Gary Hughes Podcast Episode 11

Building a Flourishing Photography Business - with Gary Hughes

We begin season 2 of The Focused Professional Podcast with another world class international photographer and educator, Gary Hughes. He is particularly known and in demand for his headshot photography. Gary recently put himself through the adrenaline-inducing ordeal of having his work scrutinised by a panel of 5 judges (one of whom was your host Joe Lenton) to gain his Fellowship qualification with The Society of Photographers. In this episode he starts by sharing how he found the process both terrifying and rewarding. We then delve deep into his experiences of running a photography business that have led to his success today.

Gary isn’t afraid of change – on the contrary – he embraces it and uses it to adapt his business and flourish. He takes us through various ways in which we can keep track of the vital signs of our businesses and make decisions about our next steps. For Gary, the path to success isn’t just about financial security, but is driven by ambition and the pursuit of accomplishment, as well as quite simply enjoying time with his family.

There is plenty of useful advice here for both new and more experienced photographers. Gary encourages listeners to guard their creativity by prioritizing commercial viability and reinforces how crucial it is to make swift business decisions rooted in practicality. He encourages entrepreneurs to put processes in place, such as outsourcing certain tasks, that ultimately make for a more balanced and enjoyable workspace.

From selecting the right work to prioritizing your own well-being, this episode presses the need for business acumen among creative individuals. As Gary shares his journey of successful transition from generalist to a specific genre photographer, he reiterates the power of a strong value proposition and choosing the “right people.” Through real-world examples and personal anecdotes, Gary challenges popular ideas and provides an honest and realistic roadmap for building a fulfilling, self-sustaining creative enterprise. It is a must-listen for emerging photographers looking to navigate this ever evolving, fast-paced industry with an innovative and persevering mindset.

Gary Hughes is also behind the streamlined workflow of Headshot Tools – software designed to improve the experience for both headshot photographers and their clients.

Images © Gary Hughes, 2024

Episode Sponsored by:

Transcription of Gary Hughes Interview

Joe Lenton: Welcome to the Focused Professional podcast today, we’ve got special guest, Gary Hughes here. And when we first met, I think I was rather terrifying you because I was one of those judges looking at your panel. So don’t worry, Gary, there’s no test today! How are you doing?

Gary Hughes: Oh, I’m alright. Man. Yeah, I gotta tell you. That was probably… There aren’t a lot of things to get nervous about as an adult like you’re in your forties, you know, and you’re like, you don’t get butterflies that much anymore. Like not a lot phases you like being in your forties is like someone who used to be a fighter pilot like you get back in normal life its just not that exciting. And so but that was one of those moments I was. And I you know you know me. I get up in front of people all the time I give a speak a lot, and and that was I was reading my my little what do you ever my little thesis? And I was I was holding my ipad. I had to just read what was on the screen. I could you know what I mean it was a mess. But it was fun, cause I was I know you know the great Kris Anderson.

Joe Lenton: Yes, I do. Yeah.

Gary Hughes: And he, he and I did our Fellowship panel at the Societies on the same day like back to back. And, boy, you don’t wanna follow him. I’m glad I went first, but the um we were both sitting there talking about how nervous we were, and I said, look bud, I was like, how often at our age do we get stuff to be nervous about to have butterflies about? I said, let’s enjoy the butterflies. That’s that’s a good thing. And so, yeah, you were on that panel along with some incredible, incredible photographers. But that was the most nervous I think I’ve been as an adult. You know, yeah, I think I was more nervous than when my wife was giving birth to our first child. Like, that’s how

Joe Lenton: Wow! 

Gary Hughes: it’s like, yeah it was intense, man. If you wanna if you wanna have to live the real life of you know how you ever have one of those dreams where you’re naked in front of everybody? Or you go to school and forgot your pants?Like that’s what getting your Fellowship feels like. It feels like not having pants on in front of a lot of people.

Joe Lenton: It’s scary. Yeah. And you look up at the prints on the wall and think, please don’t let me see something that I have missed for the past 6 months, while I’ve been working on this thing.

Gary Hughes: Oh, yeah, well, I had. Yeah. Luckily, I had the great Digitalab and then and Jeff over there, who’s the the photo printing ninja, you know, do my prints for me. Because I had to fly in from the US for it. So I’m not gonna run the risk of traveling with 20 prints and then get there, and then one will be damaged. So I I got a local lab in the UK that I trust, and they did a brilliant job, and it worked out great. I don’t remember, I don’t know if you remember seeing anything wrong with the prints, but they looked good to me. And so you’re the commercial guy, you’d know better than I would.

Joe Lenton: Well, the funny thing is, when I went went to do my Fellowship, I actually had to spend a lot of time going back to understanding printing techniques and papers because most of my commercial work, I don’t print anything. I hand over files to digital creatives who are then going to use them for website copy for magazines. So I don’t get any anywhere near involved in those sorts of things, really at all

Gary Hughes: I’m a headshot photographer, for God’s sake. I give, I take LinkedIn photos for a living, you know what I mean. But I do have a printer. I have a Canon pro 1,500, and I love to print on it, and the great thing about owning a printer, and being able to take good photos is that you never, ever have to buy anyone a Christmas present ever again. 

Joe Lenton: That’s true

Gary Hughes: And I’ve got kids and all my relatives I just print pictures of my kids, and everybody gets prints. And that’s that’s my gift to them is thank you, you’re welcome, for the memories enjoy.

Joe Lenton: I didn’t dare go down that route. I got a lab to do it. I mean, yeah obviously, it costs a fair old bit getting each each print done, and everything but goodness

Gary Hughes: Or to buy a printer and years to learn how to print properly too.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, there is that. But yeah, there’s there’s a whole load of stuff. It was quite a steep learning curve. You think you know you spend all this time learning your lighting and your editing, and so on, and so on, and then you come to do a Fellowship, and you think, Oh, yeah, it’s got to be printed. And you think errr OK, why are all these different types of paper?

Gary Hughes: Yes, yeah. And I love this because this to me is, were you in the business, in the late nineties, early 2000s in the transition from film to digital? Were you in the photography business at that time?

Joe Lenton: No, I wasn’t, no. I was sort of in the music business, really.

Gary Hughes: OK, well, I my parents retired from photography, so I grew up in the business, and I was been putting together proof books and making enlargements since I was a little kid, you know, and I was there loading Bronica and Mamiya backs with 120 and 220 film carrying my parents bags on weddings. So I wasn’t a photographer. But I worked on my family’s photography business. And I remember the transition from film to digital and the freaking end of the world uproar, you know, between those photographers that were like digital, they’ll never be good. And I. And so I remember that a lot of photographers sort of washed out of or left the industry during that time. And I think I know what happened. And so here’s what happened. Its because when you shot film, you didn’t own your own lab, you maybe had a dark room for for short stuff for quick stuff, but you would always send your your negatives away and then they would send you back proofs. And what the lab was doing the whole time was correcting your crappy photos and then sending you back usable proofs, you know, and they’d be push and pull processing. They’d be colour correcting. They take care of all of it for you. And so what happened was is when you could see your images instantly on the back of your camera and on your computer screen, I think a lot of photographers realized, wow, I suck! Like, before, and if they didn’t realize they suck, they go, they thought digital was bad because they didn’t know that the whole time their lab has been saving their butt. And so now you are your lab, right? Like you’re your own photo lab. I remember with my parents the thing that the nut they had to cover every single month, the biggest expense they had, bigger than the rent on their studio was their lab bill. Their lab bill was their biggest bill, and they would talk about it all the time. About how do you cover the lab bill? And we got to cover the lab bill, and this is going to cover the lab bill and and that’s just gone. But replacing that lab bill is all of the time you have to spend being your own sort of digital dark room. And it’s a completely different set of skills. Photography is a set of skills – of many varied set of skills. Editing is a completely different set of skills. I mean, even though, like Jerry Jonas, for example, famously says that he doesn’t like or use or edit anything. He doesn’t really even care to learn to use Photoshop. He just likes to shoot. And so you know. So that’s a different set of skills.

Joe Lenton: You’ve got to have a retoucher you really trust and get on with to do that, though, haven’t you? Or just go straight out of camera 

Gary Hughes: Just get as good as you can taking the picture in camera, and then any old idiot could probably fix it. And then, you know, and then printing printing is a totally different set of skills. And like, and I was sat next to at WPPI. This year I was judging the Icon awards, and I was sitting next to Cheryl Walsh. Who is this phenomenal printer image maker. She’s just an incredible image maker, and I had said something on the panel that was like technically incorrect but functionally correct. Like the result of what I had said was correct but I had gotten sorta backwards, and she just very gently was like, just so, you know, for next time. And then she goes into talking about like emulsion layers, and how ink distributes and soaks into different things and doesn’t and sits. I’m like. Wow!

Joe Lenton: You mean there aren’t little Gremlins living inside the boxes with little paintbrushes and little no? That’s not how it’s done, oh.

Gary Hughes: Yeah, man, I got it. I’ve been doing. I’ve been in the photography industry since I was born, and I’ve been a professional photographer for 20 years, and there’s the stuff that I still continue to learn on a daily basis blows my mind, blows my mind.

Joe Lenton: So well, what do you think it was then that made you so nervous about having your Fellowship done? Given that, as you say, you, you’ll stand up in front of people and give a talk. You’ll video a talk and know that it’s there for posterity to be seen and so on, and what do you think it was then?

Gary Hughes: The great part about giving talks at conventions is it’s largely self regulating. The rooms will fill themselves with people who don’t know what you’re about to tell them, and who aren’t, who are not experts on the subject. So by and large, you’re just speaking to people who know less than you almost by default, you know. If they feel like they’ve got a mastery of the subject, they they’ll – it takes a real special type of jerk to go into a program just to find out how much they already know, you know. And they are there. They do that because, you know, you’ve given talks. I’ve given talks when somebody comes up to you at the end and they go, “I just wanted to let you know that I’m already doing all this stuff, but it’s good to get affirmation that I’m doing the right things, you know.” Like, why would you even say that to a speaker? What an obnoxious thing to say. It’s like, just be quiet or or go to a different class. You you don’t need affirmation. Is it working? Are you making money? Does your work look good? Are your clients happy? Then please don’t come take up a seat in my class just so that you can feel entitled at the end to come up and tell me, “Oh, yes, I absolutely  I knew all this already”, you know But those people are very few and far between. Most people are incredibly gracious. And the real smart ones, if they get the sense that they know everything, they’re gonna leave halfway through the class, which I’m always fine with. Don’t waste your time with me if I’m not helping you. But so I don’t get nervous talking because most of the people in the room are there because they read the title of the class, and like, “I need help with this.” And I guess the other end of that agreement is, don’t give a talk on something that you’re not a subject matter expert about. Like don’t, you know what I mean? Like, you gotta be really honest about about the level of proficiency you’re bringing to the table. So in this case I was, you know, as far as getting a Fellowship which is essentially picking 20 images, all coherent with each other of your very best work that have an overarching theme, laying them out in a way that’s visually pleasing, and then getting a panel of real honest to God experts to look at it and go, and with with the very real potential that they could go, “meh.” And nobody is more supportive of great imagery than trained print judges. Nobody gets more excited. This isn’t a group of people that are that are trying to be like the goalie, keeping the puck out of the net, or I don’t know what the British equivalent is. The keeper trying to keep the ball out of the net? Does that sound like sports? Good.

Joe Lenton: Yeah. That’ll do that.

Gary Hughes: Thank you. That’s good enough. Close enough? Yeah. Like people view the judges as the keeper. And really in a perfect situation, the jurors., the panellists are they’re your teammates. They wanna assist you in kicking that ball into the net. You know what I mean? And so, but their job sometimes is to help you do that better next time instead of this time. And so it’s people tend to lose that. But when you go into that situation I’m looking at this panel of people who I’ve sat on panels with, who I’ve judged their work, who I know how good they are. And now they get to turn around and look at my work and the big difference is if you just enter a photographic competition, those are largely anonymous unless you do well. Like if you do really well, and you win awards. That’s when people find out your name. If you do badly, you get to skulk home, and nobody ever knows it was you except for maybe, the competition director. In this case they’re staring at you. You gotta stand there next to your prints while they just go over them. And then they talk about them. Then they leave the room, and then they come back, and they give you the like the Roman Emperor thumbs up, thumbs down. It is brutal. But you know, and so it’s, you know, very rarely or is someone gonna put themselves willingly into that situation. However, I believe that it is such a worthy process, just because, even if like it, even if I had never even made it. Let’s say that, like my plane got delayed or something happened. I wasn’t able to go, and my panel never got judged. The process of putting a panel together when you get paired with a mentor to help you do it. Like just to analyse your work and find a coherent theme. Like I found a theme in my work that I didn’t know was there. It’s an incredible journey.

Joe Lenton: That’s interesting

Gary Hughes: It’s an incredible journey of self discovery. And it’s so many people aren’t analytical of themselves. They’re not like appraising themselves. They’re just kind of like treading water, especially as creative entrepreneurs and and business owners and artists. There’s there’s not a lot of introspection. And and so

Joe Lenton: It’s easy to judge others. It’s easy to look at what someone else has done and find what you think, “oh, well, wouldn’t have done that” or whatever. But yeah, when it’s your work to try and look at it in that way, it’s like, even when you’ve been judging for a while and you think about entering a competition or something. You look at an image that you’re gonna enter and you think, no, this is this is fantastic, you know. This is this is gonna do really, really well. And then you hear the judge’s comments. And you think, Oh, no, yeah, I did miss that. Oh, no, they’re right, you know.

Gary Hughes: Oh, I I still do. I still do. I’m a member of PPA, the Professional Photographers of America. I’m a qualified juror with them, and I still enter. They have a monthly rolling image evaluation that goes towards your accreditations and degrees. And I still enter that pretty much every month, and I pay extra to get critiques of my work by the judges on that panel. And so and there, at the the eyeballs that judges are able to put on an image, especially when it’s not theirs is incredible. But I the the process of taking a swing at a Fellowship, or some kind of accreditation through that process. At least with SWPP. I know there are other organizations in the UK that do something similar. It was the most personal growth as a photographer that I’ve experienced in quite a long time. Because I’m not a person who sits around looks at my work and second guesses myself or thinks about it. I’m a person that takes pictures for money, and I’m on to the next job. In fact, I rarely even go back and look at work that I’ve done. And so like, I’m working with my social media manager. And they’re like, “well, we need some pictures for Instagram”. And I’m I’m going back through all of these client galleries which I never do. And I’m like, Oh, yeah, that is good. I forgot I did that, or like, Oh, man, yeah, that one didn’t go as well as I wanted or you go, “Oh, I wish I’d had done this, looking back on this session, if I’d have just done this with this person, with this subject that would have been really cool.” So that self-evaluation is powerful. And that just the process of putting together a panel and evaluating your work. It is, I found that so… That was the best part for me. Although it was great, because obviously I did make it to that convention, and I did get evaluated, and I did get my Fellowship. I think barely, but I did. I did get my Fellowship and that was a great moment of accomplishment,  yes. But that was to me that was 10% of it. The 90% of what I got out of it was in putting that panel together and having to dig through my work and find something cohesive, and to really evaluate was really cool for me. I enjoyed it, and and it really helped me grow.

Joe Lenton: So, how do you otherwise carry on that sort of growth for yourself, or do you feel kind of “phew, I’ve got that out of the way. That’ll do, for now. No more growing for me for the time being far too painful!”

Gary Hughes: Oh, yeah, I’m never gonna do that again. No, I it’s all done! It’s really interesting, you know, Joe, because I think everybody’s in a different stage of their of their life. And right now I’m in the stage of my life, where I’ve got 4 children, 9 and under. I have a 9 year old is my oldest, and my youngest is not even 2. And I’ve got a business that’s that’s just in my after 15 years, I believe, is really just coming into its own in a way that is completely unanticipated. I run a software company as well that’s related to photography that we launched last year. I’ve got my educational stuff that I’m doing. So, I have such a full life just trying to manage all these things. I found that that process of evaluating my work and putting something together like that, it was actually a really cool break from everything else. You know. I thought that it was a worthy creative endeavour. I’m not a person who’s driven by creativity. Unlike most of my peers. I feel like I am not. I have creativity in me. I enjoy the creative process. I consider myself someone who is a creator. I’m not happy unless I’m working on something, or unless I’m learning something and growing but largely, I’ve channelled that into commercial into entrepreneurship. And so.

Joe Lenton: Okay.

Gary Hughes: I think that I’m not a person who’s like constantly trying to find the next parachute dress and background, or like trying to master AI to create images that nobody’s ever seen before.  As long as I’m working.

Joe Lenton: Yes, I was gonna say, well, what do you think of as creativity then? Because I mean people, it can mean slightly different things to different people. So some of the things you’re talking about there are perhaps what what you might call the kind of on the fine art side of things with that sort of almost painterly look to it. When you say you’re not creative, what do you mean by that?

Gary Hughes: I’m not driven by creativity in and of itself, like, I know people who are true artists in the sense of the word, where like if they’re not actively trying to make something and push themselves to something new.. To me, really real, true art. And there’s a a and I don’t mean to gatekeep, but this is just my opinion. True artists are driven to create something that hasn’t been done. You know the ones on the edge, the absolute best out there are pushing the boundaries and make it a mess, and I and people like that are usually very unhappy. There’s I believe there’s a restlessness also that’s inherent with that, and it goes back down in degrees. I think there’s creativity in all kinds of things. I think there’s creativity in engineering. I think there’s creativity in building, construction, and I think there’s creativity in in teaching. I think there’s creativity in lots of things, I think, what we.. There’s the actual definition of creativity. And there’s the way that we throw it around the Internet at each other’s like, well, “I’m a creative.” “I’m a creative,” Yes, I think that that’s true in varying degrees. It’s not like you’re a creative or you’re not. I think everybody has an outlet where they like to make things. We’re a species that is unique in all the world, in the history of the universe, as far as we know, where we desire, we have a desire to build. We have a desire to make. We have a desire to advance, to progress, and in a way that is unnatural, like outside of the bounds of our normal evolution. And so I think everybody has something in them like that, and it’s just kinda comes in in degrees. And so I don’t think it can it’s a binary. You’re a creative. You’re not a creative. My creativity is in my ability to anticipate and my desire to move. I move quickly. I see things coming, and I move quickly, and I do it without fear of failure. And that’s my strength. That’s my greatest strength. But I also love to do things creatively. I like to create photography. I like video. I like to work with my hands, but and I do get restless to a great degree if I don’t have a job to do. But that doesn’t always encompass creating fine art portraiture. That doesn’t always encompass painting something, or like what you would consider the traditional creative professions. I mean, if you look back, I would say, probably if you look in the history of the world since the Dark Ages, you know, the ultimate model of the person that I would aspire to be would probably be Da Vinci, just because not only did this guy create art. But he built mechanical things and he dreamed big dreams. And obviously I’m definitely not that guy. But I think that if you think of that person as the archetype for creativity. He was an engineer and a mathematician and an artist. He didn’t say I’m a creative. He just it to him. It’s build or die.

Joe Lenton: Yeah.

Gary Hughes: That to me is that instinct is I have to be making something, or I’m or I’m not okay.

Joe Lenton: Absolutely. Yeah. I think it’s, you know, it needs to go across all those boundaries really, it is to do with making stuff. And I think it’s also to do with solving problems. It’s kind of taking ideas that perhaps were separate, bringing them together in a new way to solve a problem when we don’t necessarily know how to get past it. So can a mathematician be creative? Absolutely. Of course they can.

Gary Hughes: Heck yeah!

Joe Lenton: It’s not just people holding paintbrushes, or the like, so.

Gary Hughes: Right! That’s what I mean, like, if mathematicians weren’t creative, we wouldn’t have satellites. You know, we wouldn’t have GPS, we wouldn’t have the Internet. We wouldn’t have like, probably running water. Like engineers, mathematicians these people are very creative, their brains just you know.. We just box in the word creativity and try to own it like, “I’m a creative” and I just don’t vibe with that at all, like. All I know is that if I’m not making something in one form or another I feel very restless. And I’m not very particular about what that is. I tend to lean on the things that I know how to do the best. But if something new were to come along, I would be just as happy making in that genre as I am in making in photography or video, or or anything else that I tend to do.

Joe Lenton: Okay 

Gary Hughes: It’s a deep instinct to make something, to be busy, to build, to scratch the itch in your brain. Like that’s what that is to me, and every and your outlet is your outlet or multiple outlets. It doesn’t really matter.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, so what do you think then drives you sort of on like on a day to day basis when you’re you going into business. So is is it that desire to create something? Is it, man I’ve got bills to pay? I’ve got to get that done? What is it that is the core to motivating your business? Are there some kind of values that you hold that you want the business to espouse, or what what is it that’s core to everything for you

Gary Hughes: Yeah, I gosh! You know I’d love to say that it’s something so wonderfully sincere. But I’m just trying to be honest with myself when I think about this. Money in and of itself doesn’t mean anything to me, you know. But the things that money, if you say money is not important, you’ve never been poor. And I’ve been abjectly poor I’ve been, I spent the majority of my life in poverty, and so money is important, and there is something, a side to me that is motivated by that. But ultimately I’m motivated by success, accomplishment, ambition, ambition is probably my defining characteristic. If I was in Hogwarts, I’d probably be a Slytherin. Not one of the bad ones. I’d probably be a pretty good Slytherin. But ambition is like I, and not, and not because I like to see other people defeated, not because I like accolades, but because it satisfies me mentally, emotionally, psychologically to be moving forward. So like inertia, I’m just driven generally by inertia. And the other thing, it’s like when I see photographers and people working creative fields, who are incredibly talented, but commercially unsuccessful. I think there’s one thing that makes me continue to be successful, and that is because I am not tender about anything, any process. I’m not tender about my work. I’m not tender about any process I have. I’m not tender. I don’t get emotionally attached to anything in particular. If it’s gonna work, I’m gonna do it. If it’s if it’s gonna work and it’s ethical, I’m gonna do it. And so like if somebody’s like well, but I’ve always shot Nikon, or I’ve always shot cannon, or Oh, I I like the way that the paint, the painterly look works. Look, if you’re in a market where you can, you can sell something, and you can’t sell the thing that you like to do. Stop doing that thing, or move to a market where you can. You know that’s how you become commercially successful. I’m not tender about any of those things. I’m totally willing to go, “Yep, that didn’t work. Let’s do the next thing.”

Joe Lenton: So you embrace change then, because some people are quite frightened of change, aren’t they? 

Gary Hughes: You have to! Yeah, it’s the only constant, inevitable thing in the universe, and yet is the only thing that the vast majority of people continually fight and rail against. And so, and that blows my mind, the the just that the juxtaposition there, the irony of that is that you can’t control it, and we try so hard to keep things the way they are. And you would just find so much more freedom if you looked around and open yourself up to the possibility of what could happen if you just unclenched your butt a little bit, just unclench your butt just a little bit and look around and be like, what’s the best, smartest thing for me to do. And I’ve always been okay with that. And and and I think that there are photographers who are way more proficient in pretty much every way, who I have, outpaced them commercially, and because I have. I just don’t care. Like the only thing I want to do is be home for dinner and roll around on the floor with my kids, and hang out on the beach, and that, like my time is my is is my priority. And so I’m totally willing to build a photography business where I’m not the photographer. And that’s, I think, what other people don’t do. Photographers want to build a business where they are the artist and it’s their name on this marquee, and that means something to them that people come to them for their art. Let’s not talk about all the psychological layers of the artist guilt and imposter syndrome. We’ll just push that aside, for now. But like there’s something in photographers and other types of creative entrepreneurs where you want to be the artist in the business. I don’t care at all. At all. If I could, if I could get the financial freedom I needed by running a business where I just take pictures of shoelaces a thousand times a day. I’ll find the best damn shoelace photographer in my town, and I will pay that guy well, and I will cash all those checks, and then I’ll take my little Fuji X. 100 V and chase my kids around the beach until my heart explodes with joy.

Joe Lenton: Yeah.

Gary Hughes: That’s what I’m willing to do, because all I want in the world is freedom. And I think if a lot of photographers really peel back the layers of that onion and really ask themselves, why did you start this in the first place? Why did you go into this business in the first place? Really pare it down. It’s because inherently they all understand the same thing, and that is that you’ll only have so much time and you don’t want to spend literally 50% of the time you’re awake in pleated khakis and a polo in a cubicle making money for someone else being unhappy, because there’s no amount of money in the world that’s worth spending that much time unhappy for. So, at least, if I have to work to support myself, why shouldn’t I do it in a way that that do something that pleases me? But then you fall into the trap of you get so overwhelmed by your inability to run a business and to manage that as a commercial enterprise, that you either become very successful, but overwhelmed because of your lack of systems, or you become very un-busy and unsuccessful, and your business fails, and it ends up making you hate the thing that you used to love. In both cases, and I think that’s incredibly dangerous to step into that world, not being business forward, because if you’re art forward you run a very high risk of burning out. And how many professionals, do, you know, have done it for a while, burn out, either because they were too busy or not busy enough, and they never pick up a camera again?

Joe Lenton: Yeah, I burnt out last summer. I had to take the end of the year off just to try and get my head back in the right sort of place. I was not able to work for a few months. Yeah, it’s not a nice place to be. I certainly don’t recommend it!

Gary Hughes: You know I’ve been there, but you know I would say that going into your photography business-forward your business is, you build a castle wall and a moat around your creativity. Your business is the wall, it’s the moat, it’s the moat monster. It’s the battalion of soldiers surrounding it, and your creativity gets to live at the safe space in the middle. Your business creates a place for your creativity to thrive, but that you have to build the business first, and the creativity gets to live there. If you just try to build this nebulous creative thing, you know, even if you get lucky for a little while. It’s gonna it’s gonna get taken away from you at some point. You’re going to kill it. You’re going to strangle it because you can’t let go of things like editing. You can’t let go of things like answering the phones and book-keeping. You can’t let go of things like making appointments. And you know all these little things, these 10,000 paper cuts that bleed you to death in your life. You don’t systemize your business. You don’t take it seriously. You’re just pushing and pushing and pushing for the next creative pursuit. But your creativity will live healthier longer if you build that wall of a solid foundation of business around it first. So then, you get to be creative forever, if you want.

Joe Lenton: Yeah. So I mean for you, then, if you’ve got tasks that are part of your business as a photographer that are sucking that joy out. Do you then think straightaway – no, I’ve got to outsource that? Or do you find some other way of dealing with it? You know. Well, I mean? What sort of can you think of any examples of something?

Gary Hughes: Obviously, I don’t mean to be cavalier about this, you know, because I know that we’re dealing with serious stuff. So it’s easier to just go, “well outsource it.” Some people don’t have money, you know, so I get that like some people don’t have the money to pay someone to do X thing. I think the first thing you just have to do you have to set your intention to do that at some point and start working towards getting it off your plate. And that may take some time. Photography is a small business with a slow growth curve, and so it will take you time to get there. Most photographers I know don’t start to become cash positive until somewhere between years 5 and 7. And so if you’re out there and it’s year 4, and you’re like this still isn’t happening for me. You’re totally in the normal curve of things, you know. But in order to be successful long term, and to protect your mental health and the longevity of your creative pursuits, you need to, you have to decide ahead of time the things that you are going to eventually outsource and start working towards them one at a time. Are you an introvert who’s bad at staying organized and answering phones? You, don’t people well? Then, you know that probably the first thing you need to do is to hire a virtual assistant, or to bring somebody into the business who is hyper -organized, who keeps spreadsheets about their spreadsheets, who will stay on top of things, who will make sure that your schedule gets organized. I am an idea person and I’m a list person. If you just give me a list of things to do, I’ll knock them all out. But I will not write the list and I know that about myself. And so I, my studio manager, who started it part part time, like 10 hours a week, who is now full time, makes a salary and a commission because he keeps our business running. And every morning he texts me first thing in the morning at 8 Am. He goes, “here’s what you got on today.” And I even have access to the Google Calendars like, here’s what I need from you today. Here’s what we’re doing. And he’s in touch with all of my clients all the time. And I don’t have the the bees flying around my brain anymore, you know, trying to keep track of all these things that my brain just can’t keep track of. He just points me at what I need to do and gives me a list of things and their priority, and I do it. But it took. I’ve been in business 15 years, you know, 16 in September. And so, like, the thing that you have to realize is, if you’re bad at it, you should be working towards not having to do it anymore and surround yourself with people not that you like, not that are talented, but people who are specifically good at the things that you are not good at. Create a team around you, one thing at a time. And so the first step is to make up your mind that that’s what you’re going to do. If you are technically, if you are a technical moron when it comes to the Internet and building websites, then you know, you should probably start setting money aside to have someone build you a proper website. And the great part about photography is we have something that is, we work in visual media, something that’s inherently valuable to every profession. And so it’s actually, you can barter quite a lot for stuff. And  I think that that’s important to have that in your back pocket, too, if you’re in those stages. If you are struggling, if editing is sucking up all your time – good news! You have never lived in a better time in the history of the world to be bad at editing, because there are so many options. I was just talking to there’s a company called Aftershoot AI. There’s Imagen AI where they basically like all you do is it’ll cull the images for you. It will do your raw processing for you and spit them right into Lightroom for you. Like it’s phenomenal how much time technology can now save you, and where you don’t even like need to hire somebody to do it. You have never lived in a better time to be bad at editing.

Joe Lenton: Well there’s the technology and also the you know other people from around the world because the Internet, you know, links us all up. I mean, I was one of these who kind of edited everything myself from start to finish, and until, that is, I started to work regularly with jewellery.

Gary Hughes: Oh, man. Yeah. All those reflective surfaces and stuff. It’s like.

Joe Lenton: Oh, that’s not so bad. If, as you know, if you light it well, you can minimize that in the main. But I mean, what people don’t realize is one thing that a lot of new jewellery, unless it’s very expensive, is a bit crummy when you look really really close. There’s little scratches and things like that on it, and there’s also when you get necklaces with all those lovely little links in them and the client goes, “Oh, just cut that out so I can have that on a transparent background,” and you start thinking…

Gary Hughes: Hard pass hard pass!

Joe Lenton: That was when all of a sudden, all those kind of emails and things coming through of, “I’d like to do some retouching for you”. Or “would you be interested in clipping path dot so and so?” And you think, actually, I’m gonna look at this now.

Gary Hughes: Yeah, yeah, but exactly 100 percent.

Joe Lenton: Am I going to sit there and cut out 100 little holes or something for every single one of these 50 necklaces I’ve just been sent to photograph?

Gary Hughes: Well, let’s put the shoe on the other foot, Joe, like, let’s say that you are a photographer of of e-commerce of products of things like that. Right? Let’s say the thing that really turns your crank that gives you joy is editing those images and creating those layouts and and cutting things out. But you, the photography part really drains you emotionally. Then hire a photographer and be the editor. You know what I mean. It’s like, you build the business around it. I’m a big believer in building a business that you want to work in, but if you have taken the step to step outside of a stable corporate gig, or whatever like to go into, to do something you love for a living, you should 100% demand to do it in a way that makes you happy. And instead of getting mired down in all this stuff that makes you unhappy, and so like, take the thing that you love to do, and then build the business around that. But again, in the beginning you probably have to do a lot of it yourself unless you have a good amount of capital to get this going. But it’s deciding ahead of time, cause it takes time to build that business that you want to work in. It isn’t gonna be that on day one. And so it’s intent, just like great photography comes from intention. A great business comes from intention. You have to have an intention here to build a business around working toward the business you want to be. It’s been 15 years, and I’m finally, for the last few 100% working in the business that I love to work in, that I’m happy to be the employee of, but I’m happy to be the employee in my business, because I decided a long time ago that I was going to be the CEO of my company. And I think that’s a huge difference. You are the CEO of a company, you know, not not the help. And then if you start making decisions as if you’re the CEO of a company, you get better clarity, and then the version of you that is an employee in that company is going to be happy. The CEO you has to protect the employee you from burnout. You have to take care of yourself, just like you have a duty of care to your to any employee, but we just tend to abuse ourselves by overworking ourselves. We’re the only employee that we’re allowed to forego duty of care.

Joe Lenton: I mean. So I’ve I’ve sometimes said to people that you know, when I’ve spoken about the business side of things, I said, well, work out your hourly rate from what you’re doing now, you know. Look at how much time you’re spending on everything you do, and work out what your hourly rate really is that you’re getting for that. And then, if somebody offered to pay you that to work in the supermarket, would you take it

Gary Hughes: The difference is the answer to that is very often yes, though because they are doing something that they think they love and enjoy, and so the answer to that has to be no. But too often the answer to that question ends up being, yes. Its because if it’s yes, either do that or go work in a supermarket. I’d rather if I’m gonna make crap money, I’d rather make crap money doing photography.

Joe Lenton: Sure, yeah.

Gary Hughes: than crap money working at Costa, you know what I mean?

Joe Lenton: Yeah. But often it’s even less. It’s like, you know, some people when they’re starting out, it’s like you’re on less than minimum wage.

Gary Hughes: Yeah, I you know what. And that’s and sometimes when you are the business owner and you’re a startup, you’re a bootstrapped operation. Sometimes you are making less than minimum wage, but you have to decide ahead of time that you’re eventually not going to be. Most businesses lose money in the beginning, you’re cash negative in the beginning. But you decide to become cash positive when you get to this mark and have a plan to start moving towards that. And I think that’s okay, you know. But you have to decide now. Like that you are going to move in that direction. I’m going to outsource the things that I’m bad at. I’m gonna surround myself with help, either virtually having people assist or outsourcing work, or bringing on help or part-time help, or contract labour. However, that works. I’m going to start making moves toward this business that I want to work in. And that’s it. You you do that now. Write a plan out to do it and then realize that it’s gonna take time to get there. I didn’t just start my photography business, and when the incorporation paperwork came through. I went, “Okay, let’s hire a studio manager. Let’s hire a social media manager”. It took years to get there. But the result is you have a plan. You have an end in sight to your misery instead of permanent misery.

Joe Lenton: Yeah.

Gary Hughes: And then there is a chance, if you are smart, that you might just get to work in the best job you’ve ever had and not be miserable, not be burnt out. And to get up every day be like, “why was I banging my head against the wall for so long?” That thing that you’re holding onto right now that – anybody listening -there’s that thing that in your mind you’re like, “my precious!” You know. It’s like that thing that you’re holding onto. You have no idea how good it’s going to feel to let that thing go. I promise you it’s going to feel the best you’ve ever felt in your life to let that go. And the only person holding you back is you. And that’s true in almost every case for everybody I’ve talked to.

Joe Lenton: People often like to sort of, especially when it’s early in the career and things aren’t happening. They don’t realize actually, A it’s normal. But B, that all these things are choices. And that part of the problem is the choices that we make and how we view them, how we view what’s going on around us. It’s like, Oh, the market is saturated. It’s the market’s fault. Rather than looking at it and thinking, Okay, there’s a lot of photographers in that area which are very, which is very price sensitive. Is it sensible for me to go into that area? Should I do something else? If I go into it do I need to take a different approach? It’s just kind of looking outside of yourself. And that you can very easily get very down. And I think people can look at more established photographers. They can look at the people who are speakers on the circuit and think well, they don’t know what it’s really like. And you think, well, you know actually, there have been several times when I’ve thought about giving up. It’s not something where every single day. I’ve been jumping out of bed full of joy. And you know, bunny rabbits and lambs are bouncing around the fields outside next to me, and we’re all smiling, you know.

Gary Hughes: If only!

Joe Lenton: There have been days when yeah, I don’t know about you, but there have been days, where you think, “Oh, should I just do something else?”

Gary Hughes: Yeah, absolutely. But thankfully, those days are are few and far between. And it is possible to get through those moments, and if you don’t think that you’d be working at some job, even if the salary was great, you know. If you don’t think you’d be having days like that at that job because the grass is always greener. Look, you have to do what you have to do. Let’s say you have a, let’s say you’re sick and you need health insurance. Yes, not as big a problem in the UK as it is in the United States.

Joe Lenton: Quite, yeah.

Gary Hughes: So you have to take a job to do that. You know, there’s no law that says you have to be a full-time Professional photographer. None. You know there’s no law that says that. You know what you have to do is find something to do in society that makes you useful, and to pay your way, and to provide for your children and your family. Those are things you have to do, and there’s a whole element in our industry that, and I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as it used to be, where people in the photography industry had to kind of hide the fact that they had a day job doing something else. And I and I know, like several people who are incredibly successful, photographers, worked for big companies doing other things, making a great living. But when they were in their photography community they didn’t want anybody to know that they had this other gig. And so there’s a gatekeeping kind of income police thing that says, unless you’re a full time professional photographer, you know, you’re not a real photographer. And that is such crap. That is one of the biggest lies in our industry. We live in a world where the best way to become wealthy is to have multiple streams of income. And so basically, this person is feeling ashamed that they’re not a full time photographer where we should be being like “dude! You’re the smartest person in the room!” Like and you can make better decisions if your photography business is a side hustle and you don’t need it to pay your bills. Then you can make really smart decisions for that business because you make bad decisions when it’s imperative, because you’re not going to be able to pay your rent. Or you’re not gonna be able to afford groceries. Then you start taking jobs that you don’t want to do and becoming unhappy. Then you start discounting your prices because you’re worried that you may not cover your nut, you know, like, so this is very important. It is totally okay to have a job and to do photography as a side hustle. And dare I say it is okay to just do photography for fun. You are still a photographer. Did you know that the word amateur comes from a Greek word that means love? Like it’s you do it because you love it, and we throw amateur around like it’s a dirty word, you know. Like an amateur is someone who does it surely, purely for the joy of doing it. And there’s something special there, you know. And a professional, the fine line of professional is only somebody paid me.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, absolutely. It is literally just money has changed hands for this to happen. And I know people that have said, well, the fact that I’ve got another job means that I can choose what I want to do for my photography. I don’t have to do the boring stuff. I can choose the stuff that I like, and you think, yeah, great!

Gary Hughes: And you don’t have to discount your prices.  And you don’t have to take any job that you don’t want. And here’s what those people figured out – that people struggling to hit that full-time photographer target; is the people who did it part time, they figured out that when you say no and you can build, you make better business decisions when you don’t need that income. And even if you treated your full time photography business like a side-hustle, you’d make more money, you’d be happier. You’d have happier clients. You’d probably have better work, you know. So it it’s it’s incredible to see those people get to go, “yeah, I don’t think I want to shoot that, because it doesn’t sound like something I’d want to do.” Or they could go like, I understand this sounds expensive, but this is my job and this is time away from my family, and that has value. And so they’re making those decisions based on a completely different set of priorities. And those people are often more successful commercially, because they’re making better decisions. Because and and so mentally, if you start to take the imperative out of those decisions, the food on your table imperative, you actually can become more successful, in fact, like, fake it till you make it, like. Pretend that you’re a really successful business, and your client like, how would you respond to this client when they said, “I’ll give you, I’ll give you 50 quid for that instead of 500”? And if you are really successful business you’d be like, “see you later”, you know.

Joe Lenton: Yep.

Gary Hughes: But because you are like, I don’t know, because you’ve put all this stock in you, the creativity, and there’s all this weird emotional stuff, You just go, “Okay, 50, 50 is fine. I’ll do it for 50.” Or you go, “I’ll do it for 250.” And you just cut your price in half, because they asked you to. Like, it doesn’t make any sense. But a part timer would go “nah!” ‘Cause you want me to do this on a Saturday instead of hang out with my partner and my kids, or take my dog to the park. Like “no, not gonna do it,” you know. 

Joe Lenton: Absolutely. Yeah, yeah.

Gary Hughes: And I think there’s power in understanding that. And you can apply that lesson into a full time photography business to where the thing that the secret sauce here is that when you make those bad decisions, not only are you working for free, essentially, you’re actually paying the client for the privilege of doing the job because you’re losing money. You’re the one who has to pay tax. You’re the one, you know, like you’re the one who has to cover the overhead of the business. And if you’re making those decisions for the wrong reason, you’re paying them ultimately.

Joe Lenton: Absolutely. Yeah.

Gary Hughes: And that’s bad decision making.

Joe Lenton: Oh, totally, yeah, absolutely. I mean, so when it when it comes to you, sort of making making decisions about what work you take on, how do you prioritize? How do you juggle it? Because you’ve got your international speaking. You’ve got your content creation for your own digital channels. You’ve got your headshot business and so on. You’ve got quite a lot of irons in the fire. You know what sort of thing, if someone came up to you and offered it to you, would you be thinking that that’s what you go for first.

Gary Hughes: Well, I think that each one of those areas I have, I have basically 3 main areas of income. I have my photography business, which is a commercial portrait studio. That’s what we call it. We take pictures of people for their jobs. I have my education business, which is you know, speaking and creating educational products. And I also have headshot tools, which is my software platform for headshot photographers. And so those are the 3 things that I have going at any given time. And each one of those things has different values and priorities as far as what we take and what we don’t. So when it comes to my business I think it becomes self regulating. We have specialized to the point where it’s very obvious who we are for. And our message is very specific. Our value proposition is very specific. So and I know that not every photographer based on where they live. If you’re in like some village in the hills of Wales, you can’t be a corporate headshot photographer specialist, because there’s just nothing where you live. You know. You got a village with 500 people in it. So I understand that. But what I mean to say is, the more that you focus on the message of your business, and and whatever, if you’re going to specialize, the more the right people will come to you. And there’s very little decision making that you have to make. If you’re just, I’m a studio, I’m open for business, I shoot whatever. You’re constantly having to make decisions about who you’re gonna serve and how you’re gonna serve them. But if you are very narrow in your focus. Whether that focus be what specifically types of genres you shoot or the type of final products you deliver, or the style of work you create, or your price point. All of those things will make you for a specific group of people. And I have found that the more specific a group of people you are for, the easier it is to market your business.

Joe Lenton: Absolutely absolutely. Yeah, you know, you can identify your “tribe”, as people like to call it, and you’re talking directly to them. They’re that much more invested in what you’re doing, because it is so specific, as if you’re almost talking directly to them that “oh, yep! This is for me.” When you look at the way that your businesses have gone, you’ve been more on the not quite generalist front, but you’ve done the kind of portraits, weddings, and other bits and pieces along the way. And now you’ve narrowed down to those 3. How conscious has that decision been, and what sort of reason?

Gary Hughes: Everything is a conscious decision. Everything’s a financial decision. It’s a mental health decision. You know, because I, my wife and I are business partners. I’m not the only person making these decisions. And we make these decisions together as a team. And it’s all based on our priorities. You know, it’s based on our personal mission statement, and it’s based on our business mission statement which tend to line up. But the the whole goal is to understand this when it comes to your business. It’s like, a business is about crafting a message and it’s saying who you’re for, and that message tells people who you’re for, and every decision you make is to is to continue to craft that message and put it in front of people, and the right people will come right at it, just like a moth to a flame. And so when you get the right person, your ideal person, the person who is part of your people, your folks, and you get that message when they come into proximity with each other. The connection is powerful and instantaneous and permanent. And so you will find that you will not just have clients. You will have ride or die, shut up and take my money clients. And so to get to that point to answer your question, at first, probably the first 8, 7 or 8 years was a lot of just playing pickup, like just guessing as you go. And over time that stuff becomes… Again, my instinct has always been to abandon that which is not working. And so and I think that’s important. You have to be able to like. You know. You have to be able to. You know what? I don’t. What can’t even think of the phrase around. I have to be able to like, just jump ship on something that isn’t working.

Joe Lenton: So when you say when you say not working, is that like as in, it’s not profitable, or it’s losing it, causing you anguish or something like that?

Gary Hughes: Let me break it down for you. There’s a reason why, several reasons why we went from a generalist studio and to a to a specific genre specific studio. And not only that, but we’re becoming more and more specific as we go. I don’t just do headshots. I specialize in team headshots and headshots at events, which is hyper-specific, you know.

Joe Lenton: Very.

Gary Hughes: And so, but the more we specialize, the more successful the studio has become because the easier it is to craft our message. Because if you’re just, if your message is, I’m a good photographer. You’re going to fail. If your message is, I really enjoy my work and drink coffee. You’re going to fail. If your message is these kinds of memories are important, don’t miss out. You’re going to fail. Cause that’s everyone’s message. Your message needs to be, why are you the best solution for me? What makes what’s that value proposition? You have to be for someone specifically, and then your marketing is all about telling them how you understand what they’re trying to accomplish and why you are the best person to help them accomplish that. Let me give you an example in the headshot business. One of the most pervasive marketing messages is: you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Headshots are important. Blah! Blah! Blah blah blah head shots are great. You need head shots. Here’s why you need head shots. You have. You should get headshots. Here’s 5 reasons why head shots are important. You should get head shots and like.

Joe Lenton: Yep.

Gary Hughes: You know why that’s bad? Because that’s 1, that’s what everybody puts on their website, so it’s not unique. And 2 by and large, if that’s on your website, guess what dude they’re on your website, which means they’re looking for headshots, which means they know headshots are important already, which means you’re telling them something they already know that everyone else is telling them. I mean, imagine if you go to a car dealership and the salesperson just spent the first hour just talking about how you should get a car. Cars are important. They help you get to work, man. Yep, yep, if you gotta pick up the kids from school cars, your best option. Like it’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. A good salesperson is going to be like this car right here, I think will be great because you’ve got 4 kids, and in that third row of seats it’s a full size third row. It’s not like you’re just taking an extra kid here and there. You need to put car seats back there. This is perfect. It’s actually a hybrid. So it gets great gas mileage. And on top of that it actually is your favourite colour. Look at it’s that army green that you really like. We have that. We have all of those things. And, by the way, I know your lower back hurts. So it’s got seat heaters in the actual back, and not just the bum which would give you some pain relief after a long day on your feet. I’d be like, give me that car!

Joe Lenton: Yeah.

Gary Hughes: You know what I mean? That’s what we’re failing to do. Is to speak to the specific needs of a specific group of people. That’s what good marketing is. And so if you are just going, you need photos. Your marketing is a failure or will be. If yours is, you need head shots. Your marketing is a failure like in the commercial world. If you go, I’m Joe Lenton and I take pictures. Here are some pretty pictures. They don’t care! If you go, I’m Joe Lenton. I am not only going to take incredible pictures for you. I’m gonna be efficient and quick. I’m gonna meet every deadline. And I’m gonna work on your budget and you’re never gonna even have to speak to me. You all you do is you just ship me the products. I’m gonna photograph everything exactly like you like, and I’ll have those pictures back to you by the next day in every file format you could possibly want, and I will work directly with your art director, and I will make sure you have everything perfect, and you don’t even have to pick up the phone. That’d be like Joe Lenton is my dude! Joe Lenton is my God, because you know what you can find without with very minimal effort, a photographer who’s competent at taking pictures in any genre. But can you find somebody who’s gonna make your life easier? Who’s gonna speak to your values? And that’s why we keep getting more specific. Because I understand I intimately understand what my clients are trying to accomplish, and I know how to do it for them. I know how to take that work off their plate, because that’s what they want me to do, and that’s why we get busier and busier, because I have become very specialized and very good at this specific thing, and so I’m not for everybody, but for the people that I am, for I am the perfect solution.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, do you think it’s also about the as you’ve gone along, yes, you need to get to know your clients. But you’ve also got to know yourself and how you work? Because for me, I think that’s been the journey of growth is understanding more and more what is needed, and also understanding more and more what my role is in that. Is that actually the area for me to serve? Or should I serve something different? What’s my personality? What do I value, you know? Do I want to work with a company that is only interested in bottom line? That potentially doesn’t pay its workers properly and doesn’t look after people. Do I make decisions on an ethical basis like that as to who I have as my client? And sometimes I think if we can start to help people understand us, not from the point of view of, as you say, you know, “here I am with the mug of coffee. I like to go for walks, and I like to listen to Bon Jovi,” or something like that.

Gary Hughes: Who doesn’t? Who doesn’t love all those things

Joe Lenton: Absolutely. There’d be something wrong with you otherwise! 

Gary Hughes: I agree.

Joe Lenton: You know, it’s you know, it’s helping them to actually, really understand more about what’s different about you. And sometimes I think with photographers, as we’re a smaller business, it’s easier to do that than a big business, because the brand, at least, to begin with, it kind of is you?

Gary Hughes: Yes.

Joe Lenton: So if you can get across, what’s different about you and if you can understand, what is it that makes me go, “yeah, I’ll do that.” Or what is it that makes me go “Not that again!” Then that helps you. I think that also helps you to connect with the right type of client.

Gary Hughes: Yeah, I could not agree more. And there’s a lot of decisions in there, and there’s a butt load of questions in there, Joe. So I’m just gonna focus in on what my goldfish brain will focus on. When it comes to deciding who you work for. Again, I’m gonna sound like I’m banging on the same drum and kicking the same dead horse. But when you have a good message, you have your value proposition and your differentiator. Your message is, “I understand you. I’m the best solution for you.” Your value proposition is, “here’s why I’m the best solution for you. “And then your differentiator is, “this is what makes me different than the competition.” You kind of those 3 things kind of work in conjunction with each other. The message is making someone realize they found the right service provider or someone who’s in the ballpark. And then that value proposition is, here’s ABC reasons we’re good, why we’re gonna why you’re gonna love us and  the differentiator is here’s why you should pick us instead of someone else. And so, like, I find when you have those 3 things put together, and that message is really strong on your website in your marketing and your social media, I think that the issue of clients is largely self regulating. I think that you know in the US there’s this big hullabaloo. A case goes all the way to the Supreme Court about like a photographer who didn’t wanna photograph same sex couples. And so she sued the state she was in, because the law said, she’s not allowed to deny service based on, you know that, based on, you know, sexual preference, or whatever your sexual identity and gender and orientation. So sorry, preference is probably not the right word for a sexual orientation and gender etc. So you’re not allowed to say I’m not, you can’t shop at my store because you, you and your partner are the same sex or whatever. You can’t. That’s illegal in this State. She sues the State because she doesn’t want to do that. Here’s the thing. No one – and she won – and no one ever asked her to do that. No one would ever ask her to do that. No gay couple is gonna go into this woman’s studio after meeting with her and go, “we’re gonna hire you and sue you if you don’t work for us.” Like that is never gonna happen.

Joe Lenton: That would be really, really perverse, wouldn’t it? 

Gary Hughes: It would be so perverse. I mean, you’d have to be just the worst type of people. And so but they’re just gonna people are attracted, like attracts, like, you know. And so that’s kind of an extreme example. Because again, to this day this case is years old and this woman has still not been asked to photograph a same sex wedding! Yeah. Never! Like nobody is gonna want her? Why would you want her to your wedding with her poopy face on just judging your choices? You just you don’t want that at your wedding. Nobody’s gonna ask her to do it. And so I I feel like that’s an extreme example again. But like, if your message is on point, yeah, like, your brand values become very obvious, and I’ve very rarely been in position to work for a company that I thought was like unethical, or that I’m not interested in working for. And I, because our message is so specific, I very like… Here’s a funny part – sometimes people will go on my website, which has had nothing to do with weddings or engagements. There’s no portraiture, no general portraiture on my website, and we still get people fill out the contact form and go, “how much do you charge for a wedding?” And I’m like bro, did you even look?? And so, but it gives me the ability to refer colleagues and cool stuff like that. But I leave money on the table all the time, because I can run a business. And I’m good at getting stuff to pop up on Google. And I understand, you know, cost and overhead, and growth curves and aggregate supply and aggregate to me like I get all that stuff like. But I don’t want to work in areas of photography that don’t bring me joy. And you know what doesn’t bring me joy is portraits and weddings. Because it’s a lot of nights and weekends and nights and weekends are when I would normally get to hang out with my kids. And so we built this business. We make all these decisions based around me spending the maximum amount of time in the lives of my wife and children. And so, I’m not always good at it. You know. I sometimes still make bad decisions. You know. I’m not going to say that I don’t. I’m not a perfect father. I’m not a perfect husband. But I’m working on it. I have set my intention towards it, and I’m probably always going to be improving in that regard. But that takes priority over everything. But I also need to provide food and shelter for those people.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, exactly.

Gary Hughes: So just like you have to build a business like we talked about earlier around your creativity to protect it. I have to build a business around my family to protect it. So the business is very, very important. You can’t just go “work-life, balance yo!” Like you have to build a business that enables you to do it. But this is where we slip. We go, I’m so busy working a hundred hours a week for my family that you’re neglecting your family. If you build a smart business that frees you up to be with them. That’s the way to do it, but we get so head into success, failure, putting money in the bank, paying for those college funds, whatever it is. That you end up becoming that which you didn’t want to become in the first place. Where, emotionally speaking, you’d have been better off just taking a job where you only have to work 40 hours a week.

Joe Lenton: Absolutely. And I’ve similarly sort of had it happen with my work is that I’ve got to the point where I’ve kept thinking, I used to teach quite a bit before the pandemic, and then everything shut down. I couldn’t really do any kind of photography teaching. So I just put that on the back burner and thought, I’ll carry on with other things. And I was doing more and more product photography because people could post stuff to me, and I didn’t have to leave the house. So…

Gary Hughes: I even did a bit of product photography during the pandemic myself, because then the people would just ship you, stuff.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, yeah, exactly, you know. So, there I was with that and after that had been going on then for a couple of years or so, I kept thinking, Yeah, do you know, I do miss teaching. At some point I need to get back into doing that, and that some point doesn’t happen. When you want to be somewhere. When you want to set that as your course, you really have to do it very deliberately, and you have to make time for it. If you want to say, well, look this business needs to work for my family, not my family, for the business. You don’t need to say, well, at some point. You need to actually be quite specific and say, Well, okay, let’s look at what I can put in place now. Let’s look at what I can then put in place again in 6 months time. Can things change? Can it evolve more in the direction I want it to go, because for me, it basically took burnout for me to get the time to really think about how can I get back into helping people with their photography and with their photography business and that sort of thing? Because I was so busy doing stuff that I didn’t have the space to think.

Gary Hughes: My dad always said you make time for the things you want to do. You know, if there was a show you wanted to go to if there was a movie that you really wanted to see if it mattered that much to you. You figured out you know what I mean, and I, and I believe that. And it doesn’t mean that you don’t want to do the thing. It means that it has not risen to the top of urgency for you. And so occasionally you have to sort of like, just reach down and grab a thing that you know you need to do. And here’s what’s interesting about this cause I read a really fantastic article about this recently. I remember if it was in New York Times, or it was just some major publication. So let’s just agree that it’s all true. Everything that I’m about to say is true, based on science.

Joe Lenton: Haha, yeah.

Gary Hughes: There’s a particular part of your brain that when you make yourself do something that you don’t want to do it actually forges new neural pathways, and those things get easier. So if you’re like, I don’t wanna to go jogging. I don’t wanna do this like you have to get over the hump, and it gets easier. And not only does that one thing get easier, but doing the things that you don’t like to do. In general, the frogs you have to eat, as they say in the business world. The things that you know you need to get to all it takes is to start rolling that snow rolling that snowball, and it will eventually build. It’s so you, if you make up your mind to set it in your life like, put a little post it note on your monitor if you want to, that’s like, Okay, every Monday I’m gonna pick 2 things that I’ve been procrastinating on. And I’m gonna do 2 things, and write yourself a little note in your phone or whatever, and pick something off the list every Monday and every Monday you’re gonna like, you’re gonna start to see yourself. Your brain is literally gonna change its topography in response to your ability to tackle those things that you don’t want to do. It’s breaking those bad habits a tiny bit at a time, saying no to ice cream like once a week, you know. Like you have to just take on little things in a way that’s sustainable.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, it’s the weird thing about the brain like that is that you know, we form when it forms those new connections. It’s like, shall I give you a nice, fast, efficient one to begin with? Oh, let’s take a nice sluggish one, which doesn’t really work very well, and it’s only by keep going down that path, over and over and over until it becomes quick. You know there’s your fast connection. So it’s like when you train yourself to do, to to do something, you start to get to points like when you learn to drive. You’re doing everything manually, and you’re thinking about it. All those pathways get quicker and quicker and quicker. You don’t think about it anymore. It becomes kind of automatic. And so so many areas in life like that where you’ve got that initial inertia. If you can overcome that and start to form habits, it can be amazing how much you can change.

Gary Hughes: Think about it like if I go to a water park with my kids. And you know, there’s a gigantic slide – a terrifying butt puckering trap. And I’ll have my 6 year old will be like I don’t want to do it, and she’ll spend 3 hours you know, at there just working up the courage to finally do it. She does it and then you can’t get her off of it! Like she just keeps, she’s like she stop on the big slide again. It’s a lot of times it’s getting over that hump and realizing that it’s not all that bad. Your brain just can only hold so much at one time a certain number of conversations, a certain number of relationships, a certain number of tasks. That’s why paper was invented, you know. So, you know, you have to sort of intentionally start grabbing those things that you are bad at and don’t want to do, and making a plan for them, and over time.

Joe Lenton: Brain just defaults to what it knows. It defaults to what’s easy. We’re all inherently lazy. Unfortunately, our brains like to do the same thing. They like to see the same patterns. And what, looking back over the past couple of years, what I think would have benefited me would have been to say, every quarter take a half day or a full day, if you can and sit and look at the business. Look at what you’re doing. Look at your values. Look at what gets you out of bed in the morning. Analyse that. How’s that working out? Is it going the right way? Is it going the wrong way? Whereas instead, what happened was, I got busier and busier and busier. So I didn’t have time to hardly think, because for me, for me with my MS when I’ve done a full day’s work I ain’t going out in the evening or doing anything. I’m half falling asleep after dinner, so, you know it’s not like, oh, I’ll do a full day’s work, and then I’ll do some planning in the evening, or something I would have needed to have taken a half day or something earlier on, and that actually people think, oh dear! And I’ve got all these other things to squish into my time with my business, the website, and everything to take a couple of hours to just sit and think about the business. That’s a bit bit of an indulgence, isn’t it? And you think, well, no, actually. It can take you back to the core of why you’re doing it.

Gary Hughes: it’s mission critical is what it is. You know what I mean like. If you’re not doing it. The people who make the big. There’s a small dog barking in the background of you. I’m here that my next door neighbour at the studio here has a Chihuahua named Willie Nelson, and he’s a delightful little dog. But he gets he gets a little hyper at times. But he’s he’s fine now, usually barks a couple of times and quits so like those people who are not evaluating their business and their goals and their mission like they might get lucky for a while. But those are people who are gonna end up being realtors. I promise you. They’re gonna just burn out

Joe Lenton: Thankfully. I haven’t quite gone that far yet, but you know

Gary Hughes: You wait. You just wait. Like I don’t know why real estate is where photographers go to die. But it is for some reason. It’s you know, and I think there’s some overlapping skill set there like taking pictures of your own listings would save you a little bit of money, knowing how to do that. I’m not really sure but and so I think it’s critical. One of the biggest differences in our business came from us doing an annual meeting where we take all the numbers from the previous year, and then we make projections for the next year. And those projections always need to be higher than the other year. Setting goals, looking at the actual numbers. And this is how I got out of the portrait and wedding business, because this was in the age when social media was really on the rise, 2009-2010. LinkedIn was becoming a thing. Facebook was turning into a more public platform, you know. Like Youtube was starting to really get big like social media was just blowing up. And companies were getting more complex websites. High speed Internet was being connected all over the world, you know, and it was getting faster and faster. Websites could become more complex. Technology got easier. These things got less expensive to be a part of, and all of that fuelled headshot photography. And so our business had started to really cash in on that. And it was kind of by accident because we started, we’re in an area with some with entertainment. And so we were doing a lot of headshots for entertainment. Now I come from an IT background. And so I was able to build a website that was focused on the keywords for like head shots, headshot photographers, headshot photography. But I was aiming at actors and models and entertainers, and it just sort of happened that as headshot photography became more important, more pervasive in the business world I was front and centre. And I remember very distinctly a guy called me up and you know how you can tell somebody’s old when you talked him on the phone. It was like an older guy. It would definitely didn’t sound like he’s 22. This man sounded like he was like in his late fifties, early sixties. And he, we answer the phone. He goes, “yeah, I’m on your on your website here. And do you do head shots for anybody who’s not young and good looking?” You know, and then I literally – talk about forming a new neural pathway -it burned a hole in my brain. And I went, “Oh, my God, we have been marketing to the wrong people!” And so we started. We had created more space on my website for business head shots, and that grew, and that grew, and that grew. And eventually, after a couple of years, we sat down and we looked at our numbers and 80% of our marketing effort was going into portrait and wedding photography, and it was yielding about 30 % of business. And 20% of our marketing effort was going to head shot photography, and it was yielding about 70% of our business.

Joe Lenton: Tricky, tricky, choice.

Gary Hughes: A tough, choice man! It became really obvious when we looked at the numbers what we should do next. And so we jettisoned the portrait and wedding business. It took us 18 months, a year, 18 months to get completely out of it. And then put all of our all of our chips on black, and we just went straight into the headshot business, and the more we’ve specialized, the more we understand our message and the clients that we’re trying to serve, and the more successful that has made us over the years. And I’m not saying I’m not driving a Ferrari or anything like that. I literally had to jump-start my car this morning because I left the blinkers on overnight. So I have real, I have real problems like my neighbour called me last night, and he goes, “you know your blinkers are on?” And I went out, and it was like the car. The whole battery was dead anyway. So I you know, my 2012 Subaru outback. That’s also a business decision. So rather than driving a fancy car. At any rate. I think that it’s important that we started evaluating and making those decisions in every year. We rent a little condo somewhere in town here. You know, we go down to like the Disney resort area. We’re in the Orlando area, and we rent like a condo, and we bring in myself my wife, our studio manager, our social media person, and the 4 of us will sit down, and we will look at all the numbers and we’ll go. Okay. This area of practice brought in this much money in this many sessions. And you go. Wow! That’s a lot of sessions for not a lot of money. Now you need to talk about how you price and how you sell in order to be able to increase that income. You would have to raise prices or change. So like, you’re getting a lot of information. This area of practice brought in this much money. And with this many holy crap. When did that get so big? Okay, we need. Let’s put some more marketing energy into that, you know, like, and sometimes you’re sitting there crying because you realize you wasted a butt load of time. But at least you know now you know.

Joe Lenton: Absolutely. Yeah. And it’s funny how sometimes actually getting out somewhere different, just your mind is opened up again in different ways.

Gary Hughes: That’s one of those neural pathway issues. Drive home a slightly different route, watch a different TV show order something different at the restaurant where you always order the same thing.

Joe Lenton: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah.

Gary Hughes: Build those new pathways.

Joe Lenton: If you had been sitting around a table in the middle of your studio you probably wouldn’t necessarily have had all of the same conversations that you did because you went somewhere different. You went off-site. So I think you know, if people don’t have a team, if it is just them there can be this temptation to sort of think, “Oh, well, I’m always kind of keeping an eye on the business.” Yes, you are, and no, you’re not. We take for granted a lot of things drifting on in the background, and we lose awareness of it because you can’t keep it all in your conscious awareness, and we might think, oh, I’ll just sit at my computer and have a look at the numbers on the spreadsheet. Print them off. Go somewhere.

Gary Hughes: Yeah, or even invite a fellow photographer and other entrepreneur to go with you. Just get another pair of eyes on it. Another pair of ears to bounce stuff off of, because somebody will be like. I remember a friend of mine did the exact same thing, brought in another photographer, who is a successful portrait studio, and she showed him her books and he was a guy who’d been in business a lot longer, and he looks at the books and he goes. “What you’ve got here is 3 separate businesses. One of them is profitable, and 2 of them are not.” And it just blew her mind, and she was able to adjust her tack and become even more successful like just another set of serious, intelligent, thoughtful, unbiased eyes. And I know that that’s hard, because I know how weird Brits are about money. I know this, you guys are real weird about money. Talk. Talking about it just makes you uncomfortable. And that’s fine. Like, I get that. Yeah. I’ve taught business classes for photographers in the UK before. It’s very tender subject, but…

Joe Lenton: You see all those legs crossing and everybody’s suddenly getting smaller and smaller into their seats. And yeah, it’s like, just share your numbers with your neighbour. No!

Gary Hughes:  No, somebody you trust. Whether it’s your your spouse, your partner, a studio mate, someone who’s not even in the industry, who you trust and value their their eyes intention. If you feel like that, I well, I can’t do that. I just don’t have a team you know. I’m on my own. There there are people around you, and there are organisations like the SWPP, where you can connect with people who are gonna be desperate to do the same thing. To be honest with each other to get somebody’s eyes. You can even meet with somebody, if you know who’s in, you know Nottingham. And and you’re in, and you’re in Birmingham, you know you can somebody outside your market. You don’t have to give your numbers to somebody who’s like down the street from you. So like. But they’re like we all have the same problems. There’s a commonality here across the board of these solo entrepreneurs suffering with the same thing. If you just put it out there. It’s like who wants to mastermind with me like who wants to meet once a year, and you can even get a group of 5 or 6 people you trust. And I know there’s a great group of photographers who’ve been doing this for 25 years, and I’ve, you know, and I know this great group, and they meet once a year, and they all, “here’s all we got.” And they just tear each other to pieces for a week. And then they go back, and then they implement what they learned from each other, and they, every single one has been in business making a great living for all of those 25 years, because like and they’ll even go into each other’s studio spaces and be like this isn’t sending the right message. You should change this. Move this over here just the unbiased, loving critique, not of your work necessarily, but of your product line. You know of your books, of your marketing, of your space, of your ideas is, it’s invaluable. And so you can get connected through groups like SWPP and the PPA. And even through like people you could meet at WPPI and make those connections. You can find those people and make this happen for yourself. If you don’t know what to do, surround yourself with people who are a little further along down the path. And that’s all you need is you need to be able to to stand with a group of people. But, guys, I need your map. I’m trying to navigate the same terrain, can I? Can I borrow your map? And there you’re not always going to find that person in a Facebook group, in fact, its very unlikely. You’re gonna find that person in a group like the SWPP. You’re gonna find that person in a group like PPA, you’re gonna find that person in a business class at WPPI. You’re not gonna find that person in a face… All you’re gonna find in a Facebook group is people picking on each other half the time, you know very rarely, you know. So go out there and find people who are all searching, and then form little packs and help each other out. That’s what it’s for. That’s what I’ve done for 20 years, and it’s made all the difference in my career, having friends and mentors and colleagues rooting for each other. Makes all the difference in the world when you feel like you’re the only one. When you feel like you’re alone. You have a family just waiting for you. All you have to do is go grab it.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, I mean, to a slightly different format that I went to when I started out with business. But I joined like a local networking group of local entrepreneurs. And it wasn’t so much going there trying to get business a lot of the time. That’s what people think of.

Gary Hughes: And that’s a huge mistake to try and do that. 

Joe Lenton: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And I do believe you’ve got an article about that on Peta Pixel, which is well worth a read.

Gary Hughes: Yeah, thank, you.

Joe Lenton: Yeah. And there, we all kind of realized that we’re sharing the same kind of problems. We got the same kind of issues. We might be at different points along the scale. You think okay. And it’s it’s encouraging to know that you’re not alone. And it’s it’s encouraging to know that you.

Gary Hughes: It’s the most encouraging thing in the world to know that you’re not alone! It’s the only thing that you want from the moment you’re born is to not be alone. You know what I mean like. It’s you like to feel part of a thing. It’s wired into us for 100,000 years of evolution of the human species is to not be alone and the power of that. Yet it’s something that we were so afraid to share ourselves because of whatever reason, because we’re dealing with our art, with our creativity.

Joe Lenton: Yeah.

Gary Hughes: We don’t want anybody to know how successful we’re not, or how we struggle. But I’ve shared my struggles with so many colleagues over the years. And here’s what you’re gonna hear. Once you do that, you’re gonna pour your heart out to them. They’re gonna go, “Yeah, me too.” And then you’re gonna feel validated. You’re gonna hear, like, yes, I man, yeah, we or we went through that a couple of years ago. You know I was talking to a photographer at SWPP, at the Society’s convention in London. I was talking about some recent mental health struggles, and how I ended up in the hospital, and I was facing burnout, and I was talking to just another colleague, and he goes, “I went through the same thing 2 years ago, and here’s how I dealt with it.” And it was like I was scared to tell him. But I needed to tell somebody, and he just gave right back at me. He gave me like, yeah, me, too. I’ve been there, and here’s what I did, and and I found. And then I said, Wait a minute. What is this? And then I that same day I told someone else. You know they said? Me too. I deal with the same thing. This is how I’m dealing with it. And then I the next day, same event I told someone else. And then they came back to me and said, “yes, I dealt with that 5 years ago, and this is what I did,” or and then I did it again. I talked to 7 people about the same thing, and all 7 had either dealt with it or we’re dealing with it, and all I had to do was open up just to be vulnerable first.

Joe Lenton: Yes, and all too often people will be hiding and thinking, “oh, this is my photography business, my precious,” you know I’ve got to keep it away from everybody’s prying eyes. And do you think, look you’re starting a business. You’re not inventing the wheel. I’m afraid that most things that you’re gonna try and come up with have probably been tried. You might be a genius and come up with something new, you never know.

Gary Hughes: Probably not!

Joe Lenton: exactly, probably not. And what’s different about your business is you. So opening up to someone else, they can’t be you. They can’t copy you.

Gary Hughes: Not even if they tried.

Joe Lenton: No. So people get so worried about, oh, but they might pinch my ideas. Or people might realise I’m not as successful and so on. You actually have far more to gain than you do to lose.

Gary Hughes: That the arrogance of that and the insecurity involved in that is staggering. Because here’s the thing. If you’re one person in a business, how many people do you think you could service? To where one other person could eat your lunch and drive you out of business? Look at where… How many people are there in your community? That person? If they tried to serve all those people, they’d kill themselves trying. There are plenty of people to serve with what we do and plenty of ways to serve them. If you think that opening up to like one person is gonna in some cases it could cause you to lose a job or a client. But it’s not gonna put you out of business. I mean, if someone was a real real jerk. Just a real unscrupulous piece of crap. And they decided, I’m gonna try and take a client from this person. Yeah, okay that’s possible. But it’s very unlikely, you know, in terms of the people that you’re gonna meet doing this. Like, what’s more likely to happen is you’re gonna like bond with somebody, you know. And you’re gonna have… And you’re gonna start to create a “team” in quotes a team around you of people who you can I’ve got. I’ve got a group of photographers. We’re in a forever messaging chat, and we talk every day like just when you need to vent. Because I’m looking around there’s nobody in my office but me, you know, and we we vent, we talk, we share ideas. And then when we go to conferences we meet up with each other, and we do things together. But we talk all year long. So through these organizations and these events, we’ve put together a little family of photographers who support each other. And I’m not saying just anybody could be that for you. But you can’t, you’re not gonna necessarily find this person on Facebook, where everybody’s so defensive. You’ll find these people who are association people who go out in person to educate, to be educated to share with each other. That’s where you go, you know. You don’t go to the Aquarium to meet a lion. You go to the Zoo. You go to the Zoo. You know what I mean.

Joe Lenton: Yeah.

Gary Hughes: You gotta go where they are.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, all too often you get these groups where all you’ll get is the picky, silly comments, the trolling, and everything.

Gary Hughes: And it can make you feel bad, and it can beat you down.

Joe Lenton: You don’t need that. 

Gary Hughes: Really wear you down. But there are good people out there. There are good people out there who would love to have you who would welcome you in. And I remember my first time at the Society’s convention in London. I didn’t know anybody. Nobody there. And literally on the first night it was literally like, “come on, you’re with us. You’re one of us.” It was the most welcoming environment, and I have had the same experience over and over and over again at these types of groups. People who will join an association and go out to be a part of an event, you’re getting a much higher percentage of good people who want to be a part of a thing, and that’s where I would continue my search. Not on the internet.

Joe Lenton: Absolutely. Yeah, yeah. I mean, I’m quite an extreme introvert. I’d done some of these sort of personality tests and things like that. Try and get a handle on various aspects of how I was going to run my business in line with my personality. And it was one of them that I did. And it was like, “you are 99% introvert.” But yeah, I knew I was quite extreme, but you know…

Gary Hughes: Product photography it is, yeah.

Joe Lenton: So it’s like, would you like to do events with people? PPP… You said the P Word people no.

Gary Hughes: I don’t like people. Yeah, I don’t people.

Joe Lenton: I don’t do the P thing. Yeah. So yeah, you know, these things actually help as well when you start to realize these things about yourself, though I think it, it is quite important. And when I went to the convention, again, I’m the sort of person that walks into a room full of people and thinks, “err, what do I do now? Help!” Yeah. I’m not one of those who naturally just wanders up to people and shakes a hand and goes, “hey, how are you doing?” You know it. It takes an awful lot of kind of pent up energy that I’ve been saving up for weeks to try and do that once.

Gary Hughes: Yeah. I heard it said once that an introvert doesn’t mean you’re shy, and an extovert doesn’t mean you’re outgoing.

Joe Lenton: No.

Gary Hughes: An introvert is simply somebody who recharges emotionally alone, and an extrovert needs people for their emotional charge. And I see that in my own children.

Joe Lenton: Exactly. 

Gary Hughes: My oldest if she’s cut off from people she’s just a basket case, and my second daughter she’s like totally fine. You just won’t see her for 3 hours. She’s totally okay. But she’s fine socially. It’s just that. How? Where do you get your balance and your energy from? And so and some people like my business partner, Justin. He people’s really really well, but it takes an awful lot out of him like he, you know, he needs to go. And I could people all day. If I’m alone for more than 6 or 7 hours I start bouncing off the walls. I need to go find some people, you know, so there’s like, but I’m not always outgoing just being in a room with a few folks with a nice pleasant music playing in the background, and that’s good for me.

Joe Lenton: Yes, it’s finding the environment that works for you. Some extroverts love these kind of networking groups and things cause they can ping around lots of conversations. I’m the kind of person that I’d rather have a really deep conversation, one to one. Yeah, you know. And you’ve got to find the way in which this is gonna work for you. So you might want to find one person that you have this or, like you might wanna have 6 people that you sit down with to talk about your business. There’s no formula to this stuff. I mean, even with business there are general rules. There are things you kinda have to do, but there’s no formula that makes business always work 100% of the time. It’s adapting to the context. It’s doing what works for you and for the market where you are.

Gary Hughes: Right. I agree with that. Yeah, really understanding what people want. Your business is about serving a particular person or people, or a clientele and a business that isn’t about the customers isn’t going to be around for very long. So you have to provide whatever that value is. You have to concentrate on the people that you’re serving, instead of concentrating on pleasing yourself. And if you serve those people well with the thing that you most want to do then you will get so much joy out of it, and it will open you up to do the thing that you love the most. But if you’re if you’re creating selfishly and expecting people to pay for it, for just for the selfish joy of your creating, that’s not a working business model. Like you need to, you need to marry your desire to create with your ability to earn and your in your marketing and your message, and that is how you have a success, and never get too attached to anything and not be willing to change it, because the world changes the market changes, you’ll change. You know your ability physically to function will change your ability emotionally to deal things will change. So you have to be willing to pivot in any direction at any time if you want to stay in the business. And if you want the same thing forever, I guarantee you they would love to have you as a team member at any Starbucks you felt like working at, you know. And then you can do the same thing every day, forever. And that means like and I’m not… There’s nothing wrong with that, dude. I love a good barista I’m a big fan of, and and those, and I’m not saying that as a dig. If you’re if what you’re craving is to do the same thing forever, the photography business is not going to be that for you ever.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, no, that is, some people do like that kind of repetition. It’s the sort of thing that that drives me absolutely spare.

Gary Hughes: My my older brother has had the same job doing the exact same thing for ages, and he’s happy. He goes to it. He does it, and then he goes home and he does his thing, and that’s he. And he’s a genuinely contented human being. I can’t wrap my brain around it. But it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work for him.

Joe Lenton: Exactly.

Gary Hughes: But if you want to go into a creative field and make it a business the market changes in crazy ways, and you always have to be willing to make adjustments, even if that adjustment is new product lines, moving to a new location. You know all kinds of things that you could offer different level, different types of services, and those things always have to be on the table if nothing is on the tables, like all I wanna do is do hand painted canvases in a 20 by 20 size. They have to be square and monochrome, and I’m never gonna change that. Enjoy your business for 6 months, because like tastes change. But people want change. So you have to be willing to adjust to markets as they change. And that’s the number one reason that businesses – you gotta realise that generational trends have a lot have a lifespan, and you could probably ride that way for 7 or 8 years, and then boosh! A whole new generation of people get the keys to the car, and then you have to be able to talk to them too.

Joe Lenton: Yep, absolutely. Well. It’s been fantastic talking to you, Gary, and I’d love our listeners to be able to follow up on this to look into more of your educational content. Where’s the best place for them to look for that?

Gary Hughes: Well, right now I believe that there will be time for me to promote this terrific event, because I’m gonna guess that you have listeners all over the world. But there’s a strong concentration in the United Kingdom. Would that be accurate?

Joe Lenton: That is absolutely true. Yes, we’re over 20 countries around the world so far with listeners. But yes, the strongest contingent is the UK.

Gary Hughes: Well, if you’re in the UK. In Europe, I am going to be speaking. Live at the “Click Live” expo in Coventry, as I say, because I say Coventry, and they always. I always get corrected, as Coventry.

Joe Lenton: Yeah. Yeah. You see, we like to make our place names that little bit awkward for people. You haven’t seen anything yet. If you haven’t looked at Norfolk. Grab a map, have a look at Norfolk at some of the place names around there. You won’t get them. You won’t get them. We can always tell who the outsiders are. But yes, Coventry.

Gary Hughes: That’s fine. I’m OK being an outsider. I am flying from sunny Florida all the way over to Coventry in the UK in the Midlands, I believe and I’m teaching 2 classes at the first ever Click Live expo! And I think I’ll send you that info. Maybe you can share that with your users. It’s gonna be really, really cool. It’s the first time they’ve ever done it. From what I understand, it’s going to be built a lot more like a tech conference than a photography conference. It’s gonna be very, very neat, and it’s gonna be a format that nobody is really using. And so I’m excited to get there and to to hang out. And it’s gonna be myself. You’re gonna see Kelly Brown. You’re gonna see Lindsay Adler, you’re gonna see Gurvir Johal. You’re gonna see this incredible line-up of educators all at the very first Click Live. So if you want to meet me in person and come hang out come, see me at Click Live. Now. I have also post a lot of content on my Youtube channel. That’s kind of like my baby right now, if you go to and look for Gary Hughes official, I’m on there. And I put lots of educational videos out. In addition to that, I’m on Instagram at Gary Hughes official also there. And my main way that I communicate with people who follow me is my email list. I believe that people who will follow you on email are your ride or die people. And so every week I have a newsletter that’s called Photographers Only. And it comes out. And it’s simply where I’m gonna be speaking, new videos I have coming out, what gear I’m using, anything cool related to like how to be more successful in photography. That’s all on my email list. And that goes out once a week. And so you could just go to my website, hughesfioretti dot com slash education, and you could sign up for my newsletter right on that page other than that you know, that’s it, that’s all I got going on, man. Oh wait! I gotta plug headshot tools if you’re a headshot photographer.

Joe Lenton: Oh, yes, yes, yes.

Gary Hughes: And and you photograph any size group of people that helps you organise, rename the files, even have integrated sales. It is the best possible solution for photographing headshots for teams and at events that has ever been made. And I could say that a as a founder who didn’t write a single line of code. Cause I just don’t do that. But so it’s it’s I use it. I’m the number one client, I think, of this software. So it’s headshottools dot com. Go check it out.

Joe Lenton: Yep, then we’ll put a link up for that as well. Yeah, that email list just brought back a rather silly memory from when I saw you at the Society’s convention the other year. You put up the QR. Code on the screen. And, do you remember this?

Gary Hughes: Well, it’s probably a joke I told a bunch of times

Joe Lenton: So scan the QR code and you can. And I was, there’s me with my phone going, “how do I do this?” You say, oh, you know, you just point your phone at it and take a photo of it. And I go, “no, I’ve just got a photo of the screen mate.” It’s like, “dude! How old is your phone??”

Gary Hughes: Yeah, yeah. I do this joke now, like when I show the QR code, because, thanks to the pandemic, one of the things that have come out of is that everybody knows what a QR code is, right? And so I go to the I put that slide up with the QR code to get on my email list. And I go, “and for those of you over the age of 40, this is called a QR code.” 

Joe Lenton: Yeah, that was me. And I think my my phone was feeling its age that day as well.

Gary Hughes: Awww, I’m so sorry if I made you feel like your phone was inadequate. That was not my intention. But your phone was inadequate. I hope you’ve gotten a new phone since then!

Joe Lenton: It definitely was inadequate really, yeah. On that note of inadequacy… There’s there’s an obvious connection there, I think, somewhere. No? I think the 2 of us have prattled on for long enough, and thank you everybody for listening. And thank you, Gary, it’s been wonderful, having you on the podcast.

Gary Hughes: Joe. Thanks for having me man anytime.

Get connected, trained, supported and qualified with The Society of Photographers – sponsors of the Focused Professional podcast.

Text & Audio © Focused Professional, 2024

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top