Community is one of those words that gets thrown around a lot, especially in the small-business world. Entrepreneurial success is largely determined by the support of the immediate community - the people who live and work around the small businesses that exist to serve their needs.
I've seen the power of community in action on my beloved Commercial Street, where I've co-owned a business for five years. The entrepreneurs in our district cross-promote and support each other in times of success and in crisis. Our sense of community has not diminished any of our businesses. Instead, it has strengthened them - even the businesses with competing professions. By building one another up, we have all become more.
I've been a professional photographer for about a year now. I shot as an amateur for the first 2-3 years I owned my SLR camera. Honestly, I never really thought I'd go pro. I just fell in love with shooting people, and they kept asking me to do it, so I finally stepped off that cliff. The industry in Southwest Missouri is saturated with photographers, to say the least. Some people thought I was crazy to even dip my toe in the water. But I believe there's a place for new photographers in the industry - as long as you respect it, and those who have come before you.
It's not easy work. You will break your back editing in front of a computer, and fry some brain cells learning Photoshop. It's expensive to maintain and upgrade your equipment, and sometimes the end product is undervalued. You need to have all the boring business management stuff lined up before you take money from anyone. (Oh, and did I mention the ticks? There will be ticks.) There's *always* going to be something new to learn. And honestly, the fact is that you will be competing with your friends from time to time for the same sessions, the same weddings, the same events. But competition doesn't have to be an ugly, brutal thing. It can be healthy as long as we aren't undermining and insulting our fellow professionals to get work.
When I first started out, I felt like an island. I knew I wanted to do this thing, but it was a lot like being the new kid in the cafeteria in the middle of the school year. I felt a little judged, unworthy, and even though I was confident in my technical ability, sometimes I felt like I wasn't as good as my clients thought I was, which was silly. Luckily, a few friendly pros took my hand and led me out into the fray. I'm so thankful for that. It's one of the reasons I'm so open with my own process now.
In the past year, I have met some great friends through our local photography forums and Facebook groups. We've shared funny stories, traded services, second-shot for one another, critiqued, and referred business. I've been much busier than I ever expected. It's been fantastic and validating. And the most important thing that I have learned is that community trumps competition. Every. Time.
Successful photographers like Ben Sasso, Natalie Franke, and Katelyn James all subscribe to a gospel of Community Over Competition. The Rising Tide Society is a growing community of like-minded creatives who are attempting to bridge the gap and bring good karma to the interactions between artists in competitive markets. I think that's sweet as heck.
I would encourage you, if you are at a point in your career where you feel like you aren't growing, or you feel that *other* photographer is to blame for your lack of business - instead of spouting negativity, look inside - and then reach out. Reach out and realize that we are much stronger together than fighting against one another.
If you are interested in more information about the Rising Tide Society, look for and use the hashtag #communityovercompetition in your social media.
Happy creating, friends.