When I look back on how I have built my business and where it is today, I have very few regrets. There were many roads, back alleys, and pit-stops on the path from where I started (nearly ten years ago) to where I am right now. I’ve had support in the form of mentorship and partnerships with other photographers and companies, but the one thing that I have taken out of all of my endeavors is this: to build MY brand.

We all begin somewhere, and few individuals are able to go from “nothing” to “successful” 100% on their own. Working with (or for) other people or companies is the logical place to start. For me, I started out as a contributor through iStock, and then started writing books with Peachpit. I was doing well, and paying the bills, but things didn’t start to speed up for me and become much more financially lucrative until I started to put the focus on my own company. In 2012 I began self-publishing eBooks and selling presets, all under my own brand, and it was the best decision I could have made.

Sure, I still work with other companies. It is something I enjoy and also a good way to build lasting relationships. But—and here’s the kicker—my identity does not revolve around other brands. How we talk about, share online, and represent our own business is oftentimes how other people perceive us and our business. If I were always building up and connecting myself to a company I work for or partnered with, eventually my brand becomes mushy with the other brand. When people hear my name, I don’t want them to think of me as “the photographer who works for such-and-such company”. Instead I want their first thought to be something like “Nicole! I love her eBooks”.

… my identity does not revolve around other brands.

You can build your brand while still working with other companies. Just be careful that you don’t get sucked into them too deeply. One example of my own is book publishing. In the past six years I have written six print books, all published through Peachpit Press. Yet the income generated with my seven self-published eBooks and tutorials (in only three years time) has FAR surpassed the amount of royalties I ever received from Peachpit. I didn’t realize it at the time, but writing those books with Peachpit was good training for my self-published ventures, and it gave me credibility and publicity for my own business. But ultimately I jumped out of the nest. If I wanted to keep writing, and grow my business, it was necessary to move on.

Eventually it will come down to having to make a choice. I have said no to many opportunities, some that would have paid well or even give me publicity, because the longevity and control of content under my brand is always my top priority. For example, I know that writing an eBook and bringing it in front of my audience is more enjoyable, profitable, and fulfilling than doing it with another publisher. And, it is also less time consuming, I control the process, own the rights to the product, and can market it however I like. I also know that posting an article on another website can earn me a few bucks (which I still do, from time to time), while posting them on my own website pays nothing. But, depending on the article, many times I still choose to post here on my own blog “for free” because it is important to me that the words are perceived as coming from my lips, and not from an organization.

This is not about greed or selfishness, yet I would be lying if I said it wasn’t about making more money. If my business was not profitable then I would be doing something else. I love what I do and want to continue teaching photography, so generating income with this business is of obvious importance to me. But it’s not only about money. I have some great relationships with other companies which are mutually beneficial in many different ways, and that is the most important thing. When you don’t get paid what you are worth, whether it is in dollars, publicity, or growth, then it’s not a good fit. Your form of currency does not always need to be money, just so long as it is a fair transaction.

Think long-term, and look for balance in your relationships with other companies. Then, choose your path with intention, and, most importantly, make sure that you are the one in the driver’s seat.

… choose your path with intention, and, most importantly, make sure that you are the one in the driver’s seat.