In the beginning, we are completely excited with the prospect of new clients, creating pretty photographs and of course making money in our photography business. That’s all fine and you should be excited to be starting a photography business, but there are things that you might just overlook and come to regret later. Here are 7 lessons I learned in my own start-up phase that I hope will give you insight when starting a photography business.
1. Work with a Mentor
Right out of the gate, I learned how to be a photographer on my own. Sure, I took some college classes, I was even a graduate of New York Institute of Photography, and I knew all the technical parts of photography no doubt. My style, my artistic flare (if you could call it that at the time) was all me.
While they may sound like a good thing, it did put me at a disadvantage when I was first starting my photography business. What I wish I would have done is finish all my technical training, but then find a photography mentor. There were so many other photographers in my area that I admired and who had success careers in photography. I could have volunteered to hold lights, reflectors, carry their bags. Anything to let me in on how they are doing it.
Beyond the talents, are the business issues. If I had gained a mentor, I could have asked questions. I would have known from the start, to always get my session fee paid up front to cover myself from the numerous cancellations I had and never heard from again. A mentor could have kept me from making many of the upfront mistakes I made when start my photography business.
2. Don’t Quit Your Day Job
The hardest thing for me when I started my business was living with the decision I made to quit my job (which was about $90,000 per year at the time) to start a portrait studio out of my home. As I look back at the financial struggles that my husband and I went through, I still can’t believe I put us through it.
I did finally show a profit, but it took 6 months of absolute hell and living on top ramen noodles before that happened. I almost lost my car in the process, but thankfully, things turned around for us.
The best thing you can do for your business is keep your income coming in until your photography business is keeping up with the bills. Not only will this keep you from losing your mind while trying to keep food on the table, but it takes a load of stress of during those months when new clients coming in the door aren’t as high.
3. Don’t Ever Think You Can’t Learn More
Several years ago, I had a very casual friendship with a fellow photographer. It stayed casual because it was hard to be around someone who thought they were the best of the best. She felt she needed no improvement, no further workshops, and when given constructive criticism, shrugged it off and called it “her style”.
There is nothing wrong with being proud of yourself. Nothing wrong with a little bragging…to a point. However, when you tell yourself that you never need to learn more, you are doing yourself and your clients a disservice. There is always room for improvements and there are always new techniques to be learned and tools to use. Don’t be afraid to embrace furthering your photography skills. They only make you more valuable to your clients. If you feel you don’t have time to take local workshops, you can even choose to further your education with online photography courses. The point is, don’t neglect your education. Get it in somehow.
4. Backup Backup Backup…Did I Mention Backup?
You’re probably shooting digital right? If you are, you need to have a reliable way to backup all of your client files. This goes for your actual photos as well as your studio management software back up files. Get into the habit of making backups a part of your end of day routine.
After you’ve downloaded all your client photo sessions to your local machine, you’re finished editing, and you’ve done making change in your studio management software for the day, back everything up before you end for the day. You can purchase an inexpensive external drive to make this super easy and keep a few days worth of data on it all times. Then if your main work computer happens to get a virus you are covered and have everything you need to restore. With the price of external drives in the 1,2,3 and 4 TB range under $150, there is no reason not to do backups, and just purchase more HD space as needed.
5. Always Shoot in RAW Format versus JPG
The fact is, a JPG is a compressed image file and does not contain nearly the amount of image data as that of a RAW file. Even if you make no later adjustments to the file, you will give your client the best possible print quality if you always shoot in RAW. Yes this goes for your wedding photographers too. Buy more cards!
6. Be Ready to Handle the Business Aspect of Running a Photography Business
As photographers all we want to do is photograph our clients. We want to measure light, use creative angles and buy new and expensive lenses. That’s all well and good and is the fun part of being a photographer. However, if you are plan on turning this passion into a business, you’ve got to get down to the nitty gritty business details of running your photography business.
You need to consider all aspects of the startup phase including registering your business, sales tax, obtaining bank accounts, getting insurance, proper legal structures and more. While you can find much of that information online including places like Startup Photography Business, you may also want to obtain professional legal help from an accountant or attorney. You might even sign up for some local area business classes to help you get started in the right direction.
7. Create a Portfolio of Your Photography
Maybe I should have listed this in the number one spot. When you are trying to get clients in the door, how are you going to convince them that you are the photographer they should choose? Win them over with your charming personality? Possibly…but not likely.
Something you should start working on right away is your portfolio. It doesn’t matter if you put it together in an album or hang large wall portraits all over the walls of your meeting space or studio. The point is that it should showcase your very best work and represent your style accurately, so people know what to expect.
If you’re just getting started in the photography business, you might think it’s hard to build a portfolio up. If you’ve got friends or family, it’s not hard at all. Everyone appreciates a free photo shoot. Grab some family or friends (or whatever your target niche is) and photograph them for free to build up your work. If you aren’t sure what your style is or who your target niche is…explore. Try different things until something just “clicks” for you.
Hopefully, the lessons I’ve learned through my own experience can help you avoid these same mistakes. If you can avoid them you might just give yourself a jump start when figuring out how to start a photography business of your own. Good luck!