Our industry has become really good at inflating the goose. You know, the one who laid the golden egg.
It can seem like there are so many experts out touting the path to success, you might find yourself second guessing, “wow I’ll never get there”, or “I’m totally failing at this.” No golden eggs for you!
I’m here to tell you that failure is rampant. This rampant failure, though rarely revealed, is actually quite awesome. Huh? Am I some kind of sadist? Low self esteem? No. Let’s be honest.
Failure is necessary for success. Whether it’s your own failure, or someone else’s, the transparent glory of mistakes will bring you to a beautiful place. I wish more people would be so transparent. I was thrilled to see Jen Rozenbaum be that voice in her most recent Creative Live.
Vulnerability is our responsibility.
Responsibility…That we, as a boudoir industry commit to each other to share failures and mistakes. Less bragging rights, less grandstanding, less showboating …and way more flop-sharing.
In my early days of boudoir, I made some pretty big mistakes. Looking back, they are kinda HUGE.
If you’re new to boudoir, or even at it for a while, I want to share some of my biggest snafus so that you can learn from them too. Or, maybe try them yourself if you dare, to see if there’s a different outcome for you.
All I really want is that my failures don’t disappear in vain. I had the privilege to learn from them, and hope you can too.
1. Tandem Portfolio Building
In those early days building my boudoir photography business in NYC and New Jersey, I somehow thought it was scary, weird or cost-prohibitive to book portfolio shoots by myself. The thought of hiring a model, a venue, a hair and makeup artist with with my “boudoir-virgin vision”, or lack thereof, seemed impractical. So, I invited other wanna-be boudoir photographers along for the ride. I am a creative shooter. The sideshow I created completely diluted my creative vision.
Plus, ever hear of a ball hog? (You know the ones who creep front and center in every workshop on every setup?) Yes. Them. I lost control of those early model shoots by other overzealous portfolio builders. Same angles, same shots. Some even entered into print competitions…my setups! It defeated my purpose entirely.
The lesson here: Trust your solitude as an artist. Embrace that portfolio building process. See your solo vision…own it.
2. Undercharging …or Overcharging
New to boudoir, I somehow felt that sentenced me to a lower price-point prison. I was already an established family photographer, but my clients didn’t know I was also new to boudoir. A few great pictures was all it took to get me booked. But I lacked confidence. As a result, I accepted being paid the bare minimum profit (after COG) for a while. It set a terrible precedent…”Why was my friend Barb only charged $X? and me $Y?” I had just pigeonholed my referral network. At the time, this network was all I had for potential boudoir clients. Damage!
Conversely, the pendulum swings and we overcharge, because we are influenced by the boudoir spin machine. The visions my own grandeur was temporarily influenced by few loud voices that told us all what we *should* ALL be making $x, y, z. I am still sickened by the fact I once charged a $900 session fee, before product. Truth be told, I was really not worth it photographically yet. I overcompensated with a fantastic session experience to justify it. But the hindsight guilt, it lingers.
The Lesson here: Price where you feel ethical and sane. Not too high because someone else is high, and not too low because you feel inadequately experienced. Price where you feel you offer value…yet also where you will be valued as an artist.
3. Cost Savings = Fat Pockets
I love, love, love beautiful craftsman-quality things. Paper, fabrics, shoes, clothes, furniture, you name it. I love a tasteful, refined, well-designed “anything”. Yet somehow, in my earliest months of business, I went for the straight cost savings. Who is the cheapest printmaker? What album is easiest and fastest to make? “Low cost of goods equals a genius,” I thought.
What I failed to realize is that some things are cheap for a reason. It’s because they are efficiently mass produced, or “minimally” serviced. (Or simply, the company is too small and doesn’t know their worth either.)
In turn, I suffered with prints that arrived too dark or uncalibrated, albums that did not look special, mediocre canvases, and sucky customer service. All this resulted in lost time and money in reorders. And annoyed clients. It had little to do with my art work, and was more about what I was putting the art work on.
I wanted to charge/earn more, and yet I was not willing to invest it, myself. I finally had a wakeup call when I met Jonathan Penney Printmakers in 2010 and saw what a truly beautiful print looked like. It changed my entire business model. Back to ME! My criteria, vendor selection and client service philosophy faithfully changed to match my own quality standards in life (aka paper addiction). I also stopped the “one stop shopping” approach for my materials.
Lesson here: Don’t be a hypocrite.
If you want to be the best, use the best quality vendors you can find.
My current vendor list includes Queensberry, Album Epoca, Simply Color Lab, Jonathan Penney and the Boudoir Album. Each vendor serves a specific product purpose to me. All known as a little pricier than the big labs, but also crazy awesome quality in my opinion. (disclosure: I am not incentivized nor sponsored by these vendors).
4. Sharing the Burden is Genius
Somehow in my quest to be cost efficient and risk adverse, I thought having a business cohort would be a great idea. My CPA, on the other hand, said this was a terrible idea. She cited evidence that 90% of partnerships or “shared business models” result in failure (with married couples as the one exception). Statistics! Who the hell needs statistics!? Well, apparently ME.
Sometimes, the rewards seem greater than the risks. IN these scenarios, alleged “efficiencies” can undoubtedly be complicated by egos, entitlements and self-interests. Burden sharing can turn into burden shunning. The aftermath to dissolve any business can be downright ugly.
Lesson here: STATISTICS rarely lie. 90% of business partnerships fail. That’s all we need to know. Be brave to know that if you want it badly enough, you can go it alone in your business! (or take your spouse along for the ride).
5. Look Inward, Not Outward for Measures of Success
I’m am introvert by nature. In my early days, I was the happy oblivious fool, patiently running my business upward. There was room to grow for sure, but I had patience to figure that out. That is, until one day I jumped into the sea of social media. Suddenly I was swirling within the “success matrix”. Ohh look, a Sea Captain! With all the answers! And his answers were for sale!
My once clear telescopic view was fogged up. Unproven benchmarks, “expert” sales methods and “golden success standards” had me confused. I got a bit off course. I retreated a bit, looking inward to my best navigator I knew. ME. Every now and then, I need to remind myself that I am a strong businesswoman and my instincts are real. I need to embrace that confidently on my own. Where I have strengths, I reinforce. Where I have gaps, I go seek.
Lesson here: No one knows your life intimately but you. Therefore, others’ pre-packaged solutions are not tailored to your needs. Take every piece of advice, not as sage but as salt! Then adapt it to your situation. Armed with bits and pieces of information, you’ll know THE WAY. YOUR WAY.
Be authentically you, which will inevitably be a successful you.