Things I learnt in 2020 – tips and advice for 2021

2020 was supposed to be a really good year. As my business built and my client base grew in 2019, 2020 was proposed to be a big year with a huge amount of highly creative work. I’ve talked before about how much of my international work got cancelled last year and how that led to a lot of opportunities getting missed. 2020 wasn’t a good year for any of us as sports photographers, as many of us dropped our cameras and with the rest of the world, settled down for the long unsure lockdown that the year became.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Much of my second half of the year was busy and creative, and opportunities sprung up that I never thought possible 12 months ago. So as we step forward into 2021 I wanted to offer some tips and advice to you for the next 12 months going forward even while the world still seems uncertain.

Nothing is permanent

As I’ve already said 2020 was meant to be a huge year for me creatively, building on a brilliant 2019. But it wasn’t too be. One of the biggest things I learnt last year that any success and momentum you can build for yourself can easily be taken away in a heartbeat and it can be completely out of your control. This lack of personally responsibility for what happened in 2020 around the world left me feeling adrift and unsure how to proceed. Its one of the reasons towards the end of last year I stopped creating videos here on YouTube because I just didn’t know where to go and what to do.

I’d naively gone into the year expecting the best possible situation but I quickly learnt that nothing in this life is permanent and one day it can all go. Now none of us expected such a surreal world last year, but that’s what we got. 2020 taught me to be cautious in how I move forward and to make sure that if things go wrong that I’m secure, having not put all my eggs into one basket.

This too will pass

This pandemic is in fact not permanent. As much as it probably feels like we’re stuck with this way of life now, and too an extent we are. The reality of having very limited sport to work on and of no crowds at events wont be forever. 12 months ago at the start of our first national lockdown here in the UK, all sport was suspended. Thats not the case now as sports and federations have figured out their covid protocols and are managing safe environments. Eventually we’ll come through this.

2020 taught me that even though things might seem bleak, that everything ultimately changes again and you get through it. There was a time when I wondered if we’d ever get back to live sport but by the Autumn I was busy working again. This too shall pass. Right now things seem frustrating again as numbers of cases spike global due to new variant and winter but this too shall pass. By the summer we’ll all be in a different place. We need to just be patient.

Narrow is good in a perfect world

I’ve always said that having a focused niche is the way to quicker success as a photographer. You can’t be everything to everyone all the time. Being a jack of all trades photographically might seem good business sense but the master will always win out in the end. I stand by that sentiment. If you want rapid growth as a sports photographer, stop doing weddings and pet photography and start doubling down on what you love.

But being narrow in your niche is great in a perfect world until the world flips upside down. By April 2020 my main two sports had been put on permanent suspension and the majority of the calendar for the year cancelled. I quickly realised that even though having my narrow niche was great when the world was on the up, it left me horribly exposed at the same time. 2020 let me take the blinkers off and realise that I needed to widen my client base to offer a little more security. So I started work in different sports like Cricket and Rugby Union, even picking up some agency work covering Football. This pivot allowed me to steady the ship. 2021 will be a year where I strengthen that base.

Good clients will stay around

I had a big fear at the start of the pandemic, that I’d lose a lot of clients because I wasn’t in constant contact with them and working with them on a regular basis. Its like having that fear that you’ll be forgotten and replaced if you don’t hang out with your mates often enough?

As the year went on though, this fear proved unfounded. Sadly a few of my smaller clients doing make it out of the first year of the pandemic and have closed their businesses down. This is desperately sad as I was really fortunate to work with them and many of them gave me a start in the early days when other companies didn’t. What was really surprising to me though was that my bigger clients, who to I’m probably a bit more depensible, were eager to get back to working with me when the restrictions got lifted in the Summer. Good clients will always stick around and will want to keep the relationship with you going. Remember than in 2021.

There’s still a lot of opportunities

Every year I set out my goals and intentions for the year. In January 2020 one of those goals was for me to build up the commercial photography side of the business and grow that to support my live events work. Its often been the case that I work with a client for a live event somewhere and from that work spins off work in studio or on location whether its portraits or commercial work on location.

Even though live events got shut down globally, there was still a lot of opportunities to work with sports and clients commercially. Its kinda easy to sit there and say, oh yeah but my sport\sports have shut down theres nothing I can do. While that’s probably true in your mind, its actually not the case. Sports still need portraits, they still need their stories telling, they still need images for campaigns. Yes we all want the thrill of a packed arena or stadium but the reality is currently that’s not what the world can sustain but that doesn’t mean there’s not opportunities out there for sports photographers willing to pivot and put in the work to keep working.

2021 should be better. Thats how its billed. But it will be slow to get going and there’s no promises as to when we’ll be back to normality or when we’ll all be back to work like before. But if you keep yourself in the game and keep your head in the right space, navigating yourself out of this as sports photographer is very possible.

Till next time

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