by Joe Josland, founder of JJosland Photography
As a wedding photographer I’ve been lucky enough to find an outlet for my passion that offers everything I ever wanted in a job: flexibility, fun and wonderful moments. But as a first time business owner, I’ve also had my fair share of hurdles to overcome.
Here are five tips from my personal experience that will help you turn a passion into the perfect enterprise.
1. Stick to what makes you unique.
It might seem obvious to talk about having a USP, something that makes you stand out from the crowd. But once you start to get people through the doors, it’s surprisingly easy to find yourself shifting from your original vision. Catering to customers is one thing, but unless you’re in serious trouble it’s generally a bad idea to change too much.
If a client wants you to completely adapt your work and compromise your principles for a nice pay packet, sometimes you have to say no. It’s tough, but your brand image lives on it, and it’s what you’ll fall back on when you traverse rough periods.
If you don’t have the luxury of saying no, the most important thing is to find creative ways to adapt. Work with the directions you’ve been given, but inject a bit of personality where you can. Often people don’t realise what works until they see it in action.
2. Channel your other interests.
Wedding photography was not my first choice – it wasn’t even photography at all. I was a keen amateur in the past but fell into sales as a way to utilise my people skills. It was the birth of my daughter and need for flexibility, as well as a career with a more human touch, that led me back to my old hobby. And I’ve never been happier.
Those sales techniques have proved to be incredibly useful, as I’ve integrated them in one of my specialities: documentary photography. By involving myself in the party and chatting to people, I’m able to get their guard down and take better photos.
My own experience of familial joy has also let me better empathise with and capture other people’s joyful moments. I would never have anticipated any of this, but I’ve managed to draw together a variety of inspirations and experiences to perfectly match my current occupation.
3. Be a voracious learner.
A lot of great art never sees the light of day because the artist doesn’t have business skills. In the same way a lot of fantastic ideas driven with genuine passion fall flat, because the individual is unable to sell them. As a photographer I’ve had to accept a broader burden of responsibility than I ever would have expected. Ultimately the business side of things will always be more important than the work: you can do bad work and get paid, and you can do good work and go unrewarded. In an ideal world both are in balance, but if you aren’t selling anything you can’t build a reputation and prove how good you are.
You can learn a lot on the fly, but the important thing is to be open to that process. Sometimes this isn’t just an admission that you need to brush up on maths, but a fundamental change to your business idea. Your conception of what will work in your particular field might clash with existing businesses. Your business niche is important, but it’s also distinct from your personal vision.
You can have a sense of tone, style and broad aims that can be applied to different ideas. The important thing is to maintain these through each adaptation. Roll with the punches, but never forget what got you excited about the business in the first place.
4. Have someone to lean on.
Starting a small business is often the culmination of a lifelong dream. It should be a gratifying and fun process! But as with anything in life, there are peaks and troughs that will inevitably be difficult to deal with. Orders might lapse for a while, and you’ll wonder whether something has gone drastically wrong. If you’re just starting out, you might not know which periods in the year business naturally settles down in. Having someone there to support you is crucial for your mental health and the health of your enterprise.
This doesn’t have to be a business partner obviously, although that can help. A boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife, even a good pal to talk things through with will help. Just having a sounding board to bounce things off of and reassure you is a massive asset in the tentative early days. Getting your website set up? Ask if it looks any good. Writing adverts or a biography? Get someone to proofread it. Launching a new service? Road Test it on friends and family.
It doesn’t matter how good you are, we all need a network of support now and then. That bedrock could stop you from giving up early, and drive you on to incredible success.
Plan for the future.
Support is helpful, but the best way to avoid trouble is to plan for it. It’s easy to get tied up in the here and now when you start a business, as you might not have time to do much else. But it’s crucial to look forwards with every major decision as to whether it will last the course.
For a freelancer, this largely means keeping money in reserve and holding off on new purchases until it’s safe. But if you’re creating a product, you want to know that it will go down just as well in a year’s time when it reaches a new audience. If you hear about a new trend in your field, don’t wait until it shows up on your doorstep; look into it now and decide how to intend to approach it.
Right now this applies to all kinds of massive market forces. The election of Donald Trump and Brexit in the UK will both have long term implications for many businesses in the US and Europe. While it’s impossible to know exactly what will happen right now, this doesn’t mean you should leave it all to chance. Get to grips with what’s being proposed, and think about whether you might try to expand before legislation makes it tougher. If your business is built on exports, that obviously puts you in a precarious position. Even online sales might change for UK businesses outside of the EU. Be agile and explore avenues for both greater international trade and new domestic opportunities. After 2017, anything is possible.
[Image credit: JJosland Photography]
Joe Josland is the founder of JJosland Photography, and works as a documentary wedding photographer in Kent and across the UK. His unique natural style aims to replicate the story of the wedding day through pictures, capturing the moments of joy that matter most. You can find him on Twitter here and on Instagram here.