I launched my photography business with no budget and no equipment aside from a 12-year-old DSLR and a vintage soft box from 1986 (which were and still are my favorite pieces of kit).
I got through those first months with a series of lucky breaks and close calls. Going to bed at night feeling relieved I'd got through another day without anyone noticing that... well... I didn't actually have a clue what I was doing.
I was an impostor in an industry full of professional photographers.
So, I tried to hide the real me (the me that knows nothing. The me who feels like a failure. The me who tries to people please so much it's exhausting) in the hope I could blag it long enough as I learnt my trade. I could call myself a pro when I'd had more training, right? When I had a studio, or when I had expensive equipment. I didn't have a goal as such, but I figured I'd 'know' when I got there. When I crossed that imaginary line in the sand.
In the mean time, I put the most professional version of myself out there: I dressed differently for clients, tried to act how I thought the pros did and used as many big words as I could:
(licks finger and holds it in air)
"ah yes, there is a strong aperture in the wind today and the ISO needs to be high because of the pollen count... I will use my reflector to compensate"
(wrestles pop up reflector out of over-stoked backpack)
I tried to hide the fact I was making the business up as I went along. Every time I was accidentally myself, I felt embarrassed. Not good enough and anxious as hell.
I overloaded on advice from groups and spent nights upon nights scouring Google for any clues to make this business easier, to validate myself. But the more I discovered, the more I tried to make sense of it all, the less I felt I knew... I was more confused and less worthy than ever. The dream of feeling like a pro photographer slipped further and further away along with my confidence.
I pieced myself together by cherry picking advice from groups and creating this kind of miss-mashed version of who I thought I needed to be in order to run a legitimate, successful photography business... and I was totally overwhelmed.
I was a cookie cutter mold, a diluted monstrosity of every other business out there.
I had become...
Oh the horror... and worse, I didn't even know it.
SO I kept trying harder.
Frankentog teamed up with the negative little monkey in my head - that gnawing voice getting louder by the week. Sinking, I did everything I could to appear professional on the outside as I pushed myself further on the inside. I compensated for my clear lack of skill, by charging next to nothing for shoots and over-delivering like a mad woman. I wasn't present for my kids as I worked harder and harder.
My clients were happy, they recommended me to their friends and left 5* reviews. But still...
Trying to make sense of a business that was becoming more confusing by the day, was flat out exhausting.
I knew it was only a matter of time before a someone called BS
The pressure intensified. I over-edited every gallery for my clients so they would have more photos than they thought. I gave them discounts before they even asked (and they always asked). I was overly friendly in messages because I needed them to like me. I hardly saw my children. I trained, sought out advice from those who I thought had the answers for me, tirelessly signed up for online classes, upped my prices... but though my photography skills got better and better and I won award after award, the feeling of worthlessness intensified.
Because, no matter how much better I got and no matter how I was piecing myself together, I was still the counterfeit note in a stack of bills, bluffing my way through photography.
It didn't feel good.
Then one day, that feeling of luck ran out
I was being interviewed for an article on a recent nationwide photography award I had won. One question was "so, what did you do before becoming a photographer?" (I wanted to say I 'born with a camera in my hand and put in a crib in the dark room' but...)
ME: "I was a graphic designer, self taught and I built my business from the ground up with some very high profile clients globally. Before this, I was a professional bass player: I worked in bands around the world for 10 years and signed to a major label."
THEM: "So what made you become a photographer instead?"
ME: "Umm... I have always had a passion for photography and having my own children made me realise that I wanted to change my career...."
Bla Bla Blah. Boring, generic and safe... I managed to get away with it.
But then something new happened. As I thought a little deeper about what I'd said (by a l'little deeper' I mean sitting in the corner biting my nails and snapping at my kids while I ruminated. You know, that thing when you over-analyse every little detail over and over in your head until you can't cope with the feeling you might have cocked up).
It suddenly hit me like a wet banana peel to the face.
The real reason I'd given up being a bass player after 10 years? The real reason I'd become overwhelmed with Graphic Design? The real reason I kept running away from seemingly glowing careers?
Because... I'd felt like a fraud back then too.
I'd always overcompensated and covered up by working harder and harder. By people pleasing and hiding my true-self on the inside. By being someone I was not. Because... Well... I never felt 100% confident enough to ever call myself good enough, let alone the best at anything.
If I enjoyed it, surely that meant I wasn't working hard enough so I should work harder until it was no fun. If it seemed simple, then I should try more shouldn't I? Because clearly it shouldn't feel easy if it's 'work'. I should do it the way everyone else does - because it works for them and I must be doing it all wrong if their way doesn't work for me....
My gosh the clarity of that moment! Suddenly, realising that I had always felt unqualified to be myself in life...
HOW HAD I LET THIS GO ON SO LONG WITHOUT REALISING?
The revelation was both delicious and heart-wrenching: If I didn't be myself in this business, if I carried on trying to be a mix of the others and acting on snippets of advice I read on groups, then this venture also wouldn't work. The pattern would never stop.
I may be an improviser, but I AM NOT an impostor.
The weight that lifted in that moment was unlike anything I'd ever felt.
The fact I'm the kind of girl to jump off a cliff and able build a plane on the way down was something to be PROUD of, not to cover up. I was a photographer and pretty damn good at it too.
I could turn my "oh shit" times into "Ah ha!" moments: Learning from real life mistakes wasn't something to shy away from.
I gave myself permission to be myself from that moment on.
I could enjoy my work without feeling guilty.
I could be professional with clients without putting them off.
I could charge what I needed to run this business.
I could pick and choose the clients that would be the best fit for me and would enjoy working with me.
I didn't have to keep re-inventing myself, I could just be myself.
The feeling of instant freedom was phenomenal (as was the guilt that I'd been a pretty absent mother the past few months - dammit, that was going to change too).
It's not only me who feels this way.
Even the rock star photographers haven't got it 100%. They sometimes feel like they are failing at something. They sometimes question their life and business. They sometimes get overworked, overwhelmed and tired. But do you know what they do differently? They run their business on their own terms. They don't try to be anyone other than themselves, because put simply - it's too exhausting to keep up with being someone else. They make mistakes, learn from them and grow. They take full responsibility for their lives and understand that they are only human.
So, from that day on - when I decided to be myself entirely and to make decisions based on my heart only, business got gooooood. Oh so damn good.
To you reading this: I hope your "luck" runs out too. I hope something happens to make you realise. So you can embrace who you are, what you have achieved and the possibilities open to you if you only let yourself in.
The only way to stop feeling like a pretender is to truly be yourself. It takes practice, but trust me, just being aware of this TODAY is enough to get that ball rolling.
This moment is the first day of living the life of freedom you and your family deserve.
From one impostor to another: STOP being Frankentog and start being yourself... flaws and all. Because when you do this my darling, you will ROCK your business harder than you ever thought possible
Do you crave more secrets of how to unlock your business success, just by being yourself? Let me help you discover how to run your business on your terms