Shifting gears from starving artist to entrepreneur

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on April 10, 2014

in This is Business

Post image for Shifting gears from starving artist to entrepreneur
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

As Michael Gerber well-clarified in The E-Myth Revisited, there are countless talented craftsmen who endlessly struggle to run successful businesses.

“My friends and family love my art – their praise is why I wanted to go pro in the first place. I have years of experience, I practice and get better daily, my art looks as good or better than many of the professional photographers I know in my area. Why aren’t people calling?”

The skill sets of successful entrepreneurs are often little aligned with those of successful artists – hence the commonality of the phrase ‘starving artist.’

In fact, many of the skills and personality traits that make you an artist create an even bigger challenge for you as you grow into entrepreneurship.

Where the artist wants to create, the entrepreneur wants to sell.

Where the artist wants to be recognized, the entrepreneur demands recognition.

Where the artist never feels worth it, the entrepreneur butters their bread by the communication of value.

Where the artist never feels good enough, the entrepreneur ships.

Where the artist seeks perfection, the entrepreneur sees perfectionism as the enemy of damn good.

Where the artist sees discomfort and failure, the entrepreneur sees opportunity.

Where the artist fears failure, the entrepreneur fails fast, and fails forward.

These are all concepts that I write about here on PTP – these are the quirks and perspectives and misconceptions and fears that I run into time and again working with my fellow part time photographers struggling to go pro.

Let me state clearly: however closely you identify with the artist described above, and how little you understand the entrepreneur, there’s nothing wrong with you.

As you make the transition to business owner, you’re going to feel stupid, incompetent, powerless, hopeless, foolish.

This is natural.

This is the learning curve.

This is The Dip.

This is The Resistance.

This is Gravity.

This, my friend, is right where you’re supposed to be.

The bug’s already bit you – you may as well give in to the fever, because the fact that you’re right here, right now, reading these words, means you are serious.

You’re serious about growing as an artist.

You’re serious about earning an income with your art – to benefit yourself, your family, your cause, your community.

You’re serious about doing your very best, both as a point of pride and in service to your clients.

You’re seriously in love with creating art through photography, and you’re at the point where you want to share that love with your market (and let them share their dollars with you!).

You know what’s going to stop you?


You hear me ā€“ you know what Iā€™m talking about.

You are your own worst critic, your worst enemy.

You’re going to quit. You’re going to come up short, get frustrated, embarrass yourself, disappoint yourself, get distracted, get lazy, and give up.

You won’t even know you’re quitting – your ego would never let you recognize it.

It’ll be a slow, quiet, passive death, a series of perfectly reasonable excuses that lead to a death subtle as a sigh in a windstorm.



Do you know why you won’t quit?

No, I don’t think you understand – that’s the question, and the answer.


You have to start with why.

And it’s got to be real – it’s got to be deep. It’s got to be clear. It’s got to come from an honest place, one of complete vulnerability and submission and truth.

For each person, no matter their past or present or struggle or goals, there’s one ‘why’ that counts.

One ‘why’ that does work, that goes the distance, that leans into the hard times, that fails forward and fails again, that hurts and keeps going, that falls down and gets right back up, that never stops, that can’t be stopped, that doesn’t get distracted or frustrated or defeated, that gets up an hour early or works an hour late or goes way outside its comfort zone to create success out of thin, cold, indifferent air.

My ‘why’ looks like my children’s dreams. It looks like the opportunity for my two daughters and son to live lives of freedom, to chart the course of their lives by passion instead of impoverished circumstance.

What does your ‘why’ look like?

Share your story with me in the comments below, and if there is anything I can do to help, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

My work here at PTP is to help you to be blessed by the profession of photography just as I have been for over 15 years, financially, socially, and artistically. Truly: reach out to me and let me know how I can help.

Next Steps

  • Brainstorm session: Why did you pick up a camera in the first place? Why have you held on and continued to grow as an artist over the years? Why do you want to transition to being a paid professional photographer? Why is creating art important to you? Why is reaping an income from your art important? Keep drilling down, deep, deeper still, until you hit pay dirt. Even if your ‘why’ changes in a month or in a year, you need to have something to hang your hat on, something that makes your perseverance a foregone journey. File this away in your Brainstorms folder.
  • Are you having trouble figuring out your ‘why’? Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a classic on the subject, with guidance that seeks out the truth of who you want to be and how you want to get there. You can enjoy a free copy from
  • My writing at exists to serve your needs as an amateur photographer making the transition to paid professional. I appreciate and welcome your readership, and invite you to subscribe to my e-mail newsletter at the top of any page of this site.
  • 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!

Similar Posts:

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve April 28, 2014 at 7:07 am

Hi mate, welcome back – hope to see more posts soon – you have a wonderful resource here.

– Steve


Steve Arensberg May 17, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Hi James!

Thanks for the post. This is so applicable to creatives of all stripes – we are (overly) sensitive, we struggle, we doubt – and yet we still keep going.

I think you’re just right – the key to getting past the lizard brain/resistance/gravity is understanding your why. Sometimes this takes a lot of digging. A useful technique that might help is “The Why Game”: imagine yourself as a 3-year-old experiencing the world, and asking that question that parents often dread: “Why?” In this version, use the question to drill down until you get to the core “why” that is your answer.

Note: this can get uncomfortable the deeper you go… but the more emotion you feel as you go, the closer you’re getting to the real answer.

Example: you want to start a business? why? because I want to be my own boss. why? because I want to make my own decisions. why? because I want to feel like I’m recognized for my work. why? because I felt invisible as a child and I want people to really see me and my value.

See how that last one is kind of raw and emotional? That’s where you want to get. And your why may not be some noble “change the world” sort of thing – it may be a why that helps you fully understand and embrace yourself. Then you might expand that why to encompass others: you want to help others do their own work so that they feel seen and valued…

Hope this helps! Great post, James!



Wendy July 2, 2014 at 6:35 am

There are a few reasons why I won’t quit, and I have considered quitting more than once. I won’t quit because I can’t. I can’t go back to the 9-5 thing where I was slowly dying inside. I can’t quit because that would make the past four years meaningless. I can’t quit because the optimist inside me says if I just go on one more day, that could be the day I do something to cause a major shift in my business. This is why I can’t quit. Oh, and I am a stubborn little monkey! Tell me I can’t and it makes me want to do it more.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: