I have failed so many times with my business. I am by no means an expert. But, I have owned my own little photography side hustle since the age of seventeen and with many clients, failures, trial and a lot of error, and degrees in business communication and English writing from Rockhurst University, I think I finally got it (mostly) right. This is going to be a lonnnng article, so buckle up and get ready for a wild ride with me.
Why is learning about business so important?
One of the best pieces of advice that I ever received was from my old boss, Michael Wilson, who was the founder of a luxury watch company, NIALL Luxury. He told me “Most creatives fail at taking direction.” While this phrase is indeed not applicable to all, it is an incredibly important thing to take into consideration.
Skills in photography and art, in general, are much different from skills in business. In a lot of ways, your skills in photography can take you very far. However, skills in business can propel you even farther than you ever thought you could go.
The difference between art and business is pretty easy to see. For starters, creativity relies almost entirely on whims and moments. Business, on the other hand, can be a lot more structured, demanding, and not as fun. But a healthy business has a proper dosage of both, which is what inspired me to write this.
Let’s be honest, I am not the best photographer. I try hard to capture good moments and edit them beautifully, but I’m not top dog. I don’t think I ever will be, and that’s perfectly fine by me.
A lot of the success I have had from photography has not been because my work speaks for itself, but rather because I speak for my work. Communicating my thoughts, ideas, and worth as a businesswoman has proven to take me much much further than anything else has. In the past year of my life, I have photographed three seasons of Kansas City Fashion Week, one season of New York Fashion Week, collaborated with numerous brands, and photographed a lotttt of weddings. I don’t think I would have done any of those things if I had just let my work speak for itself. That’s not to toot my own horn, though. I still have so much to learn, and a lot farther to go on this journey.
Had I had any resources for starting a business when I got into this thing, I might not have made all the mistakes I did along the way. I made these mistakes so you don’t have to! I just want to spread the knowledge and love. I hope that everyone, me included, can learn a thing or two from opening the discussion on best practices in business when it comes to creative fields.
If you’re a photographer, chances are that you’re going to have to capture someone’s defining life moments. Whether it’s the birth of a child, a marriage, senior pictures, or product photography, you’re going to be there for something monumental. Having a relationship with the people that you photograph is not only crucial to getting better shots, but it’s also a great way to build or destroy your business.
Work your way up. If you want to do fashion, contact local fashion magazines. If you are interested in shooting weddings, put a call out to some of your friends who might be getting married and build up your portfolio. When I first started my business, I would just ask my friends or family if I could bring my camera to their wedding to shoot a few things.
Get Out There
Your photography shouldn’t just live on Instagram or a Facebook page. It needs to be real and tangible in a way for other people to see and experience. As I said, the reason that I have gotten as far as I did with photography is not that I let my work speak for itself, but because I spoke for my work. You have to network locally before you can take yourself and your work far.
Milk those Facebook groups of local photographers. Find friends that are photographers, models, artists, and other visual content creators and network with them over coffee.
The Four P’s of Marketing
If there’s one thing that they drill into you in business school, it’s the four P’s of marketing. They’re pretty simple to remember, they go as follows:
So it’s pretty easy to knock out Product and Price. Just know what you like shooting, and that’s your product. The price is entirely up to you, just set it as you see fit. If you want a good idea of how I set my prices, click here. I set them according to my expenses that I have and how much time I spend on each photograph. Everyone is different. My prices work for me, but they don’t have to be the ones that you set for yourself. That’s up to your discretion.
Promotion is an entirely different beast. I don’t personally spend any money marketing or promoting my posts on social media. I have a Facebook page and an Instagram. To gain an audience, I just tag the people I have in my shoots and ask them for photo credits on both Facebook and Instagram. I use hashtags on Instagram.
That being said, it is still a dandy idea to promote yourself with paid ads on social media. It can reach a lot more people than you would otherwise and can help a business grow exponentially. You have to spend a little to earn a little. I know you can set a budget, time limit, and audience for your ads that are tailored to what you are looking for.
Make sure that your visuals are curated to your audience and a good representation of your brand. Invest in a good, creative logo. You won’t regret it. I doodled mine on an iPad. You can go to the website Fiverr to find and hire a graphic designer to make you an excellent little logo with a quick turnaround time! Or you can make one yourself easily with the website Canva.
Get your money right
Keep an Excel Spreadsheet of everything you earn from your business. Sounds simple enough, right? This will come in SO handy if you want to register your business as LLC and be accountable before the government, come tax time in April. If you just want to keep your freelancing under the radar and do not choose to register an LLC, it might still be a great idea to keep track of your income and expenses so you can set your prices according to what you spend and what you can earn.
Remember that if a client wants work done for free, to do that work at your discretion. Everyone needs to pay their bills at the end of the day, and it’s a good idea to keep that in mind if someone wants to work with you because “it’ll be great exposure.” I tend to shy away from these kinds of shoots, mostly because I have yet to find them mutually beneficial. However, doing work without getting paid is a decision that everyone needs to personally make.
Please write a contract. I beg of you.
If you’re shooting a big wedding, photographing for an event, or doing work with a company, please please remember to write a contract with them. Contracts are an easy way to communicate with clients the expectations for compensation and services. It keeps both parties accountable for their own set of expectations, as well as ensures that you get paid.
If you want an example of the contracts I make for weddings that I have shot, click here.
Don’t lose your mind
The one thing that I wish I knew before owning my own business is this: It’s okay to say no. You don’t have to say yes to every project that comes across the table. Maybe you don’t have the problem with saying yes that I do, but for my fellow people who can’t say no, please know that it’s okay to be selective. I have found that being selective is the best way to create visuals and content that I am passionate about, and that keeps me from going a little bit crazy. Quantity and quality are not the same things.
While all of my tips are tricks are curated explicitly towards photographers, it is nevertheless essential for anyone who is in a creative field doing contract or freelance work to remember that there is a vital side of the understanding business. Ultimately, it benefits both you and the client, encourages future relationships, and helps bring home the bacon. That being said, these are the things that I have personally found to work for me, and not all of them are going to be universally applicable or helpful. I want to encourage the conversation to keep going. If you would like to chat more about ways that you have noticed your photography or creative business grow, please feel free to comment them below and we can chat! If I got something incorrect, please constructively let me know.