The Top 5 Mistakes I Made As A New Photographer

Hey guys!  Before we get too far into this blog post I want to introduce myself to you.  I’m Jena Golden, mama to 3 boys, senior portrait photographer for 13 years now, blogger and completely obsessed with systems and workflows.   

My goal is to help transform your photography or creative business into a productive and profitable one, so that you can run both your business and your home from a place of purpose.  

I want us all be able to live intentionally, running our businesses and not the other way around, letting them run us.

So whether you’re a photographer, a designer, a blogger or maybe even a virtual assistant I’m so excited you are here!  I’m going to talk to you about some areas where I really messed up when I first started my photography business. And I still mess up a good bit today! But I thought we’d start here in hopes of helping you guys avoid those same mistakes.

So let’s dive right in.

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As a new photographer, I was so excited to take on the world with my camera.  And boy did I!

I photographed everything from newborns to weddings to families and pets.  I finally found my niche with high school seniors and haven’t looked back!

The problem way back then was that I really didn’t know how to run a business and to be honest, my photography skills . . . let’s just say . . .  were not what they are today.

So here we go with the first of many mistakes along the way . . .

1.  Not setting boundaries with clients

I made myself available to my clients anywhere and at anytime they needed me.  Big mistake. I let them text me on my personal cell phone or facebook message me with any question they had.  I answered emails late at night. And then I would get mad when they would send one right back. Hey, I was answering so it must be ok, right?  So dumb of me.

Just because we live in a digital world doesn’t mean we have to be fully accessible at all hours around the clock.  

Solution:  I set up regular business hours and I posted those everywhere.  They are in my email signature, on my contact form, in our what to expect emails.  Clients are very clear now that I am a mom and wife first and that business happens during normal business hours.  And they respect that. Life is so much simpler (and quieter) now :)

2. Saying yes to everything

Guilty.  Bring on all the volunteer work, all the free shoots.  It’s good exposure, right? Umm, no. And it certainly doesn’t pay the bills.  It left me frazzled and feeling taken advantage of. That stopped. I realized that I am only one person.  As much as I’d like to I can’t make it to every networking event or be the hero for everyone’s favorite charity.

Solution:  I learned to say yes to the things that aligned with my priorities.  I also learned that there are only so many hours a week for paid sessions.  Filling those with “marketing opportunities” and “great exposure” wasn’t cutting it.

3. Paying too much attention to my competition

This began to affect me in several ways, mostly emotionally and creatively.  So I cut myself off. I stopped looking at the highlight reels, comparing myself to their successes while belittling my own.  Their journeys are quite different than mine. Their realities are too. And someone else’s success didn’t mean I was failing.  

Solution:  Get to know your competition.  Know their strengths and weaknesses.  But don’t obsess over them. The more time you are watching them, the less time you are paying attention to your own business.  The time you spend concentrating on your competition is time you could be spending on your clients or prospects.

4. Not understanding my costs / Not knowing what my time is worth

This is a big one.  I was just throwing numbers around because they looked good on paper or because someone else’s price list looked nice.  I was clueless. And it showed in my profit and loss statements early on in my business.

Solution:  I poured over my numbers.  I created spreadsheets left and right!  It’s so important to know costs. This includes printing costs AND overhead - insurance, taxes, website, marketing, equipment maintenance & upgrades, continuing education.  How much did I want to bring home as a salary? How much did I need to make an hour to do that? How many hours were spent on each job? No, for real. Once I knew all of those critical numbers I learned how to price myself correctly.  Profits are nice y’all. And we shouldn’t be ashamed of them! Paying yourself a salary should be on the top of your list. Otherwise why are you spending so much time away from your family?

5. Taking clients on out of fear of missing out

This is quite possibly the biggest mistake I’ve made.  I’ve messed up a few times over the years. Said yes to clients I knew were not a good fit.  And that resulted in heartache and lots of sleepless nights. It is not worth it! I repeat - NOT WORTH IT!  I no longer feel bad for not getting a job. It is completely ok to say no. That’s not a bad word. And you know why? Because that allows you to say yes to some other very important things (and people) in your life.  

Solution:  Go with your gut.  Always. If it doesn’t feel right, walk away.  

So there you go.  Some of the biggest mistakes I’ve made as a photographer.  There are plenty more. Believe me! And if you stick around a while I’m sure I’ll share them all. What are some of yours? I would love to know.  We can all learn & grow together. You can let me know in the comments section below :)

Until next time guys . . . Keep on creating and living your life on purpose.  I can’t wait to talk with you again.

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Why It Doesn't Bother Me To NOT Get The Job

It really used to frustrate me when I didn’t get hired, didn’t book the session, didn’t get the job. I use to make my case over the phone when a potential client called. I would try to tell them the difference between me and the shoot and burn photographer or the school’s contract photographer. I used to get angry when they just couldn’t see the value in the product and service I offered.

And then something clicked. The ones who didn’t need convincing, the ones who were ready to book because they had already fallen in love with what we do . . . they were my dream clients. And the ones who I just happened to be able to convince to book a session anyway . . . well, we ended up not being a good match after all. After this happened a few times and I saw a pattern develop, I changed the way I did business.

I stopped getting angry. And I stopped getting hurt.


I stopped running my business out of fear.

And I started running it with confidence that I was worth what I charged for my services and time away from my family.

If they said I was too expensive I understood and wished them the best. And I meant it! I stopped trying to convince EVERYONE that I was the photographer for them. Porsche doesn’t do that. Tiffany’s doesn’t either. They just served their clients and that’s what I set out to do.

I started serving my clients better. I made sure there wasn’t a question left unanswered and that they felt like they were the only ones who mattered on their session day. I served the ones who valued great work full of expression and light in their daughter’s eyes, work that they would proudly hang on living room walls and cherish because I captured their kid EXACTLY how they wanted to remember this stage of life. I served the clients who valued relationships and memories more than nice cars and handbags.

I figured out who MY CLIENT was and I loved on them like they were friends from the start.

When a potential customer calls and I get that feeling down deep in my gut (you know the one) that this isn’t going to work out I still care for them and we always have great conversation. I love these phone calls, because I’ve been in their shoes. I’ve lived through senior year with my oldest. And I’ll have to do it two more times! Ugh, my heart. We are all just trying to do this life thing together, and senior year is tough on any parent - physically, financially and definitely emotionally!! No matter what their budget is, they still deserve and get respect from our studio.

Remember the movie Pretty Woman when she went into the fancy dress shop on Rodeo Drive for the first time? Yeah. That’s not happening here! Just sayin.

I’m telling you all of this because I want you to know that it is ok to not be hired or to be called too expensive. We cannot serve everyone, and that’s ok too. Because if we did we wouldn’t have time for our own families. And if that starts happening, it’s time to raise your prices. Supply and demand baby.

So the next time you don’t book the session because you are out of someone’s budget, look at it as a blessing. And serve the ones who have hired you like they are your most cherished friends.

The right ones will always come along.