Firstly, it’s still a thrill that my business has existed for this long. When I first left my corporate job (almost 10 years ago!), I was just *sure* that this was going to flame out after 3-5 years. I thought it was inevitable that I’d eventually head back to a 9-5 because there’s no way I could actually make a long-term living as a creative. It wasn’t until I heard a former business coach say that one of her goals was to “never have to write another résumé” that I realized it might be possible for me too!
I’ve invested a LOT in education over the years- tens of thousands of dollars. And after all the different courses and workshops and resources I’ve consumed, I’ve learned there are stages in business when one type of education is more helpful than another. So here’s what my journey as a student of photography and business has looked like over the years!
Let’s use the analogy of “levels of completed education” to help illustrate each approximate level of proficiency, and the sort of education it took to get there-
High school diploma | Photography basics (2009-2010)
I shot my first gig almost a dozen years ago, and officially started my business shortly thereafter. I was still in college, working on a degree in Communication with a concentration in Public Relations, and I’d fallen in LOVE with photography after taking a dark room film photography class my junior year! So during my final year at RU, I tried to cram in ANY classes that I thought might help me with a photography career– Graphic Design 101, Digital Photography, anything I could get my hands on. They may have been basic, but they were super helpful as I worked to get going!
If I could go back in time, I’d add in a course on finance, and one on advertising or marketing!
Assoc. degree or trade school | Business basics (2011-2013ish)
Once I graduated from Radford, I spent a year apprenticing under another photographer (Mike of Lesnick Photography). This was, hands down, the best experience I could have possibly asked for- Mike was incredibly generous with his knowledge, sharing any resource I needed, even allowing me to use photos from my second shooting gigs to kickstart my portfolio. I spent a lot of time consuming free resources, like blog posts from Katelyn James, Jasmine Star, and Justin & Mary, and I also saved for a couple of in-person photography workshops to learn more about shooting and running a business. Learning how to use off-camera flash from Justin & Mary was a game-changer!
Bachelor’s degree | Making some progress forward (2013-2015)
Once I’d learn the very basics of “how to make your clients happy, while simultaneously earning more money than you spend,” I started venturing into the conference world– events like ShowIt UNITED and WPPI were eye-opening and introduced me to ways to grow my business, instead of just keeping it afloat. I learned more about album & print sales, outsourcing, and the importance of consistent branding. This was also around the time I REALLY began learning how to handle failure, and how to move forward with correcting and learning from my mistakes.
I also began investing in material with less tangible benefits that would teach me to think or create differently- Jon Canlas’ book (and subsequent online course) Film Is Not Dead was amazing in teaching me to fall in love with color film. This was also the time that I learned how important it is for me to purposefully seek out inspiration, prioritizing travel opportunities and starting my ballerina portrait series.
Master’s degree | Finessing your craft, and growing faster + more efficiently (2016-2019)
I hired my first business coach at the end of 2015, and she helped us launch our first online course (A Practical Wedding Workshop Live) in January 2016! Matt left his full-time job in April 2016 as a direct result of our successful launch, which made the expense of coaching 100% worth it. The coach we hired worked with creative small business owners in general and wasn’t a photographer, and her breadth of knowledge was extremely helpful as we looked to enter the world of online education, and subsequently become a husband + wife team.
After our contract with our first coach expired, we sought our next coach to help us move further into the online education sphere with a few new product ideas, and automating some of our processes.
The reason we chose to invest in coaches at this point instead of additional workshops was because as my business matured, my needs became more specialized. I wasn’t struggling with how to use off-camera flash anymore, I needed someone to help my husband and I learn how to work as a team. I didn’t need a basic course on blogging for business, I needed to know how to increase my profit margin with an evergreen email sequence. I needed tailored business help, not blanket education that might attract the masses.
During this time, I also bought a few specialty courses, like Jenna Kutcher’s The Instagram Lab and Bryan Harris’s course Slingshot. Specific courses that solved specific issues we were having. I continued to prioritize funds for travel & personal work, because they helped keep me fresh and inspired in my paid work.
Workings towards a PhD | Advanced techniques and separating myself from the competition (2020-present)
Because if I want to create, serve, and market in a way that stands out, I need to learn from people outside of the creative industry. I LOVE our community- don’t get me wrong! But when everyone’s using the same tactics, the same product styling methods, and taking the same courses, it all sort of starts to blend together, doesn’t it?
It’s why I don’t follow other brand photographers on Instagram, why I don’t typically read trending books that everyone else can’t get enough of. It’s why I joined a high-end mastermind with members from across the small business world (from therapists to agency owners to financial advisors), instead of a group aimed at creatives and artists. There is a time and place for a mastermind within your own industry, absolutely!
But Matt and I have reached a place where we’ve done most of the “usual” stuff, and I’m hungry to try something different! I love learning from people in a completely different career field than myself, who are trying different growth tactics, tracking their numbers, and setting HUGE goals for their businesses.
And I think, more importantly, we’re at a place in business where I’m willing to take more risks, because I’m less afraid of failure than I’ve ever been.
That doesn’t mean the fear isn’t still there- but it does mean that I feel more equipped than ever before to pull as many lessons as possible from my failures, and try again. And again.
“I never lose. I either win or learn.” – Nelson Mandela