10 lessons learned from creating Venture Photography Workshops
I'll start this by saying that this post is a bit different from others on the website -- it's a bit more personal and more reflective but there may be lessons here for those of you thinking of transitioning into running your own business in a field that stimulates, sustains and inflames your focus and passion. This is the story of how I created Venture Photography Workshops.
Eight years ago, a kernel of an idea grew in my mind, that I could combine my photography with my background in education/training and project management. I was still working as a project manager for a small IT company, after having worked for 10 years in various aspects of education, training and course design. I made the decision to split my time between both jobs and kick-started Venture Photography even as I went part-time in my project management role.
Three years later, Venture Photography Workshops had grown and stabilised to a level where I knew that it was enough to sustain me, both creatively and financially, so I bit the bullet and resigned from my "day job" to pursue running the business full time
It doesn't seem so long ago in my mind yet, in retrospect, so many things have happened since.
As with many businesses, it has evolved, grown, diversified and through it, I have met so many wonderful, supportive, talented, creative and amazing people, many who have become firm friends. I have so many fond memories of the events, workshops and weekend away organised, where pants were lost (not mine), pants were ripped (mine) and we embarked on hot balloon rides over the Avon Valley (no pants lost or ripped), along with a lot of other epic experiences such as tours to Bali, Madagascar, Arnhem Land, New Zealand, Cambodia and more.
It was, personally, the best ever decision I have ever made in my life -- the autonomy and freedom that comes with being self-employed and pursuing your own business vision is well worth the sacrifice of not having any sick/holiday pay or long service leave that comes with a "stable, secure job". What began as a germ of an idea and the driving need to do something creative for myself has grown into a busy little business that's still stimulating me, motivating me to think outside squares and to keep planning to grow the business to fit the directions in which my interests lie.
There's a lot of hard work and elbow grease, don't get me wrong, and sometimes, anxiety and concern, caused by the fear of failure, and some days where I'm mired in administrivia make me wonder if it was the right decision. But, on the big picture scale, it was and still is.
So, what have I learned after all these years of the business?
1. Never make decisions based on fear of failure, or based on any negative thought or emotion. Fear cripples our progress, so get over it and don't even worry about failing. Because you won't.
2. Competition is good. Competitors mean that the market is healthy. Don't seek to monopolise the market because diversity is good and healthy and you can build relationships and turn competitors into partners. Competitors also drive you to do better and to diversify.
3. You are the business. Make the business an extension of your personality. Make its voice, its language yours. Don't include things you don't like in your business model. Don't try and be someone you're not just so that you can give the impression that your business is just like someone else's.
4. Customer care is absolutely, vitally important. The business is never about you. It's about your being able to provide a service to your customers that's going to make them more than happy with you.
5. Having said that, the old adage that "you can't please everyone all of the time" is also absolutely true. Carefully choose who you need to please and it is okay to say "no". And if you can't make someone happy, that's okay too. Be gentle with yourself.
6. Value people. All kinds of people. Those who are your customers. Those who aren't. Treat them kindly and with respect. Be generous, compassionate and understanding; especially understanding, as that lies at the core of the way we respond to others. Seek to build relationships with people who are tonally in-sync with you, who share the same values, the same outlooks, the same drive. Value these relationships, whether it's personal or business.
7. You will have bad days: days where you feel small, insecure, lost, adrift, confused, where the mistakes you make loom large in your mind. That's okay -- it's all par for the course and nothing is so bad that you cannot recover from it. And, I guarantee, in 6 months you would have forgotten all about it. Forgive yourself first, but draw what lessons you can learn from these mistakes and use what you learn to make you and the business better.
8. Know your Sh!t. Seriously... if you're going to run a business based on a set knowledge base, make sure you're completely and utterly full bottle on that knowledge base. In the short term, it gives you the confidence to do what you love doing; in the long term, it helps give customers the confidence in you and what you love doing.
9. Don't ever lose that creative spark. It was what drove you to this decision in the first place. Running a business is a lot of perspiration, but that creative spark is your problem-solver, the thing that keeps your interest alive, your commitment and passion burning. Nurture it. Give it time to grow. Take breaks from the business; go on holidays, real holidays where you switch off from "business thinking" and allow your thoughts to run free and easy. Write. Paint. Sketch. Take photos. Read poetry. I'm serious. I rediscovered some of the works of William Butler Yeats and his words resonate with me.
10. And this last one is probably the most important: Know Your Worth. Business is about money and you need to be able to make a living (at the very least) from it, and the amount of money you make falls back on what you think you're worth. Don't compromise on your worth because you're worth it.
To everyone who has been a part of Venture Photography over the last 8 years, what an amazing adventure it as been. Here's to the future!
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.