Ten years of trading is a major business milestone and it’s one I’m very proud to say that Barbara Leatham Photography achieved this year. Like every owner of a small business I’ve needed to adapt and evolve over time, I’d be the first to admit that I’ve made some mistakes along the way but I’ve also learned so much about being in business. I’m often asked what is the most important piece of advice I would give to a new business owner. I’m sure most people will give great advice on marketing, social media, branding etc., but I’d like to share a very different lesson that I wish I’d learned sooner.
The best piece of advice I can give to any creative business owner is that sometimes you need to turn away business. It’s not always easy to say no to a prospective client but it’s really important to work out when no is better for your business than yes. Remember it’s YOUR business and YOU can decide what sort of work you undertake, your business does not need to look the same as every other business in your sector. When you work with the right clients on the right sort of projects your creativity will be ignited, you will produce your best work and your business will flourish. If you don’t become confident in turning away the wrong sort of work you will soon feel creatively stifled and trapped.
Set yourself some guidelines to help you feel comfortable saying no.
Let’s use my business as an example. I love to photograph families and I work outdoors to create images full of emotion and narrative. I don’t offer the carefully posed, high key, white background style of some high street studios. I’m able to shoot that way but it’s not to my personal taste so if a family come to me specifically wanting that style I’m happy to refer them elsewhere knowing that I won’t create my best work with them.
For commercial shoots I love to work with clients who have a strong sense of brand and are looking for images full of narrative. The sort of business I would say no to isn’t quite so clearly defined as it is with families but as an example I would decline a commission to shoot a brand new car in a showroom in the style often used in brochures. I would however be bursting with creative ideas if I was shooting a quirky camper van or a vintage car in a great venue with lots of fun styling.
Wedding photography is something I’ve thought long and hard about as part of my business. I eventually came to realise that the only way I could remain fresh and inspired with weddings was reverse the more typical photography business model and make weddings just a very small part of my business. By being very selective and only working alongside couples who I feel have shared values and a strong creative connection means that I am totally inspired by the very small number of weddings I cover. I get to work with couples who are madly in love and open to having a little fun with their wedding photos. Unfortunately it means that I turn away far more weddings than I accept but I’m always happy to recommend other talented and trusted photographers.
If you are a fellow creative business owner I hope my own guidelines will help you create your own boundaries to enable you to do your best work. If you are a prospective client and I recommend another photographer I hope you will understand I have both our best interests at heart!