Six steps for starting a photography business
Apr 26, 2021
Six steps for starting a photography business
I was actually reluctant to create this video in the first place because I know it’s been done a million times, and the advice you get tends to be extremely general.
So, my goal in this tutorial is to provide actionable steps that you can take.
The very first step is to identify your niche.
This is easily the biggest mistake that I see new photographers making – and also something I did wrong for a long time.
I spent several years shooting everything to try and figure out what I actually cared about.
And if you’re doing that for a couple of months to see what you’d like to specialize in, that’s completely fine.
But trying to be a jack of all trades and shoot everything from weddings to sports to real estate to concerts will not help you to build a consistent roster of clients that you can rely on for your work.
This mistake stems from the fear that if you say ‘no’ to an opportunity, then you’ve missed a chance to grow your photography business – but the exact opposite is true. If you identify exactly what you specialize in, and tailor everything else in your business around it, you’re more likely to appeal to potential clients.
So, sit down, think carefully about where your passions lie and what you want to shoot, and then stick with it and move on to the next step.
The second step is to register your business and set up the framework.
If photography is actually something you want to do with your life, even if you only choose to do it as a side hustle, you should invest the time in properly registering your business.
This includes deciding whether you want to be a sole proprietor or an incorporated business, getting a tax number, finding commercial liability insurance, and setting up a client management system with accounting, contracts, and invoicing templates.
Full disclaimer here: I’m not a legal professional or an accountant, and this advice is going to be drastically different from one country to the next. But the basic principles are the same – you want the government to recognize your business so that you can charge sales tax and write-off your expenses.
A lot of new photographers push back on this part, thinking, ‘I can set it all up once I start making money’.
My response to that is simple: how do you know if you’re going to start making money?
A lot of photographers give up quickly not because they can’t land new clients, but because they start as a side hustle and have no pressure to succeed.
But if you treat your photography like a business from the very beginning, the government is eventually going to expect you to turn a profit. That, or you’re going to be audited for writing off $10,000 of camera equipment without having any income.
I honestly believe that type of pressure is what pushes you to succeed.
The third step is to identify your ecosystem.
What do I mean by ‘ecosystem’?
A lot of new photographers will concentrate on the specific camera they want to buy, thinking they want Canon R5 or a Nikon Z72, or whatever it might be. I receive dozens of messages asking me what camera I use or if I think a specific camera brand is good.
But your camera is only one part of the equation. You also need to consider the lenses, the lighting equipment, the studio gear, and all of the accessories that you’re going to buy with it – along with the price of these things. And this is referred to as the camera ecosystem.
My number one recommendation here is to start by looking at lenses, not cameras. If you actually spent time on step one and seriously identified your photography niche, then it becomes easier to figure out which lenses you need now and in the future.
Just to give you a kind of extreme example: let’s say my dream is to be a National Geographic photographer shooting wildlife. Some day, I know that I want to buy a 200-400mm f/4 lens.
That leaves me with two choices: Canon or Nikon, because no other camera manufacturer offers one of these specialty lenses.
Moving on, the fourth step is to launch your website.
There are a number of great tools out there you can use to set this up, including Squarespace, Wix, Format, Adobe Portfolio, and a number of other alternatives.
But no matter what you choose, I recommend designing your portfolio around four key principles: it should establish you as an authority, show off your best work, build a relationship with your customer, and encourage people to take action.
The fifth step is to identify a pricing framework.
I am a huge advocate of starting your photography business while working a day job. A lot of people think you need to take this big leap of faith and drop everything to try and become a photographer. Or worse, they think the only way to be considered successful is to do it full-time.
Now some of you will be thinking: didn’t you just say in step two that pressure will help you succeed?
Sure, I did. But the problem with just dropping everything is that it becomes more difficult to start out by charging higher rates. You need the work, so you become more willing to compromise instead of just saying ‘no’.
And when it comes to pricing, it can be very hard to pull yourself out when you’re stuck with a bunch of cheap clients.
My suggestion? Hold on to your day job and figure out what similar photographers with similar experience levels are charging in your area.
Once you land on an appropriate rate, stick with that rate and don’t budge. Unless you didn’t do your research properly or you’ve misjudged your target audience, you’re more than likely to find someone who will give you a chance.
The sixth step is to identify a plan for scaling your business.
There are many different ways to scale a business: cold calling, referrals, word of mouth, online presence – the list goes on.
But all of these things I just mentioned are external factors – they all require somebody else to take action on your behalf. And when you’re first starting out, you have almost no control over that.
So, in addition to those things, I suggest you focus on two internal factors which you can control: diversification and outsourcing.
When I say ‘diversification’, I mean that you should be willing to take on different types of work within your existing niche.
Most photographers are not just doing photography – they’re running YouTube channels, they’re writing books, they’re working a day job.
On the other hand, when I say ‘outsourcing’, I mean that you should be willing to pay others to do work that will allow you to focus on the high-value tasks within your business.
Outsourcing doesn’t just save you time – it also enables you to access more talented content creators who specialize in other aspects of photography.
Content creators hate outsourcing because it means a lack of control over the final product and the final vision. But if you try to outsource low-value activities, you will free up time to focus on taking on more work and ultimately growing your photography business.
About the Author
Kevin Raposo is a Canadian photographer and video producer and the founder of Speedy Photographer. To see more of his videos, you can subscribe to his youtube channel or visit his Instagram here and the Speedy Photographer here.
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