March 21, 2014

What I Wish I’d Known When We Were Getting Started

This past week as we traveled through four cities in Germany, talking to people who are just getting started in their businesses or are at a place where they feel like they are being forced to start over, it took me back to the early days of our business. This Fall will mark eight years of Justin & I being full time in our business, but I can still remember those early days as if it were yesterday. I can remember the struggle. I can remember the hunger. I can remember wanting it so bad I could taste it. I can remember buying that oversized champagne glass from Michael’s to fill with Hershey’s chocolate at our bridal show booth and thinking it was the most genius idea. Ever.

I remember.

And when I think back on those days, more than a few times I’ve wished there was someone back then who would’ve been there to tell me a few things I should know. Things I now WISH I would’ve known when we were first getting started. If I could go back and talk to the me of the first few years of our business, I would say things like…

*A giant oversized champagne glass of Hershey’s chocolates is NEVER a good idea. And while we’re at it, there are FAR better ways to find your best clients than a bridal show. The way your clients find you, trains them on how to think about you. And the LAST thing you want them thinking is that a photographer is a photographer is a photographer. So just find the one who is offering the best deal.
*Be sure to keep your first business card. You will go to extraordinary lengths to find it just so you can laugh at it one day.
*Not everyone who acts like your friend actually is. And there will be people who turn their back on you when either things go bad or things go really GREAT. Reach out and be a friend anyway.
*Super glue. I’m just saying friend, carry it with you at ALL times. There was at least one Grandma’s brooch that was saved this way without the bride ever knowing.
*While I’m at it, the silver 3M Command hook. We carry it with us to every wedding, so we can hang the dress on something classy when there’s nothing else around.
*In this world there are speakers and there are teachers. There are celebrities and there are leaders. Spend your time with the teachers and the leaders, they won’t lead you wrong. And if you aren’t sure of the difference, just ask your gut. It always has a way of knowing.
*Apples and water are an absolute necessity on a wedding day. The best day of someone else’s life is no time to get “hangry” (when you’re so hungry you’re angry) or “tirrational” (when you’re so tired you’re irrational).
*This little blog that you started over on Blogger for free and with no one reading, will turn into the driving force of your business. It will have millions of unique visits, thousands of comments, and most importantly, it will bring some of the most amazing people you’ve ever met into your life and take you to some of the most amazing places you’ve ever seen because of it. Keep writing. Pour your heart into it. Always be honest. And make it a way to serve others. The rest will work itself out.

*Comparison will steal approximately 11,622 hours of your one wild & precious life as you chase this dream. Just agree to stop doing that right now, ok? Stop comparing your middle of the way to someone else’s ending.
*Always, always make room at the table for someone else. There is no cool kids table. And the people who think there should be will eventually find themselves sitting alone.
*Make a sample book and leave it at your favorite venue. That $400 investment has turned into approximately $65,000 in revenue over the past few years. Seriously, what are you waiting for?
*Learn to get comfortable being uncomfortable in this business. The more uncomfortable you are, the closer you are to the next big chapter.
*There might come a time when someone will steal from you, make a ton of money off of it, and then try to run YOUR name through the mud to cover up for it. Just wait patiently. Choose kindness. Definitely choose forgiveness. And keep sharing anyway. Sooner or later, everything in darkness comes to light.
*Open your hand. The BEST things that have happened in your business these past 8 years have not been the things that you cherry picked off the checklist of someone else’s dreams & what success is supposed to look like. The BEST things have always been the things that were far too big & amazing for you to even dream of yourself. God loves to surprise you like that & He has far better things in store. But He can’t do that if you’re clinching your fist too tightly holding on to what you THINK it should look like. Trust me on this one, just open your hand.
*Stop opening every image individually to work on it. That’s just craziness. There will come these tools called Photo Mechanic and Lightroom and Blogstomp. Buy them WAY sooner than you think you should. They will give you your life back!
*And while we’re at it, go LIVE your life. Sit on the front porch with a glass of white wine, watch more sunsets, take long drives (for fun!) in the car, pet your dog more, chop basil and make homemade soup, decorate a corner of your world, spray the smell of lavender on your sheets, have long breakfasts in bed, sit in a cafe in a strange new corner of the world and watch in wonder, choose adventure, eliminate the word “Can’t,” write things on bucket lists and watch each and every one of them come true. And every single second of your day never ever forget….you could be sitting in an office somewhere right now getting yelled at for using too many exclamation points.

These years ahead will be some of the hardest, but most beautiful, rewarding, fulfilling, adventurous, unlimited, heart-filling years of your life. You are SO lucky that this is the path that laid out in front of you. Push the button friend. And be thankful every time you do. For this camera has opened up the whole world.

Have camera, will travel.

  1. Erica Baker

    Such great advice. I went full time in July and we are hoping my husband will step out of his day job by this summer. We are learning the ins and outs of running a business creating video and photography – not weddings, but your advice is still so relevant. Thank you for always being so willing to share. Inspired by you!

  2. Urška Majer

    What an amazing post! Thank you :)

  3. Karen

    I copied your last bullet point and posted it to my computer…with an exclamation point!

  4. Rob

    Thank you!!!!! I don’t want to be in an office much longer and I long for the day that I look back and reflect on the road that got me to where I work for myself.

  5. Hannah Hagaman

    I love yall. Yall are such an inspiration to me and I have fallen in love with my business and my life because of things you’ve said. One thing that you said a while ago that I always hold on to is "Never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle." Thank you for writing and encouraging fellow photographers!

  6. Sabrina

    Thank you both… For being real, for being true, for being honest, for being the beautiful and caring souls that you are. This world is a more beautiful place because y’all are in it and I’m so thankful for you both! Thank you for not just living your lives to the fullest but for sharing pieces of it with the rest of us along the way! Hugs :-)

  7. Shalese

    I’m keeping this post forever, for the days when I don’t know how honest I should be on my blog and for the days when my mom keeps telling me I should do a bridal show. ;)

  8. michelle burke

    thanks Mary – for sharing your world and your wisdom with all of us :)

  9. Laura

    I just heard Susan Stripling use the term ‘hangry’ the other day!! I had never heard it before and I cracked up… so accurate! Clif bars are a lifesaver on the wedding day. ;)

  10. Laura

    PS – perhaps do a Pancake Session on sample books and vendor materials? I think it would be super helpful to have some pointers on how to design them, display them, insert your contact information, and–most importantly–how to approach relationships with venues!

  11. Alex

    So wonderful! Thank you!

  12. Stephanie Rita

    this is so amazing. i love your positivity! thanks for this list!

  13. KARENA

    This might be one of your best posts to date. Filled will that gentle nudge you two have so perfectly developed, love, generosity, hope and a subtle thrill of the life you’ve chosen. That we’ve all, as photographers, have chosen. Thank you.

  14. Jackie Lamas

    I so needed this today! Thank you so much for always sharing!

  15. Stephanie

    Mary, this really resonated with me. You prayed for me over New Year’s when I commented on your post asking what our goals were. I had said we were praying for 15 weddings but it seemed impossible. Just the fact that you responded, encouraged, and prayed over our goals showed me a piece of who I want to be. Not "the" photographer, but Stephanie, the kind one. The one comfortable in her own skin, and the one challenging herself to try what seems impossible.

    Thank you for showing-it’s just as important as sharing.

    p.s.-we’re halfway there and proud of ourselves! Thanks for the prayer!

  16. Jordan Demos

    LOVE this you guys! Amy and I both woke up at different times this morning, but when we both saw each other for the first time, this post was the first thing we talked about. It was perfect timing and spoke right to our souls. Have fun in Europe, but don’t forget to come back, okay? ‘Merica loved you first :-)

  17. Caroline

    It is posts like this that is what makes you guys rock (well, there are a lot of things that do that, but this is definitely one of them). Thank you!!!

  18. Vanessa Chupp

    <3 you & your beautiful giving heart :) xo

  19. Kari Nichols

    love love love this post! So grateful that you shared your insights. And we’re going to start carrying 3M hooks with us now for sure!

  20. Christy Tyler

    Amen! :) Beautifully said, and thanks for the reminder!! ;)

  21. cathy

    As always-love this & love your hearts!!!! Also, hangry has been in our vocabulary for years, but when I told Jeff about tirrational, he belly laughed right along with me. Thank you for a big belly laugh in our day today :-)

  22. Lelia Marie

    Wonderful advice :-)

  23. Digna Toledo

    This is totally awesome. Came to me at the right moment. Thank you so much.

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