Most articles which talk about improving your photography business will tell you about how to become a better photographer.
Some will tell you about the need to improve your business skills.
Sure, those are important. But I think they’re missing something. And it’s ironic that they’re missing the most obvious and most important part of your business – you.
You are driven by something. In other words, there’s a purpose which gets you out of bed every morning. And this purpose is what had you consider becoming a professional photographer.
What is it?
Everyone is different; mine is different to yours and yours is different to that of every other photographer.
And having an in-depth understanding of your unique purpose is the single most powerful tool you have for growing your business. And – also ironically – it’s the one which you’re most likely to dismiss.
But there will come a time when you’ve spent a lot of time improving your photography skills. And you will have done a ton of work on your business. But your business will not have reached its full potential. You’ll feel like you want it to grow and expand more and it will seem like there’s a glass ceiling stopping you from being able to make it happen.
That will be a good time to check back in with you and your motivations.
A few years ago, I read an article by Steven Pavlina (which was originally published by Steven Hawkings in a book called Power vs Force) about Levels of Consciousness:
It’s an interesting paradigm, which allows you to examine your motivations, find out what makes you happy in life and predict how powerful you are in your ability to stay fulfilled. It also helps identify the causes of failures and frustrations in your life.
Steve used the levels to help people improve their personal life, but I think it’s just as effectively can be used to help you grow your business.
Your business also has a level of consciousness which, inextricably, is the same as yours by the virtue of the fact that it’s your creation. Which means that on a level of consciousness, your business will never outgrow you.
Your motivations (and – very importantly – their limitations) will be hardwired into your business.
Moral of the story? What stops you in life will also stop your business. And beyond a certain point, the best way to grow your business will be for you to grow as a human being. It will open up new perspectives, new opportunities, new ways of communications which were not available to you – and your business – before.
So what stops you in life? And what drives you? Well, have a look at the levels. And, if you’re starting or running your own photography business, I’ll assert you’re somewhere between levels of Desire and Willingness.
I think those levels can be narrowed down into 2 groups which are very distinct from one another. And the single most important thing you can do in your photography business is to grow from being in the first group to the second.
Group 1: “Desire / Anger / Pride” Photography Business.
This business is epitomised by a saying “when I get rich and/or famous, then I’ll be happy”. The purpose of such a business is primarily to provide things like financial freedom, power and recognition to its owner; those are seen as the answers to a happy life.
The trouble here is, firstly, that happiness is a completely external concept and the individual’s internal state is completely dependent on how the business is doing.
It also means that the default state of a Desire business owner is that of being unhappy with life – when it’s not being propped up with validation, recreation or money – and that has devastating implications for the business itself.
Customers of such a business are seen as merely means to more of its own needs. They’re rarely related to on a genuinely personal level. Sure, politeness and niceness are offered, but those again are more techniques to get something from a customer, rather than a deep-seated desire to connect, find out what the customer needs and offer them a solution. Think dodgy real estate agents and cheesy salesmen.
Mindsets of such a business owner are mainly about getting something from the world and customers. Predictably, business practices of his business will follow a similar (and largely ineffective) theme.
How do I get more links? How do I get more “Likes” on Facebook? How do I make squeeze pages which convert more customers? Those are the questions which drive this business and lead to answers like link-buying schemes, SPAMMY content and websites full of marketing hyperbole rather than valuable content.
Because this business owner’s own desires for money, fame and power dominate his mental space, the customer’s desires are not examined closely or checked in with often; therefore the marketing of a Desire business is poor.
It’s fair to say that “marketing” in this business is probably used as a synonym for “printing / creating lots of promotional material and mailing it”; it is rarely seen for what it truly is, which is a deep knowingness of, and concern for, customer’s needs and desires.
Websites of such businesses typically contain irrelevant information and copy is often plagiarised from other sites. Processes are rarely set up with customer in mind, which further undermines the customer experience and jeopardises this business.
This leads into a downward spiral of this business and a perceived need to invest in more “traffic” and “conversion” schemes.
When they also don’t work, it leads to vents of frustration and anger at the external world and complaints about the changing times, slowing of photography industry, negative impact of Facebook on people’s need to buy photos, increased competition created by cheap entry level DSLRs, etc, etc…
Group 2: “Courage / Neutrality / Willingness” Photography Business.
This business is built around a desire to do what you love and/or a desire to contribute to someone. You get a sense of fulfillment from pushing your boundaries and from making a difference to someone.
Money and fame are seen as by-products of producing passionate work and meaningful contribution, rather than ends in themselves. And money and fame need not be stigmatised – they are seen as useful tools in being able to create more great work and reach more people with your message.
A good way to check in with yourself to know if you’re at this level is to ask yourself – “if there was no money involved, and it was something that a lot of people disapproved of, would I still do it?”
Don’t be concerned if the answer is not an absolute and resounding “yes”. From birth we are preprogrammed to depend on validation of others and associating happiness with our ability to make money. And very few people have wholly and entirely shifted their focus away from that.
Think of the space between the two groups as a shade of greys, rather than a black and white dichotomy. There is no right and wrong place to be. You’re on a journey and where you are is perfectly fine. And growing will free you up more and make you more powerful, happy and fulfilled.
But more about the nature of “Courage / Neutrality / Willingness” photography business. Because your primary motive is not dependent on external circumstances, you as a person do not communicate neediness. You are more open and comfortable in yourself.
This draws people to you and opens up opportunities to share about your work. Indeed, instead of “promoting your business”, you’re simply sharing your passion.
This desire to share your work, be open about who you are and offer your talents to those who need them translates into corresponding business practices. Websites of such businesses act as mouthpieces for communicating the business owner’s personality, desires, frustrations and lessons.
A business owner in the previous group asks himself – “should I start a blog because apparently it’s a good way to get more customers? And besides, Google likes it.” A business owner in this group thinks – “I have all these ideas and photographs I’m producing – I want to connect with others who might want to know them – I better start a blog”.
The copy on a website like this is not likely to be meaningless and hollow. It communicates what’s important to the business owner – and it seems like the business is OK if you don’t think they’re a good match for you. You get a sense that they’re not trying to hang on to you, and yet they’re strangely captivating.
Business practices of such photographers are not likely to depend on dodgy Internet practices. They get that it’s the relationship with the customer that makes sales. And relationships in this business are made easily because this business owner’s mind is not clogged up with rigid self-concern. People are approached with curiosity and are seen as opportunities to share and relate, rather than “get” something from.
Here are some amazing photographers I’ve come across over the years who fit the bill of the 2nd group. They have inspired me for years and their work is moving because it oozes with love:
Laurel McConnell: Not related to me, I might add – a fun, quirky wedding and family photographer from Seattle:
Joey Lawrence: A new breed of advertising/portraiture photographers: self-taught, young, passionate:
Christian Oth: Creates wedding photography which oh-so-matches New York, where he’s based: