Episode 11: What No One Ever Told You About Failure

with Sarah Petty

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Fear of failure is such a real thing when you’re running a photography business. So many of us spend hours obsessing over failure before it even happens. We can give it control over us to the point where we don’t even want to try something. We can get consumed with the what-ifs. So, we avoid even putting ourselves out there. 

If you’ve tried something in your business and failed, you end up beating yourself up, which then of course leads to more fear and paralysis by analysis and you get stuck. Fear of failure is a real thing, friend, but there’s something you’ve probably never been told about failure, and it’s time you stop letting it trip you up.

Taking Control of Failure in Your Business

It’s not your fault. Seriously. You’ve gotten stuck in the trap so many of us get stuck in, the fear of failing and the pain from past failures keeps us from moving forward. Your subconscious is like a self-driving Tesla. It records everything you do, from the mean looks to the eye-rolls to the bullies that try to pull you down. So then when you have an opportunity, your self-driving Tesla grabs the wheel and it says, “Watch out, this could create pain for you,” and it pulls over and stops you from moving forward. It tells you, “You’re not going anywhere,” and puts your vehicle in park.

When we’re young, we’re taught that failure is bad. That you’re a bad person if you fail. It creates sort of an internal dialogue when we’re kids that we’re not good enough and we’re bad at things instead of saying, “Oh, that’s not a good outcome. I’m not going to make that mistake again.” 

Look, we failed when we learned to walk, when we learned to ride a bike, when we started talking. Everything you have done in your life was once something you failed at. And the thing is, not only are you going to fail, but you have to fail. If you’re not putting yourself out there, you’re failing yourself by not putting your best self into the world. It’s not because you were a bad business owner or you messed up someone’s photos. It’s because you’re depriving the world of your awesomeness. 

How to Get Better at Failing

Number one, reposition how you look at failure. Failure is learning. This is a core value in my community of photographers at The Joy of Marketing, and it has to be because every successful business person out there is where they are because they failed. Think about how your life would be if you hadn’t gotten up to the plate to bat again after a strikeout.

I think of all the clients in my studio that I serve. I was creating art that gives them hope, that helped them celebrate what was imperfectly perfect about their families. When I first started, I had to remind myself that I wasn’t going to be perfect, but that I could still work on improving my system to best serve my clients at the time. It’s not about you. It’s about the people you’re not helping if you don’t keep failing. 

You Will Fail Your Photography Clients

Number two, there is no such thing as a portrait emergency. If we mess up, nobody’s going to die on the operating table like doctors. If your portraits are terrible, you reshoot. If you mess something up, you fix it. If you miss a deadline, you apologize. Now, wedding photographers, little asterix there, you’re different because you can’t reshoot. But for portrait photographers, at the end of the day, nobody’s going to die because of a mistake you made. 

Sooner or later, you’re going to lose a client. You’re going to lose money. You’re going to have someone unhappy with you. Those things are going to happen, and all you do is your best. You can apologize. You can work to fix it. You’ll add a process to your system where you can make it up to people. And at the end of the day, you’ve done everything you can, and you know you’re a good person. 

And if someone’s going to forever bad mouth you or hate you because of a mistake you made as a photographer that you took responsibility and did your best to fix it, they’re not even a client you want, period. Think about those people in your life. You know who they are. It’s true. There’s no such thing as a portrait emergency. 

Why It’s Okay to Celebrate Your Failures

Number three, celebrate your failures. Celebrate them. Look, shame and guilt and all those yucky feelings that we hate when we fail, and shine a light on them. Don’t hide those failures. If you hide the failure in your photography business, that’s what builds up the head trash.

I had to refund a $6,000 order that was paid in full to a studio client back in the transition to digital because I didn’t know how to use my digital camera and lost the images. There was no way to reshoot it because the stepdaughter lived out of state. I did everything I could. I apologized, and they were fairly nice, but the daughter hardly ever came back in town. Needless to say, I lost that client. Nobody yelled or screamed at me, but I had to give $6,000 back. It wasn’t my favorite day. 

The Truth About Failure in Your Photography Business

I want you to see that I’m where I am because I have failed in my photography business a lot. I’m not running a successful studio because I never had a failure and I’m just this magical person. No, I failed a lot. You’re probably going to have the same thing happen to you, but I don’t want that fear of failure to stop you ever, okay? 

If you don’t have a community in your back pocket to share your photography business failures with who won’t add to your head trash, go listen to this episode. It’ talks all about What to Do When Your Family Doesn’t Believe in You, and I talk about “front pocket and back pocket”. It will help you tremendously because we can’t hide from our failures. They’re going to happen. Celebrate them, shine the light on them and they can’t stop you. 

Succeeding in Your Photography Business

The sooner you fail, the faster you will learn. It really is that simple. Heck, I’d love it if you even shoot me a direct message on Instagram @sarah.petty and tell me what you have failed at, and you know what? I’ll send you a positive message back. I know from my own many, many failures, and from watching my students get comfortable with failing, that the more comfortable you get with failure, the more comfortable you will get with success. 

When you start to normalize failure in your photography business, you have less head trash about everything, and that feels good. Then when opportunities come up in your life, you can say, “Heck yes,” instead of living in doubt or indecision. More money is lost due to indecision than bad decisions,

Do the three things I shared in this podcast and your self-driving Tesla car will no longer be grabbing the wheel. It won’t turn you off onto that dead end, “I might fail,” road that doesn’t go anywhere, but instead you keep the wheel and you stay on the “Heck yes,” road. You’re going to hit some bumps and have little photography business failures. You’re going to have some fender benders, but the best part is that even if it’s slow, you will be moving toward your best life. That’s what we both want for you, isn’t it?

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I'm Sarah Petty

I’m a photographer living in the middle of a cornfield (central Illinois), momma of three teenage kiddos (plus a cat & dog) and an educator for all things photography business. Favorites: Earl Grey Tea (not coffee!), anything orange and clothes that are made for tall girls 

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