120,000. Apparently, that’s the number of new photographers in the last year. 120,000! That’s a lot of new photographers. That’s a lot of new businesses. That’s a lot of new people working hard to build a business around this photography thing we do. So, for those of you who find yourself in that group – here’s a few thoughts that no one really tells you when you start your own business in your living room.
For those of you who’ve been around for a while – I’d love for you to share some more thoughts at the end of this post!
1. Stop buying lenses. Hire an accountant instead.
Yes, fast lenses are great. Yes, a great camera is sweet. The truth is, neither will make you a better photographer. They might make you feel good today, but they won’t change your chance of making a living at photography. Wanna make better photos? See #3 below. On the other hand, having someone to help you navigate all the things it takes to get yourself started, can be the difference between a growing business – or the end of a dream.
Or, if you really need a good reason to spend the cash on an accountant now – do it so that later, your business will be generating enough profit to buy any lens you want!
2. Avoid Debt. It will kill you later.
If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. If you can’t afford it, AND you don’t need it – what on earth are you thinking?! There are certainly businesses that are almost impossible to start without a pile of capital. A photography business isn’t one of them.
Charging $5K of new equipment on your credit card, or borrowing $10K to open a studio will more than likely just end up sucking any possible profit out of your business – and cause you to end up in bankruptcy. Small businesses don’t have debt – small businesses owners have debt. What do you think happens when you go out of business, but still owe the bank? That’s right – they come find you.
Discipline means doing the hard thing now, for long term gain. It might take you longer, but when you get there, you’ll have done it right. You’ll also have freedom to make a lot more choices.
3. Practice ALL THE TIME. Never stop shooting.
I try to second shoot as often as I can. Most of the time I do it for free – with friends I respect and enjoy working with. Second shooting isn’t about building you portfolio – except that it is. It isn’t about shooting someone else’s wedding – so that you can use those images in your portfolio. It IS about shooting more. It IS about getting better, which will certainly make your portfolio that much stronger in the long run.
Whether you second shoot, or take on personal projects – NEVER STOP taking photographs. Find a way to challenge yourself and photograph things you’d never think you’d shoot.
You may have heard that it takes about 10,000 hours to get really good at something. That’s right – 10,000 hours. Of shooting. I can’t afford to be just ok at what I do. This is my livelihood – so I HAVE to be good. I need to be as good as I can – so I shoot as often as I can.
Find someone who’s work you REALLY respect, and ask them how many hours they’ve been shooting. I’m willing to bet it’s pretty close to 10,000 hours. Or, more likely, it’s way more than that.
4. Pay yourself a salary.
This is a part of that discipline thing. Sit down and be realistic. Spend time and do the math on your expenses and figure out what your business can afford to pay you. Then pay yourself a set salary every week – or month.
Pay yourself the same amount every time. This way, you’re treating yourself as an expense of your business, AND your preparing yourself to still have income even when you may be generating less overall revenue for your business.
5. Learn quickbooks. That way you’ll know what your accountant is talking about.
Most successful businesses are started by partners – two people (or groups) that come together and bring unique strengths to the enterprise. Usually one of them is an “idea” person. That’s you – the photographer. You’re the product. You’re the one with the vision.
Then there’s the numbers guy. That’s they one with the business sense to help bring that vision – and the idea – into the real world. They’re the one that makes it happen.
So, what if you’re “it.” What if there’s no one else but you? Guess what – you get to be both. Or, at least it would be wise to learn enough about the “biz” side to give your ideas a fighting chance!
6. Pricing isn’t that hard – if you think about it.
Cover your costs and make a profit. That’s really it. That’s the way you figure out the price for ANYTHING in the market. Why would photography be any different? Supply and Demand don’t determine price. It’s actually the other way around. Price determines supply. Price determines demand.
Figure out your costs. Figure out what’s realistic for your standard of living. Charge what your worth. The math isn’t hard, but for a lot of photographers, pricing is way more emotional than that. I understand – we’ll talk about that in a second.
Here’s the deal though: if you’re not charging what your worth, every time you shoot, you’re basically subsidizing that couple’s wedding. It’s like you’re writing them a big check for the difference in what you’re charging and what you should be charging. Seriously – you’re taking that money from your own bank account and putting it in theirs!
7. It’s a big scary world out there. But not really.
It’s only scary when you sit and think about it. When you figure out how to get out there and actually “work it,” it’s not nearly as scary as you “think.” Everything’s worse in our mind than in reality.
One of the best things you can do for your business is to connect. Most people go to work, and have co-workers they get to talk to and bounce ideas off. Chances are – you don’t. Fortunately, there are incredible communities, where photographers can connect and share ideas. PUG’s are a great example of a place you can find incredible information, AND incredible relationships with other photographers that can help you grow.
8. Finding clients isn’t that hard. Waiting for them to find you is.
A lot has changed in the last few years. People keep talking about how the economy has effected everyone’s business. I’m sure it has, but what I’ve noticed is that there are two types of photography business right now:
A) Photographers with growing, thriving businesses, with more work than they need.
B) Photographers with struggling, dying businesses.
The difference? The one’s with growing business are the one’s that work harder than everyone else. Sure, their work is incredible. Sure, they’re super talented. But, so are you (if not, see #3 above).
Here’s the deal – the photographers with growing business aren’t sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. They don’t spend hours a day reading other photographers blogs. They’re working! They’re either shooting, or if they’re not shooting, they’re out building their business.
They’re connecting with clients, venues, vendors, planners, and other people who can help them grow their business. They spend time meeting people. They follow up with clients. They WORK HARD.
Often, people worry about how they’re going to find more clients. What they’re really wondering is “how do I get clients to find me.” The truth is, unless you’re REALLY well known – that’s just not going to happen. So, instead of being depressed about that fact – go out and work. Go out and find clients!
9. Quit thinking you have to do everything.
You’re a great photographer. You’re a great people person. You’re a great salesperson. You’re a great business person. You’re a great editor. You’re a photoshop whiz. You’re an incredible bookkeeper. You are an amazing blogger!
I don’t know which (if any) of those things are true for you. Probably one or two are true, but the rest just give you a headache. Probably, you’re okay at a few more, but just as likely, there’s someone out there can that help you!
My rule is this: Only do what only you can do. Figure out how to let someone else do the rest – so you can do more of whatever it is you do! Every successful business IN THE WORLD outsources massive amounts of their business. Why are photographers so insistent on doing it all?
Written by Jason Aten
Jason Aten is a Michigan based wedding photographer. After a career in marketing and sales management for a Fortune 100 company, Jason became relentlessly drawn to the ability to impact people’s lives through photography. So in 2001 he quit his job to start his own photography business. Jason applies his previous marketing and sales experience to his photography business and now takes the time to educate others with his “Starting Out Right” one-day intensives and resource guides. You can find more posts like this on the Starting Out Right blog.