5 Things You Need to Know Before Starting a Photography Business

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No one wants to be confronted by one of these issues in their daily business. Awareness is the key to handling not only the situation, but your business in general. Things aren’t nearly so bad when you know what to expect. Think ahead about how you could handle each of these points. Not only will you be prepared, you’ll be better equipped to succeed.

Before you start your business, you are a photographer. Once you start your business, you are a businessperson who makes money from photography. Even if you start with the latest gear, the best connections, and the greatest plan, reality is going to land like a lead anchor.

Here are 5 things you will discover sooner or later, so it might as well be now.

1) You won’t be doing a lot of photography

Let’s say your average session time with a client is one hour. If you’re a wedding photographer it will be considerably more. Hours more will be spent editing the photographs. Then you’ll prepare and present the work. Whether you upload to online galleries or have in-person presentations and sales, that takes time. If you sell printed products, there will be ordering and maybe even design time. The final order will then be delivered.

Even before you pick up a camera to take those photos you’ll have spent time with your client. Initial inquiries, consultations, scheduling, contracts, all add up. And these things are just the activities that can be directly attributed to this client.

Marketing, bookkeeping, networking, education all demand your attention. If you need assistants or contractors, time will be spent researching, interviewing, and communicating with them. Traveling to and from shooting locations, client meetings, and other work related activities can eat up time.

The business itself takes a lot more time than pressing the shutter button does.

2) Boundaries are a great idea, but there’s a trade off

On average, business owners work many more hours per week than a wage earning employee does. This is true even though people start businesses to be their own boss, set their own hours, and have personal and family time.

Photography isn’t a business that needs a time critical response. Email, text, or even phone inquiries made outside your office hours can wait. Even communication from an active client doesn’t need a response at midnight, just because that happens to be when they think to mention something.

Like everything else in life, though, there is always a price involved in your lack of availability.

If your plan is to only work weekends, your income potential will be limited. Commercial and business clients want someone who works when they do. Likewise, if you are only available Monday to Friday, you won’t make it as a wedding photographer. Families with kids in school or who work through the week will also find a more convenient option.

Because that’s what it’s about. Business is for the customer’s convenience, not the other way around. As long as there are competing options, customers will choose the most convenient. If you’re getting inquiries but losing bookings based on your unavailability, you might need to rethink your work boundaries.

3) Bridezilla is real

And Momzilla. And Clientzilla in general. Even your dream client can turn into a nightmare without warning. The worst part is that it won’t necessarily be anything you’ve done or not done. It could have nothing to do with you at all. Because you didn’t break it, you can’t fix it. But you’ll try.

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You’ll apologize. You’ll offer to change your policies, your product, or – heaven forbid – your price. You’ll bend over backward and just when you think you’ve got it under control and they are out of your life for good, along comes the bad review.

Maybe you saw it coming and ignored the warning signs or maybe there were no signs to see. Either way, you’ll be second guessing yourself and swearing to be smarter next time. Next time, of course, could be many clients down the line. But there will be a next time. And it won’t matter how careful you’ve been because it will happen again.

That’s okay. Both you and your business will survive. Even if your client makes it personal, it isn’t really. Some people just don’t handle stress very well. Or they are overly anxious about their photo session. Or their child is not cooperative and you’re an easy scapegoat.

A bride’s unrealistic expectations will never be met. No photographer can make her look like a Kardashian if she doesn’t look like a Kardashian. Buyer’s remorse suddenly becomes about your pricing. Never mind that years from now, those photos they’re reconsidering will be priceless to them.

For every Clientzilla, there will be many more who bring joy to your life. Concentrate on those and use your energy on them.

4) You will be robbed, cheated, and made to feel lousy

There are bullies in the world. Everyone knows that. Clientzilla can certainly be a bully. You can damage your bottom line trying in vain to make them happy.

But what about the outright thieves? When your work starts circulating around social media by people who didn’t bother to pay for the right, it makes you feel no better that your watermark is on display. You don’t appreciate the “exposure”. What you’d really appreciate is being paid for the photos you produced. Sneak peeks and client galleries tend to bring out the worst in some people. They won’t bother buying prints or high resolution versions from you, but they will joyfully fill their boots with low quality downloads and screenshots.

There are people who will happily grab a photo you’ve shared and treat it as fair game. Your work could end up making money for someone else as an advertisement. Wedding photographers constantly bemoan the florist, wedding venue, or makeup artist showing off their own work while not rewarding the photographer who took the photos.

Your client will enter photos into contests, publish them in magazines, and every other imaginable infringement of copyright. If you’re lucky, you’ll know about it. Many times you won’t.

That photo you painstakingly edited will be slapped with some garish social media filter and blasted into the world. You’ll be mortified, but you’ll live.

In business, and creative business in particular, you need to learn when to pick your battles. Someone downloading their entire gallery without buying a thing, or splashing one of your photos on an unauthorized billboard certainly deserves your attention. There are ways to handle these things. Some are simple, others require the help of an attorney. Either way, you have rights. It’s up to you to decide if that photo that Grandma shared to her online friends is worth the drama.

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5) You need money. More than you might think.

If you own a camera and a couple of decent lenses, you might think the bulk of your expenses are taken care of. Chances are you already own a computer and some editing software, so you’re ready to roll. The business won’t have any expenses until you start marketing and there are so many free and low cost ways to market, that’s not a worry in the least.

The only problem is, that’s so very wrong. All of it. Just wrong.

Start up expense is more than just extra camera batteries. Licenses, permits, business formation expenses, insurance, and professional fees from an accountant and attorney are just the tip of the iceberg to make you legally compliant.

A social media account won’t be the shining beacon you need to draw in clients. A web presence with your portfolio, marketing and sales information take time and money to prepare. Nothing says unprofessional like a cookie cutter website on a free service. You need to look like the thing you want to be.

Marketing needs to be top notch. Your competition will be marketing as well. If you’re all after the same client, you’ll need to outshine them at every opportunity. Find new marketing and advertising options. Accept that you’ll need to spend money to get in front of the right audience.

Most photographers don’t start out with a studio. This means traveling to location. While you can certainly show up wearing the first thing you pull from your closet, study after study shows that you’ll be treated like a professional if you look like one. Wardrobe is more important than you might think. These out of pocket expenses start long before you get paid.

If you rely on your business income for personal and lifestyle expenses, consider what you’ll do in slow periods. Savings or an emergency fund should be available to see you through to the next client.

As soon as you are able, double up on everything. There is no excuse for equipment failure during a once in a lifetime event. A spare camera body, lens, batteries, and memory cards aren’t just a good idea, they are a requirement.

Forewarned is forearmed

No one wants to be confronted by one of these issues in their daily business. Awareness is the key to handling not only the situation, but your business in general. Things aren’t nearly so bad when you know what to expect. Think ahead about how you could handle each of these points. Not only will you be prepared, you’ll be better equipped to succeed.