This month, I celebrated three years of my photography business being my full-time job. And I survived! In that time I’ve narrowed my focus from basically shooting anything and everything to focusing on women’s portraiture and personal branding and headshot photography.  This has helped me to better align my skills and talents with what I want to achieve business-wise. So I decided to write a post about some business lessons learned over the last three years! 

I started photographing people and things professionally back in 2008 part-time, on the side while I worked a full-time job. So technically I’ve been doing this for 10 years. In that time I have photographed corporate events (ok but not my thing); weddings (loved at first and sometimes fun but way too physically and mentally stressful, burned out really fast); engagements (LOVE); families (LOVE); Goddesses (LOVE); Personal Branding and Headshots (LOVE); Food (just want to eat:); Products (not very exciting); etc… And to make this post a little more exciting I’m including some of my favorite shots of the types of sessions I LOVE!

Over the last three years I noticed that doing things I didn’t love for work was becoming way too draining on so many levels. So I started giving things up. I don’t photograph weddings anymore except the occasional courthouse, small, intimate and very meaningful type of ceremony. I don’t do products or food or a lot of events. In narrowing down my focus, I not only eliminated the energetic drain I was experiencing but opened space for more of the clients I love photographing. 

So that is Lesson One: step into more of a niche. I will probably narrow down even more as I progress and see what of the things I love photographing are even more aligned. I could look at this from a scarcity mindset of there’s not enough of whatever and I need to work with anything and everything. But a scarcity mindset only brings more scarcity. 

Here’s a sneak peek from a recent personal branding session. Narrowing down into this niche was one of the best things I could have done for my business. 

Melissa Personal Branding Occoquan Virginia


Lesson Two: just because you have your own business doesn’t mean you will love everything you do, day in and day out, every single minute of the day. Wait? Didn’t I just say I’m focusing on the photographing the things I love only? Yes but that’s the actual work. Here’s what I don’t love about running my own business … the admin, the bookkeeping, sometimes the marketing. But these are things I have to do myself right now. Believe me, as soon as I can I will be hiring people to do some of these things. But for now this is where it is. I don’t have to love it, I just need to do it. Kind of like life in general. Not everyday is rainbows, unicorns and sunny skies. 

Creating imagery like this, where I can be super creative and edgy, makes the stuff I don’t like doing easier to bear and reminds me that it’s all worth it.


Lesson Three: things take time and patience and perseverance are key. Trust me, there were days I was ready to throw in the towel and go back to being an employee. I applied for jobs that I thought would be great, went through interviews and realized, yeah … no. At this point in my life, it would seriously have to be the dream job, with dream work and dream boss and dream company for me to go back to being an employee. And because life is the way life is, I don’t think this exists. 

It took me two solid years (eight if you count when I started this on the side) before anyone found me through Google. Now, in some searches I come in really close to the top. This client found me through Google and I loved every second of this session. 

Boudoir Photography Arlington VA


Lesson Four: have faith and know that it will all work out. As I look back to all the days of stress and worry over the last few years, yet here I sit, in my home, with my bills paid and food in the fridge, I’m like, yes, it did all work out. And all that worry and stress, what did it do for me. Absolutely nothing. Except more gray hair, like a lot more. And wasting of time and energy.

This client also found me on Google and came to me last minute for headshots. Just when I thought I wouldn’t meet my goals for the month, she showed up.

Lesson Five: collaboration over competition. There are a lot of photographers out there. A LOT. And many of them focus on the same exact things I do. But just like you, nobody else in the world is me and offers my unique gifts to the world. This is true for creatives, musicians, coaches, designers, everyone who feels like they are offering something in what appears to be a saturated market. When I decided to not worry about who else is out there and let go of that competitive energy, it freed space for me to focus on my own work, skills and style. I’m not the photographer for everyone and I’m ok with that. There is enough for everyone. The universe is amazingly abundant when we open ourselves to it. 

I love that I offer services that are outside of the norm, that step into greater creativity. And not every photographer offers that. It’s my unique gift and vision.

Band Photography Alexandria Va

Lesson Six: self-care is paramount. As a business owner I tend to put myself last. And that is the absolute worst thing you can do. And not just for business owners but for anyone. When we take care of ourselves first, we are then better able to take care of others and our businesses. That also includes creating for yourself. I’m still working on this one and making myself the priority before anything else. If I feel terrible because I haven’t hydrated, moved my body or eaten well, how can I possibly serve my clients? 

I had the best time at this CosPlay event where I was there to photograph and play for myself. It filled my creative well and totally nourished me.

CosPlay Photography Northern Virginia


Lesson Seven: go meet people. If you want more clients you have to go out and meet more people. It’s not going to happen on the computer. As an introvert, I am not fully comfortable going to networking events by myself and talking to strangers but I have taken steps to just get over that. I’m still working on this one too. In fact, I’m going to big expo this weekend with a networking lounge. Time to work the room:)

I met this lovely client through a group run by someone else I met at an event organized by another woman I met through a networking group. See how it can work:)

Lucy Headshot Occoquan VA

I could probably go on since I seem to learn new lessons everyday. Along with this three year anniversary I decided to add some new offerings. As of this month I am offering strategy sessions for headshot and personal branding clients. The strategy session helps to identify how and where to use your new images with the most impact. I’m also offering dating site sessions now. They’re lifestyle type sessions getting images to use on social media and dating sites to show the fabulousness that is you! 

It’s been a wild ride for sure but definitely worth every minute!