Are you ready to make the switch from a hobbyist to full-time professional photographer? That,s great, congratulations on your decision. It’s a great profession to be in, one that gets your creative juices flowing every time you pick up a camera. But along with the desire to start your own photography business, there are a few necessary steps that you need to take to make sure you start off on the right note!
Get all the necessary legal paperwork in place
As per wikipedia, a professional is a member of a profession, or any person who earns their living from a specified professional activity.
The fact that you are charging money to clients in exchange for photos means you also need to document said money, and pay appropriate taxes. In most parts of the world, this means registering your business with the local governing body, reporting income accurately ,and paying appropriate taxes. Make sure you research what the legal requirements are where you live, and follow them.
You don’t want to get into trouble with the government at a later stage. Part of the registration process may require you to have a business name, as well as get a tax id. Many photographers pick their own name for their business, while others like me, choose a generic name to represent their brand. There is no right or wrong way, just pick one that works for you.
Maintain an online presence for your photography business
The important thing to maintaining an online presence is have a way to represent your body of work, i.e., your portfolio. Luckily, there are many free options for uploading your images to the Internet. Sites like WordPress and Blogger (previously called Blogspot) offer a way to create a blog. Flickr and 500px are other options to upload and host your images.
Getting a custom website, with a custom URL (in most cases your business name) takes it up a notch in terms of creating brand awareness (you can look at low cost options like Square Space). It is much easier to tell a client that your portfolio can be found at (for example) “www.memorablejaunts.com”, rather than saying “memorablejaunts.blogspot.com”. Depending on your business name this can be a mouthful and difficult to remember.
As you think about your online presence also consider social media. There are many options to choose from to be socially engaged with your clients, and more importantly, your potential clients. With so many social media platforms out there, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed. So my advice would be to pick two to three, and actively engage with your audience there. In the initial part of my career, I focused on Facebook, then added Twitter and Instagram to my social media strategy. As you create your own social media strategy, remember to be consistent across the board. Let your website and social media tools speak the same language, and showcase your style consistently.
Be social online AND offline
The internet has been a blessing in disguise for most small businesses. The world is no longer just limited to who we know, and our friends. It is very easy to find like-minded peers and colleagues all over the world. Reach out and form genuine connections. Don’t worry about what they can do for you. Instead focus on how you can help them.
Often times it is just being a positive voice – encourage them, congratulate them, and be genuinely happy for their success. Don’t be fake, being pretentious is a complete put-off. On that same note, make an effort to engage with local peers and colleagues. Take them out for lunch or just a cup of coffee – take the time to listen to their story and acknowledge their success. This is basic common courtesy, but you will be surprised at how many new and experienced photographers don’t seem to get this respect. It always pays to have a friend or a listening ear in the business!
Some sites that have communities of photographers (all various levels)
- Instagram – there are many photography related hashtags as well as geotags that you can search on to find other photographers, groups and peers.
- Facebook – there are several public groups where photographers are welcome to join to ask questions, showcase their work, and get feedback
- Local camera stores and community colleges – check your local camera store or community college to see if they have any groups that meet regularly. If not, don’t be afraid to start one.
Accurately track your income and expenses
I say this from experience! It is very painful, and time-consuming, to back-track and look through credit card receipts to tally expenses. The better and more sensible option is to spend one day every week to tally income and expenses. This will give you an idea on where you are financially at any given point of time.
Believe me, when you are just starting, expenses can add up very quickly. Before you know it, you can rack up a sizeable amount of debt that can be hard to get out of and handle.
Gear – need versus wants
This one is a hard one to control. It is human nature to want to have the best of everything, especially when you are starting something new. We have self-perpetuated this fantasy that having the best and latest/greatest, is essential to our success.
Gear, especially photographic gear, is very expensive and becomes obsolete very quickly. Really think through what you need to be successful in your job, and have a game plan on how to build up your gear. The first two years of my business I survived on a Canon 5D MarkII and Canon 24-70L 2.8 lens. My backup camera was an old Canon 10D whose battery life was less than two hours. But it was my backup, and I was really careful with my gear. If I needed another lens, I just rented it.
Once I started photographing weddings, for more than a year I rented the 70-200mmL 2.8 and a speedlight, before I saved up money to purchase them for myself. Also remember that there are other things that you will need to have a successful photography business like: a computer, editing software, and as well as business insurance. It is better to invest in those upfront (and they are needed to run a successful business) rather than just on camera gear!
I hope all this did not scare you! Being a professional photographer is a hard thing to do, but it is incredibility satisfying. You can achieve a lot of success in this field if you are willing to put in the long hours and do what it takes to be successful.
Remember this is a business, one that you have willingly chosen to undertake. Give it your best, but also have fun. Don’t get too bogged down with all the mistakes you think you are making. They are not mistakes, they are learning opportunities, and they will make you a better photographer and better business owner in the long run.