I am often asked for advice by those starting out in the photography industry. And if there’s one thing I have no shortage of, it’s advice. So with that in mind, I present you with my 8 Tips for Starting a Photography Business.
#1. You Are But One of Many
People will ask you what you do for a living. When you respond with, “I’m a photographer,” 9 out of 10 people will reply, “Oh! I’m a photographer, too!” If not, they will respond by informing you that one of the following people they know is also a photographer: husband, wife, son, daughter, brother, sister, cousin, niece, nephew, next-door neighbor, co-worker, mailman, mailwoman, doctor, roofer, midwife, pharmacist, grandma, or their Corgi.
“Oh my gosh, my former brother-in-law’s next door neighbor’s estranged ex-daughter-in-law is also a photographer.”
Brace yourself for this. It will happen almost every time. You will have to smile and pretend to care.
#2. If You Are Making Money, It’s Not a Hobby
A bona fide business needs to be bona fide. As in, legitimate. This will require applying for and receiving all the necessary paperwork one needs when conducting a legitimate business: business license, tax identification number, register for state and local taxes, register your business name, etc…
If you accept money for your services, Uncle Sam needs to know about it. And this is one Uncle that will not be swayed with cries of, “But this is just a hobby.” Uncle Sam is not known for his sense of humor, so don’t try to get cute with him.
#3. Being Your Own Boss is a Blessing and a Curse
When you are your own boss, no one will make you do anything. This is both a good and bad thing. When you own your own business, you are the boss, which means if YOU don’t make something happen, it never will. You will have to push yourself to be organized, motivated and on top of things. Sounds easy? It’s not. Not by a long shot.
You always have to be thinking 6 months down the road. You have to learn to be pro-active rather than re-active. It also means that you can make Casual Friday every day if you want to. And if you have no employees, it means that you are always the most popular in the office.
#4. You Must Sell
It doesn’t matter how great of a photographer you are, if you can’t sell your work, you won’t make money. This is not to say that you shouldn’t strive to put out quality work — you should. It’s much easier to sell beautiful work than it is to try to sell work that has to be explained.
“I know you can’t see their faces. See, the reason the background is bright and the subjects are so dark is because this session is from my signature “Silhouette Series.”
Yeah, try to sell THAT.
The ability to sell your photography to clients is paramount to your financial success. And don’t tell me you can’t sell. I shan’t hear it. No, I shan’t. Listen, if you have convinced a grumpy toddler to eat his vegetables, you have sold. If you have persuaded a hesitant spouse to purchase new living room furniture, you have sold. If you have spoken to a client and based on your conversation, they decided to book with you, you have sold.
#5. Stuff Will Hit the Fan
In your business, there will be things that go so spectacularly wrong that you could sell tickets; situations that you in no way could ever prepare for; things that come out of left field and leave you scratching your head, saying, “What fresh hell is this?”
Because unexpected situations WILL occur, you need to enter into your business as fully prepared as possible. I read an advice column once that urged readers just to “go for it,” because there’s no way to prepare for everything. That’s like telling a swimmer to “just jump in” and figure out how to swim along the way. That’s just crazy talk.
This should need no explanation.
#7. There Will Be Days You Won’t Like Being a Photographer
This will happen. It might not feel like it now, but it will. There will be days you feel no enthusiasm for what you do. Zip. Zero. Zilch. There will be days you get more excited about a new episode of “The Walking Dead” than you do a new session. There will be days you sigh. A lot.
Yes, there will be days like this…and you know what? That’s okay.
That doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad photographer. It makes you human. I mean, I love my children with all my heart. They are my life and I would gladly die a thousand fiery deaths for them, but there are days I want to sell them to the gypsies.
For no matter how much you love something, some days you won’t like it. You could be feeling under the weather, have a lot on your plate, or going through some other sort of struggle that robs a bit off the joy from something you really love… including your photography.
It doesn’t mean you throw in the towel or dissolve into a puddle of tears, declaring to the world, “I CAN’T DO THIS.” It means, instead, that you have to push yourself through, armed with the knowledge that EVERYONE feels like this at one time or another, which leads me to my last tip…
#8. Don’t Believe Facebook
You are working hard. You are struggling some days; soaring others. You feel pretty good about yourself and then you open Facebook. And you are hit smack dab in the gut with photographers’ tales of success. They are everywhere. Your newsfeed is crawling with them. They are like ants at a picnic.
Stories of utter business bliss where every sale is HUGE, calendars are booked up 3 months in advance, workshops left and right. Sometimes they are out in the open; other times, they are encased in a clever humblebrag:
“I’m always so embarrassed when my clients tell me how great I am. I mean, when someone says, ‘You are the best photographer on the planet,’ how are you supposed to respond? It’s truly humbling.”
And you look at yourself, sitting in your yoga pants, feeling as though you are barely holding on and you feel defeated. Discouraged. Ready to throw in the towel. You see a photo of the top of a baby’s head gets 4K likes, and you wonder what YOU are doing wrong.
Allow me to tell you: what you’re doing wrong is reading Facebook. Well, not so much reading Facebook, but believing it.
Anyone can be anything on Facebook. Remember that.
So, enjoy the cat videos, the photos, the humorous graphics and the heartwarming stories. Cheer for your friends doing well, but when it comes evaluating your life based on others’ Facebook posts, beware.
The only place a business is perfect is in a Facebook status.
Now…pick up your camera and go do this thing.
Note: There has been some confusion as to whether #6 can be substituted with another adult libation. I checked the rulebook and the answer is “Yes, of course.” Sorry for the confusion.
About the author: Missy Mwac is a photography satirist, a lover of bacon, a drinker of vodka, a lover of sparkle, and a guide through the murky waters of professional photography. You can connect with her on Tumblr and Facebook. This article was also published here.