Shop Talk: 10 Tips to Starting a Photography Business
There comes a time in a photographer’s career where the path splits into two – hobbyist/enthusiast or professional. There are a few things that are always good to keep in mind as you switch over from a hobbyist to a professional.
1. You’re an artist – but you also have to eat.
Photography is an art and usually with art – there are three ways people will look at your work.
- They don’t appreciate it and don’t see it as a real profession.
- Some people will like your work and compliment you on it – but will not want to pay for it or compensate you fairly.
- There are people who will appreciate your work and know the value that your art brings to them.
As a professional photographer, you’ll meet some combination of the three mentioned above. You want to work with Number 3 and occasionally Number 2. A Number 2 needs selling and you, as a photographer, must sell them on the value that your photographs create for them. Educate your clients and they will have a much better understanding of the effort it takes to create your photographs. Educated clients that truly know the value of good photography will more than likely compensate you for your time. At the end of the day, it’s a job and you have bills to pay.
2. Never work for free – even for your portfolio.
This can be a heavy debate among the photography folks, but I stand firmly behind what I say here – never work for free or “exposure”. I’m not just talking about money, but also about time, effort, and creativity. When you give away any of the above, be sure that you are getting something in return. If you are doing a discounted shoot (Even if it is 80% or 90%) , ask for other things as well; a feature on their website, help with connecting to a potential client, or things that will advance your portfolio, career, and business.
It is extremely important to establish early on with clients and even family, that you are a business. Don’t work for the simple promise of “Exposure” this statement that is thrown around by clients or potential clients is a large indication that they do not respect your work or value and simply think that they are doing YOU a favor.
Don’t do it.
3. Build connections, contacts, and relationships early and often
Networking is not just reserved for bankers and brokers. Connections help excel your business and will always help your pipeline.
Connections turn to contacts, contacts turn to relationships, and relationships turn to clients.
Budget some time every month to make it to at least a few functions or even just one. Make it a goal to have meaningful conversations and networking for the purpose of finding people you TRULY want to work with. Don’t be a connection/networking junkie and be known as a person that just throws names and business cards around. This devalues your networking efforts very quickly and will make you seem very desperate for work. Stay cool, calm, and collected while introducing yourself and your business – it will pay off in the long run.
4. Stay within your means
This is a big one and can kill your business faster than you think. A business, down to its core has revenue and expenses. The difference (revenue – expenses) of the two is your profit. No profit means no money to grow. Be sure to manage all three of these at a balanced rate. Don’t be too greedy and pay yourself too much if you are in need of money elsewhere in your business. That is a sacrifice you will need to make early on, but will pay you immensely later down the road. Invest in your business and it will invest itself back to you.
On another note of expenses – don’t go buying all the latest and greatest gear until you know you truly need it or have outgrown your current kit. Balance the need for gear with the quality of work that you can deliver.
If a shoot requires you to deliver 10 photographs of a cupcake for the sake of Instagram posts and the client is only paying you $200, don’t go buying a brand spanking new full frame camera for $6,000. It will take you a long time to recover from that or if you run out of business – never.
Fit the gear to the job and not the job to the gear.
5. Be legally protected and insured
Be legally established and get insurance for you and your gear. No questions. Not establishing yourself as a legal business can have terrible ramifications later on down the road. Keep good books, documentation, and have a good lawyer draft up your contracts. Be sure that you and your clients know where your company stands on certain issues like commercial usage, intellectual rights, etc. Be sure to separate your personal expenses from your business expenses. Be sure that you have all the necessary permits, licenses, and paperwork necessary to operate within your area.
If you’re serious about turning this into a legitimate business – you have to ensure that you are able to do so on all ends.
6. Choose your clients and gigs carefully
Just as much as a client screens and chooses a photographer, so must the photographer. The amount of stress and money will not always be worth it if the client is a terrible person or organization to work with.
Turning down a potential client that doesn’t suit your style or creative process is always a smart move – just point them to another photographer/creative that is more suited for the job. Sometimes, saying no is even more important than saying yes.
7. Find your niche, but stay flexible while you find your feet
You may have started out with dreams of solely photographing that one subject you love. For me, it was outdoor and hunting photography. I quickly realized a few things:
- I did not have enough clients or even shoots to get me through month to month
- I was new to the industry and could not charge rates that could sustain me or my business
- I needed to be realistic and realize that I could not build Rome (my business and portfolio) in one day – or even one year.
Engagement shoots, family portraits, pets, food, retail, product, and corporate head shots soon started to fill my calendar. These types of photography, one would say, are far removed and vastly different from the photos I want to shoot personally, but until you feel confident enough to transition to a single niche – stay flexible and diversify yourself monetarily and skill-wise.
8. Be open to collaborations and different projects
Work with other photographers and creative people – it will open your business up to more opportunities as well as connections. When passionate people come together for a project – good things also come along. Usually, collaborations are personal projects for me as I try not to bring any monetary motivation to complete it. This lets you stay unrestrained from doing what you want and how you want. At the end of the day, you’ll end up with something you are proud of working on, make new friends, and have decent stills for your portfolio.
9. Always be professional and courteous
Always, always, always be professional. One thing people will remember is how you conducted yourself. It requires no money or talent and pays dividends on how people see you and your business. Be respectful and courteous to your clients and people around your during your meetings and sessions. If you’re out in a public place for a shoot and someone gets in your way, don’t push them aside and mutter under your breath – your client will notice these things.
10. Have fun, stay passionate, and keep learning
At the end of the day, you’re in the business because you love it. You have the passion, drive, and might be slightly insane, but it’s worth it. You get to deliver your work to clients that matter and you should enjoy it. Yes, you may have those long edit sessions where you want to call it quits after looking at the same 2000+ shots, but keep at it.
Stay sharp and always improve yourself – your business relies on it. Learn as much as possible and hone your skills so that you’re ready when the opportunities come. Experiment and don’t be afraid to try new things – even if you fail or said experiment looks terrible.
Keep the passion strong, have loads of fun, and as someone once told me “Keep burning pixels!”