This past Friday marked 7 years since I left my full-time job. I think back to that. A lot. I mean, 7 years is kind of a long time isn’t it? Not really, actually, but in the world of small business and entrepreneurship, I think it is. I don’t know why I’m particularly sentimental about it; I guess it’s because it’s an “anniversary” and we’re conditioned to do that. But I’ve come to learn that always thinking about where you started can help you know where you are.
One of the best memories of my professional life came on the day I left my full-time job after 8.5 years. It was Friday, February 1, 2007. I got a call about a week before from (none other than) one of my brides whose wedding I’d shot. “Can you shoot this fundraiser that Barack Obama is doing in the city?” And thus I left EARLY on the last day of my full-time job, after 8.5 years, to photograph the next President of the United States. To this day I’ve always looked upon that moment as a sign that I did the right thing by going out on my own.
I made a few images that night but the one that has always stood out to everyone is this one. I always get a kick out of how much it means to my UK friends that I have a photo of Obama on my site 🙂
Anyway, in the ups and downs of the past 7 years I’ve been a full time photographer, here are a few things I’ve learned:
1) It’s pretty freakin hard. You think you’re good? Guess what – there are 100 people better at your “thing” than you are, despite what your friends say.
2) Your vision or bust. People buy into your vision of things. Your vision of life; whatever it is you are exposed to. If you’re not pitching THAT then you are just doodling around.
3) Be prepared to spend the time. I’m single! I can’t imagine doing this as a parent! Are you kidding me?! Really, guys – I’m IMPRESSED!!! In today’s ever-changing world of online marketing, social media, and vendor to client paths, an all-consuming amount of time that has to be spent on maintaining a thriving social media and niche-based presence. Mad respect to those who do it so well with families and other commitments– and there are many out there!!!
4) Do a lot on a little. This is essential, and the virtual key to my very early success: Doing as much as I could without spending too much $. I made very good financial choices early on in regards to the setup of my business, both in camera gear and general infrastructure. I worked a full time job and set up my business in the process. It was a lot of work but it felt good and I went with it. Along with that, I knew I needed to be on point in regards to finances.
5) Believe in yourself. This is a tough one. Really tough. Probably the toughest. You have to believe in yourself. It’s crazy because so much rides on that belief. Your entire well being. Like an actor, musician, writer, painter…your entire livelihood depends on it. It’s not so easy, let me tell you! But in order to succeed in the business you are in you have to believe in yourself!
6) Seek inspiration. For me, music has always been the biggest source of my inspiration. Music is like my oxygen; it’s a necessary part of life. Without question, my photography was born from a love and emotional understanding of music. Your emotional connection to some art form, photography, music, or otherwise, is essential to your commercial art form and you should tap into it as much as you possibly can.
7) Accept your purpose. My primary purpose is to bring joy to others through my photography. Within that lies my own goals and dreams, but for the most part, my job is to make people feel good about themselves, their lives, and LIFE in general. It’s such a peculiar task, but if catches on with you, you’re in trouble. And if this happens you’ll need to make peace with it, one way or another.
Of course, there are many more hard-won lessons from the past 7 years, but I hope these few I shared give you a little insight and encouragement if you’re thinking about going through the process of becoming an entrepreneur yourself. Here’s to 7 more!