Over the past few years as Vagabond Photography expanded I found there was a lot of things I didn’t know I needed to know. I knew the basics, at least I thought I did while I was cannon balling into the deep end of the pool with the big boys, but then I quickly found out WOW there is still a lot to learn. So here are a few of the things I learned when I went from being a part time on the side business(off the books) to operating as an actual business.
Buying gear can sink a new company, everyone’s thinking they have to have the newest and best gear out there. In reality, you only need what you are going to use on a regular basis. There is a lot of gear I have bought over the years and all it does is collect dust and some of it I have sold and some of it I still have. Don’t worry about what John Doe Photography has across town. As long as you have a solid camera and lens’s, with a few hot shoe flashes you can photograph pretty much anything you need to.
Also if you are a little bit on the handy side you can make some of those expensive reflectors or soft boxes you may need/want.
You're more than a photographer
Yep that’s right, we are the people with many, many hats. You will be doing so much more than just shooting and editing photos for your clients. It involves being the bookkeeper, appointment keeper, website guru, marketing master, social media GOD, customer service rep and any other hat you can think of.
It also turned out I had a lot more to learn when I moved to doing wedding photography a few years back. I learned, one has to create interesting and captivating albums. Also, when showing clients their photos, I now create slide shows and if you want it to pop, mix audio in as well so it pulls at the heart strings of your clients a little more.
Branding over Paper
When I first started I thought I needed have all these flyers, pamphlets and business cards. Well you really don’t, it’s all about getting out there and branding yourself but make sure you have a business card. Portray yourself as your business, dress the part and let your work speak for itself, create something that is personal so people remember you.
Though most other marketers and branders will say paper is dead I still find it handy to have a handful of business card on me because you never know when it will be useful. Information on one side a photo on the other and make it a photo that is appealing and makes a client want to look at it.
So it turns out the government wants to know how much you are making off your business. Initially when I was starting I thought it was just like reporting our regular taxes. You do it at year end and hey you’re good to go until next year. Turns out Uncle Sam wants to know a little more often than that. One reports once a quarter in our state and let them know hey we made some money this month or no we didn’t. it is quite easy once you get used to them.
Before I started my business the only thing I really worried about was what happens if my gear breaks or gets stolen. I had a rider on my home owner’s insurance policy that if the gear was destroyed in say a house fire, home robbery it was covered but if I was out on my own and something happened like I was robbed, it fell in a lake or other I was basically S.O.L. When I joined the Professional Photographers of America(PPA) they offered basic equipment loss and it was cheaper and covered more than what the rider on my insurance policy covered.
Also, PPA offers general liability insurance starting at relatively reasonable rates, which covers you if you tell the model to back up and they fall into scenery, hurt themselves resulting in medical bill, PPA insurance also has you covered if multiple of other event happen that allows you to keep working.
Off Season Income
Vagabond Photography is a Wisconsin based photography company and I am very proud to hang my shingle here and say we are open for business. Though Wisconsin has one major drawback for being an on-location photographer. Clients don’t like to be cold and it is pretty cold here from November through March.
The first year I operated I thought I could make the transition from shooting sports, portraits, corporate work for nine months of the year and be able to sit tight for a quarter and live off my earnings from the other nine months. I was sorely mistaken. I ended up back at where I used to work in the winters while in college at a small ski resort. It is nothing to be ashamed about but it something you might have to considers if there is a lengthy off period in were you decide to operate.
Be willing to evolve
Even though you may say I am a Senior Portrait photographer and this is what business is going to be, don’t be surprised if your business and clientele have a different plan for you.
For example, I originally wanted Vagabond Photography to be an alternative sports, music and portrait company but over time morphed into something else. Some of my sport and music clients became my corporate clients because they saw me on the weekends and had a need for me during the week in their business world. Then after a few more years my portrait clients became my first wedding clients and my company evolved into what it is today. So don’t be afraid of a little change it can open up a whole new photography world for you.
Ask your clients for Referrals
Referrals are key in this business, if your clients are happy they’ll talk about you to their friends and that will help you with more business. Don’t be afraid to ask your clients to help get your name out there. It might involve giving away a couple of prints to a client from a session or doing a quick family photo during a senior portrait session but the money/time you spend on the little things like that will pay larger dividends in the end.
Find Local Professional Photographer Mentor
Most new photographers I have met over the years myself included, seem to think they have it handled and they know what they are doing. Though the truth is you are going to need some help. I found a local studio whose owner was willing to give me solid advice to keep me from making some of the common mistakes that a lot of us make when still starting out.
Over the years they become good friends and they can also help get you some additional work if they trust you. I can say without a doubt I would not be in business today if it wasn’t for their help.
Be willing to take Constructive Criticism and learning from it
When I started I thought my work was great and up there with the pro’s. I became friends with some of the local photographers and joined a few photo clubs and the first thing I did was asked, “hey what do you think of this one(photo)?” Oh my god I thought I was done for by the time those three photographers were finished going over my work. Though they did finish with you have a good start keep at it.
In reality though, this is the best thing for beginning photographers who are just starting a business moving from being an amateur to pro or even for an average Joe who is just pick up a camera to hear.
Now take what that photographer said and find a way to build from it. It may be hard to hear but it is the best thing to hear, it should make you want to do better and elevate your work.
it pains me to say this but if you have thin skin and can’t take the CC well this is not the business to be in because as photographers we are constantly being judged by the current about their photos, next client who sees your work hanging on a wall or a photographer who you are talking to about your work or sees your work someplace.
Find time to shoot for fun
The last thing I would like to leave you thinking about, is find the time to shoot just for you. As photographers in the business we spend so much time shooting for other people, doing their projects, portraits, wedding, etc that we can easily forget why we started in this business. So, take some time at least once a month to work on your own personal project it doesn’t have to be for publication necessarily but it does have to be for you to keep your creative juices flowing.