If you are thinking of starting your own photography business or are embarking on your first few months full-time, this article is for you.
Looking back on my first two years of involvement in my photography business, I can admit that I made a lot of mistakes. But I also learned a lot. Even as I write this article, it all seems like common sense now, but sometimes you have to go through things to figure them out.
Here are five things I learned in my first two years as a freelance photographer.
1. It’s expensive
I knew it would be expensive to start. But if you plan to start your own business, try to be as thorough as possible. There are office supplies, such as calendars, printers, ink and computers. Then there are the monthly payments ranging from bank charges to accounting and post-processing software subscriptions. Don’t forget annual lump sum payments for things like insurance, business licenses, and website fees.
There are incidentals for lunches on the go, gas for your car, fees for joining various groups and networks. Printing and shipping aren’t cheap if you’re selling products. If you like to learn (and you should be!), continuing education in the form of classes or workshops is another expense. And we haven’t even started the camera gear yet! But you get the point – be financially aware and prepared.
2. Provide quality products, even if it means increasing your prices
I learned this one the hard way (as I seem to do with most of my business classes). I tried ordering prints from a cheap online website to lower my quote for a bulk order customer. Needless to say, half of the prints turned out terrible. Not having enough time to get them to redo the order (which probably would have been just as bad), I had to have them printed at the last minute, and locally, at a much higher cost.
This caused a lot of unnecessary stress the day before my delivery date and also took money out of my pocket. If you want to provide your customers with quality products, pay to do it right and quote accordingly. Either way, failing to pay will only make your work look unprofessional.
3. Don’t be afraid to outsource the things you can’t do
I get it, funds are tight when you’re just starting out. But if you’ve never run a business before, there are things you might not know. For me, accounting/bookkeeping was one of those things. Having a conversation with an accountant about what I needed to do to keep the business side of things was key. Being able to contact her with questions and errors is always invaluable to me.
Marketing was another area I asked for help with. Same with website building and copywriting. For a while I tried to print my own images but eventually got frustrated with my lack of technical ability and also outsourced all my printing.
Hiring professionals to guide me in these areas took a ton of stress away from me. It also made me much more proficient, as I learned from people who specialized in these areas.
4. It’s easy to always be on time; set limits
When you run your own business, especially a home-based business, you can start to feel like you’re always on time. When I started, I always wanted to be super responsive with customers, even if it meant responding immediately to their email at 11 p.m. on a Saturday evening. Or search for Wi-Fi while camping to check email and post on social media. Eventually, I realized that I had to give myself some time off from the company. I started setting limits in terms of personal time.
Conversely, creating specific working times is also essential. It’s easy when your office is in your home to get distracted by a load of laundry, cooking dinner, kids or pets. All of a sudden, your “work” day has passed and you haven’t accomplished much. Setting specific tasks, work times and break times has been key to my personal workflow.
5. Having a network of like-minded peers is invaluable
I’ve always been quite happy working alone and considered myself rather shy and introverted when it came to things like networking. But as my business grew and I was introduced to new people, I found incredible strength, inspiration, and camaraderie in other photographers. I met many local photographers in my area and became friends with them. It’s great to be able to submit ideas, questions, referrals and price requests to them.
Some peers I met at in-person workshops I attended and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. Others I know of only through groups or online workshops, but they still provide a wealth of knowledge and understanding of what I’m going through with a new business. I lean on all these people, and they lean on me too. Photography can be a very competitive industry, but it doesn’t have to be lonely. Look for those positive relationships.
Starting your own photography business can be a scary and exciting time. You will surely learn a lot of lessons the hard way, but rest assured that you are not the only one. I probably could have written a list of 100 things I learned in my first two years as a freelance photographer! Remember to take each setback as a lesson learned and celebrate each small victory as it comes.