Essentially, it is apparently not the commercial and photographic basics that I have learned in seminars, webinars or training courses that define my professional success as a photographer, but rather things like courage, empathy, humor, openness and honesty towards my customers, but also to myself. A daring theory? Then read for yourself:
You can’t make money with art
“You can’t make money with art,” my father always said.
It is therefore not surprising that I made many career decisions out of common sense, even though my creativity has always been my greatest talent since my early childhood. Instead, in a confused zigzag course, compromises were made in favor of supposed expectations.
After graduating from high school and community service (in nursing) I worked as a nurse, qualified art therapist and pedagogue, legal assistant and shop manager at E-Plus / Base. I also learned classical and analogue photography and development. But what I lacked during this time was the courage to trust my talents and assert myself on a professional level. So while I was waiting for my place at university, I first became a nurse. The gratitude of the patients back then did my self-esteem very good.
What is my artistic subject?
During our studies, lecturers asked us what our very own artistic topic is. I replied “love”, but at the time I could never define it more precisely and didn’t really know why this was actually my topic. I was a member of an artist community that has successfully created video sculptures. At some point we were asked to film and photograph fashion shows. Then the first request for a wedding arose. So I became a part-time photographer, but it was all very … well, improvised!
My main salary and a lot of responsibility was always in outpatient nursing, even when I was studying and immediately afterwards. But unfortunately I overdid it there in health terms. An occupational illness became chronic. Over the decades there were also two superiors who kindly took me aside and said something like: “You are doing a great job here, but why do you not earn your money with what you do best?” My answer was: “With what? With clever shit? ”. Because I was always an employee who could hardly endure internal “malaise” and was concerned about things that were more the boss’s business. Maybe you can also say that I wasn’t challenged enough?
My physical limits
The chronic illness has repeatedly pushed me to my physical limits in the various professions mentioned above and ultimately to make and implement a clear decision.
With the help of the job center and their credit of 5,000.00 €, I put everything on one card and thus became a full-time photographer. And because this amount was not enough front and rear, I have previously written Michael Omori Kirchner and asked: “Can you make with a Canon 1100 D really as a professional freelance photographer?” . In the comments of this article was very controversial with lively discussion.
Founding as a photographer
Before the foundation, I was allowed to attend the business academy and the tenor there was always:
“He who is different from everyone else is successful”
“Be competitive on prices” (which I mistakenly interpreted as “cheap”).
Positioning and business plan
So I developed the “unique selling points”: Mobile photo studio for baby and nude photography, no package prices but a transparent hourly flat rate, and photo retouching (my passion). So I wrote my business plan which I now think, “how the hell, could it ever be waved through?” The answer is simple: every successful “waved through” customer looks good to your client, the job center.
The acquisition of the private customers just mentioned turned out to be very difficult, but without ever having a wedding photo in the portfolio, such a request came after a few months. I accepted the job because I already had some experience from the part-time phase. I photographed this job with the 1100 D without a back-up camera and with a bad feeling! At that time I calculated the hour at € 129.00 and only for the time on site.
I thought that I couldn’t argue the time it took to post-process photos and so I photographed the first weddings for about 39 € an hour! At the turn of the year, I kept increasing the hourly flat rate. Nevertheless, there was not enough money left and my self-esteem towards my customers did not improve, even though they were very satisfied.
Feedback from customers
I could never really accept compliments from customers. Until this came:
“If it seems that someone was born just to be a photographer and if it seems that this someone became a photographer just to photograph your wedding, then it’s Helge Peters! Thank you for an unforgettable shoot with lots of fun, creativity, spontaneity, emotions and fantastic results. You hit the proverbial nail on the head. “
That changed my thinking, because everything I had done in my life so far boiled down to helping other people, making others laugh, making them happy and having to do with the topic of love and care. So that I am a wedding photographer is very consistent. As I often hear from customers, they quickly feel that they have known me forever.
I think I have also trained the responsible qualities in my social professions. My sense of humor is innate. My picture style lives from the fact that my customers feel good, relax and have fun. So my entertainer qualities are very useful to me.
So I had to face the following: A lack of self-esteem has been trained for many years and over the years it actually develops a benefit for those affected: You always have an excuse: not to face challenges, to take responsibility for decisions and to assert yourself!
I determine my worth (my self-esteem on a professional level) myself, through my prices! Where do I really see myself in the market when I look at and compare my products?
Actually in the upper quarter of the price range on the market and not at the lower end! I then adapted myself to the market in some points instead of having to be convulsively different everywhere. For example, instead of the hourly flat rate, I developed wedding package prices and factored in the photo post-processing. Photo editing is paid extra, I put my portfolio together from the customer’s point of view (emotional, special moments instead of artistically valuable photos).
And despite a price increase of approx. 300% compared to the prices for a new establishment, customers still tell me: “I would have liked to have paid more!” How can that be? But through the current marketing, I increasingly have my dream customers who appreciate my value and are happy to reward them!
Discussions with the job center
I also no longer shied away from dealing with the job center and obtained investment permits for operating resources, because I was able to credibly demonstrate to those with the right self-esteem a realistic period for an end to the support from the job center, but also the investments that were simply necessary. From supplicant to businessman, so to speak.
If you enjoy the support of the job center, you cannot freely manage the money you have earned, because this is of course always primarily intended to reduce or repay your salary. Here it is important to persevere, because you work your 8-10 hours a day for about 180 € more per month, but with the big goal of living without support.
From small business owner to businessman
But not only the end of the salary, but also the last year as a small business owner felt good. The changes made led to an increase in orders of over 100% in the areas of prom and weddings last year. In addition to these two areas, business and kindergarten photography are my main sources of income. Nude and baby photography hardly play a role economically. Since last year I have been able to hire other photographers in order to be able to implement the requests (double bookings for graduation balls and weddings).
Align the supply with the needs of the market
But I also had to part with some things that gave me personal security: I no longer focused on my “beloved” photo editing, but geared marketing to the needs and “needs” of the customers. I gradually gave up the very good Google ranking of the homepage at fotograf.de and created pages for the individual photographic topics with their own domain. From now on I created the portfolio from the customer’s point of view (emotional pictures with special monuments instead of the artistically valuable photos).
Personality as a photographer
Of course, a decent SEO, acquired commercial skills as well as cooperation and exchange with other photographers are part of my success, but my personal experience is: if you are stuck in your self-employment, if you have already tried a lot, you may be with you Your person, with your personal characteristics somewhere in the way.
No workshop, webinar, no management consultant can teach you that. Therefore and because feedback from my customers mainly praises my “soft skills”, I come to my statement at the beginning of the article.
Well, just because it was like that for me doesn’t have to apply to everyone, does it? After all, not everyone has the same roof damage as I do😉
But maybe we can finally agree on the following: Just as important as the basics, which we can learn in workshops, training courses or YouTube videos from me, are the soft skills and a successful photographer requires a lot more, than being able to take pictures.