There's a lot involved in starting a photography business.
In fact, if you ask me, one of the biggest barriers that people face when starting their own photography business is simply not knowing where to start.
That's the inspiration behind this post...
If you're struggling to get your head around the things you need to do to get a successful business off the ground, consider these 14 top tips.
You're More Than a Photographer - MUCH More
One of the first lessons you need to learn is that when you go into business for yourself, you aren't just a photographer.
In fact, you're everything from CEO to social media director to the accountant.
You have to answer phones, do your books, tackle marketing, meet with clients, oh, and actually take and edit photos at some point, too.
If you think you'll spend your days out in the field taking portraits of people in beautiful locations, only to return to your downtown studio to spend a few hours editing photos, you're wrong!
Sometimes it's a slog, and you will feel defeated at how little of your day is actually spent taking and editing photos.
But all that other stuff is important - and necessary - to make your business a success.
Besides, there's ways to lighten your load (more on that later).
Market the Right Way
Twenty years ago, we might be talking about marketing as knowing how to write up a catchy newspaper ad or having a spread in the yellow pages to promote your business or understanding how to do cold calling.
Today, though, marketing is focused in the online space, so you need to understand how to wrest the most value out of your online activities.
I'll get into having a website and taking control of social media in the next two tips, but for now, just understand that as fun as it is to have custom stationery with your logo on it, that stationary is completely invaluable to you as you market your business.
Likewise, having thousands of business cards isn't really practical, either.
Though it might seem like a great deal to get 3,000 business cards for $50, trust me, 2,500 of those cards will never see the light of day!
Instead, buy printed materials in small batches so you're sure you actually use them and focus instead on spending your money on marketing that will get you the most bang for your buck
Get a Solid Website
When I think of modern-day marketing, I think of having a solid website that is eye-catching, shows off your work, and gives would-be clients all the details they need about you and your business to make the decision to contact you to book a session.
Today's websites are clean and uncluttered, have large, full-screen images, are easy to navigate, and have contact forms and social media links that allow your clients to reach you quickly and easily.
Your website also needs to be branded in a way that's consistent with your other marketing materials.
That consistency shows attention to detail across all your marketing activities, but it also helps people to find you in various spaces - in Google searches, on social media, and in the real world as well.
Of course, the first thing you need when building your website is the right domain name...
As I noted above, you want it to be consistent with your marketing, but you also want it to be something that's unique and stands out from the crowd. speaks of who you are as a photographer.
These days, that's hard to do in the .com space, as the domain names are getting more and more picked over with every passing day.speaks of who you are as a photographer.
And since you want a domain name that speaks of who you are as a photographer, you certainly don't want to settle on a terrible .com name for your website.
Think about it - you get a domain name that immediately indicates that you're a photographer.
What's more, you can shorten up your domain name, so instead of having alexandraharrisphotography.com, you can just have alexandraharris.photo.
A .photo or .pics domain name is unique, just as a domain name should be, and since they're both new extensions, you can have your pick of the URL you want.
And another thing - even if you aren't ready to start a business today, get your URL now.
Procrastinating will only make it more likely that the URL you want to have will be taken, so do yourself a favor and check out the links below to get your .photo or .pics domain name today!
Don't Go Overboard With Social Media
I know it might sound strange to advise that you not take it too far with social media, but hear me out on this...
If you create a social media account with every platform under the sun, you're going to spend your entire day trying to keep up with posting on all those accounts.
Sure, you can automate that process with things like HootSuite, but the fact remains that having 20 different social media platforms will require at least some level of attention to each one.
Instead, you should thin the herd and focus on the big boys like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.
Facebook is a great option for promoting your business and connecting with customers and potential customers that use that platform to find local businesses.
Instagram is obviously a great choice for photographers for publishing their images and showing off their photo-taking and photo-editing skills.
Twitter is a good way to send out short communications about everything from upcoming sales or specials to posting examples of your work.
And perhaps most undervalued of all is YouTube, whereas a photographer you could post tutorial videos on taking and editing photos that establish you as an expert.
Less is more here, so avoid the temptation to go overboard and focus only on a few key social media sites.
Hone Those People Skills
When it comes down to it, photography is a people business.
That means that you need to develop your people skills just as much as you need to develop your photography skills.
Think about it like this - you can possess the best creative eye and produce the most jaw-dropping images, but if you don't know how to interact with people in a genuine way, it'll be difficult (if not impossible) to grow your business.
The better that you can communicate in person, online, verbally, and in written form, and the better that you take care of your clients, the more your business will grow.
After all, people don't just want great photos, they want a great experience getting those photos as well.
Don't Be a Gear Snob
All too often I see brand new photographers spending thousands and thousands of dollars on brand new gear.
I'm here to tell you that that's totally unnecessary.
I get wanting to have the newest cameras and an impressive set of lenses, but when you're just starting out, you need to save your money to pay for the essentials like rent, utilities, insurance, marketing materials, and so forth.
As long as your current camera, lenses, tripod, laptop, and other gear is in good working order and does what you need it to do, use it!
Your old Canon 5D Mark III might not be the flashiest, newest camera in the world, but if it works, why spend $3,000 getting something new?!
Get Some Experience
Even if you're at the point where you're ready to start your own photography business, it's still necessary to get more experience.
You might have cut your teeth as a second shooter or had a productive internship experience already, but more experience never killed anyone.
And by "experience" I don't mean spending another year working for someone else.
You can get experience by reading articles like this one, watching relevant YouTube videos, or joining the local Chamber of Commerce.
In fact, at this point, it's probably the business skills that you need to develop more than anything, so finding any way that you can to learn more about being a small business owner, the better off you'll be.
Word of Mouth is Where It's At
As important as it is to have social media accounts, when it comes down to it, word of mouth is what will likely get you more business than anything else.
Word of mouth starts with you offering top-quality products and services, so dedicating yourself to giving your clients the best customer experience is paramount.
But you can't stop there. Referrals typically don't just magically happen, so you have to actually ask people for them.
A great way to get referrals is to have a referral program. For example, for every new client that your existing client sends your way, they earn points toward free prints or a mini session or something of the sort.
You can also send a small gift after you deliver the final images to say thank you, and include a few business cards, asking the client to hand them out to friends, colleagues, and acquaintances.
The point is that you can't just expect people to give you glowing praise to their friends and family. You actually need to ask them to do so!
This is a no-brainer, but still worthy of mentioning.
I'm not the world's most organized person in my day-to-day life, but I learned really quickly the value of keeping things neat and tidy in my business life.
Everything should have its place so it's easy for you (and others) to find. You need to have a consistent system for naming and organizing your images. Even your daily schedule should be organized, with appointments and tasks outlined clearly so you know what you're doing and when.
The more organized you are at the outset, the better off you'll be in the future, so if you're not the best at organization, start working hard on developing those organizational skills!
Find Your Niche
When you start out, one of the challenges you'll have is having something unique to offer people.
One way you can do that is to find your niche - that area of photography that really speaks to you.
Perhaps you'll specialize in family portraits. Maybe avant garde cityscapes is more your style.
Whatever it is, identify it early on and work to make your name synonymous with that niche.
If you can do that, you'll be surprised at how quickly your business can grow.
Diversify Your Income
Of course, even if you specialize in a certain niche, you still need to diversify your income.
As the saying goes, you don't want to put all your eggs in one basket, so you need to protect yourself from the ebbs and flows of this business.
For example, if you're a wedding photographer, the winter months will be much slower than the summer months. That means that you'll need to find alternate means of making income.
You might offer engagement sessions, tackle family portraiture, or even farm out your photo editing skills to other photographers that don't have time to process their images.
The point is that having several different income streams will only enable you to get your business on solid financial footing and give you a better shot at long-term success.
Know That Your Time is Valuable
One of the best ways to get some experience and promote your new business is to do pro bono work.
Maybe that's photographing community events or fundraisers, or volunteering your time to photograph sporting events at local schools.
But be careful how much time you give to other people for free.
Time is your livelihood, and it's not like you can make more of it.
As great as it is to give your time to others, just be sure you're not giving so much of it away that you start to struggle to find the time for paid work.
Hire Good Help
At the outset, you might not be prepared to hire anyone, but as your business develops, there's a few people that you need to bring into the fold.
A good accountant is perhaps the first person you should hire, as keeping your books is really something that should be left to a professional.
Having a good attorney is invaluable, too, as you want to be sure that your business structure and contract are legitimate. That's not to mention that if something goes awry and you get sued, having an attorney you trust is invaluable.
Having an assistant is invaluable too, as it takes some of the pressure off you for answering phones, maintaining email lists, posting to social media, and so forth.
You might not be able to turn back the clock and give yourself more time in the day, but at least with good help, you can free up some of the time you already have.
Take Time for Yourself
Speaking of time, you'll need to get into the habit of taking time for yourself.
Being in business for yourself is a tough job, and one that can quickly take it out of you.
But working when you're tired and uninspired won't do you any favors.
If you make it a habit to take some time each day to do something you enjoy, to spend time with loved ones, or even just to sit in silence and catch your breath, you'll find that you can keep burnout away and produce products and offer services that are at the level they need to be to keep clients coming back for more.
So, whether you're ready to start your business today or its a couple of years away, just keep in mind that taking time for yourself is mandatory if you want to build a successful business.
Keep all the other tips I've mentioned in mind as well, because if you do, you'll be in a great position to be in business for years to come.