The biggest photography business education mistake

Friday, December 18th, 2020



There are so many successful routes to running a business, that finding the right one at first feels like a daunting task. There are so many educators and courses and free webinars and things that will suck you into believing one route to success. Don’t let this overshadow what makes you different. There is one photography business education mistake that can cost you growth for a very long time.

The single, biggest mistake you can make when educating yourself in photography and business practices is this: learning everything from a single photographer, and implementing their methodology step by step.

On the surface, this might not seem like a mistake. They’re successful, right? They have this business owning down to a science, and they were gracious enough to share that knowledge?

Not quite.

There are so many facets to running a photography business, and while many educators are transparent about their success, you have to remember this: there is no one size fits all that will lead you to success, with your brand, your type of clientele, and the knowledge a single other photographer is giving you.

While you might LOVE all the information they give you, you have to remember to cherry pick the information that best applies to you, the company you want to own, and the best way to serve your clients.

If I was taking education from a photographer that is so, so successful and knowledgeable – but they became successful in a different state, with a wildly different clientele than I want to have, something won’t add up right here. And while this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to photography educators, the important detail here is to make sure you apply the knowledge and twist it in a way that will benefit your business.

How to implement education from other photographers:

Ask yourself: what are they teaching me that agrees with my current process? What challenges it?

Oftentimes paying for business education isn’t just about learning new ways to success – it’s also about bouncing a suggestion against what you already know to be true, and making an assessment on that. For example, let’s say that one of your favorite photography educators suggests to you to stop doing client gifts – that they aren’t actually improving your experience.

While it’s important to consider their suggestion, it’s also important to consider the previous reactions you’ve had. If you send a client gift to everybody after booking, and you always get emails of gratitude and intentionality afterward, it’s likely that client gift is making a substantial impact on the way your clients experience you.

Taking what others are teaching you is important – but it’s more important to take that information and make an assessment against what you already know to be true. Certain practices won’t work for everybody, so using information to assess things that could change but also things that should stay the same will play a pivotal role in creating an experience that is truly unique to your business.

Ask yourself: how would these changes they’re suggesting affect the last client I photographed? Would it work in a positive way? Would I like the results?

The best judgement of an outcome of a change is to assess it based on a client you already worked with. Consider the latest client of yours: how would this thing you just learned affect the process of them working with you? While speculation won’t always be accurate, you can likely make a pretty educated guess on how changing a certain process would affect your clients.

It’s important to remember that every piece of business advice/education that’s being given is given from personal experience – but your and your clients’ experiences are likely going to be different than an educator who maybe is in a completely different part of the country, targeting completely different types of people than you.

If you love working with low-budget clients and providing them a great service at a value within their range, shifting towards an IPS/print selling model likely won’t positively impact these low-budget clients you love so much. There are a lot of factors to consider before taking a piece of advice, so before implementing it, truly ask yourself what type of change that would impact on your clients.

Ask yourself: are there things about this photographer’s origin story that conflict with mine? How do our backgrounds change the way our business succeeds, and how can I alter their advice to better fit my lived experience?

There are often frustrating moments when you’re listening to an educator share their story – and it is nothing like yours. Maybe they had a safety net to pursue their business full time. Maybe you’re a parent and this educator is childless. They had a savings account, they had willing models, maybe it’s any sort of variable that you don’t have access to. While they still had to work hard to make their dreams come true, there are different barriers for people in different stages of life.

If you’re watching an educator and feel like you can’t relate to anything they’re saying, ask yourself: how can I alter this advice to fit what I need to accomplish? Maybe if you don’t have willing models, you can find another photographer that will let you shadow a session. If you have kids and time restraints, maybe work on slower growth, one client at a time, instead of hitting the ground running. If you don’t have a financial safety net, don’t quit your job and jump headfirst. There are so many paths to success and not one path is the same.

Remember this: every educator wants you to succeed. In order to make sure that success is truly yours, always consider different ways of doing things and what truly works for you in this moment. Cherry picking advice from multiple sources is going to lead to a customization of your version of business that can’t be found anywhere else – truly unique, and yours only.


Hey! I'm Makayla, a wedding photojournalist based in Duluth, MN and Saint Paul, MN. 

I believe that stories are best told untouched, undirected, and with intentionality and meaning.

This blog is a space to share advice for couples about weddings, advice for photographers about witnessing events with intention, and steps to create decisions based on your values and what matters most to you.

Grab your favorite beverage, pull up a chair, and let's get to know each other.


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