Steps for Setting up a Photography Business
Are you ready to turn your passion for photography into a part-time or full-time photography business? Thousands of men and women and have turned their hobby into a rewarding photography career. There are many steps however, to achieve a successful business in photography. It takes a lot more than the ability to create beautiful images to become a profitable business.
Can you answer “yes” to the following questions?
1) I love photography so much I would do it for free.
2) I am willing to learn basic sales and marketing skills that apply to all businesses.
3) I am willing to develop inter-personal skills, so I can acquire the fortitude and positive attitude required to run a small business.
4) I am willing to develop a sound business plan and commit to goal setting on a daily basis.
5) I am familiar with all the technical aspect of my camera.
If you answered yes to all the above questions
you are a candidate for starting your own photography business. Dozens of photography business opportunities exist. In this section I will provide some basic business plan building blocks to help you get started. You can jump ahead at any time to read about:
Basic Building Blocks for Starting your own Photography Business
1) Develop a Niche
Developing a niche in a small business is becoming more important as competition increases. Initially, the most important item to consider is who or what you want to photograph. It is not recommended to be everything to everyone. Specialize, specialize and specialize is the more important advice I can give you at this stage. If you narrow your audience, you can focus on their specific needs and command a better price.
My history of how I developed my niche in newborn photography goes back about twelve years. In 1999, I was photographing weddings, events, children, infants, families, seniors etc. I was being the broad- based photographer. Back then my kids were in elementary and middle school,so I decided I really wanted to work when they were in school. That immediately eliminated weddings and events. I brainstormed about what age group I enjoyed the most, and decided it was babies. That also fit my schedule, because most new moms are home for at least three months after their baby is born. Babies have siblings and parents, so it was natural that I also photographed their family members. My marketing efforts and dollars were spent on babies and I soon became respected as a photographic artist specializing in infant and newborn photography. This age group made so much sense for me because it was an excellent time to start building relationships with young families. Years later, I am still photographing the same children I photographed as infants. Infant photography may not be for everyone.It does require a lot of patience. My niche is still in newborn photography, however I have branched out other types of photography.
How do you develop your niche? You need to decide who you want to photograph and how it fits in with your personal life. Do you love pre-school children ages 2-5? Do you prefer older children, or perhaps high school seniors? Maybe weddings are in the cards for you. This is the first step in the building blocks and it may takes days or weeks. Once you have decided, it is time to move on to developing your brand.
2) Develop your Brand
Branding is a term used more and more these days because of all the business competition that prevails. What will set you apart from your competition? What is your USP (unique selling proposition)? Fail this part and you will fall flat on your face. This building block takes a lot of time and requires self-reflection on your unique skills. You should begin with a theme. I started in 1999 with angel babies. That was my look and it identified me as an artist. It has evolved since then but I have never stopped branding. I have brands for all of my product lines which are just as important as the name of my business.You too, should have a brand for your different product lines.
How do you begin the process of branding? Start brainstorming; write down ideas and ask your friends and family for help.For example, maybe it will be children’s lifestyle portraits. Start to develop a tag line and a logo associated with your brand. Use it on all your advertising and website. You will soon be known as the “lifestyle photographer” for kids in your area. This could be a highly profitable brand, since most of the public does not have a clue (or the proper camera) about this type of photography and how to capture it with their digital cameras.
3) Decide on a Business Entity
Now that you have found your niche and designed your brand, it is time to open your business. First, decide on a business name, and next, do all the necessary paperwork to establish your business in your state. All states have different registration requirements so it is best to check on your local level.
There are three business entities
a) Sole proprietorship
c) LLC or LP
You will need to consult with an attorney or CPA on the best set-up for you. You can start as a sole-proprietorship, which is the easiest one to form, and then change to an S-Corp when you grow. Each one has its own tax advantages; so again, you will need to check with your CPA. Which ever one you decide on, make sure you have a separate checking account and use Quickbooks or Successware for your accounting. I am a firm believer in keeping good financial records. This area should not be compromised. You are a business person first, photographer second.
Invest in sales and marketing classes. The best teachers in this field are not necessarily photographers; sales skills are universal whatever you sell. I cannot stress the importance of this. If you cannot market or sell your products, you will not earn a profit and earn a living. Why be in business if you cannot earn a income to support your lifestyle? You and your family deserve adequate compensation for your skills. Local colleges, your local PPA chapter, and the Professional Photographers of America are a great place to find programs that will strengthen your sales and marketing skills.
4) Develop a Budget
A lot of photographers have a problem with this category because they are right brained; they have difficulty using their left brain to process the numbers. I am fortunate that I can use both sides of my brain, and I actually like preparing budgets. A budget is only a guide; however it should be checked daily and compared to previous years, if there are any. How can you know where you are headed if you do not have a road map? Your budget will be your new GPS for your photography business.
Developing a budget can be accomplished using financial software or an Excel spreadsheet. I recommend using Quickbooks or Successware, where you can compare budgeted amounts vs. actual amounts. It makes it life easier using software developed for a specific purpose. Start by deciding how much money you need to make each month to survive. Then decide how much you need to sell in order to make that goal. You will need a budget to arrive at these figures; don’t over-look this important building block.
5) Invest in Yourself
Develop a positive attitude day in and day out. Have confidence and it will show through to your clients. Read motivational books to enrich your life. I read books and motivational quotes everyday. They have kept me going, even through the tough times.
Always have time for yourself and your family. Try not to have your work cell phone on during personal time, and try not to check your email outside of business hours. You need down-time to recharge your creativity. Clients may want you to work during your time off and sometimes you just have to say no. A work-a-holic is not positive for anyone, not even customers. If you are a Type-A person, have a schedule of work vs. personal time and stick to it.
6) Develop Superb Customer Service Skills
Without customers you do not exist. You only have 15 seconds to make a first impression with a new client. During this 15 seconds everything matters; your body language, your facial expression and your clothing. It is a good idea to have someone videotape a practice introduction to a new client so you can see for yourself how you appear. Attracting new customers should be a number one goal.
Selling is giving the customer what they want and in return they compensate you. It is important to find out what the customer desires otherwise you waste your time and their time. Offering free consultations with your potential client is highly recommended, so that you know in advance what the customer wants. If you cannot fulfill their request this would be the time to say no. Sometimes to be successful you have to say no, and this is okay. You cannot be everything to everyone. Pre-consultations will smooth the sales process.
Once you have made a sale and gained the trust of a client your goal is to keep them for life. This can be achieved through relationship marketing.
Here is a summary of what you can do to keep customers coming back to you:
a) Send them a thank you letter after every purchase.
b) Send them a card on their birthday or anniversary.
c) Send them a holiday card and gift every year.
d) Send them reminders for portrait updates.
Treat your customers like gold. Always remember their names and their children’s names. Show genuine interest in their family and their activities. People love to hear the sound of their names and that you have remembered an event in their lives. It is a good practice to return phone calls within three hours. If you are out of the office, then call in for messages. All of these steps will set you apart from other photographers. Remember this simple statement, “They don’t care what you know, they want to know that you care.” Providing superb customer service is what will separate you from your competition.
Now you have several very basic building blocks for a photography business plan. There are plenty of resources available online, but this this should get you started. Good luck beginning your photography dream of owning your own photography business.
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