Rebranding does remarkable things to one’s outlook on life. It requires intense introspection, critical self-evaluation, and rethinking basically everything remotely connected to my business— from where and how I advertise, to my online social media presence, down to smaller things like post-it notes and tissue paper. Throughout this process, I’ve spent a lot of time looking at other peoples’ businesses as well, trying to learn from the success and mistakes others have made along the way. It’s been a wonderful process— I’ve come away with a better understanding of where I am and where I want to be, and have some ideas on how to get there.
The problem with looking at other people, though, is that I start to think that the way they do things is the way I have to do it. As if the way one successful DC photographer markets their business is the only way to market business. As if the way one role-model photographer chooses to blog is the only way to run a blog. As if the way one friend manages business vs. personal time is the way I must manage my own. What starts with a sincere desire to learn and grow quickly turns into fear of not measuring up to some perceived idea of success that I create in my own mind, based on what I see others doing. That’s not how I want to run a business, out of fear.
I chatted with one dear friend earlier this week, talking about comparison and envy and how we need to fight it, and help each other fight against it— that’s no way to run a business. We talked about the cliques we’ve seen, and how we’re tempted to join them, or create them, or at least feel less worthwhile for not being in one. But that’s not how we want to build.
This morning, Mary Marantz wrote a few encouragements to a new photographer. She said many things that inspired me. Things like, “Be incredibly committed and work really hard at always getting better in your craft. Never think that it’s “good enough” or that you’ve arrived. You haven’t. You won’t. We certainly haven’t. If you do, hang up your camera and walk away for you have lost the love of it. Never, never stop learning.” And, “Be personal and be real. No like actually real. There are a lot of fake “real” people out there. Do your own work. In everything you do act with integrity.” Good words. But it was the tail end of her post that struck me in the gut:
But above all, here is the most important one: these goals that you listed… those aren’t really the dream. They only feel like the dream because that’s what success happens to look like right now… when you base success on a checklist of what it looks like for everyone else at that particular point in time, that success will always, always be just beyond your grasp. And there will always be just one more thing to add to the list. So you will spend your life in the pursuit of More. More, more, more just to barely keep up.
Instead, I’d rather see you as the one who invents a whole new version of success that no one has ever seen before. One for all of us to look up to. Step bravely out as a leader, the world needs more leaders. Don’t just do what has already been done.
Sweet friend Mary, your words pushed me. Challenged me to figure out my goals for me, and what success looks like for me, and not apologize when it looks different than someone else’s. There are a lot of things I do, and I have good reasons for it; and lots of things I don’t (and won’t do), and have good reasons for that, too. I work hard, and I’m willing to keep working hard to build this business, but not at the expense of the more important things in my life.
I don’t take client meeting or shoots on Thursday evenings— that’s Date Night. It has been for almost two years now, and we don’t plan on changing that anytime soon. Our marriages is more important than my business, and I’m not willing to sacrifice the quality of the first for something as trivial as money— money comes and goes, but relationships are much more precious and valuable. The same principle applies for Sundays. I will occasionally take a Sunday wedding, but I typically reserve Sundays for rest, for friends, and for community.
I absolutely love investing in new photographers and encouraging my peers (hellllooooo, social media lover over here!), but spending too much time answering questions on Facebook, in emails, and over coffee dates actually prevents me from serving my clients the way that I should. So I plan specific times to invest in others, and the rest of the time, I just can’t. And I’m okay with that. (If you’re a photographer in the DC area with this same perspective, join our local Shoot & Share group! I host monthly meet-ups, and would love to share with you!).
I’m a digital shooter, and I edit with some strong contrast. I love the look of film, but it doesn’t fit with my workflow, my taste & style, or my client interaction. A lot of wedding publications are moving toward film features these days, and it can be tempting for me to switch, simply because of peer pressure. But if it doesn’t fit with my Core Beliefs, or any of the reasons listed here, it doesn’t have a place in my business. Being published is really just a platitude, anyway— my work has real value because of my clients, not because some magazine or blog editor liked it.
Networking can be great, but it’s also hard. I would rather have a handful of solid relationships built on mutual trust with people who have the same business philosophy as I have, than have three dozen really good “connections” that make me question my direction. The same goes with advertising— I would rather advertise just one or two places that really fit with my business foundations, than advertise in twenty places, just for the sake of exposure.
Like Mary said, I would rather invent a version of personal and professional success that steps beyond the expected, the well-tread path, the “normal,” and chart my own course based on personal belief and conviction. Not based on what others have already done. Who’s with me?