If you’ve ever thought about starting a successful photography business you’ve probably wondered where to start. There are a lot of things to know about running a successful photography business, and you may be surprised to hear that being an amazing photographer isn’t actually top of the list.
Being an entrepreneur I think is in my blood. I was 10 years old when I started my first “business” – hawking homemade soaps at local craft fairs and church rummage sales. I didn’t know the first thing about running a business (obviously – I was ten) and it took me another 20 years to fully “get it” – the realities of entrepreneur life are a lot different than 10 year old me expected, to say the least.
The one thing that I honestly struggle the most with? Turning it off. When you work from home like I do (home office, home studio), it’s really hard to switch off the work part of your brain. I do my best to call it quits when Shawn gets home from work every day – our relationship is super duper important and always comes first. It can be hard to set aside time for yourself and your family when you’re growing your business.
So, you’re thinking of starting a successful photography business.
I’ve been doing this photography thing since I was 19 years old, fresh eyed and bushy tailed at the Walmart Portrait Studio and have come a long way since then. So, here are some tips on starting a successful photography business.
1. Check your local business & tax laws.
Running a photography business isn’t just about taking photos, but knowing how to run a business. To run a successful photography business you have to know how to market yourself and keep track of your expenses (so, so, SO important!!). You have to know your local laws (ie – do you need a business license to operate in the city you reside?), set aside money for taxes… DO your taxes – hiring an accountant saves me from that particular headache.
Make sure to check your local laws on how and when you should be charging taxes (PST and GST in Canada). Did you know you need to be charging PST on all services and goods sold within Saskatchewan? No matter how much you make and how much you’re charging people? Yep. Do some research to find out which particular taxes apply to you and your business. After all, an audit is NOT a fun time for anybody.
2. Know your Cost of Goods.
The most important step to running a successful photography business? Know your cost of goods. If you’re just starting out, the absolute worst thing you can do for your business and profitability is to look to other photographers in your area and base your prices off them.
Here’s the thing – you don’t know what it costs them to produce that session, those prints, that experience. There’s no way to know if they’re even running a sustainable business! (It’s very common that photographers aren’t, sadly) The sooner we all start paying ourselves what we’re actually worth, the better the industry will get. Stop working for next to nothing. Some harsh truth for you: chances are pretty good if you’re charging less than $200 with images included in your session, you are not making any profit.
3. Give yourself a freakin’ break already.
Burn-out is a very real thing. Once you’ve experienced it a couple times, you can usually feel it creeping up on you. You may feel less inspired, less creative, even less motivated. The best remedy to that situation? Take the day off. Whenever I find myself feeling uninspired it’s honestly the best favour I can do for myself. To better serve your clients, sometimes you just need a day (or two, or five!) off once in a while.
There was something I came across the other day on Facebook – Entrepreneurs are the only people that will work 80 hours in a week to avoid working 40 for someone else. Oof, that truth bomb kinda hurts, doesn’t it?
4. A change of scenery can do you good.
Don’t get me wrong – I love my home office, and I especially love my cats. Sometimes, though – the kitty superhighway that some days gets diverted to a fast lane over my desk and workspace gets to be a bit much.
So, sometimes I need to get away to a local coffee shop to work. Some good tunes and people to watch are how I’ve written a lot of my blog posts! Other days though… let’s be honest I just want to sit at my desk in my Pusheen onesie without a bra on and do my thing.
5. Don’t give up. Seriously.
One thing I’ve learned in my 12 years in the industry is that you have to be stubborn as hell to make it in this industry. You have to want this. Like real real bad. More than anything you’ve ever wanted before. Because here’s the cold hard truth – if you’re not willing to chase what you want, nobody’s going to hand it to you.
It took me an embarrasingly long time to realise this. I graduated from Sask Polytech’s (now dissolved) Applied Photography program in 2011 fully expecting my photography business to immediately take off because here I was – a professional photographer. Diploma in hand. I knew what I was doing! Nope. I knew everything I needed to know to make a good photograph, but nothing really about actually running a business.
People in my life told me to quit chasing that dream of starting a successful photography business. I hit financial setbacks, mental setbacks, and life setbacks. One thing remained the same – I was stubborn as hell and not ready to give up.
6. Keep chasing that education.
I seriously cannot stress this last point enough – it is SO important to never stop learning in this industry. Had I decided after I graduated from Sask Polytech that I knew everything and didn’t need to learn anything else… well, I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere.
Youtube is a crazy amazing resource for free tutorials on literally anything from makeup to how to boil an egg – photography is a major one on that list. Look up ways to market yourself, how to shoot better, get new creative ideas on things to bring to your sessions. The list is seriously endless on the things you can learn for free on the internet. Me and my student loans cringe at the thought.
Creative Live is also an amazing resource for photographers or any type of creative. These are paid courses but hop on their newsletter – they regularly have sales for anywhere from $10 off any course to 50% off their whole site.
FInding a mentor can also help give you a quick boost up in the photography industry. I’ve been mentoring another local photographer lately and the changes I’ve seen in her business for the short time we’ve been working together has been crazy! Even just meeting with a mentor a few times to get your pricing on lock (are you REALLY charging what you’re worth, or are you charging what you think people will pay you?) can create a massive change in the trajectory of your business, and your success in this industry.
7. Keep track of your shit!
I’m not even playing with this one. I started using a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tool called Sprout Studio almost 2 years ago when I really started taking my business seriously. To be honest with you, it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done for my business. It’s so very important to track your expenses when you’re running any business. Know what else is nice? Tracking those expenses so you can write them off come tax time. If you’re not doing this one crucial step in your business you’re honestly just setting yourself up for failure.
Sprout Studio does much more than just track expenses, you get galleries, workflows, you can track where each client is in their journey with you, and so so SO much more. Click here for my affiliate link that will get you 10% off your first 3 months if you want to give Sprout Studio a try. You’ll be glad you did!
To add to #7 – set up a separate bank account for your business. If you’re using your personal account for your business AND personal expenses, it just becomes a mess. My own business started getting much easier to run once I set up a separate bank account for JUST my business. So do yourself a favour and spare the headache of trying to figure out where all your money went!
8. Network and make connections with other photographers.
Lastly, attending trade shows, conferences, and retreats are a great way to network with other photographers from your area, or across the globe. I attended Camp Do More June 10-13 this year and I am positively VIBRATING from the excitement of all the new friends I met, new photo shoots for my portfolio, and the chance to connect with some photographers in the industry that have found a lot of successes in their businesses. Learning from others that are farther along than you in their journey is KEY.
Having connections in this industry can save your ass when your gear breaks the morning you’re due to shoot a 12 hour wedding and you can’t rent a camera because your local shop is fresh outta cameras to rent. You’re really missing out on a lot of opportunities by not leaving your house and sitting in front of your computer all day. It’s OK – it took me a while to realise this, too. 😉
Have some insights on this crazy industry that you want to share? Ideas on other tips I can share with up-and-comers in this industry on my next blog post? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!