WHAT A FAILED PHOTOGRAPHY BUSINESS HAS TAUGHT ME
Here’s some personal history for you! In 2013, after the birth of my firstborn – the Wild One we call “E,”, I became a “momtographer.” I got a nice camera, decent lens, and took So. Many. Pictures.
I don’t regret it, I have a lot of images of my firstborn that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. But, if there is anything you should know about me, it’s that I am an All-or-Nothing type of gal. I can’t help it. It’s the Type A in me. So, naturally, I thought, I am going to be a photographer.
Just like that.
Literally woke up one day and said “heck yeah I could do this for money.” I proceeded to teach myself everything. I spend hundreds over the course of the next year or so, training myself, having others train me, and overall learning everything you need to know about operating a camera and photo biz.
And for a while, it was awesome! And then…it wasn’t. I was drained, burnt out from the long lists of Pinterest poses from every client. Drained from the constant conscious marketing, meeting client demands, and a whole slew of other tasks to ensure one is actually turning a profit for your time (equipment, TAXES – ugh, travel time, education, etc…). Turns out, my passion for photography does not trump my disdain for the industry or dealing with the menial tasks of running a photo biz. But you know what? I’m okay with that.
And so, as unceremoniously as I started, I stopped. I cannot pinpoint a date when I officially made that decision, all I can tell you is that somewhere between embracing full-time motherhood, dealing with Postpartum Depression, and ultimately choosing to be more intentional with my time and energy – I fell out of love with the idea of photography as a living. I became so disenchanted with the entire industry. In the end, I hit a wall that I was not willing to scale.
What was the wall? The constant hustle. A hustle towards an end goal I could not visualize, but despised the process.
I hated selling myself. I hated “marketing.” I hated having to choose between taking a session that sounded fun or making money. I hated the disappointment that came from not being chosen sometimes. And most of all, I hated the logic in the industry said I was supposed to feel good charging everyone for this amazing service that I was bestowing on them. But at the end of the day, I was disgusted with vanity of that statement. Photography is a luxury. And while I wholeheartedly believe everyone should have photos done, I understand not everyone can. It’s expensive. It’s a luxury. And when it’s all said and done, I didn’t feel like what I was doing was making a difference. I need something that genuinely affects people for the better and this just wasn’t it.
Regardless, I have discovered a lifelong hobby that I will cherish forever. Even with all the hustle and burnout, having a [failed] photography business has taught me many things I never would have otherwise learned. Like all things in life, here’s the silver lining: .
6 lessons I learned from a failed business
1.) It reminded me that “losing gracefully” is a lesson that goes far beyond sports.
Failure is not a bad thing. If there is anything that a failed business and being in debt has taught me is that it is never the end. Only the beginning to something else. Ending my photography business allowed me to focus on writing – something that I have loved since I learned to read. It’s allowed me to be with my family more, instead of the constant cycle of finding clients, travelling to clients, and doing work for clients. Just how being in debt taught me to be more intentional, not just with my finances, but with everything in my life – my time, my energy, my gifts.
Walking away from this with my head up has allowed me to walk with my dignity and confidence intact. Like a mutual breakup, it just wasn’t working, and I could 100% admit that. I think in order to really thrive, we have to be able to admit when things didn’t go right in order to escape situations that are no longer servings us. Ya feel me?
2.) It taught me that sometimes risk taking is rewarding and worthwhile.
Failing did not make me gunshy to try anything ever again Obviously, because here we are on a blog I started. If anything it has taught me that no matter what happens, the end will always be worth it. You will get SOMETHING out of it. Maybe it’s the optimist in me, but I can’t help but see the glass as half full.
3.) And sometimes it’s just educational.
A necessary punch in the boob for a Type A like myself. Not every single idea I have is a good one. Maybe sometimes it’s good to just sit and stew on things, ya know? This helped point out a weakness I need to work on. I have a knack I for creativity and developing ideas, but now the lesson is to learn WHEN and IF to turn those ideas into actions.
Now, I don’t regret any of this. Once again, I have a skill and hobby that I will carry with me forever. And my family benefits because my kids and grandkids will have awesome photos to pass down. But, I see now how educational this experience was. Hindsight is 20/20, amirite?
4.) It has given me the grace to say NO to projects I don’t want to do.
The grace to say “no” and the inspiration and energy to freely shoot for myself again! I feel so exhilarating! You know that part in Aladdin when Genie asks him to make a wish and then answers “NO WAY!” – Yep. That’s how I feel.
With more time to myself, I get to spend more time photographing my kids. After becoming more busy (and overwhelmed), I lost sight of why I started in the first place, which was documenting my own family. But now? No more guilt for saying “no” to adding something on my plate. A necessary lesson in balance and personal wellness.
5.) I am this much closer to discovering the RIGHT thing
Before his success, when told he was a failure for not following through on creating lightbulbs, Thomas Edison said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” I like to think that’s where I’m at. I dabbled, I experimented, and ultimately it didn’t work out. So, forward ho! – on the next grand adventure.
Every experience I have helps me uncover something else about myself – personality trait, what I enjoy, don’t enjoy, teach me new skills, etc…
6.) Buying expensive sh!t didn’t make me any cooler/better/more advanced
I was an e-course junkie and gear-aholic, constantly eyeing the next piece of equipment I could acquire. I used to think when I have XXX, I’ll be able to take XX kind of pictures! Instead of simply focusing on how to 100% rock the equipment I had.
And all those e-courses were mainly garbage. So many wasted hours and dollars on courses I should not have bought. Now I am out not only money, but my time as well. Just like it’s not that paints that make the painting…it’s the artist! It’s not the camera that takes great pictures, it’s the photographer.
To sum it all up, closing my business has been a hard lesson in learning BALANCE and HUMILITY. I am walking away from the experience as someone who is intentional about her time, her energy, and her interests (and uhm, her monies). I am walking away as a failed business owner who has learned humility – and also self-respect and grace.
So tell me, what lessons have you learned the hard way? I want to hear them!