This is a complete guide discussing the 30 things I wish I’d known before starting my photography business.
Congratulations, you’ve taken the first step into the world of being a business owner and being your own boss.
While this guide is tailored to photographers (since I am a photographer), the core components and tips apply to other artists and creators as well!
Before we dive into the 30 things I wish I’d known before starting my own business, it’s important to lay out the pros and cons of having your own photography business:
- Happy and making money doing what you love
- Make your own hours
- Enjoy discovering new places and meeting new people
- Capture special moments for people
- Income can be inconsistent
- You can wear a lot of “hats” in your business
- Turning a hobby into a business can take the fun out of it
Once you’ve written your own pros and cons list, discussed starting your own business with those who are close to you, and worked out preliminary finance details, then it’s time to jump in!
What do I Need to Start a Photography Business?
What do you need to start a photography business? Well, all you need is a camera really, but there’s more to it than that to create a successful, thriving photography business.
Let’s dive into the 30 things I wish I’d known I needed before starting my own photography business.
How to Start a Photography Business?
1. Have a Business Plan
Write it Out
“If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail” – Benjamin Franklin.
This is a saying that I’ve had throughout the entirety of my life, and it applies to anything you do in life, including starting your photography business.
The first thing that’s crucial to starting your photography business is having a business plan.
I dive into how to create your own in my Photography Business Plan Guide, so be sure to check that out.
Choose Business Structure
Once you have your business plan written out, it’s time to choose your business structure.
I recommend checking out the SBA.gov guide on this topic as it covers all your choices.
Create and Register Business Name
Once you have an idea of the business structure you will want, it’s time to create and register your business name.
Where to Register a Photography Business?
There are many places to register your business.
I highly recommend checking out this resource from SBA.gov to determine what works best for you and your business!
Get Business Licenses and Permits
Within each state, there are business licenses and permits that may or may not apply to you and your business.
If you are in the United States, I recommend checking out this SBA.gov resource to see which business licenses would pertain to your business.
Business Bank Account
Once the business is registered, it’s time to open up a business bank account.
Having a separate account allows you to keep better track of business expenses and the separate account helps for legal purposes.
I recommend checking out the SBA.gov guide on this topic as it covers everything you need to know.
2. Have a Marketing Plan
Within a business plan, there is often a marketing plan as well.
The marketing plan details the strategy that you will use to market your product or service to your target audience/customers.
Along with identifying your target audience, the plan should also include the value proposition of your brand, the promotions and campaigns you will engage in, and the metrics that will be used to assess your performance.
If this is all new to you, I recommend first checking out our Marketing Framework Guide, where we dive into all the foundations of marketing.
3. Learn to Brand Your Business
As mentioned in the marketing plan, it’s important to know how to successfully brand your business.
Branding your business is important in establishing a “uniqueness” to your business.
This “uniqueness” will allow you to stand out from the rest of the competition and instead be grouped into the category of “just another photographer.”
Once the brand is built, you can charge more money, more people will want to work with you, and you will have more market power.
As mentioned in our Steps to Build Your Brand Guide, people often use the word “brand” without understanding the components of a brand.
A brand consists of your corporate image and positioning within the market.
When these two components work in unison, that is when a successful brand is established.
Once the brand is established, the other components of the Marketing Framework then come into play — all working together like cogs in a wheel.
4. Understand Positioning in the Market
As mentioned, positioning is the one half of what makes up a “brand.”
Positioning is defined as the process of identifying a target market/audience and creating an image of your product or service that fills the target market’s unfilled need.
I detail the steps to implement a successful positioning strategy in our Positioning Guide if you want to learn more.
Having a product positioning strategy is important because it allows you to have a focused and targeted approach to improving upon your “brand” image.
5. Understand the Importance of Corporate Image
Along with positioning, corporate image is the other half of what makes up a “brand.”
A corporate image, also known as corporate identity, is the perception of your company or business in the minds of your target audience.
I discuss in my Brand/Corporate Image Strategy Guide, the difference between perception and reality.
As a business owner and marketer, you can influence the perception of your corporate image through certain tactics outlined in the guide mentioned above.
Once your corporate image strategy and positioning strategy are implemented, that’s when a brand has now been established and you will know the levers to pull to positively influence your brand image.
6. Determine Photography Style and Niche
The 6th tip is to determine your photography style and niche by focusing on what you love.
A mistake I made early on was trying to photograph everything.
I was photographing events, products, food, portraits, concerts, and lifestyle photos.
I was photographing everything and specializing in nothing.
This tip aligns with the tip of branding that I mentioned.
I needed to determine the target audience I wanted to go after while simultaneously focusing on the style that I truly enjoyed, which was portraits and lifestyle photography.
Taking this focus early on will allow you to go deeper into that skill and become more of an expert on it.
Nowhere am I near an “expert” on it per se, but taking this focus on portrait photography alone has allowed me to learn quickly and establish my brand as a portrait photographer.
I would recommend determining what style of photography you love the most, then focusing on that style in the beginning until you are very comfortable with it and have established a bit of a brand with that style.
If there is another style you want to try out such as food photography (check out best cameras for food photography), then I’d suggest trying it out after establishing your first style.
It’s about the depth and not the breadth.
7. Determine What Products You Will Offer
The 7th tip is to determine what products you will offer your target audience.
The service you will be providing is photography, that one is a given, but do you know the products that you can offer as well?
Some products you can offer include photo albums, prints, Lightroom Presets, etc.
Knowing these products that you could also potentially offer provides great upsell opportunities and bundle pricing strategies that could help close more deals with clients and gain more business.
8. Importance of a Pricing Strategy
On the topic of bundle pricing strategies, it’s important to know your overall pricing strategy for your services as well.
Price, at its simplest definition, is the number of money buyers are willing to pay and that sellers are willing to sell a product or service.
I discuss in our Pricing Guide, how to control price and different pricing strategies based on psychological value perceptions.
You may want to charge less than the competition, but a lower price often equals a perception of lower quality especially if the customer hasn’t heard of your brand before.
You will want to know some basic pricing strategies such as leader, competition match, and loss leader strategies before determining which pricing strategy is best for you based on your marketing plan.
Pricing is important because it’s another component within the Marketing Framework, and also has an influence on your brand (positioning and corporate image) as well.
9. Creating an Optimized Website
Creating an optimized website is the 9th tip.
What is an Optimized Site?
A site that is well designed, has a great user experience, and is fast.
Your website is a part of your brand, and how it’s designed and structured will be a direct reflection of your business.
This means using clean typography, using a consistent color theme, and having high-quality photos in your portfolio.
A site that is well-designed often has a great user experience as well.
A great user experience means eligible font, it’s mobile responsive and follows an organized site hierarchy page structure.
A fast website is important for SEO.
The goal of Google is to keep people coming back to Google and using its search platform.
Fast websites offer a great experience for users because the users can access the information they want to receive quickly often positively influencing their “page session duration” metric in Google Analytics.
If Google sees that your website is fast and that users are not quickly leaving your site after landing on it, these are positive ranking signals sent to Google to favor your website in the search engine result pages (SERPs).
I describe all of this in our Creating a Website Guide where I also discuss the importance of using a good content management system (CMS) such as WordPress.
10. Understand All Your Digital Channels
The 10th tip is to understand all your digital channels.
I cover all the channels in our Promoting Your Business Guide.
Such digital channels include SEO, Paid Ads, and social channels such as Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
It’s important to know all the digital channels that are out there and what each channel is used for.
This will allow you to determine whether it is beneficial to your business to invest in a certain channel for promotion purposes.
11. The Power of SEO
Learning the fundamentals and strategies involved in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is very important.
The goal of SEO is to optimize your web pages for the search engine to drive more traffic to your website and conversions (client bookings).
Organic search is a huge part of digital marketing and unlike running paid ads, it is completely free.
Knowing how to control your rankings and understand how search engines work is crucial.
Here are some stats to prove it:
- 90% of searches made on desktops are done via Google (Statista)
- 35% of product searches start on Google (eMarketer)
- 34% of “near me” searches done via desktop and tablets result in store visits (Hubspot)
In our SEO for Photographers Guide, I discuss the basics of SEO, how to develop a pre-SEO strategy, ongoing SEO optimization tips, and how to maintain SEO rankings, so be sure to check out that in-depth guide.
12. Analyze Your Analytics
The 12th tip is to analyze your analytics.
This involved setting up Google Analytics on your website so you can monitor how your pages are doing in terms of traffic, session duration, and conversions.
If you don’t know how you are performing metrics-wise, then how do you know what to either double down on or improve on?
13. Step up Content Marketing Game
Along the same line as improving your SEO, is to step up your content marketing game.
Here are some stats to be aware of:
- 83% of traffic to marketing blogs comes from desktops (SEMrush, 2019)
- 77% of companies say they have a content marketing strategy (SEMrush, 2019)
- 70% of marketers are actively investing in content marketing (HubSpot, 2020)
- Nearly 40% of marketers say content marketing is a very important part of their overall marketing strategy (HubSpot, 2020)
What is content marketing exactly?
Content marketing is the purpose and goal of creating relevant written or visual content so your target audience can learn about your brand and products/services.
There are many different channels to begin your content marketing strategy.
Going back to tip #10, having an understanding of the different digital channels will allow you to determine which channel is best for your business goals and brand.
I discuss how to implement a content marketing strategy in our Content Marketing Guide so be sure to check that out!
14. How to do Keyword Research
Keyword research is the process of finding keywords to “rank” for in the search engine results page (SERP).
If there is a search engine, there are keywords.
Each keyword has its own monthly search volume and difficulty volume.
Knowing what keywords to target and how to target them is very important and is related to your SEO and content marketing strategy.
Say, for example, you are a New York Portrait Photographer.
If someone types in “New York Portrait Photographer” on Google, you want your website and business to show up first.
Why? Well, let’s say 100 people search for that keyword monthly. You can think of it as 100 potential clients searching for a New York Portrait Photographer each month that you could be doing business with.
But, the question begs…
Do you want to target “New York Photographer,” or “New York Portrait Photographer?” Should you target both? Should you just target “Portrait Photographer Near Me?” And how do you “target” these keywords?
I cover how to perform keyword research and the importance of keyword research in our Keyword Research Guide.
15. Understand The Hats You Wear
The 15th tip is to understand the different “hats” that you will be wearing now that you are a business owner.
Within a regular company/business, there are often different departments whose job is to perform a certain task that will work towards accomplishing the overarching goal of the company.
You have a Sales department whose job it is to bring in new customers.
You have a Marketing department whose job it is to implement a positioning, corporate image, product, pricing, and promotion strategy.
Within the Marketing department could be specialized teams such as SEO Specialists, Paid Ad Specialists, Designers, Social Media Specialists, Email Marketing Specialists, etc.
You also have a Finance department whose job is to monitor the financial performance of the company.
Then you have upper management whose job is to continue with innovation and to brainstorm creative “bigger-pictures ideas” to continue the growth of the company.
Lastly, of course, you wear the hat of an artist/photographer, the one actually performing the service or creating the product.
Well when you own your own business, you have to wear all these hats.
Being cognizant of this will allow you to plan out your days and integrate these tasks into your business and marketing plan as discussed in tips #1 and #2.
16. People Skills Are Crucial (Referrals)
People skills are crucial for any business.
Knowing how to handle interpersonal relationships can increase customer loyalty, and client retention, and improve the number of referrals you receive.
I recommend checking out the famous book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie.
If people like working with you because you are personable, they will want to see you succeed while also continue working with you.
This means more clients, more revenue, and meaningful lasting relationships with clients.
17. Be Organized
Staying organized is very important if you own your own business.
As mentioned in tip #15, you will be wearing multiple different “hats” as a business owner.
In order to ensure you are performing all the necessary tasks of all these departments as a one-person army, you need to stay organized.
This means using a calendar system, using a system to take daily notes, tracking the progress of your efforts, etc.
Me personally, I love using Google Calendar for scheduling, I write down my tasks for the week on Sundays making sure they align with the business and marketing plan, I still hand-write all my notes, and I use Google Analytics to track my organic performance as well as each social media analytics platform if I run an Instagram Ad for example.
18. Time is Money (Track Everything)
You know the old saying, “Time is money.”
Well, it’s true, but kind of stark.
I prefer to say, “Time is valuable.” This reminds me not to waste it on things that aren’t beneficial to my growth both personally and professionally, or my business’s growth.
I think it’s important to track everything you do for 2-4 weeks while working on your business. Track your hours to see how long it takes you to perform certain tasks and to determine what you spend the most time on.
For example, let’s say a typical day looks like you waking up, checking social media, reading a blog on imaginated.com ;), preparing for a photo shoot, driving to a photoshoot location, performing the photoshoot, driving back, watching tv, then going to sleep.
After about a couple of weeks or so, you should start to recognize a pattern and determine where you are spending the most time and where you should be spending less time based on the goals you want to accomplish.
19. Get Your Finances Down
The 19th tip is to get your finances down.
Just like tracking your tasks, you want to track how much you are making and how much is going out financially speaking.
The financials are very important, it’s what keeps us bringing food on the table.
Going back to the previous tip of tracking your tasks, this is where it ties into your financials.
You can compare the two to see where you are spending time and cross-reference it with how much money that task makes you.
As mentioned, there is a relationship between time and money.
When it comes to time and money, there are only two options, either you are spending time or you are not and you are bringing in money or you are not.
20. Be Patient
Being patient is the 20th tip.
When you are starting out in your business, you might do a million things at once because you want to see instant results.
Well, it’s good to do a lot of things for granted because you want to and it makes you happy, but not because you are waiting for those instant results.
For most things, it will take patience.
The most important thing to remember is consistency. Inspiration and motivation will come and go, and it is those that stay consistent even on uninspired days that will surpass the rest.
21. It’s the Photographer, Not the Gear
It’s the photographer, not the gear.
When starting out your photography business, you might be tempted to invest in a bunch of near gear that you think you may need.
This could be another camera, extra lights, a new bag, a new lens, etc.
Don’t be tempted to make such purchases yet.
Unless you’ve planned and budgeted out the funds to purchase these items and you REALLY need them, then don’t feel like you NEED them just to start your business.
The skills and expertise of a photographer lie within themselves, not within the gear they use!
22. Stay Consistent
My 22nd tip is to stay consistent.
What I mean by this is that you will have days where you are feeling very inspired and some days where you feel like a complete loser and question if this business owner gig is right for you.
Whether it’s you going out to practice, learning up on photography, blogging on your website, sending out emails, etc.
What separates the great ones from the rest of the pack are those that stay consistent even when they aren’t feeling inspired.
Consistency is key.
Ride the waves of inspiration as they come but if you are feeling uninspired on a certain day, just expect it and know that it will come.
Embrace those days and stay consistent.
23. Stay Curious
It’s also important that you stay curious.
Always be asking yourself how you can continue to improve upon your craft.
Always be asking “how?” and “why?”
How do I edit my photos better? How do I capture better photos? How do I get more clients? Why are they getting more clients than me?
Stay curious and stay consistent in your work, learning, and practice.
Stay curious about the ways you can improve as an artist/creator.
24. Comparison is the Thief of Joy
Along the same note of staying curious, while you want to continue improving upon yourself, you don’t want to compare your current status to somebody else’s.
They say comparison is the thief of joy.
Don’t compare your day 10 to somebody else’s day 300.
We all start at different points in our lives and as long as you are better tomorrow than you were yesterday, that’s all that matters.
This combined with consistency and staying curious/a lifelong learner will make you unstoppable.
“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard” – Tim Notke.
25. Make It Easy for Clients
The 25th tip is to make it easy for clients.
Optimize your processes and minimize friction as much as possible.
There is a common belief in Silicon Valley that they are constantly trying to reduce friction as much as possible between the buyer and the product/solution.
You can see this with Amazon’s one-click purchase as well as Facebook’s sign-up process.
Apply these principles to your own business.
How can you streamline your processes?
For example, do you have a contact form on your website or do you ask clients to call you to book a photo session?
Do you have a pdf telling clients what to expect on the day of their photoshoot?
Put yourself in the mind of a customer who is nervous and has never had a photoshoot before.
What would you like to receive to ease your questions and concerns and reduce the possibility of you canceling the photo shoot?
26. Set Goals
Following the similar vein of having a business and marketing plan.
You need to set goals.
These could be monthly goals, quarterly goals, yearly goals, or even where you want to be 5 years from now.
For me personally, I plan out what I want to accomplish each quarter (every 3 months) and then check in every month to see if I’m on pace and what is working well or not working well based on if I’m on pace to hit my target goal or not.
Write down your goals, whether they are monetary goals, goals of learning a certain skill, the traffic you want to drive to your website, followers you want to have on Instagram, etc.
By having the goal, you can align your business and marketing plan to achieve them.
If it’s driving traffic and more conversions organically, then brush up on SEO, if it’s improving your Instagram followers, then brush up on social media tactics.
Your goals should be hard numbers such as improving organic traffic to my site by 15% quarter over quarter or gaining 1,000 more engaged followers on an Instagram quarter over quarter (QoQ).
27. Failing Isn’t Failing If You Learn
Failing is often a term that has a negative connotation.
It’s important to understand that there is no such thing as failing, there are only lessons learned.
If you think about it, if you “fail” at something but you learned a valuable lesson, did you really fail?
I think failing is when you don’t even try at all.
Granted, you must take this attitude after knowing you were staying consistent, putting in the work, and bettering yourself each day.
If you know you were doing everything you were supposed to if you fall down, brush yourself back up and get back in the races. And most importantly, learn what caused you to “fall down” so you don’t repeat the same mistake.
Everybody sees a big success, but no one ever sees the 100 “fails” that were before the big success.
It’s all a part of the process.
28. Stay Balanced
Staying balanced is tied directly with tips #18 and #19 regarding “time is money” and tracking your finances.
I like to think of it as a trifecta where there is work, social (happiness/spending time with family), and sleep, and you can only focus on two very heavily for a short time before you need to find balance between all three.
You must keep things at a balance or else there is chaos.
It’s fine to lean a little in one direction for a bit as long as you don’t stay there for too long.
Here’s an example, not saying any one way is bad. Let’s say you are focusing heavily on work and social — spending 10-12 hours a day at work and then spending time with family for 6 hours a day.
This will cut into the sleep category and you may catch yourself not getting enough sleep. If you’ve been getting only 5 hours a night of sleep for an extended period, it will cut into how you feel doing your work and social time.
If you decide to continue working 10-12 hours a day but focus on getting your sleep, it could cut into your social time. You could be finding not enough time to spend with your family which could then cut into your sleep while also affecting your work.
I think it’s okay to go on these “sprints” every once in a while but after a while, you will need to find a healthy balance between the trifecta or else there will be chaos.
And of course, everyone’s situation is different. You could be living alone and focus solely on work and sleep, and not care at the moment about “social.”
I think framing our “human needs” into these 3 categories can help us be cognizant of what areas we are lacking in terms of balance.
29. Be a Lifelong Learner
All the very successful people have been lifelong learners, they are always looking for ways to “level up” both personally and professionally.
Just like staying curious, be a lifelong learner and you will surpass those who stay stagnant.
Follow the age-old saying — Knowledge is power.
30. It’s Always Day One
“It’s always day one.”
This is a philosophy that was adopted at Amazon.
It’s the idea that you want to always work like it’s day one of your business.
- You want to be obsessed with the customer, continually finding ways to provide a better service to them. This ties into tip #25 where you want to make things easy for the client.
- You want to focus on the results. Everything you do should be tied to the results and goals that you set for yourself. Everything has to align.
- You want to make high-quality decisions quickly. If there is a decision you have to make, be thoughtful of it, write down the pros and cons, but be quick. If you wait too long you may overthink a decision and end up wasting time.
- You want to embrace external trends quickly. An example of this is, for example, learning about the importance of starting a website and beginning content marketing but you hold off on implementing it.
Most importantly, always approach your business with the enthusiasm and optimism you had on day 1.
Carry these feelings into day 100, day 500, and even day 1,000.
How to Expand a Photography Business
Expanding a photography business is about understanding current shortcomings and strengths.
What is working and what is not?
Double down on what is working and either eliminate or problem-solve what is not.
Have a goal and align everything towards that goal.
Have an understanding of the 30 tips I shared and see what you can incorporate into your own business.
For any advice or guides that you read or watch, keep what is useful and subtract what is not.
That is a very important skill to continue growing both personally and professionally.
This was an in-depth guide looking at the 30 things/tips for starting a photography business.
Now go out there and keep growing both personally and professionally!
I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.
Nate Torres is an entrepreneur, growth marketer, and photographer and writes mostly on those topics. Nate runs his own professional photography business called Nate Torres Photography. Nate enjoys learning about new digital marketing strategy and new ways to think creatively. He is also a photography speaker and author on Photofocus.