• Melanie Beddow

Confessions After 4 Years of Business

Wow, it's been 4 years! That’s like an entire high school career.


I have been an entrepreneur for 4 years, the most professionally fulfilling years of my adult life. (but I don’t have that many adult years under my belt). As you would expect, it has been amazing, but far from easy. When starting a business born out of an existing hobby, the thoughts go something like this. “I love photography, wouldn’t it be amazing if I got paid for it?" or "Can I really make a job out of this?"


Wishful thinking right? In the early days of my business there definitely was a "honeymoon phase" of sorts. Like, how is this real life? No one tells you about all the hidden hard things. Things like the extra job titles you get, or the constant questioning you have of yourself as you navigate being the CEO of your own business. It's been a fast 4 years of business and through the ups and downs, here are some confessions I have.


How it started


At my very first photo session, I was pregnant. Like “within-weeks-of-giving-birth” pregnant. On paper that doesn’t seem like the best idea; starting a business right before giving birth. Most people take a break from their jobs in the days leading up to and the days after giving birth, not launch a business. I guess that’s just not my style…I decided to start a business from scratch.


I launched my business with Bluebonnet Minis; something I felt confident I couldn't go wrong with. I cringe at some of those images now, but after leaving the sessions that day I felt alive, excited and just a new type of butterflies. Like "WOAH, I'm doing this thing and people think that I'm worth booking!"



Spring 2018

However, in addition to all the excitement, there definitely was an underlying fear. Fear of not knowing anything that I needed to do to run a business or be in the least bit professional, and the fear of just being an all-around art fraud that people would see right through. (you know Imposter Syndrome) It was a vulnerable place to be. To think that my service would provide artwork for people who could criticize it into oblivion. I already have a relentless inner critic, and I become crushed when my fears and doubts are confirmed by those around me. Yeah, I was a little emotionally all over the place.


I think the best word for it was surreal, but I was full steam ahead.



Confessions on how it’s going


I’d like to say that everything has changed over the last 4 years. Somethings have. I don’t have the jitters walking into every single session like I used to. I have gained quite a bit of knowledge and confidence along the way. Plus, I have used processes and resources around me to become much more professional and streamlined.


On the other hand, I wrestled with many emotions at the beginning that have not resolved themselves. They have just evolved with the business over time. More on that later.


So without further adieu, here are some thoughts and confessions I have after 4 years of business.


Its been 4 years of slowly refining my craft

Well, technically it's been a little longer. I picked up my first camera in my high school photography class, but I would not say I started developing actual skills until I started my business. And if I'm completely honest, I feel like I don't have the stark "then and now" photos that a lot of photographers have. Yes, there is a difference in my work from the beginning. BUT, that being said it ain't no huge 'glow up' or anything. The "then and now" comparison reels that are common amongst photographers leaves me full of doubt. "Am I really getting any better?" All the clients I have pouring in would say yes and I am definitely much more well-versed in Lightroom. However, in my heart of hearts, I'm a little disappointed that I'm not at some point further down the artist's journey. Like I wish I was more wowed by my own work. I can't even specifically define where I wish I was, but it's this constant discontent with what I am producing and the following thought that "I should be better than this."


Spring 2022

I feel like I’m hitting a lull

This one sort of piggybacks off the last. When I started MBP I had a pretty huge growth from years 1-3. That makes sense right? I was starting from zero. Year 4 has still come with its fair share of growth in the business, whether it be financial, client base, or overall reach in the community. However, it just feels lackluster compared to years 1-3. Again, I'm less impressed with myself. I'm hitting a lull.


When I stop and think about it I can logically cut myself slack. If I kept growing at the same rate I did in the years prior I would not be able to handle the business on my own anymore (although, how awesome would that be to have enough growth to need to outsource or hire an employee). Yet, somehow the slowing acceleration of growth feels personal. "What is wrong with me? Is my work just not as good as it used to be? Are people taking their photo needs elsewhere?" "Am I old news?"


Again, logic steps in. Lots of this can be explained away. Inflation of all products and services has changed our whole economy and frankly how booked my calendar is. I can't quite explain it, but the mental battle still ensues nonetheless.


Please let me add a caveat to this. I AM IMMENSELY GRATEFUL FOR EVERY SINGLE CLIENT. Even the ones who book once and never return. You trust me with something precious, and I don't take that lightly. Looking at my business with emotional glasses instead of business glasses does something to my thought process that sends me spiraling down a deep dark hole of uncertainty and low self-esteem.



I’m annoyed at the pervasive theme in the industry that

“I NEED to raise my prices”

As I have grown in my business I have been reaching out to many different educators in the field. For me, it's mostly on the podcast platform. After lots of listening, I just have one dominant thought. I am largely disappointed at the overwhelming amount of photography educators that preach the idea that "Raising your prices" is the only way to grow, the only way to make the industry better, and the only way to be respected as a photographer.


Yes, you heard that right...just about every photography educator out there has banged the "raise your prices" drum. I'm not talking about like $40-$50 per session either. I'm talking like doubling or even tripling prices overnight simply on the notion that I should "charge my worth". Like what does that even mean?


I have a few of issues with this notion. It has taken me a while to feel confident enough to even state them on a platform that I know will not be widely seen, but here we go.

  • Charging "boutique" i.e. expensive prices means providing a boutique service: Now don't misinterpret this to say that I don't care about the experience I am providing to you as my clients. What I am saying is that the level of service and client experience I am able and willing to provide to my clients is reflected in my prices. I don't want to do boutique photography things. I don't want to hold digital images hostage until you meet me face to face and then force you to buy overpriced prints just to walk away with anything from your session. I don't want to provide you with a client closet that is my style and not yours. I don't want to provide you with thoughtless client gifts that are unnecessary (and indirectly funded by you anyways). Do I want to provide a personal and lovely service and product for you? Absolutely. Do I want to charge you for extra fluff that you don't want? No. I want to charge what I believe my art and services are worth without the extra things you didn't want anyways.

I'm not a boutique photographer and I don't want to be.

  • I want to sleep at night believing that I charge a fair price for the art I create: Now, this is 1,000% subjective. I bet people are reading this now who think I already charge too much. And that is perfectly okay with me. I've worked hard on my prices and believe in what I charge even though some want to pay less. Frankly, the photography educators say that I am an "introductory photographer". I believe I have found a sweet spot within the supply and demand continuum where I can confidently stand behind my prices while still having a steady workflow.

  • I have to consider all the remaining nitty-gritty logistical stuff that is at play. Things like the type of photography I specialize in, the city in which I conduct my business, the type of equipment I use, and all that other boring stuff. Nothing particularly glamorous, but all viable things that must be considered.



Growing my business nags at me constantly

Growing my business is something that I feel like I am just spinning and spinning and spinning my wheels for. There is no manual. No step-by-step checklist that tells you when you reach the "x" goal then move on to the "y" objective. The growth of my business is purely on me, what I decide to make of it, and the direction I want it to go. I've tried many new things, this blog included. I've brainstormed many ideas that never came to full fruition, like a STUDIO! And, I have agonized when I feel like nothing that I am doing is yielding the results I want. You've heard the saying "Do what you always do and you'll get what you always get." It's just so much pressure and it's so hard not to take it personally when my marketing ideas or efforts come back void. Being a business owner is definitely NOT for the emotionally weak. Ha, it's growing my skin a little thicker every day.



Through it all, I can't believe that I really get to say that this is my job!

I feel like I just spent the entirety of this blog post griping about hard things in my job, but at the end of the day, I LOVE what I do.

  • I get to create products for people that are of great sentimental value. Photos you will hang on the walls of your home and look at 10, 20 even 30 years from now with such delight. I get to connect with people and encourage them in new seasons of life.

  • I get to connect with other people who have encouraged me in ways that only God knew I needed.

  • I photograph families and newborns. Oh my goodness, this job has been more fulfilling than having the extra cash for kids' sports or MDO. Every single happy client brings me so much joy.

  • I get to challenge myself to something I never thought I would do. I never thought this introverted, type A personality would have any other job than a simple desk job that I clock in and out of every day.

  • I get to continually scratch my creative itch. I can't draw, sculpt, paint, make music, or write (ha, obviously), but I get to make art in a way that is so satisfying.

  • I get to snuggle newborn babies!!!! How many people can claim that as part of their job description?

  • Honing my craft has led me to be able to serve my church in a spiritually fulfilling capacity. I have photographed baptisms, Christmas, Good Friday and Easter services, events, VBSs, and many other things. All events where I get to watch God work in the lives of others. All because I take pictures! (insert mind-blown emoji)



 

There is a lot to be said about owning your own business. Many of those things I didn't even say here, but moving forward it feels refreshing to confess the things I have been feeling. It clears my mind. And now I can head into my 4th busy season ready to take on everything that comes my way.


Let's go!


- Mel B.

Mel B Photo

www.melbphoto.com


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