Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in photography, but not sure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Don Smith, the founder of Don Smith Photography LLC, landscape photography and workshops, in California, USA.
Tell us all about your business...
Fifteen years ago I began to transition away from being a full-time sports photographer to my other passion of photographing and teaching landscape photography. It started with workshops with another photographer, Gary Hart, and we taught workshops together in Yosemite National Park. Two years later I branched out on my own and started offering my own workshops and the business and locations we offered expanded. We now offer workshops all over the world.
What's your background and motivation to grow as a business owner?
Let me answer the second question first because that is simple. In short - I have a burning passion for what I do - I keep thinking one day the flame is going to burn out but it never does. As mentioned, I started as a sports photographer. I shot mainly the major 4 sports in the USA: NFL, MLB, NBA and was the co-team photographer for the NHL's San Jose Sharks for 28 years. All along I continued photographing the landscape of the western United States and the UK (my wife was from Yorkshire and we would travel there quite often to visit family). I also had a 7-year stint working as a stringer for Sports Illustrated Magazine. At the time, I really was hoping to be offered a staff position, but looking back now, I'm glad I wasn't as the magazine is virtually gone.
As an entrepreneur, what does success ultimately mean to you?
I would have to say the ability to change and adapt through two major transitions over the past 40+ years: specializing in sports to now specializing in running successful landscape photography workshops and the whole film to digital transition - I decided to be an early adopter to digital and started learning as much as I could to get ahead of the curve. One has to stay flexible - I have also taught myself video which is a key skill in today's marketplace.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being an entrepreneur?
Great question! For me, it is the realization that my business (which is run solely by my wife Beri and I) demands daily attention - seven days a week. Nowadays I must keep a daily presence on social media and this requires a commitment on my end to constantly generate new material and ideas, and then to answer a majority of the people who write me. The great golfer Arnold Palmer used to answer all of his correspondence daily. He used to say, "if someone takes the time and interest to write me, then I will write them back." I have never forgotten that and I do my best to write everyone who emails me. It all takes time - I usually dedicate 3-4 hours per day, seven days a week, to handle task alone. I have to be careful to not give away all of my knowledge because at the end of the day, my knowledge, and my pictures, are all I have to market. I walk a fine line of trying not to be a jerk versus not handing all my information out for free.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run or grow a small business today?
This business looks glamorous but come in with the realization that you have to work your rear-end off daily to survive - I have made it 44 years and counting and I don't plan on quitting, just slowing down a bit. Here are my three tips:
1.) work hard every day
2.) be dependable and arrive not on time but early for every assignment and
3.) continue to educate yourself constantly on getting better in every aspect of what you do
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Check your ego at the door - be confident not arrogant. There are tons of great shooters out there and many who would do anything to be in your shoes, so continue to work hard - there is no finish line. Lastly, be willing to pay it forward. There have been many mentors along the way for me and I have a responsibility to pay it back. If a young person comes to me for advice I always make the time to give it but I also look into their eyes to see if they have a firm commitment and desire in wanting to make it in this business. Everyone with a smart phone thinks they can do what you do so outwork them. Be honest and ruthless with your edits and work hard every day to strengthen the areas you in which you are weak. Lastly - treat people the way you would like to be treated. Relationships are huge in this business - don't be a jerk.
Where can people find you online?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as an entrepreneur or business coach that you'd like to share, then email firstname.lastname@example.org; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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