How To Start a Photography Business
I probably should have called this blog “How to Start a HAPPY Photography Business” because the reality is that any fool can start a photography business. Heck I’ve even known people start a photography business before they’ve owned a camera. No jokes. But there’s a big difference between starting a photography business and having a HAPPY and SUCCESSFUL photography business.
Most photographers (myself very much included) started their business with no clue whatsoever about what we were doing. We just winged it and for some of us it worked out. Others not so much. Over the past few years of running my first business I’ve learnt lots of useful stuff but I’ve also seen new photography businesses fail. This blog post is about sharing some of the things that would have been super useful at the beginning of my journey into being a wedding photography business owner.
The post is definitely more about the back-end of starting a business – the admin and the legalities – rather than the photography bit. If you’re interested in how to get into shooting weddings then pop on over to these blogs here and here. Stick around here if you want to learn more about the back end of your brand spanking new (or potential) photography business.
Choose Your Business Name Wisely.
So let’s start right at the beginning. If you’ve read some of my other blog post you might already know that when I first started my photography business back in 2013 I had absolutely no intentions of photographing weddings. To be honest I was completely intimidated by the thought of them. What a huge responsibility! My initial plan was to focus on family shoots, newborns and events like Christenings and parties. That business ‘plan’ (and I use the word plan very loosely here!) very nearly meant I choose a different name for my photography business. The short list of contenders were quite twee and definitely more suited to a family photographer. At the last minute and for reasons I can no longer remember I decided to opt for Rachel Joyce Photography.
My business quickly evolved from the original ‘plan’ and within a few months I was taking wedding bookings. I shot my last family sessions in 2016 and I’m now 100% weddings. Which makes me very thankful that I didn’t choose one of those twee business names. I’ve seen many photographers go through rebrands and name changes because the original name they chose no longer reflects their business. Of course you don’t have a crystal ball. You can’t see where this business journey is going to take you. But to save yourself some of the expense and time in case your direction does change, try and use a business name that would work for any genre.
Get Legit / Get an Accountant
If you’re planning a long and happy life as a photography business owner, and I truly hope you are, then it’s worth starting out as you mean to go on and that means making sure everything is legal and above board. As a sole-trader you don’t need to officially register your business anywhere in order for it to legally exist . You do however need to let HMRC Inland Revenue know that you are now officially self employed! This counts even if you have another full or part time job somewhere. If you’re earning an income through the business you’ve got to complete an self-assessment on an annual basis. Don’t panic – this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be stung for lots of extra tax. It’ll all depend on the profit you make on your photography business, which in the first couple of years is likely to be fairly low. My biggest tip for new businesses is to invest in an accountant. If you’re anything like me (shit at maths!) it’s money well spent. Plus they know all the ins and outs of what deductions you can claim for to make the most of your profit! Oh and try not to leave completing your accounts until the last minute! It’s a very nice feeling to have them done and dusted months in advance. You’re definitely allowed to feel smug.
It’s ridiculously important to make sure you’re covering yourself when working with clients. From the very beginning you need a good contract. Do not cobble one together using information you find on Facebook! Get some proper qualified legal advice. My contract comes from The Guild of Professional Photographers. There’s an annual cost to join the Guild but it can be really worthwhile in your first year, even if it’s just to take advantage of the various legal documents you can download. Another potential source of legitimate legal documents may be your insurance company.
A good contract will protect you to some extent if you come up against a problem client (and you will at some point I promise!) but it also sets expectations and timelines for all your clients.
Did Someone Say Insurance?
I know when you’re first starting out in your photography business there’s a good chance that you’re shooting for free or super duper cheap. Which may lead you to believe that you’re not a ‘proper’ business and therefore that you don’t need to spend money on insurance. You’re wrong. Even if you’re working for free you need to protect yourself from the possibility of things going wrong. Many venues, quite rightly, will request to see copies of your insurance before allowing you to work on site. And what if you accidentally clunk Nanna on the head with your tripod? Do you think she’ll care that you don’t have insurance. No. She’s vicious. She’ll take you for everything you have. Moral of the tale – invest in Public Liability and Professional Indemnity Insurance. It’s not crazy expensive but it’s very worthwhile.
Work Out Your Cost of Doing Business (CODB) and your income goals.
Confession. I didn’t do this until I was about 2 years into my photography business. And the first time I sat down and worked it out properly I had a little weep. Why is it so important to do this? Because running a photography business is the dream. But the reality is most of us need to make it a PROFITABLE photography business. Or sooner or later we’ll find ourselves back at (or forever stuck in) that day job we hate.
Your CODB is the basis of your revenue goals. If you need to be able to earn £30k profit before you can leave the day job then you need to know how much your CODB is. That will guide you to what you need to be charging or how many shoots you need to be booking. Let’s dig into that a little deeper.
Step 1: Working out your CODB.
Your CODB is literally how much it costs you to stay in business doing what you do. You need to include every penny spent into this calculation – your marketing costs, office supplies, average expenses per shoot (e.g – parking and fuel costs), insurance, website, new equipment, training. The list can go on and on and on! It can be a very eye opening experience to see how much running your business successfully will actually cost.
Step 2: Work out how much ‘wage’ you need to pay yourself.
Work out how much ‘wage’ you need to pay yourself every month in order to pay your domestic bills or contribute to the family income. If the goal is to eventually go full time with your photography business then you need to be working towards being able to cover your normal monthly wage at least.
Step 3: Work out how much you’d like to spend on lovely extras.
In your first couple of years of business you might be willing to forgo the little luxuries of life but surely the point of being your own boss is to live a life you love? So you’ve got to eventually get your business to a place where it can support these little luxuries. Everyone has different goals for this section. Mine might seem modest to some people – I love a UK self catering holiday and we aim for 4 of these every year plus a couple of weekends away. Having savings is a biggie for me. So I want to make sure I’m earning enough to put a good amount away each year. Plus I have to feed my extensive book buying habit.
When you’ve worked out your CODB, wage and ‘extras’ add these up together. This will give you a goal for your annual turnover. Does it look like a scary amount? It probably does. For most people this is certainly a reality check. But the sooner you do this the sooner you’ll be able to start a real plan about how to grow your business.
Get a Website
You might feel like you can manage fine with your Facebook and Instagram pages but legit businesses have websites. Some people might disagree with me on that but heck, this is my blog post and I’m going to stick to that opinion! Your clients may originally find you on social media but most people will head over to a website to learn more about you. These days it’s ridiculously cheap and easy to set up a professional looking website without spending a fortune.
If you don’t have a website you’re seriously missing out on the opportunity to help customers find you and fall in love with you. Building your first website can be a learning curve! WordPress offers the most flexibility but can be tricky to get your head around but long term it’s very worth it! Find out about the website tools I recommend on this blog here.
Don’t Invest Huge Sums in Branding
I’m a BIG advocate of investing in proper branding. It can make a huge difference to attracting your ideal client. It’s something that’s definitely worth investing your time and money in. BUT do not feel the pressure to jump and and invest in expensive branding during the first couple of years of your business. Without sounding too woo-woo, this is the stage where you are still finding yourself. Your style of photography is developing and you’re learning the types of weddings you want to shoot and the couples you love working with. If you spend a huge amount of money on professional branding at the beginning of your business you’ll probably find that within a short time you’ve outgrown it and it no longer reflect where your business have moved onto. Believe me, I’ve seen this happen many times! Instead, have a little mooch on Etsy or Creative Market and find yourself a cheap but professional looking logo to tide you over until your business becomes more established and you’ve got a better idea of your ideal client.
Don’t be afraid to outsource.
When you’re in the early months or even years of your business it can feel like every penny that comes in has to be hard fought for. So it seems counter intuitive to spend money on paying other people to work for you. I’m a control freak. So it took me a very long time to relinquish the reins on any part of my business. I WISH I’d done it sooner.
If you’ve just started your photography business there’s a good chance that you are still have another job. Your time is limited so you’ve got to concentrate your time on the areas that will help your business grow. So often I mentor photographers who spend all their time working in their business that they don’t have any time left over to work ON their business.
You can outsource any area of your business. Some photography studios even outsource the actual shooting to associate photographers! A great exercise is to write a list of all the tasks you have to do in your business – from client meetings, editing, blog post writing, book keeping to your admin. Highlight those tasks that absolutely HAVE to be you or that you actually enjoying doing. The ones that are left over are areas of your business that you could easily outsource. I personally outsource my accounting, some basic website admin work and some of my editing. This clears my time to do the things that I enjoy and that attract more clients such as blog post writing and networking. You can even outsource things like your domestic cleaning. It’s relatively cheap and easy to do and it’ll free up a couple of hours per week for you to spend on more productive things.
If you make the financial sacrifice in your first couple of years to outsource some of the tasks that take up your time, you can use that time to grow your client base and might find that you’re in a stronger position financially and able to give up the day job much more quickly.
I am a postive person. I believe in the power of optimism. I’m an ambitious goal setter, semi-risk taker and a get shit-done-er. But sometimes the whole Law of Attraction/Ask The Universe shizzle scares me. I see new and inexperienced photographers being told to quit work when they don’t have enough bookings to sustain it. Or wap up their prices to £2k per wedding because “they should know their worth”. I get it honestly – you should push yourself out of your comfort zone, you should have faith in your abilities and you should strive to improve your work and your business. But there needs to be a dose of reality thrown in for good measure.
The photography industry is saturated. There are a lot of AMAZING photographers out there struggling to make ends meet. Simply sacking off your day job or increasing your prices will not necessarily lead to success. Every business owner will take their journey at a different pace. Do not feel pressured to move more quickly or make big decisions just because other photographers tell you that you should.
Develop a business plan, know your CODB, set slightly scary goals and work towards them.
Invest in your development
Education and training is something that you’ll hopefully invest in for the rest of your time in business. I set aside a budget each year to cover self improvement. There are TONNES of photography workshops available – both online and in person. The trick is to recognise which areas you need help with. Most new photographers concentrate on practical courses during their first few years. Whilst improving your shooting skills is of course very important, there’s only so much you can learn from a styled shoot where 10 other photographers are also trying to get their shots. Look instead for workshops that are focused on specific areas – e.g. learning to use flash or a posing workshop. Massive plug here for my own Marketing Bootcamp Workshop – no shooting involved at all. It’s all about improving your business.
I hope this blog post has given you some great hints and tips if you’re thinking about starting your own photography business. If you need any help with anything or you’d like some more information about my Marketing Bootcamp for photographers or 1-1 mentoring or you’d just like to say hello then please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org