“For many are invited, but few are chosen”. Matthew might not be the patron saint of photographers, but this sentence is still very true. Professional photography is one of the most competitive businesses out there. Every year, thousands of talented shutterbugs consider turning their passion into a cash-machine – or at least, a profession they can live off. Which means that if you want to reach the photography Nirvana, your prayers won’t be enough. You’ll have to define a serious strategy, and implement it wisely, and equipped with the right tools.
Yet, not everybody was born with a natural knack for managerial or persuasive marketing skills. We know that if it was up to you, you’d prefer working with Instagram filters (God forbid!) rather than opening an Excel doc. Hopefully, on top of being your favorite website builder, we can also make sure to give you the best tips for every stage of your professional journey. Here are all the steps you need if you want to learn how to start a photography business:
In an ideal world, a philanthropist would pop up from nowhere and offer you tons of money for the photography project you’ve been preparing for the last three years. But this, my friends, would only happen in an ideal world. This is why you have to build a proper business plan, in order to face reality as it is, and convince everyone around you that you’re serious about becoming a professional photographer. By no means does this mean that you’ll have to sell your soul along the way. There is a huge area between “commercial only” and “all creative”, and this is where you’ll find a good spot for yourself to prosper. How exactly do you do that?
Start by taking a pen, and drawing two columns on a sheet of paper. In the column on the left, write all the expenses that you’ll be facing in the beginning. Try to foresee everything, from the business licences to the insurance, to your photo equipment and the cost of a studio if you need one. Indeed, you’ll have to know precisely how much you’ll be spending before calling your family for assistance, applying for a bank loan or one of these 5 ways to fund a small business. Once that’s done, fill the second column with the services you expect to provide. Of course, always go for what you’re the most experienced in, whether it’s wedding, boudoir or portrait photography. Don’t limit yourself to your core skills – explore as many side ideas as you can. For example, if you’re a professional travel photographer, on top of sending your pictures to magazines, you might consider selling some of your work to stocks or photo agencies.
For every service you choose to offer in your business plan, come up with a definite pricing. Depending on your field, you’ll work on a flat rate per mission, through copyright, or based on an hourly fee. For the last option, you’ll need to figure out how much one hour of your time is worth. The hourly fee very much depends on your location, the types of clients you’re working for, and your prior experience as well as your reputation. It’s not easy to estimate your market worth. Talk to other photographers on professional forums to get an estimate on what they charge. Browse websites of peers in your area, and even try calling some as a client to get an estimate. Finally, set your own prices, keeping this basic rule in mind: Try to be ambitious, but not dissuasive.
Warning! A mistake made by a lot of overexcited photographers is to only take into consideration the time of shooting. Actually, for every hour that you’ll spend on an event, you’ll have to count at least two more hours of processing the images. Not to mention, the time spent on other business-related activities, such as negotiating with your clients, commuting, finding inspiration, and… taking vacations (yes, you deserve them!). Don’t forget to include these when finding the right pricing.
A beautiful and complete photography website is your #1 asset as a photographer of the 21st century. Before, you used to go from one client meeting to another with an actual book of your best shots. Today, you simply have to open your tablet or smartphone, and enter your website’s URL to stun your audience. Wix allows you to create the online portfolio that you need: visually stunning, fully personalizable (to look like no other photographer’s site), and easy to use with a sophisticated drag-and-drop solution. Millions of businesses, among which some of the most respected photographers in the profession, already use it. Now it’s your turn!
Where to start?
An impressive website is a must, but it’s not enough. You’ll want to add some tools to it, in order to transform your portfolio into a business-generating platform. Here are some of the best online solutions, especially designed to help you start your photography business:
Online reservations (and payments)
Last time we checked, you didn’t exactly look like Kali, the Indian goddess with four arms. You have a camera in one hand, and a mouse in the other. So how can you possibly handle a phone to take reservations? Well, you actually don’t have to. Simply install Wix Bookings: this genius app will automatically take all your reservations and payments 24/7, straight from your website, and commission free!
Part of the photography business is to send final pictures to your clients. Since your time and energy can be invested more efficiently on other tasks, go for the simplest solution: an online album. Wix Photo Albums allows you to create as many “mini-sites” as you wish, for each of your events. Simply upload the photos, choose a beautiful layout for a professional impact, share the URL with your clients and let them download the photos they like. And yes: it’s totally free!
A personalized domain name
You actually have to pay for it, but the investment is absolutely worth it. Not to mention the SEO boost that it’ll give to your site, a personalized domain, which includes your business name, will make you look really respectable online. Check out our options to get your own personalized domain for your photography website.
Sell your pictures online
Want to sell your pictures straight from your website? Wix Art Store is the app that you were anxiously looking for. All the transactions, smooth, secured and quick, simply done on your page. Your clients don’t have to leave your online portfolio to reach an external platform anymore.
Part of starting a photography business, and any small business for that matter, is seeing yourself as a brand. It’s a psychological switch that you have to make. From now on, it will drive a lot of the decisions that you’ll take in your daily life. For example, every new person that you meet is now a potential client, who you can possibly offer a shooting session.
To help you act like a brand, you’ll need to shape your visual identity. The most important item is your photography logo, that you’ll affix on every online and offline document that bears your name: online portfolio, business cards, invoices, emails, etc. If you can’t afford a designer at this stage, don’t fret! This complete guide will show you how to create a photography logo that’ll make your business stand out.
Just like your camera needs lenses to grasp more elements, your website needs social media to attract more traffic – and thus, clients. Active pages on the major “friends-maker” platforms are absolute musts when it comes to launching a business. They will help you build a community, that is to say a group of people that might be interested in booking your services, or who know someone who might. Moreover, a nicely shaped social post can be much more efficient and simple to run than an ad in a local magazine – while remaining absolutely free!
So, immediately after hitting the “Publish” button of your photography website, open an account on every important social media channel. What are they? You might be using the blue bird to publish 140 character messages on your spare time. But as for your photography business, you should definitely choose the three main platforms:
– Instagram: An absolute must for shutterbugs. And here are the best tips to succeed on Instagram as a photographer.
– Facebook: Everybody is there, from your clients to your grandma. Which means a lot of competition, but with these Facebook tips for photographers, no doubt you’ll manage your way up to the top.
– LinkedIn: The number one professional network is also the perfect tool to search for institutional clients, connect with other professionals and feel the pulse of the market. And yes, we have a guide for it, too: how to create a great LinkedIn profile for photographers.
New era, old tools. Believe it or not, sending a newsletter is still the most efficient online marketing tool (by far). Think about it: out of hundreds of people on your emailing list, there must be at least a dozen who need a photographer this month, be it for a portrait, a bar-mitzvah or a birthday. What if the first name that pop ups in their mind was yours, just because they received a nice message from you a few days before, right in their inbox? This is why you should send regular newsletters to your community, using the easiest (and yet powerful) email marketing solution: Wix ShoutOut. As for the content, you can send your new blog articles, discounts for special occasions like Valentine Day, or New Year’s greetings. It’s basically like Nutella: every occasion is a good occasion – as long as you don’t overindulge.
Important: Where do I collect email addresses to feed my database, you may ask? Straight from your website, thanks to the great app Wix Get Subscribers, that’ll smoothly integrate within your website’s design and contacts list.
A blog may be free, but it’s still an excellent marketing tool, that’ll give a nice boost to your burgeoning photography business. How exactly? First, it will help you establish your reputation as a trustworthy expert, who knows all the best practices of the profession. Secondly, it will give your website a strong SEO upgrade, necessary to be found on Google. Last but not least, the content you’ll create will attract a nice community, that you’ll easily convert into enthusiastic clients.
For the “how to write” and “what are the best blogging tools”, everything has been said much more eloquently in this cornerstone article: how to write a blog for photographers. You know what to do.
Immediately inform your friends and family about your decision of stepping out of the dark room. Good ol’ word-of-mouth is always efficient at the first stages of a business, especially for service providers who can only count on their good name. Networking is also great. Join as many clubs, forums and groups as you can, in order to ensure that people know who you are. No need to travel to Shanghai (unless you live there): your efforts should be focused in your immediate neighborhood first.
Your name should resonate in the world wide web. We can’t stress enough the importance of good SEO to promote your photography website, as well as the obligation to register to as many directories as you can. Put your brand and website everywhere people could be looking for photographers like you. Need some more inspiration? Here are 10 free places to promote your photography business online.
In the beginning, you may not have the attitude and confidence like the Wolf of Wall Street. And between us, that’s probably a good thing. But you still need to master a few business know-hows in order to see the first dollars flow. First, work on your presentation and negotiation skills. Always keep in mind that you’re not only selling beautiful pictures: you’re also selling a person (yourself), and a once-in-a-lifetime experience to your clients.
Secondly, pair up with other businesses in your area, that naturally complete yours – like a DJ or a caterer, if you’re a wedding photographer. It’s also a recommended good practice to start with discounted prices in the first few weeks, in order to entice some new clients. After getting your first commissions, then you can raise the prices back to normal.
Just like the sickle is essential to the work of the harvester (and of the revolutionary), good gear is crucial to start your photography business. Make sure you’ve provisioned in your business plan all the costs of all the equipment you’ll need, from the camera to the lenses, to the lights and subscriptions to editing softwares. That’s a lot of money that will go out of your pocket in the first few months, but it’s an investment that you simply can’t skip.
It doesn’t mean that you have to ruin yourself, though. To avoid going bankrupt before actually launching your business, buy progressively, starting with the vital gear and acquire the rest when you have more money. Another option is to go for second-hand, either online, or in your favorite photography shop. Sure, it won’t have the same feeling as when you’re the first to hold that gorgeous camera. But your bank account will look happier, and at this stage, that’s what really matters. Finally, more and more photographers are pairing up and lending each other’s equipment. A win-win bargain, that’ll help you in your first missions, until you have what it takes to go solo.
Hopefully sooner than later, you’ll start making some money. So, like it or not, photography won’t be a passion only – it’ll be a business too. Which means that you’ll have to update the relevant administration in your country of your new status. Whether you work in the US, in Dubai, in Italy or in Australia, make sure you’ve fulfilled all your legal, accounting and tax obligations.
Brace yourself, because starting a photography business is not exactly a walk in the park. There will be tough moments, and you will need inner strength, conviction and sometimes desperate inspiration to keep on doing what you love. For example, when your hear one of the 10 things that drive all photographers crazy. Or when you’ll face months with less income than you would make working as a waiter. Get used to good practices such as reinvesting any penny of profit into your business, and saving up for the dimmer periods. Remain patient, no matter what. Remember: just like Rome, no one expects your photography empire to be built in a day!
Here are all the steps you need to take in order to start your photography business:
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