For many photographers wanting to create a legitimate business one of the hardest steps is going full time. Making photography the only job you do and committing 100% into making it work can be daunting when you start out. How do you start your photography business? How do you make it into something that works for you and pays?
I still remember starting this business. It took just over 2 years for me to build it to a point where I could stop doing the Graphic Design work I was doing and commit fully to my photography business. Those were 2 very hectic, busy and full on years and at times I questioned everything. That’s normal! Starting a business is one of the most stressful things you can do and certainly isn’t for the faint hearted or for those who aren’t prepared for hard work and long hours.
There is no magic button to make it an immediate success, but there are things you can do to get you on the right path. You won’t be able to do all of these straight away but if you can make them a priority it will make a difference to your business.
1. Be sociable, make friends and network.
I wrote a post recently about the importance of networking. Its such huge step to building your business name and making connections with others in the your industry. It doesn’t have to be large intimidating groups, you can contact some local suppliers and ask if they want to meet for coffee. If you wait to be invited it isn’t going to happen. If no one knows you are there, they can’t ask you to join them! Get yourself on social media, get chatting, get connecting and start building your community and your network.
2. Don’t be afraid to take risks.
Ok. Easier said than done for many people, but being successful in business means you need to be bold. You need to be a little fearless. Not only do you need to show up for social get togethers but you need to keep pushing yourself creatively as well as on the business side of things. This can be setting up your own styled shoot…reach out to vendors you love and would love to work with. If you have a friend who has recently got married ask to do a shoot with them. Offer a free portrait session so you can practice working with people. Inquire about second shooting with someone you know or who’s work you admire. Submit your work to a magazine or a blog (scary I know, but it’s worth a shot). Maybe you sign up for a workshop that you would love to do even though you can’t quite afford it. Whatever it is you need to take the risks and not be afraid. You will need to do these things eventually so why not sooner than later.
3. Be professional
This is surprisingly simple to do and you do not need to spend a fortune to do it. Being professional from the word go is a mindset, not a budget. You don’t need an expensive website and this is definitely where the saying ‘less is more’ comes into its own. Keep things simple, tasteful and clean. Its the best way to not make mistakes that make you look less than the professional brand you are aiming for. By all means add elements that reflect your personality, but until you can afford to do things properly by employing someone to help you create a great brand identity it’s safest to keep it simple. Look at how other brands present their work. It’s very easy to find great WordPress templates that don’t cost the earth and give you a professional looking web presence.
How you act and present yourself is equally as important. Be polite, be punctual, be honest. If you have only been in business for a year then tell people. You will only be setting yourself up for a fall if you claim to have more experience than you have and end up not being able to do a job properly. Dress in a way that reflects you and how you want to present yourself as a brand. This is not saying you have to wear a suit (I have never worn a suit in my life), but you do need to remember that what you wear will say something about who you are and what you do. Reply to enquiries swiftly and efficiently, if you take 3-4 days to reply to someone they will probably go elsewhere. Make sure your kit fits what you need it to do. If you have to hire a camera or lenses then do that until you can afford to buy them. I did this a lot in my first year or two of business. Make sure you know your kit, practice, learn and aim to improve with every shoot.
4. Be your own cheerleader
This can be a very hard thing to do. Self-promotion doesn’t come naturally to most. We struggle with self confidence, we worry our work isn’t good enough, we whisper ‘look at me’ from a corner and hope someone might notice. This isn’t going to do anything. You HAVE to start promoting your work. If you don’t no one else will! This is the essence of marketing. It’s not being big headed, it’s not being vein, it’s being a business owner who wants people to see what they produce and create a buzz about their work. Your website, your blog, your social media presence, other blogs and magazines are all ways you can and should be promoting yourself. Not only are these a great way to share what you do, but they are all FREE!
5. Keep learning
The world is your oyster when it comes to continual learning. Online training is a brilliant place to start. There are lots of resources that can help with your learning and filling in the gaps in your knowledge. Workshops offer wonderful opportunities to learn alongside other photographers (which is a lovely way to meet new friends too) and to learn from a person or people who you admire. Many photographers who have been established for a while offer workshops or mentoring. This can really help if you have gaps in your knowledge or just want a bit of a refresh and some new ideas. I still attend 1-2 workshops a year to learn from others and challenge myself creatively. You will never know everything and it’s important to not settle for OK. If you want to do well you have to keep learning. The day you stop learning and stop developing is the day your business stops growing.
6. Keep a check on where your strengths are
What do you really enjoy doing? What are you drawn to? What excites and inspires you? What’s getting people interacting most on social media? What are your clients most complementing you on? This will help you learn where your strength are and where you might look to specialise. If you love working with couples and get a kick out of capturing events then this might lead you more towards photographing weddings. If you are a baby whisperer and love to create beautiful images of newborns then you might be finding your niche with families and little ones. Finding the areas you thrive in will help you to develop your business. There’s nothing wrong with working across a few areas of photography but don’t do something just because you feel you should. Do something because you enjoy it, find it challenging and creative and a joy to do. This will be reflected in the work you produce.
7. Just do it!
An honesty moment here…just do it and don’t have a pity party if it doesn’t all go to plan first time round! There you go. When you look at the photographers who have busy businesses, who shoot wonderful things and seem to have a perfect life don’t for a second think that they woke up one day to all of that. They didn’t. They got there through hard work, long hours, trials and errors and lots of learning. For the first 2-3 years of my business I had a full time business/career as a Graphic Designer as well as starting the photography business. I also had a small child to look after and tried to have some sort of life with my husband. I worked 6-7 days a week most evenings. It wasn’t easy. I missed out on things, my work came first a lot of times, I didn’t have much money to spare, but that was what was needed at the time to keep the momentum going and build the business.
When you feel it’s getting on top of you keep remembering how wonderful it is to be in the position of running your own business. Try not to compare yourself to others. It can be a one way street to self doubt and a fast track to your own pity party. It’s easy to look at someone else and think ‘How do they have that? Why can’t I work there? What have they got that’s so great?’. The minute you start down that route you become so busy focussing on someone else that your own business is forgotten. You are failing to focus on your own strengths, the positive things you have to offer. If things aren’t working the way you want them to then sit down an look at why. What is it that’s missing? If you need to get someone to help then look at getting some 1-2-1 mentoring. Find where the gaps are and work out what you need to do to get yourself back on track.
8. Find your style
This is something that does come with time and with practice, but everyone has a natural style of shooting. Something that comes instinctively. This is what you need to harness. The only way this happens is by taking photos, a lot of photos! Try out different lenses, different angles, different ways of working with light. You will start to see patterns about how you approach an image. Things you like and things you don’t. If you want to learn how to replicate a certain techniques or style then research it and work out how its done. As your skills develop learn to trust your instincts.
9. Get the official bits right
This probably should have been higher in the list as its a pretty important point. When you set up in business you absolutely must make sure it’s done right. Here are a few things to look in to:
• Tax. Make sure you register the business and make sure you pay your tax! If you aren’t sure what you are doing get an accountant to help you.
• Business insurance. This is public & product liability and is a must if you want to work safely.
• Equipment insurance. Make sure you kit (whether owned or hired) is covered should anything go wrong.
• Contracts. For the benefit of you and your clients get a contract in place for every job you work on. Make sure you are covered.
I hope this has been useful and informative. Most of these are tips for the first year or two of business, but they are all things that will help to get you set up in the right way. If you have any other questions just leave a comment below or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
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