“Follow your bliss” is such an overused sentiment, it barely means anything at all. But more to the point, the advice to do what pleases you is lacking in crucial information: How do you pursue your most fulfilling work? What are the actionable steps? What does it look like in practice? What is the success rate?
Newborn and maternity photographer Zoe Hiigli’s story sounds like the kind of story that usually gets lumped into the “quit day job/become creative business owner” trope. And in some ways, it is — she did quit her job and she does now own her own newborn photography studio. But, says Zoe, a member of CreativeLive’s Honor Roll, the real key to her success has been finding mentors and inspirations, and putting in the work to learn how to run a business.
“After 20 years as an art director, I found myself completely unhappy and unwilling to continue down the path I was on,” Zoe explains, “Photography has always been a part of my life–starting with my mother, who had her Nikon glued to her hand for most of my childhood. I purchased my first DSLR in May of 2009 and spent two years testing with models from Model Mayhem. It wasn’t until I found CreativeLive in 2011 that my career began to take flight.”
Zoe began taking CreativeLive classes from the likes of Kelly Brown and Sue Bryce, and, just three years ago, she finally made the leap to becoming a full-time photographer. And, she says, she feels more accomplished than she ever did working for someone else — mostly because of the effort it’s taken to make it work.
“When I look at my website, I am so deeply happy. It is the result of all of my hard work, blood, sweat and tears. I have never in my life been so proud of my work.”
She’s also still finding ways to pad the budget, explaining that in addition to running her own studio, “I also second shoot for two wedding photography studios on weekends.”
Like Lisa Congdon, who eschews the idea that artists must necessarily be struggling to create their work, Zoe says that becoming empowered as a business owner can help photographers not only achieve their long-term goals, but also support themselves and the community they exist in.
“I firmly believe that artists should learn business, and I spread that belief everywhere. It is my passion to kill the ‘starving artist’ title and the belief that there isn’t room for one more photographer.”
Her main advice to others? More than just following your dreams, she says, it’s important to believe in yourself and seek out the help and information you need, whether it by asking those you admire for help, or finding resources in your community or online.
“Proper education is crucial to success….You CAN make a living doing what you love,” she explains, “Whatever you believe will happen.”
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