First, a confession...My last paid portrait session was in December. And I took on a VERY limited number of portrait sessions last fall. Instead I referred past clients and new contacts to a handful of local photographers whose work I admired.
Sound crazy? Why would I do that during what would normally be the busy time?
To be honest, I was completely burned out. After over four years of working hard, investing in my education and equipment, taking time away from my family, and putting clients first, I knew I needed a change. A big one! So I just shut it down. No new sessions. No new clients. No bookings for 2011 – at least for now.
What drove me to this point? I had finally gotten my business to the point where I was actually able to pay myself, which was nice. But I felt like the job had really taken over my life. I couldn’t enjoy an outing with my family without feeling guilty about that editing that needed to be done. But that wasn’t want finally drove me over the edge.
- It was not wanting to take my camera out when I was with my own kids because I was so sick of dealing with photos.
- It was the dad that called to bully me about my pricing after his family session because he wife didn’t review the pricing with him ahead of time.
- It was the daily call (at least) from a mom wanting to schedule a session but wanting everything included in the session fee - including the disk of high res images.
- It was getting the feeling that consumers just don’t see the difference between a quality image and one that is not.
- It was cringing when a friend would post an out of focus image on Facebook and everyone would scramble to say how great it was and ask if they could take a photo for them.
- It was seeing a number of photographers operating illegal businesses where they were changing insanely low prices but not paying taxes, insurance, etc. because they considered it a paid hobby.
- It was seeing some REALLY REALLY bad photography and seeing friends recommend those photographers to other friends because they were “affordable”.
I was very reluctant to start this business even when I did (5 years ago) – I wasn’t a great photographer yet. I was inconsistent. I struggled with exposure. I over edited. I had some of those same friends asking me to take pictures and I didn’t want to do it for free so I charged a low price and tried to figure out what I was doing. But I did have a legal business entity. I paid taxes. I went to workshops to train, practiced in every spare moment, and worked to get better. We invested some of our savings into getting the equipment and training I needed. I invested hours. I had child care so I could work at it more and I improved quickly. I wasn’t willing to be the McDonald’s of photographers: cheap and low quality.
After I ramped up and got to the point where I was consistent and confident I raised my prices. A lot. I added new products, new packages, more more more. I tried every template and every product and tried to figure out how to incorporate it into my packages to be able to charge more. I spent so much money on samples only to either never sell any or decide not to sell them. I was overwhelmed by choice and my bank account felt it. Looking at my expenses in the early years, there was definitely a bit of a buying spree that rarely resulted in me earning more. I didn’t always carefully consider each purchase instead I would say “I have money, I want that”.
I was playing at running a business instead of actually running a business.
Over time I realized I needed to stop buying every new product that came on the market. I know, not as fun for blogging on here when I’m not trying as much new stuff. But, I actually simplified what I offered. I revamped my packages to make them more flexible. And when I did that I actually started to feel like I was getting some traction. I was busy and my revenue per session was where I wanted it. But I still wasn’t making as much profit as I wanted to and I was still spending so much time. Throw in high rent for the loft space I was renting and two hours a day of commuting and it is no surprise I got burned out. Not to mention a failed experiment with associate photographers that was a very expensive trial.
Fast forward to 2011. I haven’t scheduled any portrait sessions yet this year. And it has been a welcome break. It has allowed me to put more focus into the photography classes I teach. It has allowed me to quietly enjoy a part time job. It has allowed me to love photography again. I actually took my kids out for some quick new portraits – something I hadn’t done in a VERY long time. Over the weekend I brought my camera on a hike and really enjoyed taking pictures. This break has been very good for me.
Last night I had a dream. In the dream I was having a fantastic portrait session with a beautiful and vibrant little girl. And I woke up missing the portrait sessions.