• Ask Anything

This has been a popular topic of discussion recently in some of the photography Facebook groups that I’m a part of. It’s somewhat of a touchy subject because it directly affects us. We are teachers. We have an educational side to our business that we absolutely love just as much as we love shooting weddings! So when people discuss on Facebook about how too many photographers are teaching, mentoring, coaching… it’s easy for me to get defensive. However, Michael always reminds me that those comments are probably not directed solely to people like us.

They are attacking newer photographers who are charging for mentoring or hosting workshops of their own without multiple years of experience. The argument is “How can these “NEW” photographers consider themselves TEACHERS?! They haven’t even been in business long enough to have the right to teach!”. In some ways, I can totally see their point. In any other industry, there is training and interning and education that takes YEARS just to get into the field. So it seems unnatural for photographers to launch businesses with little to no education and then become teachers a few years later. On the other hand, I was the new photographer that grew quickly and was swarmed with people asking me “How did you do it?!”….. so much so that I started teaching so that I could continue to help everyone who needed it without giving my whole LIFE over to coffee dates every time someone had a question. So was I WRONG to start doing “Ask Anything” posts when I wasn’t technically a PRO yet? Was it wrong to do a “Basics Workshop” in college to help people learn manual settings? Well, I have several thoughts about this… 7 to be exact!! And before I share these 7 thoughts, you all should be reminded that we adore new photographers… because I once was a new photographer. So here are my 7 thoughts on the subject:

1. DON’T TEACH JUST TO MAKE A BUCK : Those that decide to teach should decide to do it because they LOVE it! It fires them up! It brings JOY to their life when they can sit down and help others grow. If teaching is just about making extra side money… you shouldn’t be a teacher…. you’re missing the point ENTIRELY.

2. GIVE BEFORE YOUR CHARGE : Teaching doesn’t just happen in the form of workshops and mentoring. I started blogging about what I was learning and what photographers were asking me long before I started offering coaching and workshops. I also met up with photographers for coffee so that they could “Pick my brain”. (Ps. Photographers… we need a new name for that, it just doesn’t sound pleasant!) I gave freely and I still give freely…. because the heart of the educational side of our business is not about MONEY, it’s about PEOPLE. I think it’s really important for photographers that want to TEACH to be GENEROUS people. Blogging about FAQ’s is not only the kind thing to do… but it’s also smart business. You can be a giving photographer AND a smart business owner at the same time. If you want to teach, it’s probably smart to make that known GRADUALLY through blogging and freely giving of your expertise whenever the opportunity arises. Then, when the time comes for you to launch coaching or workshops, people already view you as a giving, credible teacher.  What is happening often in today’s industry is that people aren’t sharing freely at first and they aren’t gradually introducing themselves as teachers, they’re just announcing “Hey I’m hosting a workshop!” and then the Facebook groups go crazy with criticism. It’s just not a healthy process.  If you truly LOVE to teach… giving freely will come naturally:)

3. HAVE ORIGINAL CONTENT TO SHARE : Now this is a tricky one! Why? Because there isn’t much that is new under the sun. Some of the things that we teach about our business are not NEW concepts… other industries adopted the “Community” business model decades ago… I just decided to try it with the Photographer industry and it worked! So is that original content? Yes… but not entirely.  I learned something from someone else and then I made it my own. I learned about “Tribes” and creating a community around my business and then I made it happen. I didn’t TEACH about “Creating Community” until 2014!! And yet I had been practicing this business model for 5 years! I didn’t teach about it for so long because I wanted to make sure it WORKED. I wouldn’t be a good teacher if I just heard information and immediately re-taught it without applying it to my own business.  This is another area that induces criticism in today’s industry. A lot of photographers go to large scale workshops and then 3 months later, they are hosting their own… with some of the same topic titles and content.  The issue with this is that those photographers couldn’t possibly have had enough time to go home, process what they learned, applied it to their business and then made it their own before they launch their workshop.  You have to have something to TEACH that you have found to be TRIED and TRUE in your own business before you can charge others to learn about it. Justin and Mary have taught me SO much over the years… and what is crazy is that now we’re at a place where we can go out to eat with them and I’ll share new ideas with them and they’ll share new ideas with me! It’s fun! I teach people that they should SPOIL their clients (something I learned from J&M) and they teach about “The Big List” (Something they learned from me!). However, the majority of our teaching content stems from our own business experience. Which leads me to my next point!

4. TEACHING MEANS STUDYING : You have to do the work. If you’re going to teach others, you have to have content… and the way to create content is to STUDY what is working WELL in your business, break down how you do it and create steps for others to replicate it. This seems a lot easier than it really is. Great teachers do research…. they study their own businesses CONSTANTLY and they put the work in. I’m not a PRO at teaching by ANY means… but I’ve learned from some of the best. I know those that taught me over the years are HARD workers and their workshop content was a labor of love… not just a way to boost their annual income. :)

5. BE WILLING TO BE AVAILABLE : This is huge. How would my workshop attendees feel if after the workshop I never answered emails…. or commented in their Facebook group every now and then? What if I did coaching and then NEVER made myself available for questions they forgot to ask during our time together? That just wouldn’t be cool. Now, does it take some time for me to respond to photographer’s emails? Yes… sometimes it’s over 2 weeks! AH! But I do respond! We know that as teachers, we have to be available and willing to serve even after the event. Not everyone will agree with this but it’s important to us. Now can we maintain this when we’re receiving 150 photographer emails a day? Nope! New rules will have to apply! haha But we try to be as available as humanly possible. I also BLOG about FAQ’s so that I’m helping a lot of people and not just the one person that emailed me on that topic!

6. DON’T LET YOUR BUSINESS SUFFER BECAUSE YOU DON’T HAVE A TEACHING SYSTEM : This is the hard part. What if you’re a photographer who has been in business for 2 years and things are going really well for you. Other photographers are noticing your success and you’re getting emails from them everyday. You’re also getting coffee with new photographers multiple times a week to answer questions and blogging “FAQ” posts in your free time. This is all GREAT! But if you continue to grow, you’ll continue to attract those that want to learn from you… and while your sweet, giving heart wants to meet with EVERYONE that needs your help, you don’t have enough time for that. This is when you have to put your business hat on and start being smart about your time. Think about your hourly rate… all the time away from your family… all of the client emails that are delayed because you had a 2 hour lunch meeting three times this week with photographers. I WISH I could give, give give for free 24/7…. but if I did, my business would fail. There have to be boundaries and limits so that you don’t run your business into the ground while helping others make their businesses thrive. Charging for your knowledge and expertise is not a BAD thing…. especially if you’re doing the 5 steps above!! If anything, it shows that you’re a smart business person and you know how to manage your time!

7. TEACHING IS NOT THE FINAL STEP FOR ALL PHOTOGRAPHERS : This is SO important because it’s such a common misconception to SO MANY photographers. Because our industry is flooded with teachers, photographers think that if they are truly going to “MAKE IT”…. they have to TEACH! Ah! That’s SO not true!! If you’re not naturally inclined to teach and yet you are a phenomenal photographer, you can’t hold yourself to the standard that TEACHING should be the final destination of your business career! That’s just not fair to YOU.  When did “teaching” become the final frontier?! It’s not… by any means. Teaching is a natural thing for some photographers and they thrive in the education side of this industry… but for others, they thrive in other ways… and that’s ok. I truly believe that the gift of teaching is something that comes naturally to some and not to others.  So if teaching doesn’t sound like something you want to do, but you feel like you have to in order to “make it”… you’re wrong. Keep doing what you LOVE and what you’re MOST PASSIONATE ABOUT!

Whew! What a long post! I hope this is helpful for those who are battling the “Should I teach” question. I also hope it’s helpful for those who really struggle with the whole educational side of the industry. Bottom line, I think teaching is a great thing. The average median price for photographers in our area is SIGNIFICANTLY higher than it was 3-4 years ago.  I think that’s because there is a higher industry standard being taught as a whole! The more photographers learn and grow, the more our industry grows. Because of education, the standards of service, image quality, posing, marketing and online presence are rising… and I think that’s awesome!!!

Special thanks to Katie Jackson for the pictures from our most recent workshop!!!

xoxo, Katelyn
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