I think it’s safe to say that I did not anticipate writing this post in quarantine…but nonetheless, I wanted to celebrate my 10th business anniversary somehow. This year, I decided to write an open letter to my 22 year old self just before graduating college. I had been shooting for our school newspaper, The Breeze, and the University Union Technology and Design department during my four years there, but had no idea what it truly meant to treat myself as a brand. I hope you enjoy some of my insights over the years in the form of this letter.
Hey girl. Yep, you in the purple JMU shirt. Hang on a second.
I know you’re excited to get started—to hit publish on that photography website, to walk out on that stage in your cap and gown and then take the world by storm! I like your energy–but hear me out.
While you’ll never have to take a final exam ever again, you will have to keep learning ALL KINDS OF THINGS that college courses didn’t teach you. Like setting your pricing, invoicing, payment, networking, client communication, organization, file delivery, lighting, taxes…don’t feel overwhelmed. Ok, take a second to be overwhelmed, ‘cause it is a lot. But then snap out of it. There are so many resources coming your way and people who are willing to help you if you just ask. Keep reaching out and seeking guidance.
Oh and just a heads up: there WILL be times when you’re consumed with self-doubt; when you’re working somewhere you don’t even like as a means to an end because you’ve gotta pay those bills, and then they fire you. You’ll question your purpose and if it’s even worth the risk…I know it hurts and it’s freaking HARD, but it will only fuel your passion further. Keep going.
Starting out, you’ll just have to accept that you need to do trade work, shadow other professionals or just plain work for free. It’s tough to justify at first, because let’s face it you’re desperate and will shoot anything for a profit, but just know that it does pay off and even gain you regular, loyal clients. Keep believing in the process.
Be prepared for lulls in business, when you do finally get going. As with anything in life, it comes in waves (foreshadowing here for where you end up living, by the way). That’s the time to get your shit together and prepare for the next wave, so don’t just sit back and relax during this down time. Keep plugging away at those 10,000 hours and trust me, you’ll start gaining the confidence you crave and actually be ready when that next one hits.
There will be SO many times you’re stuck in your ways and don’t want to adjust with the times (cue the FRIENDS meme with Ross yelling “PIVOT!!”). Do me a favor, though, and get UNSTUCK from that routine ASAP and be open to new habits. Technology will leave you in the dust real quick and this little thing called Instagram is going to come along – on top of Facebook business pages, among so many other platforms – and challenge everything you think you know about marketing. If you’re not moving forward, you’re standing still; and that’s business 101. Keep evolving and therefore moving forward. That locomotive ain’t gonna power itself.
This business mentality will be something you spend many, many hours on the phone with dad about by the way. Soak in every. Single. Minute. Keep answering those calls, you’ll come to miss them.
And believe it or not, you do have a gut instinct in there. It’s a pretty good one, too. Consider it a culmination of decisions and habits that create a client base of people coming to you for something only YOU can provide, and it will lead to referrals which are priceless. It’s a great feeling and one you have to be consistent with. Keep being YOU.
Oh and that one client that put you down and made you question why you ever started this journey? Don’t you dare take it personally. Do not lose sight of why you started this in the first place. You cannot please everyone; you can only do things to the best of your ability and deliver what you promised. Keep exceeding those expectations with a smile.
You should also know that every seemingly insignificant step of this journey is actually going to HELP you. Yep – working on commission at a clothing store at the mall seems super random and quite irrelevant…but it’s actually a huge reason you end up being able to approach strangers at events now and develop trust with them. It’s crazy. Keep up that roster of random jobs – there’s a lesson to be learned at every single one of them that you can apply later on.
Lastly, it’s going to feel like there are never enough hours in the day. You’re going to have to really work at time management and balancing all aspects of life as you maintain a 9-5 while juggling a pretty serious side hustle. That’s the biggest fear with any business, right? Whether or not you’re going to make it? Well that story’s only just getting started-but I have a lot of hope. Keep the faith.
In case you didn’t notice, I stopped at 10 pieces of advice. That’s because you’ve made it this far—a decade in the making. You’ve got SO much to look forward to and it only gets better every year.
So go ahead and take the plunge…for “hard work is only a prison sentence if it does not have meaning.” ~Malcom Gladwell