Staffordshire wedding photographs of bride and groom

Advice for new wedding photographers. How saying “No” can help grow your business.

We’re fortunate to now be moving into our ninth year working as wedding photographers. When we were starting out we blindly jumped in never really believing that our little pipe dream would ever become anything more. We were determined, but the kind of determined where you silently have your doubts but never vocalise it. We could have certainly done with some advice for new wedding photographers!

As a result we just floated along, doing our thing and we learned through a lot of trial and error. We never sought guidance, asked for advice, or ever really ever acknowledged the fact that other photographers existed. We existed in our own little bubble. That’s how it was then mostly. Everyone kept to themselves, “competitors” didn’t speak to one another and they certainly never shared advice or supported the success of others in the same field.

Advice for new wedding photographers

But now, almost a decade on, that idea is alien and the industry has come a long way. Sharing advice and support is the new normal. We’re often approached by new, aspiring and existing photographers for advice, help and just to chat or bounce ideas.

One of the most common things we’re approached about though is getting started. So many people ask us what the best piece of advice we have is for those new to the industry.

That’s a tough one. On reflection there are a million snippets of advice we could give. A hundred things we may have done differently along the way. But finally I settled on something. If we’d been given (and had taken on board) this piece of advice 9 years ago, we’d have saved ourselves a lot of time, a lot of wasted energy and we’d probably have reached our goals sooner.

So what’s the advice for new wedding photographers?

Learn how to say no.

When you’re building and growing a business saying no is just as important as saying yes. Knowing when to say no and learning how to say it is a crucial step in both growing and improving your business. 

When you first start out everything is so new and exciting that you want to say yes to everything. And sometimes that’s not a bad thing. Saying yes can help you gain experience, provide new opportunities and help you figure out what you do (and don’t) like shooting. But it can also hold you back, bring you untold grief and prevent you from pursuing your actual goals. Not every “opportunity” is in fact an opportunity, so “No” can be a valuable tool.

Situations where you might want to say “No”

What are some of the situations where you might consider using “No” as a new business owner?

  • Enquiries for services you don’t provide
  • When you’re asked for discounts
  • When you’re asked to provide your services for free or as part of a skills swap
  • When you’re asked for work for family
  • When you’re contacted by advertisers
  • When you have other plans
  • When you just don’t want to take on that job

Before we get in to it, i’d like to first clarify that I appreciate that saying no to paid work is a luxury that not everyone has and wont be an option for many. If you are in a position to be a little more picky about what work you take in, it can be a powerful and effective way to grow your business.

Enquiries for services you don’t provide

Sometimes dipping your toe in other areas can be really valuable. It can allow you to work in another way, learn or try new techniques and gain experience. If your experience in other areas of photography outside weddings in limited, it can be a good way to see if there’s anything else you enjoy doing.

However, sometimes you may be asked to shoot things that you already know you don’t enjoy and don’t wish to pursue. You are not obliged to say yes. We said yes to things we knew we had no interest in pursuing when we were starting out and all it did was bring us more referrals for the kind of work we didn’t want to do. If we’d not finally said no, our business could have inadvertently been steered in a very different direction.

When you’re asked for discounts

Knowing your worth is something that comes with time. When you’re new and don’t have a vast portfolio or bags of experience you may find that you’re asked for discounts often. Especially if you’re at the cheaper end of the scale for wedding photography (under £1200ish)

Being keen and eager to work doesn’t mean you have to discount. If you already feel that your pricing is reasonable for what you’re offering, saying no may help you ward off more bargain hunters further down the line. Agreeing to unreasonable or unrealistic discount requests may just be setting a president for more unreasonable requests later on. Also remember that everyone has friends and people talk. If you discount for one, you may find that you’re being expected to discount for whole friendship groups.

When you’re asked to provide your services for free or as part of a skills swap

Some of the biggest mistakes we ever made early on was giving our work away for free on the promise that it was part of collaborations (skills swaps) as part of styled shoots. In reality, everyone benefited from that arrangement but us. They all got free photos, we got…..not so much as an email after to say thanks. We allowed ourselves to be flattered into working for nothing because they loved our work. If you are ever contacted about working for free, or donating your services, no matter who it is, make sure there is something in it for you or that you are 110% happy with the arrangement. Exposure and publicity doesn’t pay the bills. Being tagged or credited means very little. It should be worth your while in some way.

Do not feel guilty about saying no to charities either. I don’t mean for this to sound harsh, but often things such as the food are being paid for, there is just an expectation that photography will be free. If you do wish to be involved, perhaps find other ways to make it beneficial for you. For example, will you be allowed to sell prints or hand over your business cards. Can your business details be included in publicity information for the event?

When you’re asked for work for family

Sometimes working for family is great, often it’s an epic pain in the behind. When you’re family there’s rarely that client/professional barrier that prevents people from being cheeky and asking for more than they should be getting. And as a result, sometimes family are the absolute worst people to work for. Outside of our immediate family we wont work for family any longer. For us, saying no to extended family would have saved us a lot of work, extra work and work that we didn’t want to be doing in the first place.

When you’re contacted by advertisers

When you’re new, you may be open to trying anything and everything to get your name out there. If you have your contact information made publicly available, the chances are that you’ll be approached at some point by advertisers. Most often it’s wedding magazines and wedding directories that reach out trying to sell advertising space. The stats are always really impressive and you’ll be given lots of information about how large the readership is or how many hits the website gets. Advertising is often sold in such a way that you feel silly for not wanting to take up such an incredible opportunity. But the truth is, very few photographers do very well from these kind of advertisements unless they’re part of a very prominent and very costly marketing campaign. Of course, you’ll only ever be told about the ones that have been successful. Some will even guarantee results (but you try getting your money back 12 months down the line) Be really, really sure about how you spend your hard earned money. Saying no when you aren’t sure is fine. Saying no would have saved us a small fortune.

When you have other plans

Saying no to potential work is difficult at every stage of your career, but if you can learn when to say no early on it will set you in good stead later on. Not knowing when to step back and say no to work has seen us go without a holiday for several years, cancel a holiday after we did eventually book one and also miss out on more family events than I can count. If you’re in a position to say no sometimes due to other plans, it’s not the worst thing in the world.

When you just don’t want to take on that job

Sometimes, for whatever reason you may just not want to take on a job. Perhaps it’s a booking for central London and it would be a logistical nightmare. Maybe it’s a venue you don’t like, or you’re getting a bad vibe from the couple. If you start getting red flag vibes early on, saying no can save you lots of stress later on.

Saying no in business is just as important as saying yes. A well placed “No” can help to grow your business and increase your confidence. Do you have any other examples of when saying no can help yous business?

Be excellent to each other