How many photographers do you know personally? Most people answer that question now by counting them off on their fingers…which is sad really, but exciting too. Sad that everyone has decided to start a business by just buying or acquiring a camera, but exciting for so many people who are discovering the thrill of the art!
I know it sounds like sour grapes when any photographer, myself included, says something in a negative way about how many other photographers there are out there now. It is sour grapes for some – but it isn’t for me, truly. I love that so many people have cameras and appreciate how much goes into taking a great photograph. I don’t mind when people come to a session with me and want to talk “shop” – I’m happy to share. Others shared and still share, with me, so why not?
But if asked what makes a good portrait business today, I’d have to say it isn’t just a passion for photography. I believe to succeed in this as a business you need to also have a passion for business, and technology. If you can’t spend the same amount of enthusiasm learning and growing in those areas too you will be, #1 – miserable, and #2, most likely a failure as a business. Because so many people can take a good photograph, just taking a GREAT one won’t be enough. How will anyone know you can take a GREAT one? And do you know how to sell it to them? How to package it for them? How to get it from the camera to the computer, and all phases of in between?
As a single person business I face a lot of challenges in this market and I’ve made my share of mistakes along the last 7 years. But I started this business knowing all three areas of Art, Business and Technology had to be addressed every day and that, I believe, is why 7 years later I’m not only still loving taking pictures, but I’m still IN BUSINESS TAKING PICTURES.
So my advice for anyone wanting to do this as a business:
#1 Have a support network of people who will both cheer you on AND tell when to give up. A good balance of both positive and negative input on your work will be invaluable. If everyone only says positive things, keep asking. Most folks won’t tell you what they don’t like, and the ones that will are most often quiet so as not to hurt your feelings. Be open to the negative comments, look for the negative comments. They are more valuable to you than the positive ones in the beginning because you will learn and grow as a business when you know how others perceive your work.
#2 Have another source of income – this will not make money for many years and will require a very healthy influx of investment dollars to have all the equipment necessary besides the camera. (I speak from experience here – this is NOT an inexpensive hobby and if you think the “expensive” camera and lens and maybe a flash put you in business you have a long way to go. If the THOUSANDS of dollars of investment scares you, back off now and save yourself the worry and arguments with your significant others)
#3 Be prepared to work on this 24/7 practically. Live it, breath it, and look for ways to improve it all the time. Once you open your doors as a business you can’t complain about the customers asking you to work for them – weekends, holidays, evenings – you have to be prepared to work when the customer will pay you to work, and do everything else you have to when you aren’t actually taking the pictures. Just like opening any business, sweat equity is key. Be prepared to sweat a lot. If you think this can be a flexible business around your family obligations, another job, etc – just know you will have to make major compromises to one or the other much of the time. If you aren’t prepared to be flexible with your personal schedule, keep this a hobby for now.
#4 Be honest with yourself – know how much you are willing to do, say, pay, and hear – and how much you aren’t. Are you willing to be told your work isn’t very good? Are you willing to travel to learn from others? Make investments in setting up the business? Or do you only want to make a few dollars and work a few hours? If you can’t be honest with yourself, you are the only one who will lose in the end.
#5 Look at the successful photographers and find out why they are successful. You might have great ideas about “changing how it’s done”, but understand how others do it too so you don’t end up wasting time and money only to come around to sound and tried business practices. You might have a great idea, but if your idea for your business is very different from how others are doing it, ask yourself “why?”
#6 Be prepared to reinvent yourself constantly. This “art” and “technology” change very quickly. Don’t get stuck in the slow lane of either.
#7 Let it be a hobby if the rest of it isn’t fun. And let someone else get paid for doing it all – even by you- if the hobby is what it is for you. (i.e. – pay someone to take YOUR photograph now and then – it’s worth the investment and you can then “talk shop” with the other photographer AND get the memories with YOU IN THEM at the same time.)
I’m sure there is more I could say on the subject…and I’ll probably think of it as soon as I hit publish on this post, LOL…but for now, this says a lot. 2014 is my 7th year in business, and I had no idea I would learn so much, or grow so much in 7 years. I had no idea I needed to….or was willing to….
Here’s to what we’ll all learn in 2014…I, for one, can’t wait to get started!