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How to Write a Photography Business Plan and Nail It

Woman with business plan - featured image

Photographers, designers, bloggers – as artistically inclined people, we are undoubtedly good at creating. Planning, on the other hand, well that’s not necessarily our forte. Unfortunately, a camera or a paintbrush is not exactly the best tool to help you build a successful business. However, in order to do what we love for a living (which is a great accomplishment in itself!), we have to master not only our trade but also the art of managing a small business. Luckily for you, creating a photography website has already been taken care of.

While it may appear intimidating in the beginning, with the right set of tools, you can grasp the hang of it pretty quickly. Just like any other new creative technique you acquired – all you need to succeed is the desire to learn.

This is where we would like to chip in our 5 cents to help our photographer friends take the first step in starting a photography business. Remember, behind every successful photographer is a well thought through business plan. Let us walk you through creating a photography business plan that will set your foot on the right path – the one that leads to success:

So… What is a business plan exactly?

To put it simply, a business plan is a guide that outlines your business’ goals and how you plan to achieve them. It’s created by the business owner on a yearly basis and serves as a reference for any managerial or financial question that may come up during the year. In case you plan to raise funds for your business or negotiate a loan from the bank, a concise photography business plan will make you look professional and sincere in all your intentions. On top of that, the plan will serve as a personal target to achieve, a reference to follow up on your accomplishments, and a guide on where you need to concentrate your efforts in order to do better next year.

With that being said, it doesn’t have to be as long as your exposure settings during night time. The document’s length is up to you, but the principle of “less is more” is a great guideline to start with. After all, you’re not building a groundbreaking start-up company in Silicon Valley, but a traditional photography business, that probably has a lot in common with other businesses in the field – so your readers will most likely know what to expect.

business plan outline written with chalk on a board

First – wait a second (or two)

Before getting down to some hands on calculations, there are a few things that need to be taken care of. The first of which being you – so take a deep breath (literally, it’s important!).

Now, you have some serious thinking (and writing) to do. In order to position yourself in the highly competitive world of commissioned photographers, you’ll need to define your services, target audience, and business goals. Is this sounding all too much? Not if you follow these steps:

Do some industry research

Do some groundwork on your competition, especially in the geographical area where you plan to operate:

  • What kind of services do they provide?

  • Does anything set them apart from the crowd?

  • What do their online assets look like (photography website, Facebook business page, Instagram, 500px, etc.)?

  • How much do they charge? Do your best to find out by browsing their site or asking for an estimate.

  • What do their clients have to say about them? To find out, simply “Google” your competitors’ name and browse the reviews.

Identify your target audience

Your target audience are the people that are most likely to hire you. They will be the focus of all your marketing efforts. To identify your audience, try to think about the following questions: Who are your clients? What is their approximate age, marital status, income status, where do they live? What are their needs and how can you meet them? Why would they choose you over a competitor? The more information you have, the more accurate your marketing strategy will be.

couple kissing with two matching mugs

Define your product and services

With that information in mind, you can start to develop your game plan. Try to define your product and services in the most detailed way possible. For example, if you’re a wedding photographer, there’s much more to your services than just wedding photo shoots. First, you probably provide your service in several differently priced packages. Secondly – you also have a physical product – the photo album, and perhaps a USB stick for the client: every item should be listed for budgeting purposes.

Find your niche

Everyone provides high-quality photos and services. Undoubtedly, you do too. So how will your photography business catch the eye of the tiger, e.g. potential clients? Based on the market research you did, try to come up with something that will set you apart from other photographers in your locale. It can be a unique photography style, a special photography package, a delicate personal touch, or any other exclusive idea your brainstorming session will produce. That “little something” that makes you different will be very useful in marketing your photography business.

Know thyself

As you make plans for the coming year, think of your strengths and weaknesses, and use both to leverage yourself. How? Well, strengths are obvious: for example, if you’re a people’s person, you’ll probably excel at marketing your services. As for weaknesses – set a goal to work on the ones you’d like to improve so that your business can benefit from it. For instance, you might consider yourself a technophobe when it comes to creating a photography website or promoting your business online. So one goal for the coming year could be improving your knowledge about online marketing terms, SEO for photographers, and everything you need to know in order to create a great photography website.

Set the right price

The price of your services is a key element, on which your entire photography business plan is based on. Remember the market research you ran four paragraphs ago? The price range of photography prices in your area should be your first indicator. You need to make sure that your final price is positioned within that scale according to your level of expertise.

On the other hand, your price needs to secure your monetary goals for the year. What amount of income do you plan to bring home? Is it a full-time job, or a side gig? How many sessions do you think you could secure per month? What is the price that can give you a net profit on top of your expenses and dedicated time? Bear in mind, that some questions can only be answered after you’ve earned some mileage as a professional photographer. In the meantime, here is a great reference to what photographers of different expertise levels charged in 2016.

Set your goals

If the business plan serves as an orientation map through the year, then it must have a clear destination. Remember, a good “destination”, or objective, is an achievable one. The more defined and the more realistic, the better. When choosing a target, think of how you can measure its success. If it ain’t measurable, it ain’t pleasurable.

Now let’s get to business (plan)

Now that the theoretical part is done, it’s time to talk numbers. The purpose of this part is to understand the financial side of things, and mostly – to obtain your net profit. Here’s a step by step guide to calculating your earnings for the upcoming year:

01. Define your total sales per month. This includes both your booking fee and product sales. Think of the average amount of gigs you get per month, and multiply by the average amount of money you earn from each job.

02. Costs of sales per month – include all your expenses on getting the job done. This can include a second shooter, print lab fees, and average travel expenses to and from the event. Note that these are not your fixed costs (we’ll get to this below).

03. Time for gross profit! ‘Total sales per month’ minus ‘costs of sales per month’ will give you this number.

04. To figure out your monthly net gain, calculate your general business expenses, i.e. fixed costs. These expenses are constant and do not add up per photo shoot. For example, they can include marketing expenses, accounting, equipment, hardware, and taxes. Definitely skip hosting and web-design fees, as you can easily make an impressive photography website for free! Divide the number you get by 12 – these are your fixed costs per month.

05. It’s the final countdown: your gross profit minus monthly fixed costs will generate your net profit.

About that net profit

If you’re just starting your business, take into consideration that many businesses take a year, sometimes more, to get out of a negative net profit. That means that you need to plan ahead and prepare some savings to survive that first year. If you end up having a nice net profit, you have two choices: keep it to yourself (that’s why you were doing this in the first place, right?) or invest it in the coming year to grow your business even further. A nice net profit will give you the option to do both, depending on your business goals of course.

That’s it, you’re ready to go. Good luck with the new exciting journey! Now that you have a detailed map, the road to success is clearly marked.

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