The Fourth Year

When I first picked up a camera, never in a million years did I imagine I would have my own business, my own professional gear, my own LLC, my own liability insurance... I mean, never ever ever. You can ask anyone who knew me 6+ years ago how I thought it was ludicrous how people could charge so much money for taking pictures. On the flip side of that, I also never thought that I could shoot nearly 30 weddings in one year, while finishing my senior year of college, and starting a full time career. I never thought I would be published with a three-page spread in a wedding magazine, or have a serious passion for photographing food.

I never thought about any of these things because that's just kind of the way I am, I don't think -- I just do. Sure, sometimes that gets me into a bit of a pickle, but sometimes it's rewarding. I have learned so much in the last four years with Ashley Lester Photography that I get really emotional just thinking about the journey.

I've always heard that 50% of small businesses don't survive past their fourth year. They quit, give up, throw in the hat. I think I have beat those odds for three reasons:

  1. My Support System - I really have to hand it to my mom - she's been my #1 fan since day one. Buying me my first real DSLR, driving me to all of my sessions when I was too busy / too tired, or just for the company. She packed me snacks for my wedding, and most importantly, she invested in me. Not just with money, although she did do that too, but with her time, and her resources. Most of my wonderful clients are ones that she has sent my way and I couldn't be more thankful. However she wasn't the only person to support me.. my friends have constantly referred their friends and family, and so on and so forth, which helped me to build this super loving, caring, and friendly client base that I am so in love with. My fiance puts up with my tired feet, 2+ hours of complaining while I am editing photos, babysitting Max, etc. I mean his list is a whole new blog post. There are SO many people that I could thank for helping me get this far but they know who they are and they know that I love them and cherish them more than anything.
  2. My Other Career - Owning a small business is freakin' tough. For those of you who have never had to do business taxes, sales taxes, stay organized for the sake of your accountant, run a schedule, run contracts and deposits, and payments, for all of you who think it's just "taking pictures" -- it's not. Owning a photography business is so hard because look around -- everyone is a photographer these days and your competition is literally crawling around you. I believe that I have been able to get to these four years because I haven't had to soley rely on my photography income to survive. The first two years, while I was in college, it was my primary source of income and it was okay.... if you like Ramen. However, I knew I wanted more and so I came to this hard crossroads in my life.. do I pursue a career or push through with my business. It was a long decision that ended up with no right answer. I am still running this business just as I am still working 40+ hours a week in marketing. I love them both so why give up either? Which brings me to my next point...
  3. It's My Therapy - I was born and bred a creative. I was never meant to push papers and I knew that getting a full time career would mean that I would need a creative outlet so that whenever I felt closed in or bored, I would have something there to pick up and release all of this creative energy that I thrive off of. I tried putting down the business side for a few months just to take a breather, to rest after an exhausting wedding season but I couldn't last very long, before I knew it I was calling up my friend Sarah to go watch the sunrise!

To some people, four years seems like the blink of an eye, barely a blip on the radar. To me, it feels like four years of pushing, fighting, learning, and overcoming, which is far more time than I have devoted to anything else in my life. Here's to four years, and many more to come!

And for bonus, here are the top 10 things I have learned in the last four years:

  • Taxes. Suck.
  • If you start your business doing work for free, you will always be doing work for free.
  • I'll never be able to properly track my mileage, I can't remember to write down anything to save my life.
  • You CAN charge what you're worth.
  • Your competition will knock you down and it will pick you up, sometimes in the same week.
  • Never pay another photographer what YouTube/Google will teach you for free.
  • Convince your clients (especially brides) to trust you. If you tell them to next to that ugly wall, they will because they know you see something magical.
  • Don't give in to trends. Things come and go, but you are you forever. Develop a photography style that defines you, not the other way around.
  • Stop comparing yourself and your photos to those on the internet, it will destroy you.
  • It's okay to cry and want to give up, it's a natural part of the cycle... go get some wine.