7 Common Mistakes That Every Photography Business Needs to Avoid

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Everyone makes mistakes. When growing your photography business, you will make more mistakes over than the years than you can count – and some of them you will even look back on and cringe.

Mistakes are all part of the process. But also part of the job of being a photographer is figuring out how to minimize these mistakes, especially the ones that can set you back a long way. Learn from your peers so you can avoid their mistakes.

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Here are some of the main pitfalls that plague photographers. Just fixing these alone can save you a lot of money, and even more importantly, a lot of time.

Mistake #1 – Not Charging Enough

When you are first building your portfolio, certainly you might have to do some jobs for free or at a reduced rate as you build your skill level. That part is fine, but once you have that portfolio and are a full fledged business, you do not want to sell yourself short.

Photography may seem to others like a passion job – that you just show up for an hour or two, take some photos, and send them over. But it is about so much more than that. It’s about building your skills, learning about light, composition, fixing mistakes on the fly, editing, and learning how to work with clients. It’s traveling to and from the location, paying your expenses, spending the time to market yourself to get the job, paying the bills to keep the lights on, and feeding your family. And it’s about having some time left over to enjoy yourself.

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Create a spreadsheet and calculate these costs so you know what you have to make per job to survive and thrive. This will give you the confidence to ask for what you are worth. If you’re not able to cover all of these costs, then you’re not running a true full-time business, you won’t survive in the long run, and you’re lowering the value of the work itself.

Stay away from the cheap jobs and the cheap clients. They will just suck your time away and demand more and more. If the requirements for a client on a particular job suddenly change halfway through, ask for more money.

Sometimes you will want to do work for less than you are worth if it is the right type of job or the right type of client, but this should only be situational. There will be many points in your career where it will be more valuable to spend the time on your marketing and business development than on the job itself.

Mistake #2 – Not Reaching Out to People and Being Proactive with Marketing

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Jobs are not going to come to you at first, no matter how good your work is. You will have to go out and find your clients, so create a list of your ideal client types and of the best ways to reach each of them.

Work within your personal network, canvas local businesses, attend events and offer your services to individuals. The more you put yourself out there, the more business will come to you. But at first, every job you receive will come as a direct result of you proactively contacting someone or figuring out a strategy to get your work in front of them.

Mistake #3 – Not Collaborating and Working With Other Photographers in Your Space (i.e. Your Competitors)

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Other photographers can be one of the biggest helps to you along your journey. They’ve been there before, they have a lot in common with you, and they could become great friends. Learn from them and offer to help them.

Often you will get some of your first jobs from other photographers, whether it be assisting them or taking some of their overflow. Many established photographers still have a portion of their income come from helping out other photographers in their community.

In addition, accountability can be extremely important for your growth. Find a photographer in a similar place (level and business-wise) as you and work together. Have strategy sessions and share what is working and what is not. Having someone in your life like this can be integral to your success and for getting you through the hard times.

There will be a portion of photographers who see you as a competitor. They will not want to talk to or worth with you. That’s their problem, and the collaborations that you do with the willing photographers will help you both jump ahead of the ones who don’t.

Mistake #4 – Not Responding Quickly Enough

Why don’t photographers respond as quickly as possible to job inquiries? Either way, it makes things easier for us when the competition is slow to respond. I hear it all the time, how surprised people were by how quickly I responded to them, both at the beginning and throughout the entire job process. This shows a level of dependability, and in addition to helping people to want to work with you, it will also make them want to refer you. The more dependable you are, the more your clients will want to help you out however they can.

Even if it’s not a job inquiry, respond quickly. You never know when a casual conversation or advice that you give will turn into a job or reference. Often, it will turn into nothing, but when those one or two out of 10 turn into jobs, in the long run, those will add up.

Mistake #5 – Not Spelling Out the Terms of a Job from the Very Beginning

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Being a skilled photographer is not just about creating beautiful pictures. A big aspect of the photography business is how you handle the job from start to finish, and often the most important part is the very beginning when you spell out the terms and requirements.

It is really tough to know exactly what a client is envisioning for the job, so it helps to ask a lot of questions. This will even help them figure out what they want, as many of them will not have any experience with hiring a professional photographer. It will also help you justify your price when you talk out the steps of a job with them.

Make sure they know that if the parameters of the job change (through their decisions), you will have to charge more for the extra work. Most clients will think it is not a big deal to add something that was not specified ahead of time, but this is just more work they are giving you that was not spelled out originally. It happens a lot of the time, so it’s very important for your photography business to learn how to handle it correctly.

Mistake #6 – Not Having a Contract

Similar to the last point, while you both need to come to an agreement on the scope of any photography project, you also need to spell out those terms in a contract. Without a contract, you can easily be screwed over, and many photographers learn this the hard way. Hire a lawyer to give you advice, and look into thelawtog.com, which provides a variety of photographer contracts. These can save you a lot of time and money.

Read this on contracts: The Biggest Legal Mistake Photographers Make

The contract is important for setting the boundaries of the project. It will be easier to ask for more money if the scope of a job changes when you have a contract that spells out the exact requirements that were drafted.

Mistake #7 – Not Having an Efficient Workflow

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Efficiency is one of the most important aspects of running a photography business, and unfortunately, speed is something that is learned over time. Create a speedy and organized system for how you work. Import a job, cull the selects, crop, do the post-production work (light, color, contrast, etc.), export, deliver, and invoice. The more efficient you are with this, the less you will procrastinate. There is nothing that will cause a photographer to procrastinate more than staring at a mountain of unedited images.

While this tip may sound simple, jobs that might take beginning photographers three hours to edit, can take an experienced photographer an hour. It took me much longer to edit a job when I started, and this organization and efficiency can give you so much more time to spend on everything else.

Also read: Photography Workflow Tips – From Memory Card to Computer and Beyond

Always tell a client that you will get a job to them a couple days later than you think you can. This will allow you time to screw something up and still get the work to them on time. Usually, you will get it to them early which will make you look even better (this is called under promise, over deliver).

Mistake #8 – Bonus Tip: Learn When to Say No

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It’s hard to say no as a photographer, especially if you are growing your business and are under booked, but some jobs or some clients are just not worth it. If you are not being paid enough and the job is not good for your portfolio, if the client is tough to work with and overly demanding, save that aggravation and pass.

Some of these clients will prey upon young photographers to squeeze as much out of them before the photographer wises up. Just avoiding these jobs alone will save you so much time, and allow you to put it towards marketing and business development efforts that will set you much further ahead than by taking a less than desirable job.

Your time is very, very important, so don’t waste it. Saying no can be one of the best decisions you make.

If you have a photography business and have any other tips for newbies just getting started, please share in the comments below.


For even more business help – join the Focus Summit 2017 Online Business and Marketing Conference for Photographers on Sept 26-28th 2017. We will cover marketing, business development, law, SEO, branding, blogging, and much more. Use the code “DPS” for a $50 discount.

 

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James Maher is a professional photographer based in New York, whose primary passion is documenting the personalities and stories of the city. If you are planning a trip to NYC, he is offering his new guide free to DPS readers, titled The New York Photographer's Travel Guide. James also runs New York Photography Tours and Street Photography Workshops and is the author of the e-book, The Essentials of Street Photography.

  • Kim

    Good article. I was lucky enough to have one client who encompassed almost all of these. I say lucky because I learned really fast what to do to avoid it in the future. She wanted to do another shoot with me and I turned her down. Not worth the stress!

  • kenyongerbrandt

    Great article as I have recently been batting the idea around of branching out and doing some portrait photography on the side to generate some additional income. In terms of the workflow, it seems that it is not only the memory card to the print that is important here but also a process of initial contact with client to delivery of goods. I’d love to hear some tips or suggestions for helping out with the business side of things.

  • Jim Singler

    great advice

  • Thanks!

  • Thanks – that’s a big question that’s tough to answer here, but I think it’s all about figuring out who your ideal clients are and then going out and meeting them.

  • Ha – yeah, that first bad client can make you very wary in the future!

  • Alan

    First, use a business card. Not just a business card, but one that lets people know who and what you are. And yes, you can be too artsy as well as too simple.

    Second, print on the back graphics for appointments. Leave room for the type of appointment; consultation, estimate, shoot, etc. Make a note if there is a fee for canceled appointments.

    Third, make sure that your name, address, phone, fax, email, web site, and twitter are all visible and can be easily read without having to tilt the card to get it in the right light. Use fonts that don’t leave people wondering if that is a “6” or an “8”., a “1” or a “7”, or a letter “o” or the number “0”.

    Remember, you are in a business that is 3/4 art, 3/4 skill, and 1/2 good looks. Be twice what the next guy is.

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