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A Simple Business Guide for New Photographers

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As a professional photographer for quite a few years now, I thought some of you may be interested in some photography business advice and tips through this entry-level straightforward photography business guide.

This is a general guide since there are so many ways to define a photography business.

It’s a wide-ranging industry where entrepreneurs of all kinds have created businesses revolving around photography some way or another and not always by being actual photographers.

Some people in photography open new camera gear boxes on YouTube, others offer photography workshops, some do guided photography tours in London, some mostly sell prints, others spend their days on shoots and there are the ones who publish books or ebooks while “influencer” use their status and kill it on Instagram.

It’s all good, while we don’t all have the same way of doing things, we all have a love of photography in common.

Learning is a neverending journey. Since I worked on my first commercial assignment I’ve learned a lot. Sometimes through mistakes but overall no lesson has been a bad one, it’s just been a lesson.

It’s a philosophy I try to adopt in life whereby it’s pointless having regrets. I look at everything I have done as having led me to where I am now, allowing me to learn along the way, often through mistakes.

One of the important factors of running a photography business is that you will probably not spend a majority of your time doing the actual thing you love. Instead you’ll find yourself sorting out your accounts, promoting your photography on social media, quoting clients, drafting terms & conditions, etc…

It can also be a little easy to second guess yourself, you usually don’t have an advisor sitting by you. It is your business and every decision you make will have a consequence, some more than others.

It teaches you to follow your gut feeling, it teaches confidence eventually and definitely brings its rewards, the biggest one being to work for yourself, doing something you love.

So here’s a list of some of the skills/requirements one needs to be aware of and develop as early as possible if they want to one day run a fairly successful photography business.

It’s hard work, I’m not going to lie.

Photography

This one is quite obvious. This is the core of it all and the one you will start with first. It will take a few years before you learn the technical side, build a quality portfolio, and find your niche in photography. Mine for example is urban/street photography (and cinemagraphs, though less these days as photography is my focus).

One of my core beliefs is that you need to be your worst critic, and I mean ask yourself with every photo you take: How could I improve next time?

If you get too comfortable with the feedback (“great shot”, “great composition”,…) you get on Flickr, Facebook, or whichever social network you display your work, you will not keep pushing yourself.

Don’t get into the trap of believing your photos are just the best simply because everyone on Flickr or Facebook says they are “awesome”. That’s what many people do on social media, they’ll like your photos in the hope you’ll return the favor. All it will do is make you feel good but it won’t improve your photography.

Be selective when displaying your portfolio.

A series of street portraits I shot for Match.com

Branding

As a photographer running a business, you are in effect in charge of a brand. Branding is the identity of your company, it’s the perception your customers have of your business.

All the elements on your website come together to create that brand.

Words, logo, design, slogan, unique selling point… they all need to be clear, straight to the point, and speak to your potential client who will hopefully connect with it and the services you offer in turn resulting in sales and return business/loyalty.

But a brand is also who you are, how professional you act on social media (or unprofessional trolling people), what you stand for, who you are as a person.

Sales

If you want to work with clients you will need to learn how to be a good salesperson.

This means that, when given the opportunity to sell your services, you’ll be able to explain how hiring you will benefit them. It also means getting paid as much as is possible for what your work is worth… without losing the job to one of your competitors because you were a little too greedy.

It’s a very fine line knowing what your photography is worth and at the same time establishing what the client’s budget is.

Good sales can be as simple as replying to requests promptly. Take too long before replying to a potential client and if your competition has been quicker and more keen, you’ve lost a job.

Web Development/SEO/Copywriting

It’s never been easier to build your own photography website.

But like anything, it’s easy to mess it up. It’s as easy to create a shockingly bad website as it is taking bad photos.

Let’s assume you have made your website not only look good but provide an excellent user experience.

Then what?

Ideally, you want people to find it when searching for what you do and Google search is key. Establish what your potential clients would have to Google in order to find you. Once you’ve made a list of possible searches, work towards getting found by ensuring your website contains the right words.

It could be “Family Photographer in Oxford” or “Wedding Photographer in Jersey”.

SEO is important, whether you like it or not, and it can be mastered through hard work.

An urban landscape I shot for a London School of Economics brochure

Content Creation

To attract visits to your photography website from potential clients it’s important to realize early that photos won’t be enough.

Whilst it’s important to keep shooting and selecting only your very best work to display, it’s not quite enough.

You’ll also need to create quality written content.

Spell-check and proofreading are important, so make sure you don’t drive traffic away from your site because of poor grammar.

Client Relations

One crucial thing when running a business is having happy clients. This leads to referrals through word of mouth.

Aside from doing all you can to satisfy your client, issues and occasionally less satisfied clients will happen. That’s the case in any business even if we do our best to avoid them. It’s your ability to solve problems and fix things in a professional way for a positive outcome that matters.

Sometimes you can turn an unsatisfied client into an advocate of your brand by showing how much you care and work hard to solve a situation quickly.

I’m quite lucky as before discovering my passion for photography, I worked for over 15 years in luxury hotels such as InterContinental, dealing with some tough and unusual situations with some of the most demanding and difficult clients.

I didn’t like it much at the time but this is another example of what I was saying in the intro: What you may not enjoy right now, may benefit you one day, every experience makes you who you are.

I developed a thicker skin, improved my problem-solving ability, and at the same time learned how to be patient, diplomatic, deal with complaints efficiently and sometimes cope with not so friendly people.

Marketing/Social Media/PR

There is no point in having a great portfolio if nobody gets to see it and that’s where marketing kicks in.

At the moment the most part of my marketing is digital and done via social media.

Then there is a share of SEO marketing and referral marketing too (that’s pretty much word of mouth). Did I forget email marketing and creating a database/list of clients?

I see social media for photographers as being the most important and valuable tool since it requires no financial investment, just time and good management.

We are extremely lucky it’s never been easier to show our work to the world.

I said easier… not easy.

Yes, indeed it involves growing a targeted following/audience, which takes years.

It’s then about posting relevant content, at the right time without constantly pushing your own work. This is achieved by supporting others and sharing their work.

A good proportion of my time spent on social networks is done sharing other people’s work, liking other people’s work, chatting, commenting.

Call it “social media karma”. Just as in “real” life nobody wants to hang around people who only talk about themselves.

I have over 100,000 followers across social media platforms and spend well over two hours a day working on it.

Having a large following on social media is not a popularity contest, it’s about having the ability to reach a larger audience including potential clients but also engage with people who enjoy your work and the photography inspiration, tips, and techniques you may share.

At one point 95% of my work would come through social media leads.

Remember with social media that you only get as much as you put in, like all other parts of your business.

Note: For the following two, I recommend you seek advice as mistakes can be costly and have terrible consequences for a business.

Accounting

This screen greets me each time I open my online accounting software… Accounting Heaven? Then it must be because I died of frustration using it

I’ll keep that bit short. It’s what I feel the least comfortable with. What can I declare as expenses? What if I miss an important tax deadline and get a fine? Chasing outstanding client payments, realizing an invoice had not been sent. It’s scary stuff when you are not an accountant.

Legal

I’m no lawyer but there is definitely a legal side to consider when running a business from terms & conditions for the work commissioned to model releases… all the way to public liability insurance (if someone trips on your tripod while on a job, hurt themselves and sue you).

That’s one thing I definitely would recommend seeking advice on instead of guessing! Better safe than sorry.

Final Words

There are many more aspects to running your own photography business and I won’t even pretend to cover it all.

Every photography business is different.

We all have to start somewhere and I prefer to keep things “bite-size” so I hope this will help others who, like me a little while back, are considering launching a photography business.

Yes, it can be challenging at times, and really please understand a photography business is not easy to run.

It can be quite scary, but incredibly rewarding too if you give it your best shot.

Photography is my life and passion and although thinking constantly about it wakes me up at 4 am the rewards are 100% worth the work I put into it.

I hope, if you too are working hard towards making a living out of photography, that you will see this list of elements to master not as discouraging but more something to prepare you a little for what lays ahead.


P.S. Be sure to check out Captured London, my new conceptual photographic series for 2020/2021. The series features glowing triangular shapes have taken over London’s skyline, streets and underground. Follow me on Instagram and Twitter for updates.


About the author: Nicholas Goodden is a professional urban photographer and photography tutor based in London. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Goodden’s work on his website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. This article was also published here.

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