Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Thoughts on this whole photography thing [LONG]

I've been meaning to write this post for a long time now, but I haven't had the time and brain function to articulate what I want to say (not quite sure I do at the moment either, but I thought I would try, on this rainy, rainy June day). I'm hoping to be completely honest about the whole thing, but I may gloss over some details or whatever for my own well-being (and perhaps to spare some feelings)...we'll see. I'm typing without a plan, basically.

First, a bit of background for those who may not know: Last year while I was on Mat Leave I bought a new camera and started taking photos of my friend's kids. I posted them on my personal Facebook, and for some reason (probably semi-purposefully, looking back on it), I included a watermark that said "Genevieve Flynn Photography". Long before I was on Mat Leave I had this vague dream that someday, maybe, I would get to do photography as a career (because I loved it so much). so that's probably the reason I took the 'leap' and included my name on those photos. Well it seemed to have worked, because I started getting requests from more friends and family, and friends of friends, and eventually strangers, to take photos of them and their kids. I was delighted, and jumped into the 'portfolio' building portion of my job (meaning I was charging near nothing and working my butt off). Luckily I was able to do it because Victor was still small and Dan was home for a lot of it. I shot about 30-35 sessions in 2010 and was extremely encouraged.

Around the Fall I started to seriously think about what I would do once my Maternity Leave ended at the end of February. Of course the idea of staying home and doing photography was at the top of my list, so I started researching ways I could do it. My father in law recommended a federal government initiative called the Self Employment Benefit Program (SEB). Basically it was a program designed to help you get through your first year of owning your own business by providing EI payments while you worked. The payments were small (less than minimum wage), but it was meant to act as a supplement so that you could take a stab at working for yourself. It sounded perfect for me so starting at the beginning of this year, I worked on my application and business plan.

Now, before that (still in the Fall), I also started a Fan page on Facebook and a Blogger blog. I bought a professional blog template and worked on it for months, but couldn't 'reveal' it until I knew I was in the SEB program (one of the conditions of the program is that you couldn't be already 'working' at your job, so I had to keep things somewhat under wraps). The dream was slowly becoming a reality.

Then, around February, about a week before I had to send in my application, I saw that positive sign on the pregnancy test. To say I was freaked out and discouraged was an understatement. I saw all my hard work and possibilities fly out the window. Once the initial shock wore off though, we decided not to let the baby ‘get in our way’ of our original plans, so I applied for the SEB program anyway, knowing full well that I may have to quit early to raise the baby in the Fall.

The rest happened fairly quickly; the application/business plan was reviewed, approved, I sent in a few papers, registered my business name, arranged a sitter for Victor, and by mid-March I was ‘officially’ working for myself (and getting paid, too)!

So that’s how it happened, and here I am now, about 3 months in. And so far? It’s been equally awesome and discouraging.

Awesome for obvious reasons; my schedule is incredibly flexible, which means I can still live my life and not have to plan too far ahead and can take life as it comes (important when you have a little one!) The only obligation I have under the SEB is that I need to work 35 hours a week, but those hours can be at any time, so sometimes I work after Victor has gone to bed, or on the weekends. My ‘work’ is also flexible (for example last week I went location scouting with Dan and Victor on a Saturday afternoon, and it really didn’t seem like ‘work’ at all). I LOVE having the flexibility to do what I want, break when I want, work hard when I want and generally be my own ‘boss’. If Victor is sick I can take the day off, or if I have appointments I don’t have to rush through them to get back to the office, the work-life balance is just where I want it to be.

Of course it’s also awesome because I get to do what I love to do, which is to take photos of people. Despite being generally introverted, I always enjoy talking with clients and getting to know them during and after the session (after the initial jitters wear off). I love the blogging, the organization, the inspiration, the editing (well, maybe not so much the editing, haha), the shooting, and just generally being allowed to be creative.

I’ve also made a great ally and friend through all this, and for that I’m very thankful. We’re both throwing our hats into this photography business world together, and it has been so nice having someone to bounce ideas off with, talk and vent to, and just having someone who ‘gets it’.

Now of course, it hasn’t been perfect. Things have been quite a bit slower than I originally thought (and would like them to be). After much debate and struggle, I recently raised my prices to what I felt I needed to survive (and what I felt I was worth), and the response has been mixed (not surprising considering just last year I was shooting and burning for pennies). That of course makes me doubt my self-worth and just how viable having this business will be in the future. While the SEB payments are extremely helpful (in that they are acting as my sole income while any profit money is going back into the business), we’re just getting by as it stands now and sometimes I feel like I’m not contributing enough to the family and towards our dreams (owning a house, for example). I worry all the time if I chose the wrong market (Sussex is a small, lower class town, and professional photography probably isn’t at the top of everyone’s priority list), if I’m being foolish for thinking I can charge more when there are tons of shoot and burners out there (some of them who’s work I feel is less good than mine, yet are rolling in sessions…extremely frustrating), if there’s too much competition, and recently, if my work is just not good enough. I’m full of self doubt and I really don’t enjoy it (I was quite confident in my abilities at my last job, so this is new for me). I’m trying not to pay attention to what others are doing around me, but it’s hard sometimes. I’m proud that I have taken a few ‘risks’ (my one little word for 2011) so far, but the fear of failure is still always right there in my mind.

While I do enjoy working for myself, I often find myself lacking motivation, and will admit to piddling away more ‘work’ time than I’d like to confess (Facebook is evil I tell you!) It’s easy to justify all the online things I do as ‘work’, but really, I need to be more disciplined. Instead of scanning Pinterest for images, I should be out practicing my craft; instead of checking and updating my Facebook several times a day, I should be out meeting people, handing out business cards and finding ways to promote myself. I know all this and yet I sit here, in front of my computer, and passively wait for work to come to me. It’s very hard for me to ‘sell’ myself, so this aspect of owning my own business is definitely the hardest for me. I still kind of stutter when people ask me what I do and I say “photographer”.

Sadly, since photography became my ‘job’, I also take less photos than I used to at home (with the exception of my cell phone). I know this is pretty typical for photographers, but I wish I could get that spark back that I once had for photography, and not let it get bogged down by all the ‘business’ stuff (I read somewhere that owning your own photography business is 90% business, and 10% photography, and I totally agree!) I think that having more sessions would help ‘get the ball rolling’, but I shouldn’t wait around for that to happen, I should get out there and shoot, because once I actually start, I LOVE it. It’s just starting that’s so hard.

I know it’s still really early in the game, only being 3 months in (and really only have about a month of decent shooting weather, if that!), so the fact that I’m not swimming in work shouldn’t be an indication of how things will go in the long run. It takes years to establish a business and brand name, so I know I have a long way to go, I just hope that I can find the courage to not quit and go the safe route of a steady income, less responsibility, and job stability.

And that I can figure out a way to work with a newborn, but that’s another story :S

If you made it to the end of this, bravo! Thank you for letting me spill my mind through the keyboard and the interwebs.

Be back soon with a much fluffier post, about hair! (I have an appointment for Friday, I’m going red! And getting bangs! Oh my!)

Until then,

PS-Are there any other ‘working at home mamas’ out there? Do you have some of the same self doubt issues that I have? Do you love working from home or are there downsides too?

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