As a professional photographer, in the beginning, you have to wear a lot of hats. Not only do you need to be an excellent photographer, but you also need to be good at business and marketing. This includes understanding how to price your services, market yourself, and find clients. But also accounting and legal aspects.
In this post, we’ll explore some of the most important business concepts for photographers and offer tips on how to apply them to your own photography venture. So dive in to learn about the business side of things – it’s essential to being a successful photographer.
Start From Scratch: Create a Business Plan
When running a solo enterprise, it is easy to overlook a need for a business plan. Why write down a set of instructions for yourself? Right?
A well-written business plan is essential because it guides you. For starters, it helps you determine whether the journey you’re about to embark on is profitable in the first place. Then, it outlines your goals and strategies for achieving them. Not to mention what to do when life happens and things go differently than intended.
A business plan is critical for any entrepreneur, but especially for photographers with less experience starting a business. It allows you to establish a budget and track expenses and income. That way, you can be sure that everything is running efficiently. It also allows you to ensure that you cover all of your bases.
Writing a business plan can seem daunting, but it actually isn’t. In fact, you can fit it on a single page and do it in less than few hours. Jim Horan, an experienced Fortune 500 executive, and small business expert, wrote a great book about it: The One Page Business Plan for the Creative Entrepreneur: The Fastest, Easiest Way to Write a Business Plan. It’s a step-by-step guide on how to write a business plan, and it comes with easy-to-follow templates and everything. So check it out; it’s a great starting point.
Allow Your Clients to Find You: Put Together a Solid Go-to-Market Strategy
When it comes to marketing a professional photography business, there are a variety of methods that can be employed. The strategy also depends on what niche you are entering. However, when starting out and the marketing budget is practically non-existent, these three steps will get your business going:
1. Start by creating a portfolio of your best work and post it on your website.
2. Next, set up social media pages and post consistently.
3. Finally, start reaching out to local businesses and organizations and offer your services as a freelance photographer.
Often, more than great photos in your portfolio are needed to get hired. Your client needs to be sure that you can deliver in high-stakes situations.
Tech companies usually give 30-day free trials, allowing clients to test the product before buying. Consider a similar approach to potentially recurring customers. For example, if your goal is to get into wedding photography, offer wedding planners and event organizers a chance to test your skills for free as a ‘second shooter’ or even a ‘third shooter’ alongside the main photographer. It’s the best way to prove your skills, expand your portfolio, build credibility, and construct solid client relationships.
Keep Your Numbers in Order: Use Accounting Software
Keeping track of your expenses and income is crucial to make informed decisions when running your business. Access to real-time data allows you to see how your business is performing at any moment. However, you don’t want to spend most of your time crunching the numbers. The key is to automate as much as possible.
Hiring outside help may not fit in your budget from the get-go, so consider accounting software. It can automate tasks you would otherwise have to do by hand, such as creating invoices, tracking payments, and reconciling accounts.
Accounting software can also help you comply with tax laws and other regulations. For example, it can automate the collection of data needed for tax filings and help you stay organized so that you don’t miss any critical deadlines.
Sloppy bookkeeping can lead to many mistakes and discrepancies in a company’s financial statements. Resulting in inaccurate financial reports, missed tax payments, or even fines and penalties. So make sure you build your photography business on a solid foundation right from the beginning.
Take Care of the Legal Aspects: Make Sure You Have Solid Contracts and Active Licenses
A legal contract is another thing beginners tend to overlook. It seems like a troublesome extra step in the process. Yet, it’s a crucial one. An agreement between two or more parties outlines the rights and responsibilities of each party involved. It helps to clarify the expectations of both you and your client and can help to resolve any disputes that may arise.
As a photographer, you also need contracts because they can help to protect your business and intellectual property. Indeed, under federal law, you own the pictures you take as a photographer. But you should still clearly outline what rights will be transferred to your client. That includes the right to sell, reproduce, distribute, and publicly exhibit the photograph.
Unfortunately, many wrongfully assume that if they pay you, they automatically own all the rights to the images. That can lead to unpleasant disputes down the road. Especially if it was just a verbal agreement, it’s virtually impossible to pull up what exactly was agreed upon.
Do Not Get Lost: Consider Investing in a Project Management Tool
A project management tool is practically a must to effectively manage a photography business. Keeping track of everything can quickly become overwhelming. Endless emails, appointments, leads, gear, call sheets, and time-tables of shoots – the list goes on and on. Sticky notes will only get you so far. What you need is a comprehensive system to keep everything organized.
As with accounting, your goal should not be only to properly track your responsibilities but to automate as many tasks as possible. Less time spent on mundane management duties equals more time for shooting and editing, which again equals greater revenue.
There are many project management tools designed specifically for photographers. Studio Ninja, Tave, ShootQ, and Pixifi, to name a few. Not to mention more universal tools like ClickUp or Monday.com. So take a look around, test them out, and find the one that best suits your needs.
Avoid Failure: Take Good Care of Your Gear
Taking care of your photography gear is essential, as it can prolong your equipment’s life, ensure you get the most out of your investment, and minimize potential failure.
If you are hired to shoot something for your client, you are expected to deliver before all else. The last thing you want is to work around and troubleshoot technical issues haunting your gear. On the other hand, keeping your equipment in working order ensures the best client experience and speeds up your workflow.
Once you become a pro and start spending long hours shooting, day after day, your gear will be put through a lot more stress. Mileage adds up quickly. Exposure to extreme temperatures, dust, sand, and humidity will take a toll on all your equipment, not just your camera. Drained batteries can cause unnecessary delays or waste a whole shoot, dirty lenses can ruin an image, and corrupt memory cards can cost you all your work.
The following 6 steps help prevent most of these mishaps:
1. Use a professional carrying case. A compartmentalized padded carrying case or a bag helps keep everything in its place. Just make sure it fits your gear and that you can secure everything snugly.
2. Protect your camera and lens while shooting. Use straps whenever shooting and proper covers whenever shooting in the elements. UV or clear filters are also helpful in protecting your lenses from scratches and spray.
3. Clean your camera regularly. First, use a blower or brush to remove dirt from your camera body’s crevices. Then, open all the compartments and remove all the dust collecting in the ports. Finally, wipe everything down with a damp cloth.
4. Leave the sensor cleaning for the pros. Cleaning the sensor is risky and may cause severe damage to your camera. Being a professional photographer does not mean you need to know how to do everything yourself. Professional race car drivers also stick only to driving and, on everything else, rely on maintainers. If using a blower and gently blowing into the camera, on the mirror, and the prism does not get rid of the disturbing dust particles, take your camera to the shop for a more thorough cleaning.
5. Invest in a lens cleaning kit. These kits include a variety of tools for cleaning your lenses safely. Using a cleaning kit, you can avoid scratches and other damage to your lenses that often occur when using improper cleaning methods or random cloths.
6. Inspect your memory cards before and after every shoot. Memory cards are frequently overlooked until these little fellows become a serious problem. So make it a habit to inspect your memory cards before and after every shoot. Look for any dirt and scratches on the contacts, as well as the plastic exterior. If you see anything broken, replace the card. Better to be safe than sorry. We also wrote an in-depth article about how to safely clean and properly maintain your memory cards. Check it out to get more out of your memory cards and make them perform faster.
Starting a Photography Business: Final Thoughts
Now that you understand what it takes to start a photography business, it’s time to take the next step and get started! With consistent effort and dedication, you can turn your passion for photography into a successful business in no time.
This is the second article in a two-part series about starting a photography business. Part one was all about building your brand, creating value for the market, and getting your business off the ground. If you missed it, check it out here: What it Takes to Become a Professional Photographer?