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Hustling in the Off-Season

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May is coming, which means busy season is nearly upon me! It has already picked up quite a bit, booking engagement sessions, portrait sessions, and personal projects for clients and myself. But just a little over a month ago, I was scrambling to get booked. Winter was slow, and starting my business in January wasn’t very encouraging, when all the holiday proposal couples had already started booking their more experienced wedding photographers.

So how did I stay busy? What led to the bookings I’m getting now? This is the last post of the series, but I feel like it’s the most important one. I’ve read and heard so many “How I Got Started” stories from photographers I admire, but very few of them really detailed what they did when things were not moving. They jump from starting their business to booking their first wedding — but wait! What happened between those two points?

If you’re starting a business, I hope this is encouragement as well as insight into strategies to try. Even when things were slow, I kept really busy! And here’s how:

  1. Chase the dream like it’s around the corner. I am not someone who takes a lot of risks. I have to think of all the scenarios that could go wrong, and then find solutions to each one. I plan everything that way — I don’t buy anything unless I have nearly double that amount available to spend; I have rainchecks in mind for every planned date with friends or clients; and as a graphic designer, I create 2-3 versions of nearly everything before choosing the one I like best (logos, e-mail templates, Instagram graphics, you name it).To some of you that’s too intense, but if you’re a planner like me, you feel me! The first risk I took in my business was a purchase I made near Valentine’s Day. I spent hundreds of dollars on photography courses from my favorite wedding photographer, Katelyn James. I wasn’t positive what would come out of those courses, or if they would truly help me grow. But I trusted Katelyn enough after having followed her for about two years to make the investment and learn new things.By investing in education, though it was a hefty price to pay, I was chasing my dream like time was of the essence. I wanted to learn everything I could because I chose to believe my first bride was just around the corner. I put urgency in my learning, and practice in my business. I took my camera out while I watched my course videos, and played around with settings to learn my camera inside and out. I dug up old photos and re-edited them based on the new techniques I was learning. I chose to accept that improvement was necessary and possible.Why? Because my future brides are counting on me, even if they don’t know me yet, to be the wedding photographer of their dreams. My future brides are likely not even engaged yet… they could be on Pinterest scrolling through wedding photos and dreaming of the shot list they want to hand me to ensure they get their dream galleries. But by practicing and learning everything I can now, I am building confidence in myself and in those following me. My future brides might be following me now and reading my blogs, and deciding early on that they trust me because of how much effort and care I am putting into building a service they can be excited about.How it keeps me busy:
    I’ve been spending 3-8 hours a week watching education videos, reading blogs, and interacting in Facebook groups offered by Katelyn for her students.
  2. Never too big to learn, never too small to adapt. This is SO important!! Humility in business is one of my number one values, after having experienced enough bosses and coworkers in corporate America who were unwilling to learn from others or trust the skills of others that they did not learn. No matter how confident I become in my skills and abilities, I hope I never become too inflated to learn from others who have more or different experience than me!Conversely, I refuse to allow myself to feel like I am too small to adapt strategies of growing or successful businesses to my own. I often feel like a little fish in a big sea, so hearing about business strategies that work for established wedding photographers tempts me to believe that I’m just not there yet. But that isn’t true! Sure, maybe I can’t spend a couple hundred dollars on marketing my business on The Knot or Wedding Wire, but I can implement the same strategies elsewhere — build a successful Instagram without promotions by carefully crafting my content and captions, write blogs weekly just like the photographers in the big leagues do, and build a website that puts the user experience first and implements SEO.Where do I learn all of these strategies? By studying other photographers and business owners. I have become acutely observant since starting my business. I notice things I didn’t before, because I put on a business-owner pair of glasses. I tend to see right through every Facebook and Instagram ad I come across, and can note why different language is used or why a photo is getting more engagement.And apart from studying at a distance, I let those people speak into my business directly. I take their advice and seek out any chance to hear their ideas and input.How it keeps me busy:
    “Never too big” means I talk to other photographers REG-U-LAR-LY! I have a good friend at church, Ben Palmer, a fellow talented photographer. He is really good at sharpening my thinking about my art and business, and pours into me with encouragement as I pursue this dream. I also interact with other photographers in Facebook groups weekly and ask for their constructive feedback on recent work. “Never too small” means I listen to podcasts multiple times a week, sometimes daily. Some of my favorites are Goal Digger, Weddings for Real, Christy Wright’s Business Boutique, the Dave Ramsey Show, and Wedding Photographers Unite. Many of the hosts on those podcasts have 6-figure businesses! But they help me think small while dreaming big so that my business can succeed from their strategies.
  3. Stretch out your sessions. I did this A LOT this past fall/winter. I had 3 sessions that booked me for Christmas cards before I launched as a wedding photographer. I stretched those sessions out over the course of about 3 months! Seriously, I posted photos from those galleries for the longest time, I was even starting to worry people would notice the same galleries being shared over and over again. This sounds like desperation, but I got this tip from a blog by Amy and Jordan Demos, a husband-wife wedding photography duo in Scottsdale, AZ. I thought they were crazy, but I tried it anyway. The idea was to give the perception of busyness even if you aren’t booking. Blog everything, even if it’s not a session post. Create the demand, and learn new things from old sessions, then share what you learned.And you know what… it worked! One day at my church group, my friend told me he wanted to book a session with me for his girlfriend, but he thought I was all booked through to the summer! I asked where he got that idea, and he said, “Well you’re posting sessions constantly. Doesn’t seem like you have a single weekend free!” Another acquaintance messaged me just a few weeks ago. He said, “I just want to say that seeing your work ethic and your blog/website and how much you work at your ‘side hustle’ is genuinely inspiring to me and if I ever need pictures I’m calling you.”On top of the feedback, booking picked up with clients wanting to book further in advance to “get into my schedule.” This happened enough that it actually became true! I have very few weekends available in the next month or two for clients to book. Guess there is some merit in “fake it ’till you make it.”How it keeps me busy:
    I’ve had to get creative. I’ve posted images far back in my portfolio, re-edited images from old sessions, and gone out to take new images of just about anything — flowers, trees, buildings, dogs, etc. I’ve gotten a lot of practice at creating variety out of a small sample of work, which has only sharpened my ability to create more variety within my sessions.
  4. Logistics, logistics, logistics. There is a lot of prep that goes into launching a business, and even into booking a wedding. It takes time and planning, and the planning may not always be fruitful right away. Some things I needed to prepare for my future clients were contracts, pricing packages, an online gallery-delivery service, contact forms, bridal questionnaire, business licensure, a budget plan, business banking account, lions and tigers and bears — oh my! It may not always be the most fun work, but it’s necessary for building a professional brand and providing a superb client experience.How it keeps me busy:
    Slow season is the perfect time to spend gathering all of these materials and tools. I finished a lot of these projects, but there is still a lot more to do!

 

In hindsight, I am really thankful for the slow seasons my business gets. It’s a chance to take a step back and hone in on new creative ideas and outlets. I get to work on improving my business without the pressure of deadlines or a hectic shooting schedule. If you’re a photographer and you are experiencing a slow season in your business, embrace it! This is the time for you to grow and prepare yourself for those future clients. One day, you’ll be so thankful for all the hustling you did in the off-season.

That concludes the “Hustling” series! Do you have other ideas for how to keep busy during off-season? Drop them in the comments below to share your knowledge with other photographers.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Xx Emily

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