On Thursday I travelled down in Birmingham to meet up with a group of the utterly lovely ‘Hoodies’ (members of my photography community in The Shutterhood) – no work, just hanging out, eating, drinking, chatting and laughing. It was joyous. Of course I got so much pleasure from it myself – I’m so lucky to consider many of these people real friends now as well as photography buddies… But I also absolutely loved seeing all the happy connections they’ve made with each other, and seeing how supported and inspired they feel in each other’s company.
Therefore, in tribute to this amazing bunch, I’d like to devote this article to extolling the many virtues of finding a supportive community as you grow your photography business.
Why find a photography community?
Companionship – it can be isolating working as a photographer, particularly those of us who work solo. Even working in pairs it can still get lonely. Being part of a community means you don’t need to feel alone and always have others there for support and solidarity.
Encouragement – running a business is hard! When things get tough, having a community there means you’ll always have people to reassure you, help pick you back up and pop you back on your feet again.
Celebration – just as business can be hard, sometimes it can be amazing! Sometimes we have cause to be really proud of ourselves and when we’re on our own it can feel a bit deflating to have no one to share this with – having others there to give you a massive high five is great for your confidence!
Understanding – as supportive as our friends and family can be, sometimes they just don’t understand the specific joys and challenges of running a photography business. Having others around you who really ‘get it’ is so heartening and helpful.
Learning – being part of a community means being able to tap into a great big pool of knowledge and experience. It also means you get to chat to people at different stages of the photography journey, which can be so useful and can help you progress yourself so much quicker. Those ahead of you can give you advice and inspiration, seeing what those earlier in their career are doing can help you to see which gaps in the basics and foundations you might need to fill in, and those at the same stage as you can give you support and solidarity.
Accountability – communities are great places to announce when you’re going to take certain actions – perhaps tasks that you’ve been putting off, or that are intimidating to you – ones that can easily get ignored and pushed to the bottom of the list if you’re left to your own devices. Having the accountability of a group of people can be really motivating and inspirational, not to mention a source of fantastic advice that will actually help you get it done!
5 top tips to find the right photography community for you
1. Where do you like spending time?
There is no ‘should’ about this – you must find what works for you personally, irrespective of what others are doing. Where do you feel comfortable? Do you prefer hanging out with others in person or online? If online, which particular platforms? Do you feel more comfortable in smaller, private communities that are perhaps part of a paid course / club / membership etc, or do you prefer being in larger, free, more public groups? Do you like social media such as Facebook or Instagram or do you prefer forums and platforms away from this (e.g. Slack, WhatsApp, Mighty Networks etc). Start with where you’re comfortable – if you find it stressful being in the environment of a particular community, you won’t get the best from it.
2. Avoid places that make you feel bad
Just because you find a community that’s the right type of community for you in terms of platform, location etc doesn’t mean it will necessarily still feel good. Different communities have different ‘vibes’ and of course are very much shaped by the people in them. Choose groups that make you feel good about yourself and give you confidence. If you’re finding being part of a community draining, inhibiting or negative in any way, shut out the noise and unfollow or leave it. It’s all about quality not quantity – better that you’re in one great community that really nourishes you than 10 different ones that set you on edge and make you feel overwhelmed. Focus on just 1-3 communities where you see and feel real benefits from being there. Remember that it’s commonly said that you are the mixture of the 5 people you spend most time with – surround yourself with people who are positive and inspiring and forget about the rest.
3. Choose the right size community
Again, there is no right or wrong with this – different sized communities have different advantages and disadvantages and it’s important to choose one that feels right for you.
Small – it might be that you prefer to just be part of a small handful of individuals who you feel especially close to. When I first started, there was a group of 4 of us who really bonded, and we saw each other through the first 5 years of business with relatively little interaction with others in the industry. We’re still extremely close friends today, 15 years later. With small groups like this, you might like to meet in person or just communicate via WhatsApp, for example. Groups like this are lovely because it’s much easier to really open up to them and be more honest and vulnerable. Groups like this are also great for referrals if you have an agreement to pass business on to each other when you can.
Medium – medium sized groups are great because they’re small enough that you can connect on a meaningful level with likeminded people, and develop closer in-person relationships as well as online ones (just like the Hoodies do in The Shutterhood!) but they’re big enough that you can access a much wider pool of advice and support at the same time.
Large – larger groups of course mean that you can access a much broader range of resources and ideas, and can be great for opening up your mind to a wider range of alternative ways of working. However, the larger they are, the less personal they tend to be, and they can sometimes feel much ‘noisier’ places to be.
4. Don’t forget to meet real people too!
In today’s online world, with it being so easy to form communities online, don’t forget how powerful it is to connect with people in the real world, to have proper conversations face to face, and to spend real time in each other’s company. You can reach out to other local photographers and get together for a coffee or beer, or perhaps attend an in-person workshop where you can spend the day hanging out with a group of likeminded photographers.
5. Go outside your own industry too
You don’t just have to form communities with other photographers. Only speaking to other photographers can be quite limiting – there are often common ways of doing things within each industry, and as such it can sometimes be a bit of an echo chamber where everyone does and regurgitates the same things, not realising there are other ways to approach them. Build connections with other small/creative business owners – perhaps ones who are linked to your industry (kids’ brands if you’re a family photographer, wedding suppliers if you’re a wedding photographer etc). Chatting about how they approach their business can give you lots of fresh ideas for your own that you might not have thought of, or that aren’t commonplace in the photography industry. It can also be fantastic from a marketing point of view as people like this can be great sources of future collaborations.
I hope this has given you some helpful advice about finding your ‘clan’ – remember, there is strength in numbers and having some friendly, helpful faces around can mean the difference between struggling on your own and getting problems solved quickly and happily. You don’t have to do this alone!
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