Even if you’re right at the very beginning of your journey as a photographer, you can’t have failed to notice that this industry is a popular one. Unfortunately one of the best things about starting your own photography business is also one of the very worst things – the low barrier to entry.
Just about anyone can start a photography business, and as a result many people do. So much so that it can sometimes feel like every other person you meet is a photographer, or knows someone who is!
Most people who set out on this path do so because they love to take pictures…it would be a pretty strange choice otherwise! We’ve all heard the saying, “Do what you love and it will never feel like work,” and that’s what most of us are seeking when we decide to start our businesses.
But whilst being a photographer is definitely an amazing opportunity to earn a living from doing something creative that you love, I promise you there will be days that it will feel like work. Quite a few days in fact.
Because the hard truth is you won’t be shooting every single day. In fact, if you’re going to have any chance of achieving your dream and making an income from photography, you’re going to have to turn what was once just a hobby or passion into an actual, real-life business.
So before you go any further, you need to decide if starting a photography business is right for you. Because you might decide you’d actually prefer to keep photography as a hobby, and enjoy it as escape from your day job, instead of making it your work.
4 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Starting A Photography Business
Below I’ve listed some important questions to ask yourself before you start a photography business, to help determine if it’s the right route for you.
#1 Do you know your stuff?
Although you don’t need any formal qualifications to set yourself up as a professional, you do need to be a good, competent photographer who knows what they’re doing.
This doesn’t mean you need to know all the ins and outs of off-camera lighting and posing people when you’re first starting out. But you do need to know how to handle your camera and operate it under pressure. Fumbling around with the settings and retaking photos over and over again to get the correct exposure will not instill confidence in your clients, and will make you look amateurish.
Your photographs will be your product in your new business, and the price you’re able to charge for them will be partly determined by the quality of work you’re able to produce. You definitely don’t need to be the world’s greatest photographer, but your work does need to be of a high enough quality that you’re able to charge the rates you’ll need to charge to create a profitable and sustainable business.
Most importantly, once you start charging for your work, you need to be confident that you can deliver the result you’ve promised your client. Every single time.
The few times I’ve taken on jobs that have been outside my comfort zone or experience level have not been enjoyable. That ‘flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants’ feeling makes you anxious and stressed. There can nothing worse than coming home from a shoot where you didn’t get a single usable image, and I’m truly thankful I’ve never had that experience!
#2 Is your goal to be affordable or profitable?
Something I hear quite often from people wanting to start up in photography is that they want to be ‘affordable’ and charge ‘reasonable’ rates, so that everyone can have good photographs of their kids/family/wedding/dog/whatever.
Whilst this thought is an admirable one, the fact of the matter is that if you don’t price for profit you’re not going to have a viable or sustainable business.
To have any chance of achieving your dream and making a decent income from photography, you’ll need to turn what was once just a hobby into an actual, real-life business. And that means making a profit.
If becoming a business owner doesn’t interest you, or you don’t think you have the right mindset for it, that’s okay! It’s better to decide that now and then you can stick to keeping photography as a hobby.
But if you’re determined to be your own boss, then you must get used to the fact that you need to run a business. Because the bottom line is that a photography business that doesn’t make a profit is just an expensive hobby. And one that will more than likely lead to burn out and resentment.
#3 Can you offer something that no-one else can?
I mentioned earlier how the fact that it’s so easy to enter the photography industry is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand it’s fantastic that those of us with a passion for taking pictures can easily pursue our dream of making a living from it. But on the flip side, the fact that anyone with a camera can set up a website and start touting for business means the marketplace is incredibly crowded.
At the same time, the perceived value of professional photography has dropped dramatically, in part due to the huge amount of poor quality pictures being shown on these “professional” photographer’s websites. The result is that whereas once professional photography was seen as a highly skilled art, generally it’s now viewed pretty much as a commodity.
When supply is high and the product is seen as a commodity, then often the only differentiator is price. As a solo photographer in a business that depends entirely on you exchanging your time for money (i.e. you don’t get paid if you’re not shooting), you’ll never be able to create a sustainable income by trying to be the cheapest. High volume and low pricing leads to one place only…burn out.
In order to be successful, you have to get out of the commodity business. You can’t afford to be seen as “just another photographer”.
To do this you need to uncover and communicate a way in which your business is different from every other photographer offering what you do. You need a point of difference. A competitive advantage.
The good thing is that there are a million ways to get a competitive advantage and make your business stand out. Start thinking creatively now about what yours might be. Try to make it something that none of your competition are offering
#4 Are you prepared to handle all the things that go hand in hand with running a business?
Running a business takes a commitment in both time and money. There’s just no way of getting around it.
As a small business owner you’ll need to take on many different responsibilities beyond just that of photographer. You’ll need to become an accountant, a sales person, a lawyer, a researcher and a marketer too. Are you willing to commit the time necessary to learn these skills (or the money to pay someone else to do them for you?).
You need to be prepared to invest both time and money in your business to have any chance of making it a success.
Now, I’m definitely not saying you need to spend huge amounts of money when you’re first starting. But if you’re not willing to invest a little money to market yourself, for example, by setting up a professional looking website, then you need to question whether setting up in business is really the right decision for you.
I’ll cover start up costs and how you should allocate your budget in a separate article, but investing in your education is an area where you will see one of the biggest returns for your business.
Improving your photography will give you a better product to offer, and allow you to charge higher prices, whilst improving your business skills will set you up to know how to make your business successful in the long term.
By now you should have a clear idea of what you’re getting yourself into if you’ve decided that starting a photography business is definitely right for you.
If you have decided to pursue the path of becoming a professional photograph, then you’re probably feeling excited at the prospect of experiencing the freedom and fulfillment that comes from making a living doing something you love.
You may also be feeling slightly overwhelmed by the thought of all that lies before you.
I want to reassure you that it’s absolutely possible to start out small, with limited financial outlay, and by running your business on the side whilst still keeping your day job. The important thing is to start out the right way.