We’re in the middle of a series for photographers and aspiring entrepreneurs called “Making the Leap” where we’re sharing our ten practical steps for going from part-time photographers to full-time. Or, as author Jon Acuff puts it, going from your day job to your dream job without it becoming a nightmare.
At the beginning of our photography journey, our biggest mistake was staying in professional isolation, not getting in community with other photographers and wedding professionals soon enough. To be fair, we were busy, full-time elementary school teachers by day, part-time photographers on nights and weekends, and we spent all of our time just trying to keep our heads above water. Looking back, though, if we would’ve engaged with others sooner and developed meaningful relationships faster, it probably would’ve made things easier, and at the very least lightened our emotional weight and load, just purely in terms of support and encouragement from others, having that feeling that we weren’t alone in the day-to-day battles of starting a new small business that, statistics have shown had an 80% chance of failing.
So, what does getting in community look like? Where should you be? Who should you meet? How can you start meeting people today that will change your personal and professional life forever? Whether your an introvert or an extrovert, here’s what we’ve done…
Whether it’s Jesus of Nazareth (“Do to others as you would have them to do you.”) or Zig Ziglar (“You will get all you want in life if you help enough people get what they want.”) or anyone else who’s talked about leadership in terms of serving others before yourself, the message is pretty clear: it’s not about you. It’s not about us! It’s about others. Before we started engaging more actively with other photographers and industry peers, we set a mental expectation and decided we’d do anything we could to learn about and help others, with everything from words of encouragement all the way to referred business, never expecting anything in return. The cool part? Since we didn’t expect anything, we’ve never been disappointed, and our time with fellow photographers and professionals has always been (and will always be) well spent.
Whenever you’re trying to establish yourself in a new industry, consistency is key. You have to demonstrate that you’re serious about what you do before anyone will take you seriously or invest time in you. At first, we were terrible at this. We barely had time to sleep with two jobs, let alone visit meet-and-greets, parties and networking events on a regular basis. Looking back, that was a mistake. We should’ve made time, but we didn’t even know where to start. One of the best things we’ve done over the past year is become more actively engaged on Facebook with local photographers and wedding pros. As funny as it sounds, we’ve gotten to know a lot of people really well online, and then when there’s an event, we know about it, and when we show up, we have people to talk with and points of connection to make. So, start connecting online and in person every chance you get.
Social gatherings and networking events can be overwhelming, to say the least. Your first few meet ups or parties will feel like the first day of school, and you will feel like the new kid. But remember: the only way the new kid doesn’t make friends is by not coming back the second, third, and fourth day. So, once you’ve made the commitment to be where your peers are, then it’s all about making one genuine connection every single time. Don’t stress about meeting everyone, every time, and memorizing their names. If you spend all night glad-handing like you’re a politician on a rope line, you’ll feel empty at the end of the night because you’ll have gone an inch deep and a mile wide. Plus, your hand’ll probably be sore! When we’re at social events, we spend a few minutes saying hello to old friends and getting comfortable with our surroundings, and then we each look for one person to invest in a meaningful conversation with for the better part of the night, and most of the time we don’t even talk business. Be quick to ask questions, slow to interrupt, and eager to listen. Stay focused on the person you’re with. Take a genuine interest in them. Don’t dart your eyes toward the meat-carving station or be on the lookout for the next person you can meet by the snack table. Make one new friend each event. Do that a few times, and pretty soon, events like that go from rooms full of strangers to parties full of friends.
We wish we could take credit for this one, but we can’t. We were at a networking event one time and, after a great conversation with a polished yet warm man, a financial advisor, he asked us a question that shocked us, “So, how can I help you grow your business? Who should I be on the lookout to send your way?” Whaaaaat?!?! We almost fell over. No one had ever asked us that before — no one has since — and we can’t even describe how important we felt in that moment. Here’s someone we’d just met, had a nice conversation with, and now he wanted to help us without expecting anything in return. Incredible! Since that time, he’s actually sent us perfect referrals for all kinds of shoots, because he took the time to find out who we are, what we do, and why we do it. He’s a friend to this day, and it all started with a simple conversation and such a thoughtful question on his part. Because of him, every time we’re at an event, talking with someone we like and trust, we try to finish the conversation with, “How can I help you grow your business?” They’re shocked every time, but excited to share more — and we’re excited to listen.
If you want to be different, if you want to stand out, make sure to follow-up with the people you meet at events. At a minimum, send them a personalized email, mention something from your conversation the previous night so they know you were listening, and then connect with them on social media. Maybe even send them a hand-written note if you can easily find their business address on their website. Personal touches go a long way! In Phoenix, there are literally thousands of photographers, and, for as much as we’d like to, we know that we can’t have real, deep, personal relationships with all of them, but we’ve tried to be intentional about finding a few other husband and wife teams to grow with. On a personal level, we just like them as people. They share our values and sense of humor. We like the same things. It’s a natural fit. On a professional level, they’re full-time photographers. They’re in our price range and have a similar style. We know we can trust them with referrals when we’re booked, and we know they’d be there in a moment’s notice if we had an emergency. We’re friends. We can be honest and vulnerable with each other about the hard things in life and business, and we can celebrate together when one of us has a big success.
And, yes, when we’re already booked for a specific date, we’re able to confidently refer each other to potential clients by saying, “_______________ and _______________ are incredible people, excellent professionals, good friends of ours, and we promise they’ll take fabulous care of you!” And we get to mean it, because it’s true.
Find one new person to connect with online this week and take them for coffee! It can be a photographer or another industry professional, but you’ve gotta start somewhere!
Next, we’ll talk about Step 9: Get a Fresh Perspective. We’ll talk about the attitude adjustment that gave us the boost we needed to finally take the leap and go full-time.
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