Most new photographers, myself included, get really excited about the fact that their fun hobby could make them money or even get them out of a job they hate. However, most photographers, myself included, decide to go professional and start charging for their work WAY too early and it becomes a detriment to the long-term viability of their business.
The allure of making money with photography is huge. There is always the new piece of equipment you want to buy, trip you want to go on or software updates to keep up with. So many people also view photography as a way to make some extra money on the side, make some income as a stay at home parent or maybe even use it to quit your job. But the truth is – to be a full time photographer you are much more of a businessperson than you are an artist. And as such, you need to plan your business before you take the plunge into charging money.
Perfect Your Craft
We all continue to get better throughout our career. In the photographic industry you have to or your business will quickly wither and die. But before you start a business, get your skills up to par. Do LOTS of practice shoots. Be an expert and be able to create images on par with the established businesses. I cannot say enough that you should not be charging money for work before you are equipped with gear and ability to create professional images.
Everyone has a natural market. This is the market that you are already in. Friends, family, social groups. Everyone that is your friend on Facebook, is connected to you on LinkedIN or has you in their circles on G+. You only have one chance to strike into your natural market, which is why you want to wait until you are producing professional imagery to do it.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with turning down what could net you a little money in a photoshoot because you don’t have the expertise. Offer to introduce them to a professional that knows what they are doing in that specific market and refer that professional the business. Doing this is win-win for you. Your friend knows you looked out for them and got them a quality professional and there is no doubt that the professional photographer is going to appreciate it greatly when you give them a nice referral.
Every time you raise your prices, you burn your market. Your referrals are telling their friends how great you are and how you only charge $$. But if you now charge $$$, that referral now questions why it is so much more for them than it was for their friend. Also, people tend to run with people in similar socioeconomic situations and if you bump up from $$ to $$$, you may be bumping your target market to a higher socioeconomic demographic.
If you start charging friends and family too soon, when your quality isn’t quite up to par, you are liable to burn your natural market in another way – by underperforming expectations. Setting expectations low is a great way to set in their mind that you suck. No matter how good you get, it is hard to overcome that first impression. So when you take money and you aren’t quite as good as the pics they are seeing on their friend’s Facebook page, they are probably going to be disappointed. And you just lost your referrals from them to their friends forever. You just lost the most important thing you had going for your business before you even got started – referrals from people that already like you.
The Business Side of Photography
I love being a photographer. I love creating images, being creative and even editing. But I don’t spend all my time trying new things and figuring out the next great shot. Simply because if you are going to take in money, you are in business. Even if it is just a hobby and you have no intention of making a living out of photography. If you make a dime, Uncle Sam wants 3 pennies.
I have heard some horror stories from starting photographers that didn’t think they were in business because they weren’t charging enough yet. Before you get in business and sell a single thing, you need to make sure you are right with the government. In Texas, that means you file for a DBA and get a Sales Tax ID, because the sales tax laws are very strict. Not adhering to local, state and national laws – even when you are only making a few dollars here and there – is liable to get you thousands of dollars worth of fines. I know that in Texas, photographers are specifically targeted due to the type of business it is, how easy it is to run out of your home and how easy it is to find cheats because they post their work and business online through a website and Facebook.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to be good at what you do before you actually decide to go pro. Focus on the craft, so that when you start charging, you can start charging a livable wage and really compensate yourself well for the time and effort you put into photography. And seek out your local small business association and find out how to go about abiding by all laws in starting a business. Being able to start your business at a price that is profitable and a ability that commands that price will alleviate many of the growing pains that doom new photography businesses.
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