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With just a few weeks left before the end of the year, I find myself deep in my annual wrap-up ritual. I don’t like carrying stuff over from December into January if I can avoid it. I make sure that shoots are edited, albums and prints are ordered, contracts are signed, gear is cleaned and serviced, and any other loose ends are taken care of. Transitioning from one year to the next isn’t just a matter of getting my “stuff” in order, but it’s also about getting my head in the right place for whatever challenges– photographic, business, or personal– the coming year might have in store for me.
I don’t think I’m unique in this regard. I think the end of the year is a good time for everybody to look ahead, setting goals for themselves and charting a course for where their photography business is going to take them after January 1st. I think that this pause to reflect on the current and future health of our businesses is particularly important for those of us in creative fields, because so many of us are simply not hard-wired for business to the same extent as we are for photography. One of the best new tools I’ve found for helping with these tasks is “Photography Business Secrets,” by Lara White. A former wedding photographer, White is a leading expert in the field of photography business education. As founder and operator of PhotoMint, an online business development resource for photographers, her words of wisdom have now been published in more than 70 magazines and professional photography blogs, including right here at Digital Photography School.
When you think of your photography business, have you ever figured out how much of it is “photography,” and how much is actually “business?” White has, and the numbers might surprise you. On average, 20% or less of your time is spent on actual photography. And that’s a good week! With numbers like that, it is essential to get a proper handle on the business end of things. After all, the term “starving artist” started somewhere, right? Passion alone isn’t going to cut it.
If your photography plans for next year include ditching your 9-to-5, Section 1 of this book is absolutely required reading. In “Moving from a Hobby to a Business,” Lara walks you through three chapters full of the information you need, questions you need to ask, and steps you need to take before you even think about giving your two weeks notice. This is a big decision, with life-changing ramifications– especially if you have a family that enjoys eating and having a roof over their heads.
This is the perfect chance to get valuable advice from someone who has been where you are and lived to tell the tale. By giving readers a realistic view of some of the issues that can impact transitioning from a hobby to a career, readers are assured very early on that this book has their best interests at heart. Gaining the training and experience you need, as well as figuring out your market, are just a few of the key factors addressed.
In my previous life as lawyer, my biggest complaint was that law school did nothing to prepare me for the actual day-to-day, nuts-and-bolts of practicing law. Becoming a professional photographer poses similar hurdles. Like any other profession, people tend to have a long list of preconceived notions of what it means to be a photographer. Remember that 80/20 time split I mentioned earlier? That’s just one of the things I’m talking about, and it’s why the seven chapters of “Business Fundamentals” make this such a valuable book–regardless of whether you are an emerging, struggling, or succeeding professional.
Section 2 takes you through the basics of drafting a business plan, calculating overhead, creating a budget, and more. Every journey starts somewhere, and yours as a professional needs to start with the steps that are designed to keep you both functional AND legal. Once those concerns have been addressed, you can move on to advanced business challenges like branding, pricing & products, customer service, and day-to-day operations.
It’s a pretty basic premise that you’re in business to make money. I love being an artist, but just being an artist doesn’t pay for my son’s education or the insurance premiums on the studio equipment. As much as I may hate the prospect of being a “businessman,” if I’m not willing to take on that responsibility, I’m going to fail before I even start.
Section 3 answers questions revolving around sales and growth, since the two are inextricably linked. The bottom line is that sales means growth. Tips on getting and increasing sales range from the seemingly obvious (be prompt, creative, and attentive), to running promotions and overcoming shyness. Using these tips to increase your cash flow will help get you over the next hurdle.
The chapter on “Growing Your Business” guides you through the processes of outsourcing, hiring staff, adding new services, and raising your prices. Here, White offers three case studies, showing how actual photographers have dealt with these issues, clearly demonstrating that these are real-life concerns, and not just theoretical exercises.
Sprinters can see the finish line within seconds of leaving the starting blocks. They go all out, giving it everything they’ve got, but they are going to run out of gas pretty quickly. Long-distance runners are in it for the long haul. It may sound like a cliché, but you want to run marathons, not 100-meter sprints. Learning to understand your clients, develop your style, and create marketing strategies isn’t something that comes naturally to most people. Here is your chance to learn those skills without having to reinvent the wheel.
A lot of photography books come across my desk. The best among them speak to a broad audience, and this is definitely one of them. It is entirely possible that not every aspect of this book will apply to you or your photography business, but if you find even just a few lessons here that increase your business stability– and therefore your profitability– it will be well worth the $20.00 investment.
“Photography Business Secrets: The Savvy Photographer’s Guide to Sales, Marketing, and More” is available at Amazon.com.