It’s hard to turn down help in building your photography business, especially from friends and relatives. But a few years ago, I realized that the assistance I was receiving actually had become counterproductive. To grow my business, I had to learn to say “no.”
I had moved to a new city, where I was fortunate to have a number of friends and acquaintances. Knowing that I needed to establish a clientele in my new surroundings, several of my friends were kind enough to send work my way. Some of the jobs were corporate assignments; others were family portraits.
A Job’s a Job — or Is It?
The problem was, neither of those were my speciality. I focus on cultural photography, from traditional festivals and customs to modern, urban subcultures. So while I accepted some of the jobs sent my way at first, I ultimately decided that these assignments were preventing me from developing my business in my chosen field.
As soon as I started saying “no” and referring the portrait and corporate jobs to other photographers, I began unearthing opportunities in my own genre.
I know what you may be thinking: in today’s economy, a job’s a job — and it’s crazy to turn one down, especially from someone who cares about you. When you’re invited to photograph Cousin Ernie’s wedding, your natural instinct is to jump at the chance.
And why shouldn’t you?
The reason is that it can turn your photography business into a rudderless enterprise that veers from opportunity to opportunity without ever charting its own path. And that is a formula for financial failure — not to mention creative frustration.
So it’s OK to say “no,” even to friends and relatives, when an assignment isn’t a good fit. “No” is a very powerful word; it’s a word that offers you the freedom to succeed on your own terms.
I can count on one hand the photographers I know who are employed by someone else; the great majority of us are small business owners. And in a world where fewer than half of new businesses ever turn a profit, spending time, money and resources photographing something irrelevant to your business is simply not a smart move.
Especially when you are just starting out, you need a single-minded determination to establish yourself in your chosen genre. You need to shoot new work for your book; you need to create or otherwise source a database of prospective clients; and you need to develop a targeted marketing plan. And that’s just the beginning.
All of this takes time — time you lose if you spend it taking random jobs to make a quick buck.
Honestly, it doesn’t matter if everyone loves those baby photos you shot, if your goal is a career as an adventure photographer. It just becomes a distraction, pulling you further from your dreams.
Stay focused on your goals by learning to say “no.”