Success in wedding photography and especially in performing on the wedding day is more about your communication skills and your listening skills and knowing how to read people. That will go a long way in making you a great photographer rather than focusing on how technically brilliant you are. The ability to have an endearing and attractive personality and the ability to work under pressure while still being technically proficient is especially important. You almost need to be like a chameleon. In the sense that you need to know how to be relaxed and more down to earth at a casual wedding and at the same time be able to carry yourself professionally when you're at a high society wedding.
I also believe that assisting at weddings is the best training for any photographer. At the very first wedding that I assisted, I probably learned more than in all of the time I spent in school. And that was because I was getting on the job, real world training. At that first wedding I was taught about the direction of light, how to use flash, interacting with clients, working under pressure, working under time constraints.
I literally just carried bags and assisted a photographer for a year and half with no pay while I was working at a camera store selling cameras. I did all of that just so I could be involved in the industry. And that's because when you're photographing a wedding, you're actually shooting much more than that. You're shooting a wedding, portraits and fashion, you're shooting photojournalistically, shooting product (all the details that you need to document), landscape, etc.
So you're photographing in all these different genres and under time constraints, weather constraints, different cultures and dealing with different personalities, so I truly believe that a really good wedding photographer can pretty much shoot in any genre. Artistically, don't be safe or stay in your comfort zone by going to "pose number 23 in location number 37". Comfort zones have never been synonymous with artistic expression.
I encourage new photographers to be as passionate about their business as they are about their photography. Consider yourself a businessperson first who happens to be a photographer. As a business owner ask yourself, "Am I working in my business or on my business?" Surround yourself with great people – your studio is only four walls without good staff. Stop being a control freak and get some help. Educate yourself. Seminar and workshops can literally change your life. After all, knowledge is power. Don't be too precious about the work.
When it comes to marketing your new business, you should work on marketing that costs you nothing by first asking your clients and vendors for referrals and maximizing relationships with people who can help you. Also, try a same day slide show at the reception. It's the best direct marketing you will ever do and you can also charge good money for it. If you are going to invest in advertising, don't think about the advertising dollars you are parting with and think instead about the return. Whenever an advertising opportunity presents itself ask yourself, "Is there a better way I can spend this money?" And finally, don't forget to consider yourself a brand. Build it and they will come.
One of my favorite mantras has always been that I don't focus on being the best; I just focus on being better than last week. I believe this is one of the keys to being successful and consistently creating beautiful images. By doing that, you become the best that you can be - you realize your own potential.