Start Your Photography Business (Part 1 of 4)

The Complete Guide to Becoming a Professional Photographer

Part 1: Research and Planning

Wondering how to start a photography business and turn your passion into a profitable career? Think you’ve got what it takes? You know that most photographers go out of business before they even make it to the end of the first year, right?

The photography industry has never been more competitive than it is now. How are you going to make sure that you’re among the minority who succeed, not one of the failures?

Good research and planning is how. Our guide to opening a photography business, and keeping it open, will set you on the right track!

This is Part 1 of a four-part guide on how to start a photography business.

For anyone interested in improving their photography, the internet is overflowing with plenty of good free advice and tutorials for mastering new techniques and polishing your shooting skills. But what happens if you’ve got to the point where your technical knowledge and visual chops are pretty much locked down, and you’re starting to think about taking things to the next level? For anyone wondering how to start a photography business there’s surprisingly little good advice to be found online.

Lots of people know how to take pretty pictures; few have what it takes to make a living out of it.

Talent, passion and hard work are essential, but an eye for a strong image and dedication to the art form alone will not guarantee success. If you hope to still be in the game this time next year, you’ll need to do some careful planning before you even begin. But in order for this to be effective, you must also be willing to take a critical and objective look at your goals and expectations. And perhaps face up to some uncomfortable truths.

Starting with the nitty gritty of planning and research, the first article in our four-part series on how to start a photography business explains the important initial steps you’ll need to go through before you can even think of taking on your first professional gig.

How to Start a Photography Business: Planning and Preparation

Goals and Objectives

What do you want to achieve? As with any venture in life, if you are to ever arrive at your destination, you’ll need to start out with a clear idea of where it is that you want to go. Just grabbing a camera and saying “I want to be a photographer” is unlikely to lead to great success. In fact, if you have no clear goals, it’s difficult to say what “success” might even mean.

Visualize where you want to be in in 6 months; in 1 year; 5 years. Write this down. Have you checked out who is already doing this in your area? Do you know how many other people want to do this but haven’t gotten there yet? If you are to make it as a photographer you need to offer something that these people lack. It’s not enough just to be as good as them, or even better than them (although you should be that too); you’ll also need to be significantly different from them so as to stand out and establish a unique niche of your own.

For example, the Atlanta wedding photography market is already fairly saturated, and is home to  some quite accomplished wedding photographers. Before setting ourselves up as photographers in Atlanta we needed to be certain that we could really bring something unique to the Atlanta wedding photography landscape.

For sure, we already had a proven track record in the Las Vegas photography market. But in Atlanta we were starting out afresh. If other long-established Atlanta wedding photographers already offered every possible kind of wedding photography service that the local market could support, there would have been little point in expanding our business in this direction. Especially as people know us before anything else as Las Vegas photographers. Only after serious research could we be confident that we had something truly unique and desirable to offer the Atlanta wedding photography market.

However, it’s important to stress that this isn’t solely about the level of competition from other photographers, but what the market itself will support. For argument’s sake, let’s say that you plan to set yourself up as a boudoir photographer in Las Vegas. We already offer boudoir photography services in Las Vegas, as do several other photographers. However, boudoir photography in Las Vegas is booming right now – as indeed it is in many other regions. On the other hand, In a different market that has much less competition for boudoir photography, this may be because there is little or no demand for it. A busy, competitive market is clearly better than no market at all, and if you’re confident that your boudoir photos bring something truly unique to the table, then there’s no reason why the Las Vegas photography market might not support increased competition in this area.

To summarize then, you will need to fully research both the competitors in your market and the level of demand for your services that there might potentially be. What’s more, you will be unlikely to make much of a dent in that market if other well-established photographers already offer very similar services. Ask yourself precisely what makes your photography business different from others. What needs does your business meet that are not currently served by anyone else? Which gap in the market can your photography fill?

Once you’ve identified your photographic niche and goals, try to define your photography business in a few simple sentences. Put together an “elevator pitch” – what you’d say if you bumped into your dream client on a one minute elevator ride – clearly and succinctly laying out exactly what it is that you do, and why you are special.

Drawing up a Business Plan

Having defined your goals and mapped out your niche, you’re now ready to put together a business plan. If you will need to find funding for your photography startup, a business plan will be essential. Having said this, even if you will be self-financing, you should put a business plan together all the same. A business plan will help to focus your goals and lays out clear milestones so that you can easily check on your progress as you go along. What’s more, according to a recent study, startups that write business plans see 30% higher growth than those that don’t.

Executive Summary

This is effectively an introduction to and overview of your business. The starting point for this can be the short sales pitch defining your business niche and goals that you wrote down in the last section. Additionally, the Executive Summary should provide a quick overview of the problems your business solves, explain the solution you offer to these problems, offer a brief definition of your target market, and perhaps include a few of the most important financial figures and targets related to your business.

Products and Services

As a photographer, your products are primarily going to be images. But is that all? Perhaps if you are a wedding photographer, you will also provide albums, videos or other physical items. Explain this here.

Target Market

You’ve already made mention of this in the Executive Summary, now define you market in greater depth. This is your chance to demonstrate that there is a real demand for your services as a photographer and that you have fully researched the needs and requirements of the market. Nothing will be more convincing to a potential investor than seeing that there is a genuine gap in the market for the business you wish to launch.

Marketing and Sales Plan

Here you should lay out exactly how you plan to position yourself in the market, the strategies you will employ in order to let your market know of your existence, and how you will convince people to make use of your services as a photographer. We’ll be looking  in greater depth at the topic of marketing for photographers later in this series of guides.

Milestones and Metrics

This is where you lay down clear qualitative and quantitative goals: where you are headed, when you expect to get there, and the steps you will take on the way.

For example, as we have recently expanded into a new market – as portrait, events and wedding photographers in Atlanta, GA – here we would try to estimate how many wedding photography, events or portrait jobs we need to secure in our first year of operation in order to stay afloat. The more realistic goals you can identify here, including accurate sums and figures, the easier it will be to keep tabs on the progress of your business over the first year or two of operations.

Financial Plan

Here’s where you show that your business is a serious financial proposition and not merely some artsy, air-brained castle-in-the-sand. At minimum this should probably include a Sales Forecast, Profit & Loss Statement, Budget and Sales Goals, Cash Flow Statement, Funding Needs and a Balance Sheet.

Naturally, most of us got into photography in the first place precisely because we don’t want to spend the rest of our lives crunching sums and writing complex business documents. Nonetheless, given the high rate of failure of photography businesses, a little time spent on these rather dull but totally essential steps now will go a long way towards securing the future success of your business (and keep you safe from the clutches of other less creative career paths).

Having committed your goals and business plan to paper, you’re now in a much stronger position to get your photography business up and running. In the next article in this series of guides about how to start a photography business, we’ll be looking at legal and financial considerations, and how much you should budget for equipment and other outgoings.

Be sure to check back weekly for all the guides in this series, so as to be fully prepared for your first professional gig. Til next time!

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