Many photography enthusiasts contact me because they want tips on how to make their dream of becoming a Professional Photographer a reality. I am a believer and an example that it is possible to make your life’s passion a profession. The key is to not just start a business, but rather, to sustain it by being profitable and happy. That is success!
There are a multitude of books you can study and courses you can take about this very subject. Below is a short list of topline things you should consider based on my own experience. It will give you a starting point of things to think about and do. You are ready to make the leap from Aspiring to Professional when…
1. You know your equipment like the back of your hand.
You should be well versed in your camera settings, lenses, lighting equipment, etc. Getting a good image is about skill and experience, not luck. So know your stuff before you start charging for your services.
2. You know that being a Professional Photographer is much more than understanding how to take photographs.
When you make photography your business, you are actually only shooting a small percentage of the time.
At some point in your career, you can choose to outsource or hire staff to do some of these activities, but when you start out, a larger portion of your time will be filled with things like, communicating with clients and potential clients, culling and editing images, balancing your budget, selling products and services, marketing yourself and your business, fulfilling orders, and drafting client contracts.
Being a Professional Photographer means being an Artist and a Business Person.
3. You have a Business Plan.
You’ve answered critical questions, such as: Who is your target client? How will you market yourself and your business to your target client? What is your pricing strategy for Year 1? Year 2? What products will you sell? What kinds of services will you provide? How will you differentiate your business from others in your area?
Do this before you start your business. It will be harder to shift business strategies later.
4. You’ve built a portfolio that represents your style and shows consistency.
Once you start charging money for your services, you have to guarantee a certain level of quality and produce it consistently. A good portfolio would do most of the selling for you.
5. You have a means of sharing your work and contact info.
It’s plain and simple: if people can’t find you, you won’t get any business.
Before launching a website, make sure you’ve put thought into your brand identity and have optimized your site for searches (known as SEO or Search Engine Optimization). In addition to a website, there are a plethora of social media options to get your business and images noticed, such as Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest, Flickr. You can protect your images by placing a watermark on them and limiting the file size and resolution.
6. You have all your documents in order.
You’ve registered your business, gotten insurance, filed for a business license (ie, LLC, Sole Proprietorship, S-Corp), and have a contract ready to send your clients when they book your services. You have also spoken with a small business attorney and tax accountant, and have opened a separate bank account for your business.
7. You know who you are and what kind of photographer you are.
This may sound ridiculously simple, but it’s often overlooked.
Know what specialty you want to have before you start, so you won’t waste your efforts growing a side of your business that you do not love. Especially if you are in a saturated market, stick with your own style – whether it’s a style of shooting, processing, or photography – so you can differentiate yourself from others.
Do what you love, know your own strengths, and be yourself. This will help you attract the right clients for you. (The right client for Business A is not necessarily the right client for Business B.)
Starting and running a successful business takes a lot of resources — namely, your money, time, and energy. If you aren’t sure about something (ie, the quality of the images you’re producing, how to use your equipment, the profitability of a shoot), people will feel that uncertainty and won’t invest in you.
Make the necessary preparations before starting your business, so you can be confident when you do.
If you have additional tips for starting out Pros, feel free to share in the comment section.