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May 19, 2013 marked the one-year anniversary of Jillian Ryan Photography. It was on this date in 2012 when I second shot for my friend Crystal’s wedding. I wanted to get a little experience and I was curious to see what this photography business thing was all about. Lucky for me, Crystal’s awesome photographer, Lauren Jean Photography, was kind enough to let me help out on her big day.

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Needless to say I was hooked. I started doing more and more shoots following that first experience and I’ve completed over 60 photo shoots to date. Looking back on my first year shooting I realized how much I’ve grown throughout the process of starting my own photography business. In just one year I’ve had so many crazy and incredible experiences. I wanted to share the top five most important things I’ve learned since starting Jillian Ryan Photography.

Starting your own business is never easy.

Before I went full force with this business, I remember thinking, “How hard can it really be?” Well, reality hit me pretty darn hard indeed once I began to see all the little tasks and complexities piling up. There’s researching, planning, practicing, editing, shooting, scheduling, budgeting, marketing, client communication and much, much more.

This entrepreneurship stuff is no joke!

In December of last year I found myself 30 sessions deep and totally overwhelmed by everything I had suddenly found on my plate. But after a few minor freak-outs I realized that I’m actually grateful for the chaos.

Through direct experience, I’m slowly learning the best ways to manage the many demands of running my own business. And at the end of the day, I really do love the process. Photography and photography business planning are almost all I think about and pretty much all I talk about.

It’s what I want to do the second I get home from my 8-5, while I’m on my lunch break, during my vacation, in the dark, in the rain, on a plane or on a train, and yes, even when I’m eating green eggs and ham…Basically I have to force myself away from it sometimes or things get a little weird.

Assisting a pro is the way to go. 

If there is one single thing I recommend aspiring business owners do, it’s learn from a well-established professional in your desired field.

One of the best things I ever did for myself was to get an assisting job with Melissa Jill Photography. I have learned so much from Melissa. She taught me everything I know about wedding photography and as a member of her team I got an inside look at how a successful photography business works.

Assisting a professional will give you a realistic idea of what it’s going to be like to run the show yourself. Plus, being around people who inspire you will help you maintain the passion and focus needed to move through all the tough stuff starting a business requires.

Quick Tip: Make sure you don’t just choose anyone. The best mentor has the heart of a teacher. Melissa’s been a constant source of support and encouragement for me and there’s nothing more empowering than feeling invested in by those who inspire you most.

The learning never stops.

After a few photography classes at community college I thought I knew everything there was to know about how to work a camera.

Man I was so naive!

There’s always more to learn about both the technical aspects of photography and the act of photographing people. Just like starting a business, photography isn’t easy and you’ve got to keep your tools sharp to stay in the game.

When I first started out my husband was my main model. No disrespect to the ‘ole ball and chain but when I finally began shooting people I don’t brush my teeth with I quickly found out that there is a lot to pay attention to: where to focus, the correct shutter speed and aperture, the location of the light, how awkward or natural everyone looks, and the list goes on.

There is so much to be aware of in a single moment and all these elements must be perfectly orchestrated in order to get that great shot. Each shoot is an opportunity to discover new ways of getting better.

Planning in line with your values is crucial.

One of the most fundamental things I learned about launching a business is the importance of a written plan.

Visualize where you eventually want to be and put it to paper. It’s important to know things like how much you will charge,  and when you will raise your prices. Clearly stating the goals and values of your business sounds simple but the motivation you’ll get from following through with them cannot be overstated.

For example, I absolutely despise debt. That’s one clear value for me. So I love the fact that I get to say I’m never going to accept credit card payments for my services.

Think about what really drives you crazy, makes you jump for joy or even makes you sick and then find a way to integrate that into your business plan. This will add fuel to your fire and set you apart from others in your field.  And that’s what’s so amazing about doing your own thing. It’s all you, baby.

You gotta give yourself a break once in a while.

I admit it. Sometimes I get really caught up in wanting to be perfect.  I start thinking of all the things I “should” do. I harshly criticize my work and tell myself I’ll never be as good as the photographers I admire. At these moments I have to check myself.

While it’s helpful to think about what I could have done better in a particular shoot or business interaction, there is nothing to be gained by judging myself or bringing myself down.

I constantly remind myself that to be an expert in anything takes time and practice. Mistakes are a necessity and there is no such thing as perfect. I’ve certainly made mistakes in my journey. And given that fact that I’m a member of the human species, I’m sure I will keep making them.

But I’ve done things I’m really proud of as well. So why not focus on those?

You can either beat yourself up along the way or you can learn and improve as you go. At the end of the day I know I’m on the right path so why do anything that brings doubt into the picture?

Think back.

Finally, it’s important to slow down and take a little time to contemplate your successes, the lessons you’ve learned along the way and all the things you’re grateful for. Writing this post was a fun way of getting to do that and I want to thank my friend Crystal, Lauren Jean Photography, Melissa Jill and all the other amazing people who have helped me keep this photography flame lit. Thanks for your support, kindness and encouragement along the way!

For any new or established business folks who might have stumbled upon this, what were some of your biggest realizations after starting your own business?

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