Blog PostKeith Cooper: Five all too Common mistakes when setting up a Photography Business
Photography is one of the most common 'what I'd like to do for a job if...' occupations, and when I recently looked at the UK photographers trends survey I noted just how many people were entering the profession at a later age, and without the traditional photography background.
This article is very much aimed at those starting out or new to the business - your business.
The jump to self employment, or even managing a small company you own (such as myself and Northlight Images) is a big leap - even if you were at a very senior position in your last 'real job'.
The differences are in some ways like those between owning and renting a house.
After a recent trip to the US I returned to a minor water leak – it's up to me to sort out any repairs or work needed, and deal with insurers and any tradesmen I might need to hire. When your house is rented, a lot is the responsibility of the landlord.
Even after running Northlight Images for several years I still have to remind myself about some of these things every so often.
1) Your passion does not make a business
I love the sorts of photography I do and all the other stuff like writing articles and teaching people to improve their photography.
Whilst this motivates me, I need to remember that the business needs to make a profit. I need a business model that shows where profits are coming from and ensures a steady cash-flow. Even more importantly, I need tangible measures of how different aspects of the business are performing.
If you've spent your career working in someone else's business, it's quite likely that your relationship to real profits and cash-flow have been relatively at arms length. Setting departmental budgets is not the same as a business plan.
The mistake? - thinking "I love doing this - people will pay me"
2) Who pays for the paperclips?
The short (and often forgotten) answer is 'You do'. There is no anonymous stationery cupboard to dip into when your own business runs out of ring binders, or needs a new office chair. (A quick aside - you will be spending a lot of time in this chair - don't skimp on buying a good one ...your back will thank you)
Any any business start-up expert what the key dangers facing a new business are, and near the top will always come 'managing cash-flow'. It can takes more time than you thought for the jobs to start rolling in, and then there is the delay between doing (and invoicing) the work and getting the cash out of your clients.
Photography can have some hefty startup costs, if you want to have the equipment you need - you need to allow for all those uninteresting bits as well.
Some people may object to the adverts on the article pages of our web site, but they bring in a steady income, whether I've got ten jobs in a month or three.
The mistake? - Forgetting to follow the money - without it you won't get far
3) What do your customers want - who are they?
I love to produce large black and white prints from my landscape photography, but how many people want to buy them? Probably not enough for me to base a business around it.
How do I know this? First up, I looked at the market for such prints here in the UK and abroad. I want to see what sells, to what sorts of customers, and importantly -where- it sells. I live in a city in the centre of the UK, not a seaside town with a steady stream of tourists through my little gallery.
When I initially looked at setting up Northlight Images, I thought about different aspects of photography, what I liked, and what I could find out about the market for such services.
This is why Northlight Images offers the services it does – we are commercial photographers. It's a personal choice of mine that we don't do weddings or portrait work. You need to identify your potential customers and find out what they do want, why they want it, and most importantly how you solve their needs and problems. Don't forget to go back to existing customers and ask how well you did, and how you could do even better next time.
The mistake? - Thinking "I take great photos so customers must want my sort of work..."
4) Oh, what's your job?
I'm a professional photographer – but what does that say to most people? As I've found out, most business people initially think weddings and portraits - given this is what we don't do, I'm keen to dispel this error – I'm looking to stand out from the ‘crowd'. Something for people to remember me by.
You've a very brief time to get your message over. Too many concentrate on what they do rather than how they help their clients.
"I'm a professional photographer who specializes in getting businesses' messages across to their customers" ...a bit long, so my short version is:
"I help businesses make a positive first impression."
...it invites people to ask how you help, what it is you do and why you are someone worth knowing.
Think about how your business helps its clients? Concentrate on the benefits rather than the features of what you do.
The mistake? - saying "Look I do this" as opposed to "Look, this is how we help you"
5) You do not have 'a job'
When you're employed by a company, you are working -in- the business. Even if you plan business strategies, it's not your business.
Photographers often find it easier to consider the technicalities. Should you use Photoshop or Lightroom? Would that new flash system sync OK with your cameras?
Take a while every so often to step back and look at what you are doing and why. Even if you don't like detailed written business plans, jot down some directions for your business - can you justify this to a friend or partner (this can easily be much more difficult than you think - be careful) Step back every so often and ask what you are doing? is it worthwhile? could you do more? are you aiming in the right places?
Take some time to work –on- your business. Many professional photographers give barely a second about where their business is going and how changes in technology and the economy will affect their business models.
It's no accident that I try and book no more than two paying photography jobs for myself each week.
The mistake? - Forgetting it's about the whole business, not just taking a few good photos.
Five things I have to remind myself about every so often, whether the business is doing well, or having a 'quiet period'.
A note from the Shakodo Team: This is the second guest post by Keith Cooper, the fourth guest blogger in our series of industry experts sharing valuable advice with the photographers community.
About Keith Cooper: Keith Cooper is a UK based professional photographer working in commercial aspects of photography at Northlight Images, based in Leicester, in the UK Midlands (~100miles north of London).
As well as his photography he writes widely on photography related issues and regularly writes reviews of new photographic, printing and colour management equipment and software. He has had a varied career before becoming a professional photographer and has to regularly remind himself that just because he enjoys it, the photography is foremost a business, and that business exists to generate profits.
Keith Cooper's Web Site: