This is something that has been on my heart for a long time now – but it’s something I’ve shied away from talking about for fear of what people would think. But I had a conversation with a dear friend about this very issue and it spurred me to write – because I think this is something we often fail to talk about in the wedding and photography industry.
What defines success?
At the end of the day, I think this is the question we should be asking one another. For a long time, I thought success as a photographer was shooting an amazing elopement on the edge of a mountain. If I had the opportunity to do that – I would have arrived. Made it. THAT – to me – seemed to be success.
At least, that’s what everyone else was striving for.
Success in this day and age seems to be how many Instagram followers you have. How many likes you get on a photo. How gorgeous your couples are or how epic your locations can be.
Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely adore beautiful locations. I *LOVE* photographing sweet, incredible people in amazing places – and don’t you know that if someone wanted to hire me for such an event, I would be all over it. But I think we have it all wrong.
Friends – we are running BUSINESSES. The actual definition of a business is “the practice of making one’s living by engaging in commerce.”
Your business is successful if you are PROFITABLE, not by the amount of followers you have. If you aren’t profitable – it’s just a hobby, not a business. This is such an unpopular opinion and I don’t want to sound like someone who is obsessed with money – but at the end of the day, shooting on a mountain for free (or very cheap) doesn’t mean I can pay the bills.
There is no insurance agent that will give you insurance for free – they would be out of business. Just because photography is an art doesn’t mean you shouldn’t (and can’t) make money.
My definition of success is a business that allows me to put money into retirement. A business that allows me to pay for groceries, insurance, and rent. A business that can give freely. I want to be radical in generosity. I want to buy someone’s dinner or pay for someone’s electric bill. I don’t want to hold onto money with closed fists – rather, with open hands that are ready and willing to love and serve in whatever way possible.
I absolutely love photography. I love my couples, I love wedding days, I love the incredible stories I get to document. I love my business. But if my business isn’t making a sustainable income – it’s just a hobby.
Businesses take money to sustain. When expenses are 30% of what you bring in and taxes are 35% – it doesn’t leave very much margin left over. I think we need to have REAL conversations about this. It’s so easy to look around and compare yourself to so-and-so because of whatever reason. But the definition of success isn’t popularity – it’s whether or not you can put food on your table or buy your kiddos school supplies.
I don’t have kids to buy school supplies for – but one day I sure hope I do – and I want to build a solid foundation for my business now so that I have the freedom to do those things someday. I think the conversation needs to change. Our goals needs to change. I love this verse from 1 Thessalonians that is a truth that my parents instilled in me from a young age, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”
Friends, let’s work hard. Let’s build incredible, successful, profitable businesses. Let’s keep our eyes on growing OURSELVES rather than keeping up with the rat-race of popularity. Let’s use our energy building sustainable businesses instead of comparing ourselves with someone in a completely different season. Let’s learn from people who are a few steps ahead of us – who value provision over popularity and understand that money is necessary. Let’s stay in our lanes and focus on the goals ahead. And let’s commit to changing the conversation in this crazy, beautiful industry we’re in.