Q: How do you avoid being discouraged when starting a small business? What about once you've been doing it for a while? How do you stay away from self doubt?
We're going a little deep here today and talking all about self worth and the comparison game, but such a great question to ask since it's something I know we all struggle with from time to time as small business owners, especially within the creative field.
A: You don't.
I know. An abrupt answer, but I promise I'll explain :)
The thing is, starting a small business is scary. You're going against the norm, and when you do that, some people will project their own desire to leave their corporate job or their fear and discomfort for you, onto you. First and foremost, you must learn to see it as just that: projection. If you learn early on to stay in your own wheel house, to journal your ideas and create a thorough, organized business plan, the harder it is to shake yourself into a frenzy or talk yourself out of your beautiful idea(s) and bravery.
The first thing to recognize (aside from others projections) is that it isn't going to happen over night. This is where I always felt the most discouraged upon starting out. I would see other photographer's blogs/websites, busy client schedules and workshops going live - only to see my inbox at zero, or responses from people who were accepting my offer to photograph them for free simply so I could have something to show in my portfolio. Discouraging to the max. I'll also tell you straight up, that if I could do it all again - I would. I would blur out the noise of other photographer's in the industry and instead, focus solely on what I liked, rather than what I thought I was supposed to like in order to get clients. Such a messy little rollercoaster, and I won't lie to you: It took me years to get where I am now. In a beautiful bubble filled to the brim with authenticity and genuine images and style. I look at my images now, and every single time I think: Hell yes. That's me. I'd know my photo anywhere. Again, this did not happen over night. It took years. Give yourself the space to grow and figure it out. Because good things take time.
My second point sort of falls in line with the first. Do your best to avoid the comparison game. It will crush you and only stunt/delay your growth as a business owner. I know we all think it's super innocent when we find ourselves spending hours upon hours on other photographer's instagrams or websites, and the thing is -- maybe it does start out that way. We're there just to see what the community is up to, you know? - what are other artists shooting? Any lighting techniques I can grab? etc. But then before we know it, we're re-doing our websites to look just like x's, or we end up asking the question: am I as good as them? What if I'm not? Why do they have 20k+ followers and I only have 3k? A vicious cycle that has no real winning answer. The answer is always to stay in your lane. Be who you are as an artist, and though it takes more time that way, the longevity is there. My first website was a total reflection of spending way too much time on another photographer's blog. I've since had quite a few sites and design tweaks, and I used to feel embarrassed or self conscious about the changes - I'd have friends be like, "Again?! Really?" But what they weren't understanding was that I was trying desperately to find my own authentic brand. You've got to try on things to see if they work or not.
I'm happy to report, I've never felt more like myself in my little business than right now :)
See how long that took? Six years. SIX. You'll get there. Just be patient, and recognize when you're looking for inspiration and tips, and when you're falling into the dirty comparison game.
Lastly, a little fun practice for when you're down in the dumps or you're just feeling like what you're doing isn't enough.. visit your client reviews. Read from past client's experiences and bask in the fact that you ARE enough, and that what you're doing matters. I probably visit my reviews every other month, and although 98% of them are wedding reviews, they still hit home and some make me cry every time I read them. These are humans who appreciate and value the business that I've built. That's enough for me to kick any self doubt to the curb.
So, in answer to your question - you've got this. Self doubt is just a part of the learning process and the process of being human. Embrace it, recognize it and move on from it as soon as you can. There is no growth in self doubt.
As always, if you have any other questions you can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, or fill out the contact form on this website! You can also follow along with me on Instagram and send me a direct message. x
Photographer. Stylist. Writer.