By Rachel Brill
Making the leap from photography as a hobby to a business is a rewarding experience, but it can also be challenging. We’re here to help, so we asked some of the top pros in the industry “What is the one thing every photographer needs to know when starting a photography business?” and divided their answers into three themes. Part 1 focuses on the importance of standing out: what makes you unique will make you successful. In Part 2, we offered key business strategies from the pros. Now, in Part 3, we share why you need a business plan.
Whenever you are going somewhere you’ve never been before, it’s a good idea to have a map. A business plan maps out your ideas and goals, and strategies for achieving them. But as an artist, you may not be wondering if all of this planning is really necessary. Here, eight pros discuss why having a business plan is a must.
Have a Game Plan
Every photographer should have a game plan before starting a business, according to sports and nature photographer David Liam Kyle. “It should be based upon knowing the type of photography you want to do, combined with business savvy. Coupled with this should be good communication skills in order to convey your intentions to your clients and the people who are helping with your creative process,” he said.
Adventure travel photographer Andrew Peacock discusses the need for a marketing strategy. “Know what your target market is, and have a clear understanding of how you will reach out to those who can use your services. That may mean a clear ongoing social media strategy and/or a more traditional advertising approach,” he said.
Get the Right Skills and Training
Wedding and commercial photographer John Baikie recommends taking classes or studying online about developing and running a business before trying to go pro. “Get the right training in place first. I see far too many people start a business with no training or experience, and just feeling their way around, hoping it’ll come together. Having a business plan and understanding the financial side of things will take a lot of the pressure off and allow you to focus on photography, without constantly worrying,” he said.
Sports and event photographer Jeff Cable also emphasizes the need to be have a solid understanding of business and marketing in place. “Even if you can take amazing photos, do not start a photo business until your business and marketing skills match your photography skills. I see too many photographers who take great photos and think that this is enough to build a business. It isn’t! In order to be successful, you need to think of your photography as business. You will need to be savvy about marketing, advertising, accounting, social media, and so much more,” he said.
Don’t Try to Do It All
Wedding and portait photographer Caroline Tran says it’s counterproductive to try to do it all. “Trying to do everything and please everyone will spread you too thin. Identify your style and target audience, then focus on that and do it well. Same goes for your workflow—do what you do best, then streamline/outsource the things that you don’t enjoy. This way, you’ll use your energy where it matters most, and keep enjoying what you do rather than being weighted down by less enjoyable task, she said.
Focus on the Numbers
When senior portrait photographer Erica Peerenboom was first starting out, she met with a small business advisor and put together her business plan. “They were able to guide me in all aspects of starting a business in my state and meeting all the requirements. Check with your state and find out how to register your business and pay your taxes. That is one of the most important steps. You also need to be able to effectively market and sell your products to actually make a profit. Figure out your cost of doing business and charge accordingly. Otherwise you are working for nothing, and no one loves photography that much. That’s a quick way to burn out!” she said.
Music and portrait photographer Martin Hobby echoes the importance of crunching the numbers. “Before you start your business as a photographer, know exactly how much you need to earn each month to stay in business. I’ve seen too many great photographers go back to working for someone else, because they underestimate how important the business side of running a business is. It’s not glamorous, but knowing how to write a simple business plan, cash flow forecast, and the basics about taxes will give you a fighting chance of being successful,” he said.
Pet photographer Amiee Stubbs wants photographers to know that even when you are building you portfolio, your time is valuable. “We love making our art, but this is also our livelihood. Be sure to charge your clients enough to cover your business expenses, and make some profit, as well. Don’t sell yourself short!” she said.
As the pros mentioned, having a marketing plan is an important component of a business plan. That’s why Zenfolio created A Photographer’s Guide to Creating a Marketing Plan! Download the free guide to learn how to create an effective marketing plan.
When putting together your business plan, consider it a work in progress that you update as needed based on what you learn along the way, and as your business grows and changes.
Rachel Brill is a marketing editor at Zenfolio. She has been editing for 13 years and writing for six years. She has a BA in journalism and resides in the San Francisco Bay Area.