Trying to get all of it right: perfectly composed and exposed images, a website you’re proud of, prices that your customers will be happy to pay and your peers won’t criticize, enough clients to pay the bills (or maybe to quit that corporate job), enough time to get it all done and of course, enough confidence to do all that marketing and networking you’re supposed to be doing.
You just want to make a living photographing dogs, why is it so damn hard?
You see all those other photographers humble-bragging about huge sales, book deals, winning that inquiry you bid for too and non-stop hashtagging all over instagram about how blessed and lucky they are *puke*.
Oh man, I’ve been there.
If we’ve not met, my name is J.Nichole Smith, but you can call me Nic. When I was 22 I founded a creative studio for pet owners and pet businesses: dane + dane studios. Two years later I co-founded lifestyle brand for dog lovers Dog is Good (because one business isn’t enough, right?) After more than 10 years as a pet photographer, brand builder and consultant, plus a move to London and a Masters in Marketing, I launched this site you’re on now, Working with Dog. Working with Dog is a community for petpreneurs like you who want to find freedom and fulfilment (instead of burnout and poverty) by building a profitable brand instead of just a business that eats you alive.
I know what burnout and poverty are like and I don’t wish it on anyone. I spent the first half of my pet photography career doing just about everything wrong. Before I was shooting for Purina and working with Petco and Victoria Stilwell, before I was teaching workshops and before that first publishing deal, I was ugly crying into my microwave dinner because I had to pick between buying (ridiculously expensive) dog food for my Great Dane or paying various other bills like groceries and gas (I’m sure you know what I chose – Olivia always ate better than I did!) Meanwhile I watched my competitors and friends knock down win after win, buy houses and rake in the cash. The agony!
I could talk about how comparing yourself to others isn’t going to do you any favors, but we all know it’s easier said than done to not be jealous of everyone who seems to have it all figured it out… while you’re looking at your empty calendar and business bank account wondering what the hell you’re doing wrong.
I am going to tell you the awkward truth about all of this. Ready?
You’re putting your energy into the wrong stuff. You’re focusing on things that do not consistently add shoots to your calendar or dollars to your bank account.
You’re avoiding the stuff you don’t like or don’t feel confident in. You’re obsessing over the color of your logo, the type of lens you should buy next, the prints you submitted to that competition and spending tons of time in groups with your peers instead of mixing with people who might actually pay you to take photos of their pets.
But it’s not all you – some of this reality is just plain unfair. The difference between you and all those ‘overnight success story’ photographers who make this look so easy, is probably four things:
- They probably have been working and hustling longer than you think, and the success they’re seeing now is a result of all that angsty, hard, slow stuff they did for years that they weren’t shouting about on facebook.
- They may have a corporate job, savings or cash flow that allows them to spend money on building their business and brand and because of that, they have a money mindset that allows them to be comfortable investing in it properly (ie: they’re secure, not desperate)
- It is very likely that the stuff they enjoy and are good at, happens to be the stuff that’s really good for their business (self-promotion, blogging, relationship-building on social media, sales and networking) < this is why many extroverts and marketing pros have such an easy time transitioning into self-employment
- They might live in a location where more people are interested in and can afford pet photography as a service (it is a luxury, after all!)
Sound about right?
Real Talk: If you’re a sensitive introvert who is intimidated by marketing, hates talking about yourself, has tech fear, lives somewhere rural or economically depressed, and /or you don’t have much disposable income – the reality is that you have the deck stacked against you. Building and succeeding as a pet photographer in the traditional sense, is not going to be easy for you (and depending where you live, might not ever be something you can make a full-time living at the way other people do).
Now for the Good News
No matter who you are, what you’re good at, what you’re scared of, where you live or how much income you have, you CAN build a business that supports you and includes pet photography.
This is 100% possible, I promise you.
But (of course there’s a but, right?) you have a lot of work ahead of you. Not just the fun stuff either, hard, deep, sometimes icky stuff that will push you WAY outside of your comfort zone. That’s growth, right? It sucks sometimes. Also, you’re not going to be able to do the way other people do it. You’re going to have to forge your own way.
So the question is not what do you want and how badly do you want it, the question becomes – what do you want, and what are you willing to endure to get it?
Here’s what you need to do…
1. Start to figure out what the hell you want.
In DETAIL. Start by doing this: Imagine 5 years from now, you’re living the life of your dreams, you have the business and lifestyle and that make you feel deliriously lucky and happy everyday. Write out what your Dream Day is in this life, from the time you wake up, until the time you go to bed. What do you do? Where are you? Who is with you? What do you see? What do you have? What do you smell? What does it FEEL LIKE? Most importantly, what do you spend your time doing? (Try not censor yourself – just go for it – see what you come up with – it’s a DREAM DAY – not a ‘this could maybe be possible’ day!)
2. Set Goals
Once you’ve identified where you’d like to go, it’s easier to create a plan to get there. How did you discover you’d like to spend your time? Does that fit at all with what you’re doing now? What are the gaps? What do you require to fill them? Time? Money? Experience? Ideas? Resources like property or space? Make a list of the major things you’ll need to acquire or achieve to make this dream happen. Pick ONE and set a (S.M.A.R.T) goal (with a deadline). Break the goal and the timeline down into easy-to-action baby steps that you can start TODAY. Keep this goal top-of-mind. Write it down, make it the password for your computer, re-read your ‘dream day’ when you wake up every day. Start now, even if it will take you 10 years to get there!
3. Get Clear on What you Have Already
Goals are great, but what is FAR MORE powerful in your pursuit of happy is getting very familiar and grateful for what you have. No matter what it is that you have now – it’s enough. It. Is. Enough. You don’t need anything else to be successful, you can do it now. You don’t need to wait. Other people have done world-changing things with less than you have – so stop putting it off. No more excuses. Take inventory of the good, weird and valuable stuff in your life and be grateful for it. Then, the harder task is to start to figure out how it makes you unique, interesting, and ideally-set to compete. What about what you have do you think other people can relate to? Go further… what do you love? What do you believe in? What are you passionate about in life (not just in business)? *Pro tip: Sometimes it’s the weirdest little thing that defines us and gives us common ground with people who want to give us money.
4. Build a Brand instead of just a Business.
Once you’re clear on what you’ve got and what you’re passionate about it’s time to start to pull together the fabric of a brand. It’s time to create some solid communication around WHY you do what you do (instead of just what) so that you can start getting people to pay attention. The BEST THING about a brand, is that it obliterates all the boxes in your head. If you have a ‘pet photography’ box, and a ‘wedding photography box’ or maybe ‘pet photography’ and ‘graphic design’ boxes or perhaps ‘pet photography’ and ‘dog training’ – it doesn’t matter – those boxes are keeping you stuck. Get rid of them. Your brand will be your new box, and all the THINGS YOU DO will fit inside it. Your services and products will no longer define you – your passion will. Your unique flavor of you-ness will be the new flag you fly to attract customers. The stuff you sell is just the way your customers can get involved in the cool shit you’re doing. Not for you, but because they like what it says about them to be someone who supports you. < This means you can charge whatever you want and makes you nearly impossible to compete with!
Those four things are not easy. Some of them, are nearly impossible to do on your own, which you may already know if you’ve tried!
I help pet photographers like you find freedom and fulfilment by building brands instead of just businesses. All that stuff I listed above? That’s my process. I’ve done it myself, I’ve done it for dozens if not hundreds of pet-loving humans just like you – feeling confused, lost, unclear, sad, stuck or simply bored and uninspired.
Here are the ways I can help you, there’s something for you here, no matter where you’re at:
1. Read my book ‘Million Dollar Dog Brand’
The Million Dollar Dog Brand book (available on amazon) is the blueprint for building a brand. Start to finish, page by page, you’ll have the exact roadmap to find out what makes you difficult to compete with, and how to leverage that uniqueness into language and marketing that your potential customers will immediately understand and fall in love with.
2. Join the next Live Book Club Course
If you’re at a bit of a crossroads and you know you need something, but you’re not totally sure what it is, Book Club might be the right fit. Maybe you have a business that needs reinvention, or a job you’re desperate to leave but not sure how to make your side gig pay the bills, or maybe you have a dream you’d like to turn into a business and have no idea how… if any of this is familiar you’d be in good company in Book Club. This live 8 week course includes group calls, live work sessions and 2 one-to-one sessions with me.
3. Escape to the P4 Luxe Retreat in Mexico
If you have an existing business or brand, you’re booking clients and you’re pretty sure you’ve got most of the right groundwork in place – but you’re struggling to get enough of the right clients and you need to get organized and more efficient in your marketing and communication (and optimizing things like SEO, keywords etc.) this one-of-a kind business retreat for pet photographers is perfect for you.
At the P4 Luxe retreat for Pet Photographers & Pet Influencers we’re going to get your entire 2018 Marketing Plan done in 3 days, all with the perks of being together in person, on the Caribbean Sea in our luxury villa, with a our own private chef and nothing but time to work, connect, grow and of course, play! Oh and the retreat includes an epic private facebook group and 90 days of accountability afterwards (with group calls) so we can help you get your plan into action!