Episode 198 – The Hidden Cost of Saying Yes to What Should Have Been a No

The Hidden Cost of Saying Yes to What Should Have Been a No


Photography Business Institute
Photography Business Institute

When I started my photography business, I wanted to help everyone who wanted to hire me for any type of photography. I felt like that’s what I was supposed to do, right? Say yes, get experience, pay my dues. So, I said yes to photography opportunities that in retrospect, I shouldn’t have, and what I learned from that is even though I was paid money, saying yes to the wrong things actually had a cost. Please, please, my friend, if you are a people pleaser or you feel like because you aren’t fully booked that you need to say yes to everyone for any request they have, listen to what I have for you today.

Hey, there, my name’s Sarah Petty and I went from a stressed out overworked mama with three babies to being named one of America’s most profitable photographers without working my kids’ lives away. Now, I’m the founder of the Photography Business Institute, where we provide guided support from start to finish, whether you’re a beginner photographer dipping your toes in or a more advanced photographer with big income goals. Each week on this podcast, I’ll show you how to find and serve photography clients in a world where we complete with free. Thanks to everyone having a digital camera in their pocket. Take the first step to adding more joy and profit to your life by downloading your free photography business tools at photographybusinessinstitute.com.

I’m sharing this episode with you today because we’re still at the beginning of the year and it’s the best time for you to make decisions for your life and your business that will set you up to have a better year this year than last year. And saying no, believe it or not, is something that can give you even more opportunities to say yes. Friend, I get it. The mindset that happens once you start charging anyone for your photography services, oh, my gosh, I remember feeling so grateful that anyone would want to pay me any kind of money to do something I love so much, I would do for free. Right? So, when the phone rings and you have someone offering you money to do something with your camera that you don’t love or even worse, you don’t have the skill set for, it’s hard to say no. Look, I’ve been there. That’s why I’m here for you, my friend.

Being a heart-centered creative like you, I wanted to serve everyone. I love people. I want everyone to have images. And I felt so grateful anytime anyone would call me and consider hiring me. Not to mention if I was going to make this work and not have to go back to my ad agency job, which I loved, but I worked a lot, I needed to make money and people were offering me money. So, why would I even ever consider not taking money and not saying yes? And then, I did a few jobs that I didn’t love and gosh, darn, I miss my dad. He died almost 10 years ago and he always said, “Education isn’t cheap.” Right? You can learn it the easy way and pay for it upfront or you can learn it the hard way in lessons, and this was a tax that I paid on learning because I said yes. The good news is I learned from it and now I’m here to share it with you and hopefully save you some of this embarrassment.

I remember saying yes to some that I didn’t like. They were just things I didn’t like to do. One was going out to a horse farm on 120-degree day. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, but it was hot in the bright sun at noon to photograph some horses. I was like, “I don’t even know what I’m doing here.” Right? I don’t ride horses. I don’t know how to stand them or anything, and the lighting was terrible and it was just so many things. So, I realized I don’t know what I’m doing here. I don’t love this. This is hard. This feels like work. When I’m photographing three little kids under five, that is fun for me. That doesn’t feel like work. So, it’s not about the money. It’s about where is the passion?

But I remember doing some things where I didn’t have the skills. One was a small wedding. It was a second wedding, and I had some of the images not turn out and it was the sister of a dear friend of mine, and I still feel bad about it. Luckily, there were enough that turned out and we were able to salvage, and I ended up just gifting it all to them and making a bunch of bigger ones to offset the ones that didn’t turn out. But putting that aside, it was stressful. I think if you’re going to do weddings, get the skills and do a lot of weddings. Right? Because there’s the flow of the day. You’re waiting, waiting, waiting, and then it’s like, “Go, go, go, go, go.” And then, waiting, waiting, waiting. Go, go, go, go, go. And you have to be able to think fast and you have to really have excellent camera skills and be prepared for the flow of the day, which I wasn’t, but it also was so embarrassing.

I remember standing at the photo lab waiting to be handed the little packet of prints and he walked up and he didn’t hand them to me and he said, “Okay, we need to talk.” And I was like, “Oh, no, don’t tell me something didn’t turn out. Oh, no, don’t tell me that,” because again, this was before digital. Oh, just those moments of opening it, and he started by saying, “Listen, there are some good ones here. I think we can salvage this.” He was such a good guy. He’s like, “I can work with you,” and whatever. I felt really bad about myself. Not to mention that I gave up a weekend, a Saturday night with my babies and with my family to add all this stress into my life.

I try to live in the gain and not the gap. If you haven’t listened to episode 109 where I talk about The Gap and The Gain, it’s an amazing book by Dr. Ben Hardy. We want to not just look at where we aren’t from here to the goal, but look at where we’ve come, and by saying yes to some wrong things, I’ve come a long way and I’ve made better decisions. I know I’m one that doesn’t like to stay in pain, so I always invest my way out of the lessons if I can. Right? I’m looking for a faster way, but I’m also realizing that sometimes, you have to hear it more than once. So, I want you to keep hearing my voice telling you that there’s a better way and you don’t have to suffer this long.

That was one experience of learning how saying yes to the wrong person had a bigger cost than just the money I gave back. It was my self-esteem, the embarrassment, and the emotional energy that I put toward that and beating myself up, probably more than they did really. I really beat myself up over it, so I decided at that point, I’m not going to do weddings anymore. I always joke with my clients who begged me to do it. I say, “Hey, get married on a Wednesday afternoon and I’ll be there,” but that’s my family time. So, it costs me that time with my family.

I had done another outdoor engagement that I booked months out, and we did have something in the Petty family. Family is so important to me, and my husband is one of eight kids, and there are, I don’t even know, 40 cousins now for my kids. There are so many fun activities, and I remember suffering through that one. Right? The cost was me missing a family event, and being a photographer, I like to be the one carrying the camera to those events and documenting them. So, that cost was painful as well.

But the other event I wanted to share, and I’ve probably shared it here before, but it’s good for you to hear things more than once, the governor of the state of Illinois hired me. It wasn’t actually him. It was a friend of a client of mine who was like, “We’ve got to have Sarah Petty,” because I was building a name for myself in the market and it was pre-digital, and I was one of the only female photographers. There were a lot of men who had studios, but I was one of the first. And she was hosting an event in her home and really wanted me to be the photographer, and she said, “Oh, my gosh, you’re going to get so many clients from this. Everybody’s going to be there. Everybody’s going to see you.”

Of course, it appealed to my insecurity of like, “I got to make sure I always have clients, so I better go.” So, I said yes and I show up with my equipment. I didn’t have fancy on-camera flash, and it was a dark home with dark ceilings, and it was so uncomfortable. It was packed with people. If you’ve ever done an event where you’re trying to photograph people with people in a room that’s packed with people, it’s really not a pretty scene. And I’m used to really controlling the light and the quality, and who’s in my images, very few people, to being in a room with a ton of people and they all wanted their picture taken with the governor and it was all state workers. We have a lot of state employed workers in our town. It’s a big part of our economy, and it’s just a different dynamic. And looking back, I’d never had a state worker as a client.

A lot of them were single. They didn’t have kids. They were on the career track or the political track. I don’t live in that world. I don’t do the whole political thing. And I realized I never had a client who was a state worker. My clients are typically not on that path. Right? They have other careers. Not that it’s good or bad. It just occurred to me like, “I don’t think this is my target audience.” And as I’m there photographing them, they weren’t. They were all about their careers. It wasn’t a connection. I didn’t know anybody. None of my clients were there. It was one of those things where you look at demographics like age, income. They probably fit my demographic, but psychographically meaning their lifestyle, what their interests were, they were in the political scene and it was just not a world that I lived in or really wanted to live in.

So, I am there. I’m photographing these people. The governor didn’t want to be there. He was almost running from me. It was so hard, you guys. It was so awkward. When I went and I got the film developed, same thing. I went to that same photo lab and I was like, “Please tell me they turned out.” I was just doing the hope and pray thing because again, guys, you guys who are younger and haven’t lived the life of photographing paid sessions without being able to see the images until a week later, it’s a completely different kind of fear. They did turn out, but there were some out of focus, fuzzy. It was dark, right? It’s hard to focus. It’s hard to see. It’s hard to have good lighting, lots of obnoxious shadows on people’s faces and things. Luckily, they didn’t care. It wasn’t like fine art that was being printed. Large people just wanted their picture with the governor, and I’m sure they were very happy, but I was very disappointed. I was disappointed with the quality. I was disappointed with myself.

After I got there again, my husband was home with my precious newborn twins, snuggling by the fire, watching probably The Wiggles, and just having this fun, fun time. And I was miserable sitting there, and it was really before cell phones, I believe, so I couldn’t text and be like, “Help.” I was racing around this house. So, really at that point, I realized that this is hard work, right? This is not a fun way to make money, and I get that everything about what we do isn’t fun, but when the part that you love, the photography part is dreadful and creates anxiety and stress, that’s not the place I should have been saying yes. So, again, it’s costing me my confidence. I’m asking myself, “Maybe I’m not meant to be a photographer. Maybe I’m not good enough. Maybe blah, blah, blah.” And it was just all a bunch of lies. None of that stuff matters.

So, the cost, cost me way more than probably. I think I made $225. They paid me per hour. I was there three or four hours and terrible, terrible, terrible. So, after the experience with the governor and the weddings, I realized I’m not setting myself up for the head space I need to be in to show up as my best self for my family, for my clients, and to grow the type of photography business that first off, I was proud of, that I wanted people to refer me for, that I could be known for and that I could charge what I was worth for. And I knew I wasn’t worth any money for those jobs that I had done, that I had not done an excellent job or even a really, really good job.

So, I want to save you from that, right? You don’t have to go through the suffering that I went through because oh, man, the amount of time it took for me to walk in the door of that lab and them to hand me that envelope and the look on their faces of like, “Sarah, what have you done,” I mean, it’s still anchored in my brain after all of these years, that feeling of how I felt, and it almost cost me my career. It almost cost me giving up what I had built and what I loved and what I wanted to do, only because I said yes to the wrong things. I hope you’re picking that up.

It wasn’t because I was bad and I really wasn’t that good yet. It was because I was saying yes to things that I shouldn’t have been saying yes to. I didn’t have the training. I didn’t have that knowledge and expertise, and I wasn’t passionate about it. I just wasn’t passionate about it and I didn’t want to learn those things, so obviously, it became pretty clear to me that the answer next time someone called was, “Oh, my gosh, you were so sweet to call me and talk to me about this, but that’s really just not what I do and I’m so sorry.” Right? Because when I looked at them and I didn’t love them, they weren’t horrible. I make it out like they were horrible. They weren’t even horrible. They just weren’t good enough in my mind to be something I could charge more for. Right?

We want to look at the images and go, “Oh, my gosh, I captured this really amazing smile,” or, “Look at the kids snuggling.” Not going, “Okay, it’s a bunch of grip-and-grin images of posed people standing there with not good lighting, not good expression, nothing.” It just wasn’t good my friend. It wasn’t good. And then, you add the anxiety before and after the event. What if I don’t have the right equipment? And then, to realize I didn’t, and then to dread picking up the images, I just told myself, “Sarah, you’re going to say no to those wrong fit clients, which can leave space in your life to get the right fit clients.”

I had been doing some portraiture of what I loved, which is children and giving away the proofs for 75 bucks. Back then, it was hand-printed black and whites, which I believe was costing me. I think it was five bucks a roll, let’s say, and maybe $14 or $15 to get it processed, and then a buck or two an image. On a roll of 36, I think it was costing me 65 bucks to get those beautiful images for my clients that I thought, “I’m just going to over serve and they’re going to love me and they’re going to love them.” And what I realized that because I wasn’t serving people, they weren’t ordering anything. They were saying, “I love it.” I was feeling good about it, right? A lot of outdoor things, little kids playing, really easy to get those kinds of images that please parents. So, I didn’t have to have fancy lighting. I didn’t have to have fancy equipment, but they weren’t ordering.

So, this was a different situation. This is where I took responsibility for teaching my clients that they could have everything, and then not order, right? It didn’t serve me. It’s like going through the all-you-can-eat buffet, and then walking up with a menu in a little notepad saying, “What would you like to order?” Like, “I’m full. I’m good.” And the system I had wasn’t serving either of us. It wasn’t serving my clients and it wasn’t serving me. It wasn’t serving them because they didn’t have any beautiful artwork on their walls. Sure, they had 36 beautifully printed little black and white images, but that’s all they were, and they’re in a drawer somewhere, and they’re not heirlooms. They probably lost them in all their moves.

So, before digital even happened, I had decided with my photography that I got to do this a different way, so get this, I had all of my negatives scanned before digital was even a thing. We were using digital images. I don’t know if you youngins knew that, but it’s funny, when I was creating this podcast, I was like, “You know what? I did do that.” Right? I created digital images before cameras were even capturing them. So, I would put them into this really janky program. Now, we have really cool tools, but back then, we didn’t. And I would arrange them in a way and I would add it to music, and I would project them onto the wall and I would hold my client’s hand. I would start by showing them a few images at a time, and I would narrow it down and I would help them decide what they wanted to order. I truly came from a place of serving them just like I was sitting with my very best friend.

So, I could blow them up big and I could show them huge on the wall like, “Do you like this one or that one better?” And they could look at them both, and they could see them really close up front and they would say, “I like the one on the left.” So, I would delete the one on the right. I mean, obviously, I still had the negative, but if we know we liked the one on the left better, why not order that one? So, we would narrow it down, narrow it down, and it worked beautifully. People weren’t freaking out like, “Well, we deleted it.” Yeah, because you picked the one you liked more.

It’s like when you go shopping. You don’t buy all the outfits. You go in the dressing room. You try some on. You keep the ones that you liked the best and you put the rest back or someone else does, right? You don’t cry like, “Oh, I didn’t get that outfit that wasn’t flattering.” Right? Because you picked one you liked better. So, I think a lot of times, as business owners out of fear, we make these crazy decisions like, “Well, what if they want everything?” Well, then they’ll buy everything. Just like when you go into the store for a shirt that you need for an event, if you find something else you like, you buy it. If you don’t, you don’t. We’re all humans. We have a responsibility to buy what we want or not buy what we want. We have that ability.

So, as I refined my system and I kept getting better, my orders went up and up and up. And get this, my clients were happier and happier and happier. The more I was serving them, the more they were buying, the happier clients I got, the better referrals I got, the more love I got. Doesn’t that seem backwards? But it’s not. The cheapest clients are the hardest ones to make happy. Let that soak in a minute. The cheapest clients are the hardest ones to make happy. So interesting. So, now, I could see the numbers and I could see how my hard work was benefiting me and that motivated me, right? I would invest more in my business. I would write it off. I would get better. I would do better. And I kept looking for how can I shorten the learning curve? Who can I invest with? How can I do this? And I was realizing, oh, my gosh, I can do this and pay my childcare and have a profit and keep investing in myself, and I was feeling better about myself. I was learning from other people’s lessons. So cool. So cool.

All right. So, the biggest realization I had was saying yes to jobs that I should have said no to, even though they were giving me money, still had a cost. All right? It still had a cost. So, I want to share with you some of these limiting beliefs that you might have that are sending you down the road of choosing non-profitable sessions or opportunities that are costing you more than just a little money that you’re not making doing something else. It’s costing you your confidence. It’s costing your time that you could be doing other things.

Number one, even if you say, “Oh, my gosh, I’m just going to do digital files where I photograph their family, and then I’m going to give them all the digital files this one time because they’re going to give 200 bucks and I’m dying right now. I need $200. I just need that $200.” So, I will challenge you here and say what is that costing you? Right? Sure, you might think, “Oh, it’s just a one-hour or two-hour session.” But then, you’ve got eight to 10 more hours of editing and retouching because I’m thinking you probably overshot and created way too many images. So, in 10 to 12 hours in this world where it seems like everybody’s so overwhelmed, I want you to think about what could you have done to actually get the kind of clients you want? Right?

One or two hours a week of marketing could land you $1,000, $2,000, $3,000 client from that same one hour of work. You could have gone to a networking group to meet local business owners. You could have prospected in your local community and looked at the local newspaper, and found people to write notes of joy to like strangers. You could have listened to education on how to price properly or created a new price list to help get you away from giving all the digital files away for a super low price, where you’re attracting the wrong clients, the hard-to-please clients. Where you could have invested time in a mentor to learn, so that in two to three months, you’re in a completely different place.

Think what you could have done in those 10, 12, 15 hours that you gave away for $200. And then, you get the boomerang effect where they come back and they’re not happy with this or they’re not happy with that. They want the cheapest person in town with all the most images, but then they’re not pleasable. Right? So, then it keeps costing you and your self-confidence and your ability to put yourself out there. So, you get stuck, and a day turns into a week, and a week turns into a quarter, into a year, into multiple years of why you haven’t been going all in on your photography business. So, it’s time for you to go all in, but to go all in, with a yes means saying no to the wrong fit clients. It just does my friend.

Number two, another limiting belief is when you tell yourself, “But I just need to generate any money. I’m desperate. Any money is better than no money.” This isn’t true my friend. When you come from a place of too much needership and not enough leadership, you will show up with a desperate energy, a really desperate energy. Right? And people can sniff this out like a dog can smell hidden food anywhere. They can sniff it out and people can sniff it out in you too. I know it’s frustrating, but the answer isn’t to take money out of desperation. Right? Just like if you’re desperate to get married and you just date any person who asks you or you go out and you just start hitting up people at a bar desperately looking for love, that doesn’t end well, and it isn’t going to get you to the end goal that you want and it’s going to likely cost you an emotional tax.

Do you know what I’m saying here? Are you picking up what I’m putting down? You really have to focus on what you want in the long run and remind yourself by saying no, you’re going to get there. Right? Just like saying no to dating somebody who you would never ever consider marrying or taking home to your family party, but yet you’re desperate for something to do, so you go out with them. Okay, I really want you to look at the energy you’re putting out there. Look, the cost of going out with a loser who treats you badly and is mean, don’t you think that’s going to impact you with the next date and the next date and the next date? It’s better to say no and stay home and work on yourself and your mindset and whatever else you need to work on, so that you can show up to the next date opportunity in a healthy way. It’s the same thing with your clients.

Number three, let’s really be realistic about your skills, okay? Because when you say yes to jobs you don’t have the skills for like me saying yes to a wedding when I’d never done them before or photographing the governor’s mansion with bad light and no equipment to help me there, I beat myself up. I wasn’t happy with the results. I wasn’t proud of my work and really I was ashamed of my work and I didn’t want anybody who saw those to be my client. Right? So, then, I wear this veil of shame and I’m no good, and that’s hanging over my face for the next time I show up with a client. It is not a momentum builder my friend. It is a momentum killer, right? And doing this did so much more damage to my confidence and my self-worth, than I would’ve done instead or having done nothing, right?

I would’ve never remembered those weekends or that evening that I got to stay home and snuggle with my kids, and now I’m permanently scarred from those hard lessons I had to learn. If you’re saying, “But Sarah, I don’t have any skills at all and I’m not a good photographer,” I call BS. Right? You go out in the natural light and some beautiful shade with your digital camera and you photograph a friend’s kids until you like the images, until there’s no speckly sun on their face and there’s no blown out background, and you can play with the exposure. Do some Googling. Figure it out. Right? When you have a well-exposed image, you can do that over and over again.

You go to the same spot with all of your clients and you do the same poses and you get beautiful images, and then you keep getting better. You’re getting paid to learn and they’re loving you and they’re building you up, and then you raise your prices, and then you go do it again, and then you raise your prices, and you do it again. It’s very empowering because you’ll keep getting better and better and better clients instead of dating the losers who are going to beat you up and pull you down. You don’t deserve that. You don’t want that, and it’s not how you build a future for yourself. All right?

Now, by saying no to wrong fit clients, I started to see that I do have the confidence and the time to go find the right fit clients, even if it means having to learn how to find them first. In my case, I didn’t need that part because I was a marketing director at an ad agency. Marketing is my jam. I just knew that it was not serving me or anyone else to say yes to everyone. Okay? Some of you justify saying yes to free sessions or supposed opportunities that don’t feel right because someone convinced you it’ll be good for exposure. That’s what happened to me when someone convinced me that doing this session at the governor’s mansion that I wasn’t passionate about, didn’t want to do, didn’t have the skills for, that I should do that. That’s where it went wrong.

Dude, that’s my serious voice if you’re new here. Dude, I realized that if it doesn’t feel right, it likely isn’t. If you don’t see the clear payoff for you, in other words, I know I’m going to get clients out of this or I know I’m going to get paid from this or whatever, I would train yourself to say no and then take that energy to go find better opportunities. You don’t have to work for free. You don’t have to work doing things you don’t like to do in the hopes that you’ll get a client. / How was I going to get a client to photograph yummy little babies when I’m showing up at an event looking like an event photographer? They’re completely different things, Sarah. Come on.

Listen, I know where you have been. I know because I was there. You feel like, “Look, I need to say yes to everyone,” but you really don’t. Okay? If you’ve decided you want to build this business to put your family first and you also want to make a profit, saying no to wrong fit activities will be one of the best tools you will have in your toolkit. When people find out you’re a photographer, they think they’re helping you by asking you to photograph their three-day event for free, so you can get exposure. I’m freeing you from that, my friend. You don’t have to do that anymore. And if you’re going to be a different kind of photographer, one who puts family first and makes a profit without working your life away, you are in the right place and no is now a word you can use for wrong fit opportunities.

You know the best part about this? You will have the time to say yes to the things that really move the dial, both for your heart by offering printed wall art and really working with the right fit clients and for your calendar because you aren’t going to be working all these free events or underpriced events and beating yourself up with emotional energy, and you will get your time back, my friend. Then as you get more confidence, you will know which things to say yes to and which ones you can say no to. The path becomes so clear. Saying yes is one of my favorite things. It is. I say yes to everything I can, and I can do that by saying no to jobs that aren’t in my skill set and jobs that won’t move my business forward. And then, I invest my most valuable resources, my time, and my money into learning how to make the money and build the life that I want. That’s the easy part.

Once you dig out through the head trash and the limiting beliefs that you are filling up all your time with the wrong kinds of jobs, then and then only can you go and start making the real money by doing the right things and saying yes to the right things. So, my friend, I hope today has been powerful for you because I think especially as women, we don’t like to say no. We want to be pleasers. A lot of you photographers are people pleasers and you want to say yes, but you know what? It is so empowering the first time you say no, and you realize you’re serving everybody. They can easily go find a photographer that’s better suited for them, and you can go find the clients that are going to give you big money, hug you, love you, and be happy with you. All right? Keep going, my friend, and I will see you so soon.

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Episode 198 - The Hidden Cost of Saying Yes to What Should Have Been a No
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