When I first started my creative business, I struggled with taking product photos. They were embarrassing—dark, unfocused, and almost every one featured harsh shadows. I hate to admit that I didn’t even edit them.
Before starting my online business, I’d only taken photos of friends and family with my simple point-and-shoot digital camera to capture memories. I knew how to turn the camera on, take pictures, delete the ones I didn’t like, and turn it off. I didn’t know much more.
I soon realized that stand-out product photos meant the difference between success and failure. They were something that couldn’t be ignored.
What did I do? I took a lot more pictures with the hope that some of them would turn out good. I learned a little bit about editing photos and edited the not-so-bad ones. Even though I was spending a lot more time on my product photos, they didn’t look anything close to the beautiful ones featured on the front page of Etsy.
After a couple weeks, something clicked. What many of us consider practice—doing something over and over in order to get better—wasn’t working. I had to come up with a different game plan. Instead of taking hundreds of pictures each day, I decided to make my own learning opportunities.
First, I read my camera manual. This wasn’t fun. In fact, I had to promise myself that I could indulge in a bubble bath that evening if I read my camera manual and tried out the new stuff I was learning. Second, I took a handful of pictures, loaded them onto my computer, and figured out what wasn’t working. I compared them to pictures on the front page of Etsy. Then, I applied what I learned and redid the photos until I felt they were comparable to those on the front page. Third, I paid for consulting with a professional photographer to get feedback on my product photos to get even better.
What I didn’t understand at the time was that this was the difference between “practice” and “deliberate practice” which makes all the difference in success.
“Deliberate practice is characterized by several elements…It is activity designed specifically to improve performance, often with a teacher’s help; it can be repeated a lot; feedback on results is continuously available; it’s highly demanding mentally, whether the activity is purely intellectual, such as chess or business-related activities, or heavily physical, such as sports; and it isn’t much fun.” –Geoff Colvin, Talent is Overrated
When you do the same thing over and over without these other elements, you don’t grow or learn very much, if at all. When I was taking pictures without examining them, I wasn’t learning anything new. When I took a really good picture, it was luck. When I started paying close attention to angles, lighting, camera settings, and backgrounds, I got much better.
I’m probably not telling you anything new. You know that if you don’t put in the effort to learn, get feedback, make changes, and try again, then you won’t grow. But, even though you know this, I bet there are areas in your business where you aren’t making time for deliberate practice.
Are you honestly putting in effort to write better product descriptions? Do you study the best product descriptions, learn what makes them work, practice writing your own, and get feedback from your target market or a coach? Are you deliberately practicing your craft? Do you push yourself on a regular basis to learn new techniques, try them out, and get feedback on them to make them even better? Do you put time into making your blog unique and something that appeals to your target market? Have you studied blog posts that attract hundreds of comments, practiced writing blog titles that get clicked and read, and picked apart your blog posts to see where you need to make improvements in your writing?
If you aren’t making time for deliberate practice, someone else is making the time. Someone else is putting forth the effort—and that person will probably be more successful than you. Have you ever caught yourself asking, “How did that person do it? If that person can do it, I should be able to, too. What makes us different?”
The answer is often deliberate practice. We want to believe that the greats have this incredible innate talent—that they were born with the talent to become the world’s greatest golfer, fiction writer, or mixed media artist. The truth is often much more simple—the world’s greatest at anything made a habit of deliberate practice.
Let’s take a look at one of the greats: Mozart. Mozart’s father had him intensively training in composition and performing at age three. He composed his first work that is regarded as a masterpiece, Piano Concerto No. 9, at the age of twenty-one. Before that time, most of his work was not original—he copied, arranged and imitated the works of others according to Geoff Colvin. That means it took about 18 years of intensive training before he created a masterpiece. It didn’t come quickly or easily to Mozart. He was amazing at his art, but he had to put in time and effort.
How can you apply all of this to your business?
- Pick something within your business. This could be product photography, writing product descriptions, blogging, sending email newsletters, your actual craft, or something else.
- Be honest with yourself about how much deliberate practice you’ve put toward this area of your business and how much you put towards it now. The greats never stop even when they’re extremely successful. If you don’t do enough of this, go to step three.
- Put together a specific plan on how you can deliberately practice. For example, if you want to get better at your craft of drawing, you could set aside one hour every day where you push yourself past your limits. You learn a new technique from a teacher, an online video, or a book. Then, you practice that technique and compare it to an artist that has mastered that technique or get feedback from a teacher. Then, you try it again. You practice this technique over and over while making adjustments each time to get better.
If you start inspecting your business in this way and do the hard work of deliberate practice, you’ll only get better and have a much better chance at reaching your goals.
Thank you so much for inviting me to guest post on OMHG! I’m so happy to connect with your readers!
I am completely delighted to have you visit us April! Your thoughts & strategies are so valuable to entrepreneurs & I’ve been a fan for awhile. I hope everyone takes away lots of ideas on how to be more deliberate in their practicing (I know I have-I hate the camera manual but could probably bribe myself with bubble baths!). Thanks again for the great insights: )
Wonderful article, April! I’m a huge fan of deliberate practice…
I try to take at least 20 minutes a day to draw, but I’m finding that I just need more time – I’m a doodle addict and I can’t stop… so I’ve deliberately carved out more time whether it’s waking up super early or staying up really late to practice… Feels so good!
Thanks again for sharing 🙂
Love this post, April. In teacher education, we talk about making sure you are providing time in your lesson plans for students to practice the material (this is obvious) correctly (not as obvious, or maybe just harder). It’s not a good thing to have students get a lot of practice if they’re doing the work incorrectly – that just makes the mistakes more ingrained.
Joy, your tweets are always making me want to spend more time drawing (and maybe even break out my paints, which have been in hibernation since the end of college) and your comment finally made me create a plan to make it happen.
What an this inspiring post! I came to find motivation and great advices and found both, thank you so much -:))
@jessika Thanks! I hope so, too. Yay for bubble baths!
@joy Thank you! 🙂 I’m the same way with writing. I’ve got to write for at least 30 minutes a day. When you love what you’re doing, it’s easier to find the time.
@zoe Thanks Zoe! In my opinion, it’s definitely harder. It’s easy to do something over and over–it’s much harder to try to learn and grow each time.
@apolline I’m so glad that you found it inspiring. You’re so welcome!
You’ve inspired me to read my camera manual! 🙂 Thanks!
Brilliantly said. When I catch myself practicing like a lab rat instead of “deliberately” practicing, the picture of Austin Powers driving the golf cart always comes to mind. Do you know the scene? When he’s trying to reverse + gear the gulf cart in the other direction, by banging himself in concrete walls over + over again. That’s how I feel when I go into robot mode. Happens to all of us… the thing is to be conscious enough to know when it’s happening.
I am marking this to share with my clients. This one might be my fave post ever April! You rock!
Love your post! I enjoy the article and I will definitively use the advice!!!!!
So many times we try and do things on our own without a teacher, especially as creatives. I very often skip the manual and know that I will figure it out..that way of thinking may work at times, but most times its wrong! Thank you for calling me out April:)!
I agree with your article on so many levels! I am a photographer in Somerville, MA, and one of my clients sells jewelry. We worked together to get a simple but very effective setup so she could create some beautiful photos, and I have since critiqued her work. Also, I try to set a goal of trying something new with every wedding or family photo session I conduct, and that has led to a quick and meaningful growth in my business! Thanks again!!
Thank you sharing all that you learned ..
You’re so right, April! While I really do love learning new things, all too often my laziness wins out. This post is a good kick in the butt 🙂
Zoe, Yay! I am so glad! I can’t wait to see what you create 🙂
Oh my goodness! And here I thought I was on the road to success! Thanks a lot April! LOL! Seriously though, you always here that saying, “Practice makes perfect”, but I guess it’s deliberate practice makes perfect. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about practicing taking photos each day, & in my mind it’s just been about practicing taking them the same way I have been…not really trying new things & learning from them. I see a new “to-do” approaching! Thanks so much!
@megan Not the most fun task ever–but it will make a difference 🙂
@mayi Thanks lady! I just watched that scene again and it completely made my morning. That’s what I’m talking about. We all fall into patterns that aren’t helpful. I’m going to keep that image in mind.
@jannette I’m so glad!
@erin I also try to figure things out on my own which can be a lot of fun. But, it’s also good to go back to the “manual” to make sure you covered everything and know the basics 🙂
@patrick Thanks for sharing! I love hearing how other people deliberately practice their crafts, because it motivates me even more.
@kat You’re welcome!
@annemarie We all need a little kick in the butt every once in a while 🙂
@meagan Hahahaha…It seems like a simple concept but when we apply it to our lives, we can all probably find areas where we’re just doing the same thing over and over instead of learning and growing.
Thank you for this! Very interesting and helpful! 🙂
Great post, April!
This is what I enjoyed about The Talent Code. We tend to get so caught up in thinking that we cannot be good enough at something unless we were “born” with a talent when it boils down to the hard work and PRACTICE!
I always use the example of Michael Jordan; he was kicked off a team because he was not that great! He was so motivated that he went out and practiced his shots for hours (and months).
Hi! Thank you so much! Your article is very motivating! I was a gymnast when I was younger and one of my coaches use to say…”Practice does not make perfect, Perfect practice makes perfect.” I often remember that, but still on occasion get stuck in a rut of doing the same thing that’s not working over and over. Your article is a great reminder that we need to be deliberate and intentional and never give up! Thank you so much!
Thanks April, for this great post. It speaks to me on so many areas that I have been seeking information to learn how to improve such as photography, writing effective product descriptions and blogposts. I had not considered collaberating with another person to get advice about these things. I’ve mainly been reading up on them but your ideas sound great and one I will try to put into use. Thanks again,
This is a really good reminder – for me!!
I learned early on in my career and training for it (some years back!) that reading and studying instructions and manuals — and then doing “practical”, which is actually “deliberate practice” to learn something, works.
I actually always read manuals for any equipment I buy now.
But where this is a good reminder for me is in 2 places: writing and doing my crafts.
Sometimes I get too caught up in “got to get this done now” and “there is so much to get done, so hurry, hurry, hurry” — and it affects my writing and doing my crafts.
I always want to learn new things — reading this is motivating me to spend more time doing “deliberate create” also — in my area of Crochet and Knitting (and maybe other Fiber Arts) – I find you need to really work on what you make (and learning and doing new techniques or designs) and not just hurry through it, so what you make is a bit original and really makes an impression. I think I need to do that more!
Wonderful post, April! Will definitely try to take your advice and get a plan going to improve my craft. It’s always great to try to find new ways to improve yourself and your skills so this is something I’m looking forward to doing!
I love this post! Thank you so much for writing it, April. It’s so true and something we all have to remember. I’m actually going to bookmark it to go back to it over and over whenever I feel like I’m not getting where I want to go with my business. Thank you!
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