So, you’re thinking about starting a photography business?
Here’s the good stuff as well as the not-so-good stuff that might surprise you.
1. It will be fun.
Let’s start on a positive note, shall we? Generally speaking, owning a photography business is fun, especially at the start, when your enthusiasm for photography is so much greater than your knowl- edge of business. Here you are, ready to make a living doing what you truly love. How great is that!
That’s what I want you to recall vividly every time you feel like you’re in over your head in the business half of your photography studio for the first year or two. Always keep sight of the fact you are running a business and your time and talent are extremely valuable!
2. You’ll undervalue your time.
Don’t. In the giddy beginning, you’ll feel inclined to practically donate rather than price your time. That’s only natural when you’re doing something you love and getting paid something, anything, to do it. I’m so happy, you think, I’ll just throw in …
A few extra prints. Little cost of sales (COS), sure, but it takes time to find out which images the client would value more of, to format the files for printing, upload them, place the order, unpack and repackage the prints, and take the package to the post office. Checked the cost of postage recently?
Some extra digital files. OK, pixels aren’t a COS, but you invest your time in the processing and whatever delivery format you use.
A maternity mini-session. Really? What about the time spent preparing the session, the 45-minute to 1-hour session, time downloading, processing, retouching, and getting the files to the client?
MY ADVICE: To give your time is divine, but make sure you do it with a distinct purpose that benefits you.
If you want a product-oriented business: Gifting a few prints can ensure your clients get beautiful printed images to display in their home and office and spread around to their family. I’ve had new clients book me after seeing my gifted prints displayed.
To be all-inclusive: Processing a few extra digitals for the client’s gallery might broaden the storytelling aspect you want to emphasize. Watermarked lo-res images for social media is akin to free advertising.
To fill out your maternity portfolio: A complimentary maternity mini-session with any new booking is a fantastic way to add diversity to your portfolio without hiring models.
If you’re in the portfolio-building phase, don’t advertise that fact or your free minis. It’s a quick way to squash your credibility and come off as a newbie.
Instead, solicit these sessions behind the scenes among your friends (and their friends). It’s rare for your portfolio-building clients to be your ideal clients and stick with you. In general, people who are drawn by discounted rates will never be willing to pay full price.
You might offer your portfolio-building clients discounts for a limited time, saying, “I’m building up the newborn/wedding/seniors/family portrait part of my business,” giving the impression that you are established in other genres and expanding your repertoire.
Even now, make those portfolio sessions worth your time. Be in control of everything: the setting, wardrobe, lighting, props and poses. Create the kind of photos you want to show and sell to your new paying clients.
My caveats on gifting. Never say “free,” which sounds cheap. Say “complimentary,” which sounds gracious. Gifts must be only an accompaniment to paid services. You need to start out creating a strong value proposition.
Working for free says your work is worth nothing. From day one, value your work and your time. Your time is one precious commodity and you’ve got to collect legal tender for it!
3. Consider the cost of running a business.
Your costs will depend on the business model you choose and the genre of photography you focus on, but rest assured, it will cost you more to run your business than you imagine. In the first year, expect to reinvest almost all the money you make into building your business. The more you reinvest, the faster your route to success should be.
Equipment is a major investment. Can you run your business on mid-grade equipment? Yes, at least for now. I believe in rockin’ what you got, but I also know there comes a time when lesser equipment will be a major limiting factor. If you want to run a professional business, eventually you’ll need professional equipment. Expect equipment to cost you $5,000 to $30,000.
Other expenses to consider:
- Business insurance is a must. You need liability and equipment coverage, minimum. Expect to pay $30 to $100+ per month.
- Accounting services, if only a tax accountant for now. It’s wise to hire an accountant to help you organize your accounting and understand your tax requirements. You will have to pay income tax and sales tax on any products you sell. Every state has different rules, so make sure you get the details before you accept payment for any session.
- Marketing expenses for your website, hosting services, design templates, online ordering platforms and any paid advertising through Google or social media. While there’s great value in word-of-mouth advertising, it’s unrealistic to expect to thrive on that alone. You might even find that the people you already know are not your ideal clients.
- Memberships in anything from learning forums like Clickin Moms to trade associations like Professional Photographers of America. Some of these memberships offer continuing education, some can help you build credibility with certification, and some even help boost your SEO.
- Education, because if you want your business to grow, you must grow. Your images need to be constantly evolving and improving. The better your photos become, the more people notice your work. Great photos sell photos and build a perception of value. One of the beauties of photography is that there’s always something new to learn.
4. The business will take up your time.
Consider the portfolio-building stage of your business as the honeymoon phase. Your primary objective needs to be creating a product to sell. You need to show you can deliver a set of beautiful and consistent images.
You may have an established skill or be a skilled hobbyist ready to start a business, but either way, you need to practice working with clients. Photographing your children or friends is very different than working with new acquaintances.
When I started out, I was still working a full-time day job and doing sessions when I could. The more sessions you do, the better your work should become. You’ll also become more comfortable interacting with clients while you’re shooting. And too, you’ll spend a lot of time post-processing, developing your brand, marketing yourself, and mastering necessary business practices.
5. Create a brand that’s uniquely you.
Remember all the “fun” I talked about earlier? You must define the kind of fun you bring to business. This is your brand experience, and that is what you are selling.
Basically, sell yourself. This means putting yourself out there through a blog and social media. You need to be highly visible without being overbearing. Communicate openly but not offensively. Always be professional, always courteous.
The things you share with others about yourself help to establish commonality. These commonalities are a way to build a bond and help potential clients understand what your brand experience is all about.
Words & photos by Beth Wade
This article first appeared in a print issue of Click Magazine. Order print or digital single issues from the Click & Company Store. Or better yet, get a 1-year subscription so you never miss an issue!