After being in business for over 10 years (4 years of that full-time), I can confidently say that I’ve made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot of lessons.

I thought it might be interesting for you to read about things that went wrong, things I regret having spent money on, and what I’ve learned from all of that.

I lost £2000 on paid ads

2 years ago I hired someone to run Google ads for me. I want to stretch that this person is really good at their job. However, none of what they did worked for me. Now there might be a disconnect between what I do and how they thought it would work on Google. It might also have been due to the fact that I didn’t have unlimited funds to test aggressively for a long enough period of time. To be fair, that’s actually a main reason – even a pro can’t run ads that work right from the start.

I got a handful of leads that didn’t even read the landing page I built and really weren’t “my” clients. In the end, I had to pull the trigger because I ran out of money.

So, would I run Google ads again? Yes. But only if I had lots more money or hired someone who has had success with another documentary family photographer (which is what I tried getting leads for). Family photography can be done in many different ways and what this Google Ads expert did, might have worked for a studio or lifestyle photographer, not for me though…

I’ve also invested in Facebook ads before. I did this entirely myself and again got nothing out of it. Because I didn’t know what I was doing. However, I only lost about £100 overall – which also might have been the reason WHY I didn’t have any luck. With ads, it takes money to make money. I don’t have that money.

Next time, I’ll definitely outsource this because even though I’m confident I can learn how to run successful ads, I really don’t want to. It’s not my expertise and really boring to learn for me.

I tried to do everything myself

Any investment in your business can go one of two ways… But I never thought about NOT spending money as something that would get expensive in the long run.

For a long time, I did EVERYTHING myself. I used free tools, free training, and no help. My logic was that it wouldn’t cost me money that I felt I didn’t have available to spend. It cost me tonnes of time though.

I’m not a natural marketer. I’m not a bookkeeper, accountant, social media manager, graphic designer, content writer, or any of the other roles that come with running a business. I’m a photographer and filmmaker which means I photograph and film and I edit those photos and films.

Everything else I had to learn. It was only 4 years ago that I finally invested in a CRM to handle my client data and workflows. 3 years ago I finally started using email marketing.

When I started, I made my own logo. I’ve always built my own website. I handled my accounts. And I posted on Social Media (badly).

Except all of this was too much for me. I couldn’t keep up.

Only when I really invested good money into educating myself on how to run a business via a photography membership called The Photographer’s Voice, did I understand that NOT outsourcing parts of my business would cost me more than handing things over to someone else who’s much better equipped with these tasks that take so much time for me.

I now have a fantastic VA who posts on my Social Media accounts for me. Instead of hours every week, it takes me maybe 15 minutes a month to make sure my feed gets new content regularly.

Last year, I hired an accountant – submitting my self-assessment to HMRC wasn’t something I felt like I needed to give up. But I know I might save some money in tax and I just don’t have to worry about it.

Last year I hired someone to redo my website. While I liked what my website looked like, it was very slow and instead of spending weeks and months trying to fix this, I made sure my business is making enough money to hire this kind of help.

Outsourcing tasks might not appeal to someone who’s just starting out – until you try it and realise that the time this saves you makes up for the money it costs.

I joined too many memberships and communities

Over the years, I joined loads of memberships. Some of them stuck – like Found & Flourish, The Photographer’s Voice and PhotoBizX. Others not so much…

Last year I joined 2 memberships that really weren’t the right fit. I don’t want to name any names but one of them in particular lured me in with promises that were very far-fetched as I can now see. They promised exposure and opportunities to network with other successful female business owners but lacked a membership community hub and discouraged (prohibited really) group meet-ups outside officially planned and paid events amongst other things that let the whole membership seem very amateurish and kind of like a con.

I’m still a member (I had to sign up for a year) but really don’t take part in it at all anymore. I took out of it what I could and learned my lesson. It also makes me appreciate the fantastic communities I’m part of led by connectors that couldn’t be more supportive to their members.

I also joined a membership that offered free photography mentoring for members amongst other things. Sadly, the mentoring isn’t what I would expect from it in many ways. The community is catered towards photography amateurs as well as professionals and with that I don’t think it’s a good home for me.

However, I don’t regret joining them for a while. They do put on free events that I probably wouldn’t have visited otherwise. I feel like I can only learn from these experiences and the money I invested in those isn’t necessarily lost in every way.

It’s also important to note that being part of too many communities – even if they serve different needs – can be incredibly overwhelming and time-consuming. I can’t physically be present everywhere and make use of every offer in every membership. I need to pick and choose and be really deliberate about where to spend my energy. So when I narrow down where to get involved, I can make much more use of the benefits on offer compared to when I’m trying to be everywhere.

I offered every service under the sun

When I started my business as a side hustle, I did that because I got inquiries to shoot weddings from people I didn’t know. I wanted to charge for that and decided a small business alongside my main job in video was the best choice.

But from photographing weddings came requests for portraits, families, architecture, products, fashion, events. I think the only thing I never did was pet photography.
I took every job. And my website reflected that. I assumed I needed to be versatile so all kinds of people would be able to hire me.

And it worked. Except, most of the jobs I only did because I would get paid – not because I enjoyed them. At least after a while…

Even though I got more picky over time, even when I moved myself and my business to the UK in 2014, I still offered every service under the sun. I eventually dropped weddings because I wanted my weekends back. And because I tried all different genres, I slowly figured out what I enjoyed most: portraits and families.

It still took until 2020 that I really evaluated what kind of jobs I wanted to do and which I had to say no to.

Something I’ve always been doing in my life is following joy. I only want to do things I enjoy doing and once something stops being fun or interesting, I get out.

Of course, that’s not always 10% possible – even now I sometimes accept contracts because I need the money. But I don’t market those things, I focus on the elements of my work that bring me the most joy: Documenting (family and work) life as it is, unposed. And photographing people to help them feel good about themselves without having to change who they are.

Overall, my work focuses on cultivating confidence. Today, that is my niche.

Having tried almost every genre, I know now why this is what I love the most… I think every photographer should try multiple things to start out with. Niching too soon means you might actually focus on something you THINK you should be doing rather than what you LOVE and are good at.

I didn’t know what to charge for my work

Following on from the above, I really had no clue how to price my work for a long time.

It all stems from growing up around money blocks in my family that I inherited and cultivated myself. Over the past few years, I’ve done a lot of work around that. However, pricing my work is still a sticky topic.

As of today, all my offers are profitable – which means I can pay myself a wage from my work rather than make a loss or draw even. But I understand that profit is a spectrum and my goal is to make enough money to live comfortably from my business. Currently, that is not the case. But I can live off it.

My partner Lee is also a freelance artist – in the performing industry. So I don’t have a stable income in my home that I can rely on. Fot me, that’s motivation enough to work hard as well as smart.

It’s been a real learning process.

Part of understanding how to price my services is understanding what my business costs me every year and every month. There’s a fantastic CODB calculator by Julie Christie who runs The Photographer’s Voice. While this is a calculator specifically for photographers, it can easily be adapted to any other service-based business and it gives you great insight into how to charge for profit.

I also have a Finance Notion template on offer that tracks your income and expenses as well as helps you stay up to date with your fixed costs of running your business.

I spent thousands £££ on online courses

… that I never took or didn’t hold their promises.

I love education and learning new things. Nowadays it’s not just creative courses, it’s also marketing and business. I’m very receptive to FOMO and messages that promise success and amazing outcomes. Sadly I still don’t always see through all the empty promises that can’t deliver.

I’ve also paid for a lot of online courses I had all intention of attending. But you know how it is with anything that’s self-paced: the idea of doing things in your own time is great – the reality is that we don’t take that time. I’m no exception.

Somewhere on an old hard drive, I probably have about 10 Creative Live courses I bought a gazillion years ago and never watched.

I made plenty of mistakes and bad investments throughout running this business. But actually, while I understand that some things went very wrong, I try to always take something away from it. Even if something goes wrong, I can learn from it. That can be to pay more attention to the wording of a promise or do my own research when hiring or investing in someone/something.

I am planning to run this business for a long time and I’m sure I’ll make plenty of further mistakes.

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