Before I begin anything in this series, it is imperative that you know and understand that business is very difficult for me. I don’t really get it. I struggle through it and hate it in the process. I understand things to do with the business and legal side to the best of my ability and then check with professionals that know what they’re doing to make sure everything I think is right. It is possible that something in this article might not be accurate in your state as state laws vary. Please don’t take this as legal advice, but as a starting point for your own research.
If you know anything about me, you know that I jumped into business hastily. It was not thought out. I had swirling ideas of pro-status photographer grandeur in my head already from the handful of people who offered to pay me for photographing their family. And then I had a professional photographer ask me for advice one day on something that was very simple and basic. And that was the thing that sealed the deal. If they could do it, certainly I could do it. And that was the day I determined in my head I would go into business.
Please, please, for the love of photography (literally – business can steal the joy!) do not go into business on a whim or even just because people have told you they would pay you!
In my opinion, business is about 80-90% of a photography business. Yes, you need to take pretty pictures. But in order to get that business, you have to be a business man or woman first. Business will always come first. Have you ever seen a mediocre photographer up to their ears in business? Or a phenomenal photographer who doesn’t make a lot of bookings? It’s not the quality of their photography. It’s probably their business skills and management.
So back to my story. The next few days, I’d say maybe 3-4 days, I started a business. Looking back at myself, I’m horrified by my process. I’m the kind of girl with a lot of confidence and the ability to jump in headfirst, which is just what I did, foolishly. I came up with a business name in just a few hours. And then I secured a website under that name, Savor Photography, another hour later. I found a photography website hosting service and bought the template after a few hours of looking.
Do you see the craziness of it all? I didn’t let things sink in. I was gung-ho and ready to do this. NOW! What if I didn’t like my business name a week later? What if the template website didn’t have good service? I should have slowed down, sought advice and let it swirl around in my head longer. Nearly everything I did then I’ve had to redo later.
After buying the website, I got my website up the next day using sample photographs I already had. I put ads on Craigslist for free portfolio building shoots. (Another thing I learned early on – avoid Craigslist! Even for free shoots! People who are out to get free photography will not value you or your time or appreciate what they’re getting for the most part.) I went straight to Legal Zoom and paid them to get me legit as a business, without understanding the process whatsoever. I made contracts as needed, basically using stuff I could find out online. I decided on my pricing without fully considering what it would cost me. I put together a logo in Photoshop, which was awful.
Seriously, I did all of this in just days and I was officially open as a business. I did it half thinking it might fail, not considering the future. And even to this day, I’m still paying for my mistakes. Yes, several years later, I am still paying for poor planning in the past.
So if you’re considering starting up a business, please learn from my mistakes. Here’s what I wish I had thought about before jumping in.
1. Consider your business skills. Are you a natural businessperson? Are you a good salesman? Are you outgoing and willing to put yourself out there? Do you know what your marketing strategies are? Do you easily understand your income tax paperwork? Because business paperwork is just as bad, and there’s more of it.
2. Come up with a plan for your business. A lot of people out there suggest you need a proper business plan. I don’t really believe that (but then again, I’m not good at business). But I do think you need to have your goals laid out. You need to consider how big you want to be, how many shoots you want to do per month, and what your income goals will be. Do this before you officially open.
3. Before you act on anything that will be permanent, let your ideas sit for a while. Things like a logo and a business name are, or should be, permanent. If I could do it over again, I’d put money into this and hire someone to help me.
4. Research how to start up a small business in your state. Laws vary by state, and there a different organizations for business you can choose, like LLCs and self-proprietorship. I’ll address this next time. Again, you need to have all this figured out before you open up.
5. Re-evaluate why you want to go into business. What are your motivations? Do you have the time and money it takes to start a business? Do you want to go into debt? Can you afford to fail? Home businesses can become consuming. If you have a family, it can take a huge chunk of your time from them. It’s not as easy as having photography as a hobby. It’s possible that you will not love your photography business as much as you love your photography hobby.
6. And lastly, don’t do business under the table. Even when you’re starting out, have integrity and get legit.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t start a business. I’m just saying you should think it through first. If you’ve given a lot of thought into all this and still want to go ahead with it – great! I’ll go into more specifics next time.
Rachel Durik is a photographer located in Southwest Florida. You can learn more by visiting her photography site, Savor Photography, Naples Wedding Photographer, the Savor facebook page, and her personal blog. Rachel offers photography workshops and online photography classes. Learn more here.