A Decade In: 10 Tips for Success in Small Business

04/22/2015 12:02 pm ET | Updated Jun 22, 2015

Everything's about lists these days. So I thought, on the 10th anniversary of the incorporation of my photography business, I would make a list of the things I felt really helped me achieve success thus far. While some apply to seasoned pros and some just beginners, they ALL apply to starting and successfully running your own small business no matter what field it's in.

Adam Levine ©Brian Friedman for iHeartRadio

If you think you might regret not doing it, you most likely will.
There are very rare moments in life; when you are faced with a decision, a window of opportunity, to take a chance in life. These are defining moments in our lives and ultimately determine the direction you'll go in. At times like this it's important to be practical, but also remind yourself that you only live once, and that this is not a dress rehearsal. If you really want to do it and are just talking yourself out of it, try thinking of ways to talk yourself INTO it by troubleshooting the issues you feel are holding you back.

Use a diving board. Don't just jump in off the side.
When I left my full-time job I had already built up a client base which was enough for me to feel good about moving forward and growing it. In my case, I had already photographed 2 years worth of legit, paying jobs before I went out on my own. I used all my spare time while I was working full-time to set up my business - from becoming a corporation, to choosing the right support partners, to educating myself. Basically, I used to come home from work and begin working on my small business. I did this for two years before going out on my own. By earning money at my full-time job, I had the freedom to build up my infrastructure with cameras, lenses, computers, and other necessary items I needed to get moving.

Feel the fear and do it anyway.*
Like many, I'm a fear based person. By that I mean that whether I realize it or not my own FEAR typically determines whether I act on something or not. This is not necessarily a bad thing - but ONLY once you realize it's part of who you are and that by controlling it you can actually use it to your advantage. This take a lot of time and practice. It does not come easy mainly because you have to experience the lessons in taking chances in order for you to feel more comfortable doing them. When I began conquering my fear early on was when real growth actually took place. *Susan Jeffers

Be cool even when it's hard to be.
I came up with a 3 hour rule. If I get an email or phone call that really presses my buttons, I wait 3 hours before responding. This is extremely effective at removing some of the more raw emotions; the emotions that usually prompt me to make a judgment call I might regret at some point. I've also worked very hard at taking nothing personal. Why? How? Because it isn't. Most of the time it's either just business, or a reflection on the person who you may be in conflict with. This has taken years for me to get semi-good at; and the journey definitely continues for me and for most when it comes to this. However, over the course of time it pays off in huge dividends.

Where attention goes, energy flows.*
Visualization is often overlooked, however is one of the most useful tools in all areas of your life. It may be hard to wrap your head around this at first, but if you visualize success you'll have it; and if you visualize failure you will fail. The law of attraction is embedded in this. I can tell you without a doubt that having the right attitude all along has helped me attract the right customers and service providers/partners to help me grow my business beyond what I could have ever imagined it would be. *James Redfield

Someone will move your cheese.*
The rate of change has sped up for all businesses. Did you ever think Blockbuster Video would go out of business? Or Barnes & Noble would only have a few stores left in the country? At the end of the day, very few services truly stand the test of time and it's important to be prepared for the shift over time. What has helped me thrive in my business is diversity. As a photographer I shoot more than one area (entertainment/corporate and weddings/portraiture). Throughout my career one area has been hotter than the other; and then it sways the other way. Each business is different but the principle is the same. You have to be ready, willing, and able to adjust your practices and goals. Someone once put it rather bluntly - evolve or die. *Spencer Johnson

Live within your means.
This is one that takes self control but, in my opinion, is an easy one. Because how you live, what you drive, wear, spend on dinners, is all within your control. I always feared debt and therefore I made sure I wasn't ever getting in over my head. This kept my stress (somewhat) at bay, but did something even more. It gave me more freedom to invest in my business, thus growing it. Early on I used to rent a lot of equipment because I didn't have the kind of money to lay down for the lenses and cameras I wanted. By doing this I didn't put myself into debt and actually just used the profits I made from shoots to then go and purchase the equipment I needed.

Be buttoned up.
Protect yourself from day one. The piece of mind is worth itself in gold. By this I mean have all the right insurances (perhaps even more than you may need) and keep solid records. Business/equipment, health/disability, apartment/home, even umbrella (so inexpensive). Later on I added life and even errors & commissions (E&O). Life happens, and it's when you aren't prepared for something to go wrong that it will. This is true in general!

Don't be lazy.
Do things you don't want to do. In the end you'll learn from it because you'll know more about your business by knowing more about business in general. For example, reconcile your Quickbooks accounts. Why? Because you'll be forced to look at all your purchases and see where you are spending your hard earned money. If you are an artist, another example would be registering your work with the US Copyright Office on a regular basis. I do it 2x a year. It's a little bit of extra work, but if you are organized it's not that much extra work and it will protect your business in the long run. It's also piece of mind.

Be willing to ride the wave.
Lets face it - no one is ever really "ready" to ride the wave of a new endeavor, but it's important to be willing to learn how to ride that wave because it's that which gets you in the water. In other words; accept that there will be highs and lows, but know in your heart and your mind, that things always work out. Accept that most of this is OUT of your control but that you will conduct yourself in a way to maximize the potential that things go the way you want them to. It's a hard thing to do at first, and one that probably holds most people back, but once you put your faith in the universe, it becomes much easier. With hard work, the ebbs and flows of business won't feel as big as they once did.

Brian Friedman is a freelance photographer in New York City. To view more of his work please visit and find him on Facebook at

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