As of February 2016, Beautiful Beasties is proudly owned + edited by me: professional pet photographer + dog marketing expert J.Nichole Smith. Here I share my story and a bit of advice for pet photographers at all stages of business…
Chances are, we have probably bumped into each other before. Maybe in the Beautiful Beasties forum… Maybe in a group or discussion on Facebook?
Maybe we’ve bid the same commercial job or worked on the same project (shout-out to all the beautiful beasties who contributed to Positively.com)
Perhaps you attended one of my workshops, bootcamps or speaking events. Maybe we have stalked eachother for years on our blogs and websites.
If we haven’t met, virtually or in-person… my name is Nichole. I am a pet photographer, a designer, a business owner, an idea-addict… I am an insatiable petpreneur who was (like most of us I am sure) inspired by my heart dog to build a dope life where we could spend all of our time together doing dope shit**. ( **this link is a tangent… but if you follow it, watch till the end.)
Here’s my quick & dirty
I started my pet photography business (dane + dane studios) in 2005 near Seattle, WA. The only other pet photographers I was aware of at the time, were Jamie Plughoeft, (Cowbelly, founder of this wonderful website + brand), Amanda Jones, Jim Dratfield and one other gal in San Francisco whose name I can’t recall.
Seriously, when I googled ‘pet photography’, they are the only ones I could find. Anywhere. It was a very different time. A very different world (I still had a MySpace, twitter did not even exist yet and Bush had just become President for the first time!)
I was thrilled with my new genius way to make a living – I would take portraits – like everyone else did for kids – but for DOGS! I thought it was brilliant. I KNEW it had serious commercial potential.
I will never forget working up the courage to tell a close family friend (who happened to be a pro photographer) that I was going to be a pet photographer… He just laughed. He told me how hard it was to be a photographer. He genuinely worried for me and my delusional idea. He was a fancy-pants stock photographer, making bank on his images of medical supplies, cityscapes and Olympic games… I was 20 yr. old nobody with student loan debt, a giant puppy, a camera and a dream.
He wasn’t the only one who dismissed the idea of pet photography. When I forced myself to attend networking events, there was a predictable giggle whenever I introduced myself and awkwardly tried to explain what I did (the idea of pet photography was just SO weird and new to people!) Pretty much every real estate agent, bank manager, sales rep and ‘enter title of boring job here’ belittled my business.
This dismissive attitude made me fight for the legitimacy and credibility of my job. My career. My industry…
These critics made me fight for pet photographers.
…and I never stopped
(Oh, and a few years later, that family friend, pro photographer told me I was really ‘on to something’ – uh huh!)
Who is laughing now?
In 2008/2009 the housing market collapsed. The cozy careers of mortgage brokers and real estate agents disappeared overnight. This was not at all funny. People lost jobs, lost a lifetime of wealth and suffered terribly. But meanwhile, the silly girl in the corner (who couldn’t be fired because she was her own boss, and couldn’t lose it all, because she had nothing yet) was busy building what would become six-figure and seven-figure businesses… All because she wanted to exercise her talents, have a job she loved and hang out with her dog all day every day. Lesson Learned:
Never buy-in to other people’s skepticism when you KNOW you’re on to something special.
Starting a Pet Photography Business.
If you’re new to pet photography as a business, my one piece of advice to you is to look to the world of entrepreneurship + small business for advice BEFORE you look to the world of pet photography. Stay out of ego territory and focus on the important things:
- Why are you doing what you’re doing?
- Who are you doing it for?
- How are you going to make profit + live the life you want by doing it?
Don’t worry so much about your photography, your off-camera flash, your print competitions or gear… Focus on creating products (shoots + tangible products) that people will SEEK OUT – that they are happy to pay for – that they VALUE (no matter WHAT the price may be). Focus on listening to your clients and exceeding their expectations. Focus on removing friction and resistance from every inch of your sales process.
When you are shooting regularly, you have cash coming in the door, you are getting regular inquiries, then you can self-actualize…. THEN you can indulge in refining your art… obsessing over your retouching and your branding… learning new lighting + technique… but don’t be upset if your clients don’t really know the difference between ‘good’ and ‘great’.
In my first couple years – my images were not great. They were defined by high-contrast, unrealistic gaussian blur (ew), noise and a TON of fixing things in post. I didn’t have fancy gear and I did have terribly ego-centric goals (like getting published in books and magazines and photographing famous people – which, by the way, does NOT pay the rent!) but I was fantastic at capturing emotion and communicating with my clients. Eventually I figured out the rest!
In the startup world they call your first go at getting out there a ‘Minimum Viable Product’. Whatever that looks like for you – get out there and start doing it before you think you’re ready. Do it for everyone you can. The only way you will really improve is by doing. The only way you will learn who your ‘target market’ is, is by learning who IS NOT.
Growing a Pet Photography Business.
If you’re a few years into this business then chances are you are either profitable or miserable or both. You might be on the edge of burn-out, or you might on the edge of a break-through… You might be on the edge of giving up or you might be on the edge of blowing up (and laughing all the way to the bank!) but no matter where you are in this journey, chances are you need help.
You need guidance or assistance, support or time management or all of the above. My advice to you is to GET HELP.
Don’t make expensive mistakes you can avoid, don’t stall-out your business because your time is too limited to accomplish all that your business needs to grow. Get a coach, get an assistant, get studio management software – Identify your most pressing obstacles between you and revenue and get what you need to remove yourself as the blockage in the your business’s ‘flow’ (BTW I am still learning how to do this, it’s not easy!)
If you’re at this stage I offer mentorship + pet photography courses to help you. So do several other experienced pet photographers + entrepreneurs… Find someone you think is a good fit for your personality + your urgent needs, hire them and never look back
But whatever you do – don’t just keep overwhelming your daily to-do list with tasks that don’t get done. Find a new path. Eliminate. Prioritize. Grow.
The Future of Beautiful Beasties.
I want us to shape the future of this wonderful community together. Please share your opinions, questions and needs over on the Beautiful Beasties Facebook Page. If you would be interested in contributing to this blog, feel free to email me at: hello [at] dane-dane.com
Come say ‘hi’ – I can’t wait to get to know you and to keep this wonderful resource alive and humming!