I will be the first to say that the fear of competition can be debilitating, especially when we’re just starting out. We’ve hatched this baby business, spent a lot of time, effort, tears and probably money just get to the point of opening our doors, or, officially publishing our Facebook business page. Naturally, we want to be the BEST and the ONLY one of our kind, right out of the gate. We’re hoping for floods of clients and skyrocketing engagement on our social media platforms. If you’re not hoping for astronomical success, then why even bother in the first place? However, with any kind of service, business or offering, comes competition, which often leads to the gut wrenching feeling of watching an “up-and-coming” likeminded business or idea seemingly pop out of nowhere overnight. And it’s the worst.
“They totally stole MY idea!! Who do they even think they are? The only reason they’re doing this is because they saw ME doing it first!” I know these thoughts all too well, because, they were my own. It seemed like as soon as I picked up my camera, so did about 6 other girls in my town, and it was annoying as hell. I was just getting started and I felt like the last thing that I needed was a bunch of competitors running around, stealing all of the clients. But in fact, it was the perfect kick in the ass that I needed to take CFP from a baby side-gig, to the full blown, bill-paying entity that it is today.
Before I get ahead of myself, I want to set my intentions for this post. I am not here to talk about all the ways that I “crushed the competition” and found my way to the top. Because, I didn’t. My fellow photogs are still out there, doing just fine, striving in their own ways. I want to talk about YOU and how YOU can cope with and handle the feelings of insecurity, scarcity and validity in your field. Feelings we all can’t help but have when we see those competitors creep their way onto our newsfeed.
So, why do we see SO much competition popping up? (I’ll give credit to my dad here for this explanation) The ease-of-entry into photography, and many other artistic service-based businesses, is very high. Meaning, it really doesn’t take a whole hell of a lot for someone to become “qualified” as a photographer, versus becoming something like a doctor or lawyer. As we know, doctors, lawyers and other professions like that require an enormous amount of time, education, money, qualification, certifications, etc. while becoming a photographer generally requires a basic level of skill, a decent camera and a social media page. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly know damn well that it takes a lot more than that to excel in a creative business, but from the outside, it’s easy for it to look easy, and that’s why it’s so common to see a high level of competition in the field. Another example, anyone can buy a Cricket or Silhouette, watch a few YouTube videos, order some vinyl off Amazon and BAM! Now they have a custom craft business.
Early on in my business, I couldn’t and didn’t follow ANY of my competitors. I didn’t want to see what they were doing because I couldn’t help but sit there, scroll, critique, judge and compare. It left me feeling insecure and unworthy, second guessing my work that I had loved 20 minutes ago. I was also paranoid of being called a fraud, or a copycat and thought that if anyone saw that I was following other photographers, they would surely accuse me of copying them. I laugh now because that sounds so ridiculous. Newsflash, nobody ever gave enough of a shit to take the time and check out if I was following any other photographers on Facebook. This is not glamours to share, but it’s so, so real and something I struggled with for a long time. At the time, I couldn’t be supportive of any of my competitors, and I viewed everyone with a DSLR as a threat. Looking back, it was such a sad and lonely place to be, and it was all because I was lacking confidence in myself and my work, and I bought into thinking that someone else had the power to take away my skill, worthiness and success.
Because of my stubbornness and overly sensitive ego, I had a long and bumpy road of shitty photos and frustration. I refused to humble myself to learn from others who were in fact better than me. Who had answers and solutions to the struggles I was facing. Greg, my mentor, close friend and professor taught me everything I know about photography, but even then, I felt shameful when I needed his help. I was on some self-righteous kick that I needed to “learn the hard way” and that it didn’t “count” if I didn’t do everything BY.MY.SELF.
I strongly believe that there is a creative sense and ability that CAN NOT be taught. You either have it or you don’t, and while I feel confident in saying that I do possess this ability, I’m wise enough now to know that you can’t rely on sheer talent alone. I’m not here to tell you how you’re allowed to feel, but I will encourage you to learn from my glaring mistake. No one is out to get you, and believe it or not, the fear and insecurity of competition is more about you than it is about them. I’ve come to realize that it’s all mindset. Our thoughts are powerful, and by harnessing the ability to distinguish what is fact and what’s not will save you from a lot of the hardship that I’ve experienced. In the immediate future, if you are struggling with the feeling of competition, then put your blinders on. If you need to unfollow, block and only see your work when you’re scrolling, then do so. But in tandem, you also have to learn to accept that competition is here, but that doesn’t make you any less worthy. It doesn’t make your space any smaller or less significant. We’ve all heard that there’s enough to go around, clients, money, resources, etc. and it is very much in fact true. I live in a very small town, and people are constantly saying that there’s not enough demand for the services they’re offering. I call bullshit. From my experience, ten years in, business has yet to dry up, and there’s a lot more competition now then there was back then. It’s what you allow yourself to believe. If you allow yourself to have doubt and believe that you’re going to lose business to someone else, then be prepared to lose business. Energy flows where intention goes. It’s not some spiritual mumbo-jumbo, small town or large city, there is in fact enough to go around.
I want to pause, and explain that there is a difference between learning from and drawing inspiration from someone, and just plain ripping off their ideas, and I suggest learning the difference quickly. I strongly encourage you to take advantage of all and any learning opportunities that may present themselves, and to fill your inspo Pinterest board to the brim. But if all you’re ever trying to do is replicate someone else’s work without any of your own flare, then the only person’s business who will suffer is your own. If you allow replication to become a habit, especially when you’re just getting started, you will likely suffer from, what I like to call, artistic paralysis. The inability to create from nothing. You’ll feel uninspired from your own ideas, and likely need that Pinterest board or newsfeed as a crutch. DON’T let yourself get into this spiral. There’s a reason you picked up that camera in the first place, and it came from within. Don’t allow yourself to be so consumed with the external that you forget how to use your own gift.
Focus your efforts on defining your artistic style and ways that you can do better today than you were yesterday. What can you do to level up your own work? Don’t focus on being better than someone else, because you will NEVER feel satisfied, like chasing high that you never fully reach. Your happiness and satisfaction of your work should never be dependent on the success of somebody else.
It took me a long time to learn this lesson. To realize that I could either continue struggling and continue feeling alone in my business, or to swallow my pride and reach out. I let my guard now, and I openly started investing in education from other photographers and creatives. I started connecting with my fellow photogs and built many amazing friendships that I cherish to this day. And guess what? My work flourished enormously. I soon realized that “befriending the enemy” wasn’t the demise of CFP, my work was strong enough to stand on it’s own, and nobody was there to knock me down a peg anyway. I reflect back now and I realize how distorted my perception was back then and it all stemmed from a lack of confidence, and insecurity. It was all ME. I was holding myself and my work back from it’s full potential.
Today, I still have blinders on but I also have peripheral vision, which sounds counteractive, but it’s been one of the biggest blessings I’ve experienced in business thus far. When I sit down and analyze how and what I’m going to do bigger or better, the only webpage I have up in front of me, is my own. However, making space to dream big for myself never scooches out the space I make to cheer on my peers. I love watching others grow their baby businesses and I love it even more when I can send clients their way. I am assured enough in my own work and on my own path that I can actually enjoy celebrating the success of others. It doesn’t make me cringe anymore when I see that a competitor booked a wedding, it makes me happy because I know what a good feeling that is, and I’m thrilled that they get to experience it too.
Letting down my guard and giving my ego a chill pill is exactly why I’m able to come on here, speak my truth, and share my cringey stories freely. I know I’m not the most qualified person to speak on any of the topics I choose to share about. Hell, I was never even enrolled in a business class in college, but you think that’s going to stop me from opening my mouth? Absolutely not. I want you to know that it’s okay to feel shitty and insecure when it comes to competition, it’s completely natural. I’m not suggesting that you join hands with your competitors and sing kum-ba-ya around a fire, but I am suggesting that you look within and get out of your own way. Don’t let the feelings of competition swallow you whole.
Don’t be like I was. It’s lonely and unfulfilling. I am SO much happier now that I am able to focus on praising and celebrating others who enjoy and excel at the same things I do. I (finally) got out of my own head and stopped believing that others had the power to determine my validity. Ultimately, the only person who will ever be able to limit your capacity for success, is you. And isn’t that such a relief?
Always cheering you on,