Photography Business Guide

Having managed my own company for a little while and having seen it grow I thought some of you may be interested in some photography business advice and tips through this straight forward photography business guide.

Learning is a never ending journey. In the last few years since I worked on my first commercial assignment I’ve learnt a lot. Sometimes through mistakes but overall no lesson has been a bad one, it’s just been a lesson.

It’s a philosophy I try to adopt in life whereby it’s pointless having regrets. I look at everything I have done as having led me to where I am now, allowing me to learn along the way.

One of the important factors of running a photography business is that you will probably not even spend half of your time taking photos. Instead you'll find yourself sorting out your accounts, promoting your photography on social media, quoting clients, drafting terms & conditions, etc... But it definitely brings its rewards, not just financially but also in working on projects with very cool brands and people.

So here’s a list of some of the skills/requirements one needs to be aware of and develop as early as possible if they want to one day launch a successful photography business.

A cinemagraph I created for Peugeot

Photography:

Well this one is quite obvious. This is the core of it all and the one you will start with first. It will take a few years before you learn the technical side, build a quality portfolio, try find your niche in photography. Mine for example is Urban Photography and Cinemagraphs.

One of my core beliefs is that you need to be your worst critic, and I mean ask yourself with every photo you take: How could I improve next time?

If you get too comfortable with the feedback ("great shot", "great composition",...) you get on Flickr, Facebook or whichever social network you display your work, you will not keep pushing yourself.

Don't get into the trap of believing your photos are just the best simply because everyone on Flickr or Facebook says they are "awesome". That's what people do on social media, they'll like your photos in the hope you'll return the favour. All it will do is massage your ego, not improve your photography. 

Only show your very best work. We all sometimes take average photos, make sure you don’t show yours. 

A series of street portraits I shot for Match.com

A series of street portraits I shot for Match.com

Sales:

If you want to work with clients you will need to learn how to be a good sales person.

This means that, when given the opportunity to sell your services, you'll be able to explain how using you will benefit them. It also means getting paid as much as is possible for what your work is worth… without losing the job to one of your competitors.

It’s a very fine line knowing what your photography is worth and at the same time establishing what the client’s budget is.

Good sales can be as simple as replying to requests promptly. Take too long before replying to a potential client and if your competition has been quicker and more keen, you’ve lost a job.

A cinemagraph created for Campo Viejo

Web Development/SEO/Copywriting:

It’s never been easier to build your own photography website.

But like anything, it’s easy to mess it up. It’s as easy to create a shockingly bad website as it is taking bad photos.

OK, so let’s assume you’ve nailed it and have made your website look all pretty. Then what?

Well ideally you want people to find it when searching for what you do and Google is key. Establish what your potential clients would have to Google in order to find you. Once you've made a list of possible searches, work towards getting found. It could be "Family Photographer in Oxford", "Street Photographer in London" or "Wedding Photographer in Jersey".

SEO is important, whether you like it or not, and it can be mastered with some practice and research.

An urban landscape I shot for a London School of Economics brochure

An urban landscape I shot for a London School of Economics brochure

Content Creation:

To attract visits to your photography website from potential clients it's important to realise early that photos won't be enough.

Whilst it's important to keep shooting and selecting only your very best work to display, it's not quite enough.

You'll also need to create regular content for your blog and become good at writing... quick.

Spell-check and proof reading are severely under-rated nowadays, so make sure you don't drive traffic away from your site by writing like an eight year old.

Client Relations:

One crucial thing when running a business is having happy clients. This then leads to referrals through word of mouth.

Aside from doing all you can to satisfy your client, issues and occasionally less satisfied clients will happen. That's the case in any business even if we do our best to avoid them. It's your ability to solve problems and fix things in a professional way for a positive outcome which matters.

Sometimes you can turn a unsatisfied client into an advocate of your brand by showing how much you care and work hard to solve a situation quickly.

I’m quite lucky with that one as before finding a passion in photography, I worked for over 15 years in luxury hotels, dealing with some tough and unusual situations with some of the most demanding and difficult clients.

I didn't like it much at the time but this is another example of what I was saying in the intro: What you may not enjoy right now, may benefit you one day.

I developed a thicker skin, improved my problem solving ability and at the same time learnt how to be patient, diplomatic, deal with complaints efficiently and sometimes cope with not so friendly people. 

A cinemagraph for the BeaverTown Brewery

Marketing/Social Media/PR:

There is no point having a great portfolio (assuming you now have a great portfolio) if nobody gets to see it and that's where marketing kicks in.

At the moment the biggest part of my marketing is done via social media, then there is a share of SEO marketing and referral marketing too (that’s pretty much word of mouth). Did I forget email marketing and creating a database/list of clients you email once in a while? Yep this one matters quite a bit too.

I see social media for photographers as being the most important and valuable tool since it requires no financial investment, just time and good management. (Read: Social Media Tips For Photographers)

We are extremely lucky it’s never been easier to show our work to the world.

I said easier… not easy.

Yes indeed it involves growing a targeted following/audience, which takes years.

It's then about posting relevant content, at the right time without constantly pushing your own work, hard sales style.

So over 50% of my time spent on social networks is done sharing other people’s work. Call it “social media karma”. The clue is in “social”, just as in “real” life nobody wants to hang around people who only talk about themselves.

I have over 120.000 followers across social media platforms and spend well over two hours a day working on it. Having a large following on social media is not a popularity contest, it's about having the ability to get your work seen and reach a larger audience including potential clients. This is why 95% of my work comes through social media leads.

Remember with social media that you only get as much as you put in, like all other parts of your business.

(NOTE: FOR THE FOLLOWING TWO I RECOMMEND YOU SEEK ADVICE AS MISTAKES CAN BE COSTLY AND HAVE TERRIBLE CONSEQUENCES FOR A BUSINESS)

Accounts:

This screen greets me each time I open my online accounting software... Accounting Heaven? Then it must be because I died of frustration and boredom!

This screen greets me each time I open my online accounting software... Accounting Heaven? Then it must be because I died of frustration and boredom!

I’ll keep that bit short. This is for sure the part I will outsource at the first opportunity I get as it’s what I feel the least comfortable with. What can I declare as expenses? What if I miss an important tax deadline and get a fine? Chasing outstanding client payments, realising an invoice had not been sent… Yep… it’s scary stuff when you are not an accountant.

Legal:

I’m no lawyer but there is definitely a legal side to consider when running a business from terms & conditions for the work commissioned to model releases... all the way to public liability insurance (if someone trips on your tripod while on a job, hurt themselves and sue you).

That’s one thing I definitely would recommend seeking advice on instead of guessing! Better safe than sorry.

Final Words:

There are many more aspects to running your own photography business and I won’t even pretend to cover it all. 

But you have to start somewhere and I prefer to keep things “bite size” so I hope this will help others who, like me a little while back, are considering launching a photography business.

Yes it can be challenging at times, can be quite scary, but incredibly rewarding too if you give it your best shot.

Photography is my life and passion and the rewards are 100% worth the work I put in it. 

Nico