What is the definition of a “successful” photographer? {Loudoun County Photographer}

It’s a long one…but worth the read if you are curious about my business.

In the past few months I’ve had this question in my mind a lot.  As I went through the design process for building the basement out, and all of the landscaping we did in the Portrait Park last year, there was one thread that I heard a lot – “your business must be successful”.  But there is something about that statement that very much bothers me and I’ve been “noodling” on it to figure it out.  Is “successful” profitable?  Do people think I’m making a ton of money or do they think I have a good business?  And what is “good” in people’s minds?  I want people to see me as successful (my definition) – but will people stop coming to me if they think I’m successful and don’t “need” the business?  (yup, I heard that from someone who went somewhere else for their photos and it broke my heart)  Because most people define successful differently than I do, so here are my thoughts on the subject.

Of course at the end of the year every business is forced to define a success or failure for taxes, and for some, that defines them also.  Did I make money?  Did I get paid well enough for my job?  All of that is in the equation of success I think, but most people think success is ONLY tied to making money.

Did I expand my business last year?  Well, actually, honestly – no.  (I hang my head in frustration and disappointment about this) My business was a little bit down overall last year.  Some would say I was crazy to make the investments I did in my business because of that fact.  Yes, I did see it happening around June/July last year and I could have made major changes to my overall investment plan if I wanted to save money and/or make changes.  But ups and downs happen, so I tried to stay focused on the bigger picture.  Why was I not getting MORE business?

I could have, for example, NOT gone ahead with the basement build out.  And I could have, for example, changed pricing or offered a bunch of incentives for the down parts of the business.  All of these tactics, and more, are always evaluated and for various reasons I ruled them all out at the time and decided to plod forward.  (I know my pricing is more than fair  – as I look around I’m actually “cheap” compared to photographers that offer a lot less in my same professional space, so pricing wasn’t the problem)

In every business there are ebbs and tides and I have learned to not sweat the “small stuff” – the parts where I’m going to have a slow time, experience a little less business, or even have a big part of my business fall off for some reason.  As a one person shop there is no one to blame for any of this but me in most cases, so in the end I just had to sit back, look around, and think – what was I doing differently that made the change in the overall bottom line?  Or was there an outside factor affecting my business in that area?  Or horror, of all horrors, was it me personally????  (mostly joking a bit here as everyone knows I have a confidence problem and I’m always assuming folks just decided they didn’t like me after all)

I could complain there is a photographer on every street corner – or that someone was “taking” my business.  But none of that is really the problem.  All true though –  it all happens.  But in the end, none of that is really the major concern for me.  New photographers will come and go – and most of them will start out much less expensive than even I am, but that’s not what takes the majority of business away from me.  Because there are photographers much MORE expensive than even I – and some are even very limiting in how they work and what they will work on, so again, that is not what takes my business away from me.

My lack of attention in any area is my biggest foe – when I get so busy I forget to post a blog post, or don’t get an ad together for the newspaper – don’t update my website, can’t follow up on leads, etc.  That is what stops me the majority of time from my own success.  Me.  Without enough hours in the days to do everything I want to do, need to do, or even should do.  It all comes down to ME.

Should I grow?  Hire someone?  Scale back?  All possibilities and all things I think about every day – except the scale back part, LOL.  That doesn’t really cross my mind – and if you’ve met me you’ll understand.  Most of the time it comes down to time management.  I usually need to refocus and step back, and look at what areas need attention.  And in some cases, I missed enough in my “not noticing phase” that I lost traction that will affect my business for months.  And that is what happened last year.  I lost a little traction in a few key areas.  I could have said “uncle” – instead I said – “do it better next time, Patty”.  And I kept on moving forward.

You see, my business philosophies are a little bit different than the person who NEEDS to make money, and even from those that really WANT to make money (don’t tell my husband that I don’t want to make money, LOL).

The first rule of my business is:  Will I make the customer happy?  Seriously – it’s the truth.  Everything I’m doing is to enhance the customer experience or to provide the best possible session for a customer at all times.  I look at things differently – not from the business owners point of view all the time, but from the customer’s point of view.  If I was traveling 30 minutes to a photographer – I’d want a LOT of options for my images to be different from what I could get in my own back yard.  Or why go there?  So I build out – and continue to build out – the customer experience – both in the Portrait Park and now the indoor studio.  To make it great.  Not just good, or heaven forbid, “OKAY” – but GREAT.  Please drive away from here after your session saying that was GREAT.  Or cool, I like “cool” too.

My second rule – well, this one really keeps my business bottom line healthy – so I’m not a complete nut job in the world of business.  The second rule to everything I spend money on is,  “will it make me money”.  So I do think about the bottom line – but I think about it in how I spend the business’s money and/or my own personal investment dollars.  Yes, we’ve invested a LOT of our own personal money (another post, another day).  This business did NOT pay for the Portrait Park, or the studio remodel – yet.  But I believe if I’m priced fairly, keep good, tight margins, watch what my business spends money on, provide a great customer experience with a great product and service, keep a good name in the area, I can be “successful”.  And maybe even “cool”.  I like cool….(said with a little smile of determination)

So in the end, if my business is successful, to me it won’t mean I made a lot of money.  It will mean I have a lot of happy customers.  A lot of them please…that’s my real goal, LOL!  Because I do pay my bills – and with everything I did last year and now, I have a LOT of bills.  Those ebbs and tides the business takes, well most of them are reflected in new gray hairs as I worry about paying the bills in some months…but as long as the overall business is there, I’ll take the fact that sometimes I need to sit still in between running around. And if I’m sitting still for too long, it might be because I ran for too long without pause.

So bring it on world…but bring it here.  I want your business, I need your business, and I promise you I will work hard to give you a great experience, great images, and be priced fairly for what you will get – and you won’t get me saying you bought me a beach condo somewhere.  That is NOT a business goal.

So am I successful?  You decide.  In the end, for me, it’s all up to you.


#northernvirginiaphotographer #portraitpark #loudouncountyphotographer #familyphotographer #weddingphotographer #seniorphotographer #studiophotographer #portraitstudio

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