When you first picked up a camera and began taking pictures, do you remember how you felt? As you took photos of your surroundings or your friends and family, you may have thought about how getting into photography would be your dream job (and may have thought about starting a photography business). Fast forward to today, and here you are, doing thorough research on how to start a photography business. From drawing up a business plan to start a sustainable business to trusting the experts to help share the load of running a photography business – we’ve got it all covered in this blog. So if you are looking for your personal guide to becoming a photography business owner, keep reading.
How To Start A Photography Business
1. Goals And Metrics
Some of the first questions you may have when you start a photography business are:
- What do I need to start a photography business?
- What should I do to set up a photography business that is successful?
- What are the steps I need to take right now to set up a photography business?
The key to achieving growth in your photography business is setting realistic goals, which should ideally be a part of your photography business plan. Before you do the rest of the things you need to do to start a photography business, sit down and make a note of the goals you want to achieve in your business. Starting a photography business might be just about setting up your processes and booking your first client, but if you want to be the owner of a successful photography business, every decision you make should be aimed at achieving growth and increasing your profit.
Photography might be your passion and you might be more attracted to the artistic side of it, but when you start a photography business, it’s equally important to bring in profits that help to keep the business going and growing. Yes, nothing can replace your artistic skills, and your artistry is what your clients pay for, but setting up efficient systems to keep your business running is what’s going to ensure that you get to keep your passion alive and your customers get the best photography experience.
A. The Photography Business Roadmap
While creating your business plan, it’s necessary to think of growth in terms of where you want to be in the future. Even if you are just starting out and have no data to predict the future, create a plan using goals and metrics to help you reach your long-term targets. For example: If you want to be a wedding photographer, think about how many weddings you want to shoot in a year? How much profit do you want to bring in? Do you want your work to take you to different destinations? Do you want to be the number 1 photographer in your area? Answering these questions will help you set realistic goals that will, in turn, assist you in planning the rest of the aspects of your photography business.
Related Read: The Wedding Photographer's Business Plan
B. Startup Costs
Before starting a photography business, it’s important that you consider the actual costs that you’d have to incur to start your business. No matter your genre of photography, there is going to be a business cost. And we are not just talking about gear or a studio space; there are plenty of other things that your business is going to need to get off the ground.
If the thought of expenses scares you at this stage, make a list of things that you absolutely have to get. Prioritize your purchases based on how essential they are for starting a photography business. For example: If you are looking to cut costs, we’d suggest that you stick with gear that is absolutely essential. You don’t have to go out and buy the newest and most expensive camera or lighting equipment - at least not right at the beginning. If you already have gear that can get the job done and make your clients happy, stick with it. Since you are already acquainted with the equipment you have, it’s also going to take off the pressure of having to learn how to handle new gear. However, if you are buying new gear, you might want to go with something that’s durable, affordable, and also serves the purpose.
Unless you are planning to do everything yourself or in-house, which we’d never recommend, here are a few other aspects of your business that are going to require money: Photography business insurance, legal fees, outsourcing services, website creation and maintenance, tech, marketing, etc. Every photographer might have different priorities and preferences, which means that startup costs are going to differ. So it’s on you to decide the things that are absolutely necessary for you to start your photography business and then build on that. Just a small tip from us: Legal services, tech, and marketing material, including your website, are absolutely essential for your photography business, so even though these might be on the more expensive side, consider them as long-term investments.
C. Legal Fees
While we mentioned legal fees in the above paragraph, this one certainly deserves some more explanation. We can’t emphasize enough on the importance of including legal services in your starting a photography business checklist. Photography contracts, preferably ones that are vetted by a legal professional, are crucial in your line of business. In your line of business, you are going to meet several clients, and mostly you are going to have great experiences (at least we hope you do). But sometimes, there might be a client who isn't impressed with your photography services or the customer service. Anything could turn the relationship sour. And yes, sometimes, you might not have control over the situation or have no means to fix a crisis. But either way, to save yourself from legal trouble, it’s important that you have a contract in place - one that’s signed by both parties.
A contract doesn’t just signify that you’ve sealed the deal with your clients. It also ensures that you protect yourself from being sued by your clients in case something goes wrong. To ensure that your relationship with your clients stays smooth, it’s essential that you set expectations from the beginning, and with a professionally drafted contract, both parties are legally bound to follow what’s written in the contract. So make sure that as you plan to start a photography business, you have all your legal documents sorted out. While there are various contract templates available online, we’d highly recommend that you seek a legal professional’s help while drafting contracts for your business.
Related Read: Top Legal Traps Wedding Photographers Face
D. Follow The SMART System
Any goal you set during the process of starting your photography business should be reasonable and supported by metrics. Relying on the metrics of your business informs you of whether your goals are realistic and achievable. For example, the idea of making one million dollars in a year sounds like a great goal. But, is it obtainable? To help determine if this goal can be achieved, you need to make business plans that involve expanding your client list, find passive ways to earn an income, and perhaps even diversify your photography business.
By using metrics in conjunction with your goals, you will be able to identify where you want to go and what you need to do to get there. Metrics help establish the framework for making your goals attainable, and without them, goals may sound great but might not be within reach. By having a purpose with metrics to support it, you are setting up systems that will help grow your photography business.
Setting goals is the fastest way for you to improve your photography business on a regular basis throughout the year. Once you create your overall goal for the year, break some of your larger tasks down into short-term goals, which will allow you to stay focused on your long-term goal but require less of your time and energy and also make you feel like you are working toward something bigger.
Specific: Create specific goals that are highly detailed
Measurable: Base attainable goals on the dollar amount and percentage
Action-Oriented: List the actionable items you need to do to reach your goals
Realistic: Avoid setting goals that are out of your reach
Time-Specific: Every goal you make needs to have a deadline
The following activities could help you create your photography business plan:
- Write down the specific goals you want to achieve by starting a photography business:
- Number of photo shoots per year
- Booking fee
- Number of associate photographers
- Total revenue
- Where do you want to be in the next year of your photography business?
- Choose your top 3 goals that are achievable and create at least 2 SMART metrics for them.
From what you name your photography business to your ideal client’s persona - it’s important to think about everything that’s going to represent your brand while starting a photography business. Since there are thousands of other photographers, who are essentially your competitors, your brand message has to stand out to reach your goals and stand out from the rest. When you offer something unique, whether as a part of your customer service or photography style, and have a strong central message, it will allow you to attract the right clients to your website and help set the stage for growth. Getting to know your clients is a way to develop your niche to deliver a brand message that captures their attention.
Every photographer’s path differs when it comes to setting up a photography business, so it is important to stay true to who you are as a person and a photographer. It’s important to understand the difference between being unique and being different. Being unique and being authentic to who you are will set you apart from other photography businesses. Knowing who you are and what your passions are will help you to define what it is that makes you unique. The more you can build a business around YOU, the less you can be copied, and the more your clients will want you. They will book you because they love YOU, and if they love you, they will love your work.
Specialism is the way for you to develop a unique brand message that attracts ideal clients to your photography business. How do you decide if you want to be a generalist or a specialist? You might be able to get an idea when you think about the different kinds of photography services you want to offer. Are you shooting a variety of events like weddings, portraits, newborns, and birthdays? If so, you fit more into the category of a generalist, which means that clients can look to you for a variety of photography services. A specialist focuses on one aspect of photography, such as wedding photography. Creating a specialized brand will send the message to clients that you only photograph weddings.
If you are starting a photography business with the aim to be a specialist, here are some things that could help you build that image:
- Discover who you are and what makes you unique.
- Be authentic to yourself. Use words that resonate with who you are and your passion.
- Declare who you are and what makes you unique to the rest of the market.
- Deliver a message (through your website, social media, etc.) that reinforces your declaration of who you are.
Answering the following questions could help you decide what kind of photographer you aspire to be:
- Write down 5 things about you that make you stand out from other photographers. What do you offer in your services that other photographers do not?
- Determine whether you are a generalist or a specialist by writing down the types of events you want to shoot.
- Create a “want list” for events. What types of events do you want to shoot, and what are you going to do to achieve this goal?
C. Voice And Tone
Deciding your brand’s voice is another crucial step you need to take care of while planning to start a photography business. From how you communicate with clients to how you present yourself on social media - your voice and tone are going to apply to every single piece of content that you put out. It also adds a personality to your brand. Whether you choose to go with a more formal and professional tone or use a more laid-back and colloquial language for your brand, try to keep it uniform across all platforms.
While the voice and tone you decide for your photography brand entirely depends on you, there are some factors that could help you decide how to find one that’s effective and true to your brand. For example, if you’ve finalized your target audience, then do some research on the kind of language your target group engages with. For example: If your target group is within the age bracket of 20-35 years, then try to use language that will appeal to them. Use words and phrases that they will connect to because that is how you will reel them in.
The idea of starting a photography business might excite you and scare you at the same time. And exciting as it can be to be your own boss and chase your passion, it might not be so much fun to be a boss. If you are starting your own photography business, there’s a high chance that you will be in charge of everything - from booking new clients to strategizing for growth for the coming years. When you run your own business, you have the responsibility of growing and maintaining your photography business, and that’s a lot of work and pressure - especially if you are doing everything, even the tasks that don’t need your attention, on your own.
As a photographer, you are a technician who is passionate about the work and your clients. Because of this, you may tend to focus on working IN your business rather than working ON your business. While that might be good for your art, sometimes, it might not be as beneficial for the business. As the CEO of your business, you take on 3 very different jobs:
- The entrepreneur: You have the vision and the passion to implementing ideas that will help to grow your business.
- The artist: You have the vision and passion for creating beautiful art with your images.
- The manager: You are in charge of creating a vision to ensure success for your business.
Within all three of your roles, it is necessary to implement systems that will keep you and your business organized at all times. Organization is key to running a smooth and productive business.
As you narrow down the necessary steps it will take to start and grow your photography business, create a manual that outlines every process involved in your business. Taking part in this exercise will help you to dial into your photography business and every aspect of running it. This will help you review everything you currently do, refine it to eliminate any unnecessary steps, expand on those that need clarification, and delegate tasks that do not need to be completed by you. By refining each system within your business, you are setting yourself up for success and can spend time focusing on other areas of your photography business.
Here are some steps you could take:
- Document the process: Write down everything you will have to do while starting your photography business and what you will be doing to keep it running successfully. This list should be as detailed as possible so you know exactly what needs to be worked on by someone other than you.
- Simplify the process: The next step is to take a look at the tasks and figure out what steps can be removed. Also, take note of what steps only you can do.
- Assign the process: As your business grows, start delegating or outsourcing your tasks to in-house employees or other experts.
In many cases, the clients you encounter in your photography business want their information as soon as possible. They expect a quick reply from you wherever you may be during the day. Since you probably receive hundreds of emails throughout the work week, setting up systems to manage your emails will help you stay on top of your communication.
Additionally, using email campaigns could help you raise brand awareness and attract more clients. Even though people might not read brand emails as much as they used to, it is worth a shot to curate an email campaign that aims to attract your target reader and makes them aware about your photography brand. Similarly, instead of taking out time each day to post on social media, you could finalize one day each month to plan your whole content calendar for the next month and schedule it using software like Sprout Social, Planoly, etc.
Use a system to speed up your email process:
- Schedule time: As you create your monthly tasks, be sure to schedule time each morning to check your inbox. By beginning with this, you can respond to any urgent emails right away and then work on other projects right after.
- Prioritize emails: Sort your emails as you receive them into urgent and ones that can be answered later. This allows you to communicate with your clients and vendors in a timely manner without overwhelming yourself with emails that are not high priority.
- Automate messages: Much of the time, your emails can have the same copy for several clients. Automate your responses using email templates so you can save time instead of writing the same emails again and again.
- Understand the 3 roles you play in your company. Divide your workload into those 3 sections to become a better business owner.
- What do you need to do to become the entrepreneur?
- What do you need to change to focus on your artistry?
- How do you transform into the manager while maintaining your other 2 responsibilities?
- Create systems that will allow you to speed up your workflow. Use workflow hacks that keep your systems organized and help you to stay on track. Outsource time-consuming things, like editing.
- Write down everything you do in your daily workflow. What needs your attention and what can be done by someone else? Have 2 tasks in mind you can give to someone else.
Culling: Culling is essential, it’s got to be done for every job, but culling can also become a tedious and disorganized part of your workflow. You need a system in place that allows you to review, sort, and prepare your images for editing as quickly and painlessly as possible so you can continue with your post-shoot workflow. Creating a workflow for how you cull is extremely important and can save you hours of unnecessary work.
Photo Editing Software: Lightroom and other photo editing software have the functionality of tagging and rating images during a cull. Going through hundreds and thousands of your own photos might make culling seem like a daunting task each time you have to do it, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few quick tips on how to cull your photos quickly:
- Be critical and try to separate your emotional attachment from your photos.
- Quickly eliminate any images that are out of focus or have unfixable lighting issues.
- Instead of opening every single picture on the first go, do a first review using only the thumbnails.
- Use the star, flag, or color system to rate photos so you can easily group images later.
Color Correction: While most photography is an art, color correction is more of a science that involves bringing all your images to a consistent, normalized point. The most common program for color correction is also Lightroom. While this program is designed to help you create an efficient workflow, editing is still a time-consuming process. Balancing exposure, color, and contrast is an arduous task, and this is what takes up the majority of your time in post production. This is why we highly recommend that instead of editing wedding photos yourself, consider outsourcing editing to a specialist like ShootDotEdit. When you outsource your editing to experts, you not only get hours of your time back but are also able to deliver premium edits to your couples at a faster turnaround time.
D. Print Sales
Photography isn’t just about taking pictures. While that’s the artistic side of your business, how do you ensure that you generate more sales even when you are done photographing your client? Well, think about the power and value of prints! For example, if you are considering starting a wedding photography business, then do you have a plan in place to sell prints to your clients once you are done shooting their wedding? Do you have the means to help your clients visualize how wall art from a portrait from their wedding is going to look like in their living room? Again, this might sound like another task on your never-ending list of things to do, but prints and albums can get relatively less time-consuming and more profitable with software like Fundy Designer.
1. What program do you use to cull your images?
- How long does the culling process take you?
- Do you have a clearly defined workflow to review your images? Write 3 ways you can speed up your cull.
- Take a look at your color correction workflow.
- How long does it take you to apply basic color correction to an entire event?
- How long do you spend on artistic edits?
- Write 3 ways you can reduce this time and spend it on areas that generate a profit in your photography business:
2. How can you create a faster turnaround time and make clients happier?
- Write out each step of your entire post-shoot workflow.
- Where are you spending the most time?
- Write 3 ways that you can speed up your workflow and have a faster turnaround time for your clients.
Plan Carefully To Bring A Strong Business Foundation
Once your plans are in place and you know what goals you want to reach (both short-term and long-term), you can begin setting the foundation for starting your photography business. From your brand identity and a strong online presence to how to organize the various aspects of your business to ensure there is growth in the future - it’s important to sit down and finalize your roadmap before you start the process of building your business. One thing is for sure, the more you focus on the important parts of your business, the easier it will be to create an established brand and maintain growth.
At ShootDotEdit, we are passionate about helping wedding photographers succeed and grow their business. We also help you save time and lessen your post-production workload with our photo editing services. To learn more about how we can help, check out our pricing plans.