Letting go of expectations

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on June 18, 2015

in This is Life

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If you’re unhappy with your business, you have a problem my dad has a solution to:

“Don’t let your alligator mouth overload your butterfly butt.” – Mickey Taylor

Now, this quote is more applicable to my bravado as a teenager, but it also speaks to the expectations we create for our businesses – most destructively about things over which we have no control.

Can you learn, practice, and improve your art? Absolutely.

Can you Show Up, F8 and Be There, and make your ideal clients say they see you everywhere? Doubtless.

But can you make them call? Can you make them buy?


No, you can’t.

Whether you’re a day or a year or 10 years post-launch, you can’t make potential clients pick up the phone.

This can be hard to accept.

You’re wildly excited about engaging and serving your clients, but they don’t feel the same way…yet.

All you have control over is your art, the experience you create for your clients, the policies of your business, and the methods you employ to get your message in front of your target market.

Every part of the process of growing your business can be refined.

It’s inevitable: the more you refine your business, the more your phone and cash register (so to speak) are going to ring.

You’re always striving to evolve:

The more salable and exciting your art;

The more surprising and remark-able your client experience;

The more friendly and welcoming your policies;

The more engaging and motivating your marketing…

…the more impossible you make it for potential clients to say no.

Where you’ll trip yourself up is when you get so caught up looking at your vision of success that you lose focus on the next step along the road to that dream.

Your Next Step is never “[ ] Get first client.

Your Next Step is always learning and practicing within some arena of your business.

  • Learning and practicing a new senior portrait scene within your favorite outdoor location.
  • Learning and practicing a new moment of ‘rehearsed spontaneity’ to incorporate into your booking follow-up process.
  • Learning and practicing a new, more simple way of explaining how your retainer works.
  • Learning and practicing a new technique for generating leads through Instagram.

This is a hugely important distinction that will shift your focus off of results you can’t control and onto processes that you can control – the processes which generate results.

I hear from so many fellow PTPs who are distraught and disenchanted days, weeks, months after they’ve hung their shingle because they haven’t yet scored that first client.

You can’t control that. You can’t tie your expectations to the results you can’t control.

Now, this is anything but an excuse to sit back and wait for your phone to ring.

The opposite, in fact.

You need to get off the computer, get social, and do the work that leads to a ringing phone, or a Facebook notification, or a “You’ve got mail!”

Get better.

Take action.

Learn and practice with purpose (and not just your art).

Don’t allow distraction to take root; schedule and commit to working on your part time photography business.

Don’t let results (or a lack thereof) slow you or stop you from taking action, because those actions are what create the results you’re striving for.

Manage your expectations.

Expect yourself to Do The Work that will lead to the artistic and business success you dream of.

Next Steps

  • If you have a list of written, SMART goals, translate those goals into actions – into steps, processes, habits – that will enable those goals. If your goal is to get booked solid, what Work are you going to Do in order to get booked solid?
  • If you don’t have a list of SMART goals for your art and your business, make one now! Goals were made to be broken, so be bold and specific, but reasonable. Unless you manufacture an incredible launch, you won’t be booked solid with paid clients from Day One. But can you keep yourself booked solid with paid and free (practice, referral, donated, testimonial-growing and portfolio-building) shoots every week of your first year? Can you get your average per-client sale up to $100? $150? $200? Can you commit to four hours a week dedicated to the processes which will enable your success? How about an hour a day (hint: go to bed and get up an hour earlier)? Can you find a dozen scenes to shoot at your favorite local location? Can you meet one potential new co-op partner each week for coffee? As always, break your goals down into action steps, processes, and habits that will enable real progress.
  • Brainstorm session: How does your PTP time investment break down right now? Do you know? If you don’t, track how you’re using your PTP time daily for a month and see. What many PTPs realize is that they are spending way more time than they realize Consuming information (reading blogs, books, magazines, forum posts), and way less time Taking Action on the knowledge they’ve gained. Seek a balance between working on your art, your business, your customer experience, and your marketing – we all go into the business of art thinking success is 90% art and 10% everything else, then come to learn that the art of business is more 25% art and 75% everything else – no single category is any more or less influential on your success than the other. Not to say there aren’t exceptions, and depending upon skill set, market, and natural inclination, those percentages can cheat into one bucket more than another; but that’s more likely to be true for a photographer three, five, ten years into their business when they’re allowed the flexibility to specialize in their strengths and outsource their weaknesses. Early in the game, even though you think you know, you don’t truly know where in your business you’ll make your greatest impact. All arenas will need attention to accelerate your journey down the road to success. [The most unhappy, frustrated PTPs I meet are the ones focused so deeply into their art that they invest almost nothing into the rest of their business.]
  • My writing at PartTimePhoto.com exists to serve your needs as an amateur photographer making the transition to paid professional. I am truly grateful for your readership, and encourage you to subscribe to my e-mail newsletter at the top of any page of this site.
  • What’s the biggest struggle holding you back right now? E-mail me your answer (yes, right now!), and let’s make a breakthrough today.
  • If anything in this post has spoken to and inspired you, please comment below, drop me an e-mail, or call or text me at 830-688-1564 and let me know. I’d love to hear how you use these ideas to better your part time photography business!

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