph you in a flattering way and reassure you along the way ! Don’t be afraid to ask your photographer to have a chat on the phone before you book with them, to make sure you will be a good fit for one another.

For me personally, my approach is light-hearted, fun and as I’m a bit of a dork (some may say that’s an understatement), this often helps people to feel a bit more relaxed! Plus, I make sure I get to know a bit about you guys before our shoot so that I can tailor the session to best suit YOUR needs! Oh, and I’m super clumsy, so if you’re one of those people that laugh at other people falling over or slightly injuring themselves (who isn’t?) you’re in luck!!

Anyway, back to my gorgeous clients…. would you look at them please!? The last magical light on a cold winters day on the Mornington Peninsula… and it could not have been more perfect!!

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Lols. Sorry Joey, but Nhi’s baby bump is way cuter than yours ;)

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How to choose the best location for your family photography session - Melbourne Family Photographer

One of the top questions clients ask me when booking their family photography session is “where should we have our session!?" and so it's made me think about the things I look for in a great location and I thought I would share my thoughts about it, here.

The four main points that I think about when trying to decide on a location are - 

SIGNFICANCE
DISTRACTIONS
PRIVACY
VARIETY

 

I'll chat a bit more about each of these points below, so please read on. 

Sometimes it's worthwhile venturing a little further out of the city for your family photography session - this session took place on the Mornington Peninsula

Sometimes it's worthwhile venturing a little further out of the city for your family photography session - this session took place on the Mornington Peninsula

SIGNIFICANCE

Think about places you go with your family and things you do together that are important and meaningful to you.   Do you guys love to go for adventures in the forest together on weekends?  Do you spend every evening in summer at the beach ? Do you visit your local café  so regularly that they no longer even ask you for your order?  Having your family photography session in a spot that is special to you and already holds its own memories in your heart are going to make your images just that much more treasured in the years to come!   

family lifestyle photography

DISTRACTIONS -

While it’s wonderful to choose a spot that has significance to you, it is also important to think about how practical the space is going to be for the purposes of a photo session. For example, if you want to do your session at your local park, but the only time you guys ever visit that particular park is for your toddler to play at the playground there, how do you think they will cope when we arrive and tell them they can’t play on the playground and that we’re going to go and do some photos instead!? If they’re anything like my kids, that probably won’t go down so well #tantrumcentral !!!  For that reason, I do try to avoid parks that have playgrounds, because once your toddler sees that, they’re never going to forget about it and you probably didn’t book a professional photographer to get 100x photos of your toddler going down the slide !  

mornington peninsula family photography

PRIVACY

Chances are, unless you’re a professional model, you’re probably not SUPER comfortable in front of the camera !! One thing that I think really helps during your photo session is picking a location that isn’t always packed full with people so you don’t feel like you are being watched by a group of 50 curious onlookers.  Crowded areas with lots of people can make it that much more difficult to relax! For example, inner city parks and beaches on a sunny afternoon = top destination for 99% of Melbournians ***!!  In summer, I try to schedule beach sessions for the morning when they tend to be quieter or I suggest that we venture a little further to some of the quieter beaches further out that have just a little more space.  I also suggest we avoid the really popular/well known parks and opt for quieter spots that are just as (if not more) photogenic !

(***completely made up statistic...from time to time I like to exaggerate to make my point)

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VARIETY -

OK, so you were thinking that the park across the road from your house has some nice greenery on the very far right hand side of said park….BUT it is bordered by roads / houses and/or car parking that is slightly less photogenic…. Because you see, the thing about my photo sessions is there is no WAY I am going to get you all to stand in once place for the entire time !  We are going to be moving around, your kids will be running around / playing and so if the location isn’t versatile enough, you’ll end up with a big bright blue station wagon in the background that is going to be distracting and take away from your images !!  As you can see from this session, the locations we shot at had SO.MUCH.VARIETY – it didn’t matter where we turned or what direction we were facing, it was all just so beautiful and that to me, is the ultimate test of a location !!

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A few final thoughts

- My outdoor sessions are always scheduled to coincide with sunrise or sunset, the time of day we photographers refer to as "golden hour". This is when the light is beautiful, flattering and well, just generally pretty damn magical !! The times of sunset and sunrise obviously change quite a lot during the year and it's not always the most convenient time when you have young children - but I can promise you, that for just this one day, it is 100000% worth the small disruption to their routine! 

- Pack lightly for outdoor sessions - please leave your pram in the car and handbags/sunglasses etc. at home ! We're going to be moving around a lot during your session and the last thing we want to have to worry about is moving bags/prams out of the shot. 

- Given we live in Melbourne, there is always the possibility that mother nature will have other plans for our desire to be outside on the day your shoot is scheduled - if the weather is looking dicey, I generally suggest we hold off making the decision to reschedule until the day of the session as the forecast can be so changeble. But we definitely won't be shooting in the rain ! 

- We live in an absolutely BEAUTIFUL part of the world, with endless natural beauty to discover! Of course we can find gorgeous spots close to home, but if you're up for an adventure, let me know and I'm always SOO excited to travel a little further out and explore new places!! 
 

So, there you have it, my top tips for choosing your outdoor location for your next family photography session.   Would you add any others to the list ? 
 

I would LOVE to know what your dream photo location in or around Melbourne would be.  Feel free to leave me a comment and let me know.  If you would like to book in your own family photography session, please get in touch and let's make some magic together ! 

Also, I couldn't help myself but do a big ol' overshare of this gorgeous recent family session on the Mornington Peninsula, only a short drive from Melbourne.

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Melbourne Family Photographer - Into the Woods

If you go into the woods today…

(Featured in MamaMag April/May 2018 Issue) 

It’s easy to believe that we need to venture across seas or hop on an aeroplane to be able to explore magical places and feel like we’re well travelled.  But we are incredibly lucky here in Melbourne, that we have so much of mother nature’s beauty right on our doorstep. This year we have set out to take our little ones (aged 2 & 3) on adventures closer to home and make the most of what Melbourne’s surrounds have to offer (has anyone else noticed that their kids are just WAAAAY more chilled and easy going when they are out in nature!?)


Our first stop – Redwood Forest in East Warburton.  Let me start by saying the sign posting is non-existent, so you do need to map your trip before you leave and keep an eye out for the turn off from the main road -  “Cement Creek Road” is REALLY easy to miss ! We actually saw the turn off, and pulled into it but decided it couldn’t be the right road as there were no signs to the Redwoods.  So we continued back along the main road, lost phone reception and thankfully decided to turn back and cluelessly venture down Cement Creek Road (is it even a real adventure if you don’t get lost at least once?!) You drive along the unsealed road for a few minutes and will come across cars parked along a fence line - unless you’re the first person to arrive…in which case, keep an eye out for a gate (which is the access point) with some super high trees behind! Again, we were expecting to see some Parks Victoria signage to say where we were, but there was none – it really is a hidden gem!!

Once you’re inside, there is no mistaking where you are. It is completely spectacular and you feel like you’re in another world (or, for the kids, in a fairytale!)  It’s also such a diverse landscape – one minute, you are in a forest, surrounded by Californian Redwood trees that reach up to 55m high (and still growing!), and the next minute you walk out (the forest slopes down, so walk down the slope and it will bring you out) and are surrounded by lush green ferns and scenery that feels like you have been transported to somewhere in New Zealand.  We had no idea when we arrived, but there is also a little river which has a walking track alongside it. Given we had no phone reception and had no idea where the walking trails led, we didn’t venture too far along the track but it was really beautiful and we stopped along the river for a picnic lunch.

Our kids had the best time exploring, getting dirty, having snacks, climbing on fallen tree trunks, eating a picnic lunch by the river, playing hide and seek and having more snacks. If your kids are anything like ours, you should basically just fill your entire backpack with snacks.

A few important things to note when you are travelling with young kids  -
- There are no toilets, taps, bins or other facilities – make sure you stop off in Warburton when you are driving through if you need a toilet break or to top up snacks/water.  Bring a bag to take your rubbish home with you!
- It’s not pram friendly – we had a carrier in our bag in case our youngest gave up walking, but thankfully we didn’t need it.  It’s not a huge area though, so even if you have a toddler that does give up the will to walk – you don’t have too far to carry them!
- We had no phone/data reception from the turn off at the main road – so make sure you have mapped your route before you set out !
- if you plan to spend some time by the river, bring bug spray
- we visited in summer and there had not been any rain recently – when it’s wet, I imagine it would get VERY muddy
- even if it’s warm when you leave Melbourne, pack some cool weather clothes as the temperature dropped once we got there
-needless to say, this place is a photographers DREAM, so take your camera !!

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