I’ve owned Pink Coffee Photo for 5 years. And while I do not consider myself an expert on how to run a business, I do feel like I’ve learned a little bit along the way. Sometimes the hard way! When I started writing this article I thought about how I wish someone would have sat me down, looked me in the eyes and told me the ins and outs; the good and the bad. So think of this as our sit down meeting. Just you and me! Some of it may sound a little harsh, but if it keeps you from making some of my big mistakes it’s totally worth it!
10 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started My Photography Business
1. If you’re working for free it’s not a job; it’s a hobby. When you are just starting out it’s hard to get around shooting free sessions. You have to build your portfolio. People might not be willing to pay you until you have something to show for yourself. And you might not feel comfortable charging a session fee until you have some work under your belt. That’s fine! We’ve all been there. But this can come at a price. If you take too much free work it’s hard to ever start charging. The people you shoot free sessions for might not be willing to pay you for pictures in the future. How do you convince them that you are worth a hefty Session Fee when you did their Christmas pictures for free last year? In their minds your work is worth… well… nothing. They might love the pictures, but they probably won’t pay you to take them again. They’ll hire the girl down the road who will gladly charge them $40 for the Session Fee AND a cd of images! So only shoot as many free sessions as you absolutely have to. Then once you have a portfolio, even a small sample of work, you can start charging a start up fee. (Maybe half of what you plan to charge next year). But it’s important that everyone who gets the start up price knows that it’s a temporary pricing structure. And if they want to work with you next year they’ll have to pay full price, whatever that happens to be at the time! When people have to invest in something they appreciate it so much more. Also, I’m a firm believer in only targeting clients who appreciate your style; not people who are just looking for any cheap photographer.
2. Believe in your work… or no one else will. Be proud of your work! Your pricing structure should reflect the quality of your product. Not everyone will be able to afford you. And that’s okay! Don’t apologize for being expensive. (I probably couldn’t afford to hire me-ha!) But the clients who do hire you know what they’re doing. They’re savvy people who will happy to pay for your amazing work, because they “get it”! Set the standard and be confident.
3. Be strong. Don’t let people push you around. I’m a southern girl. That means I am polite. Almost always. But I’m also feisty. And when I need to stand my ground, you better watch out! People can be pushy, and “no” is sometimes a hard word to say. Maybe you don’t want to lose a client or you feel bad for someone, but that’s no excuse for letting yourself get bullied into giving away a product or service for free. Stand firm when you need to. Then when you do want to give someone a free print or a discounted session, you can feel good about it. There’s nothing wrong with giving a client something extra just because you want to; you should never give a client something because they make you feel like you have to.
4. Marketing materials are not an afterthought. As soon as you get your portfolio together it’s time to start working on your website and other marketing pieces. Everything you send to potential clients represents you and needs to have consistent branding. When someone emails you about pricing and details you need to send them a professional email in return. And attached to that email should be some type of Pricing Guide. You also need contracts, etc. This makes you look like you know what you’re doing! And it helps set the client’s mind at ease about sending you their hard earned cash. If you don’t know how to design killer marketing materials find someone who does. As artists we have no excuse for sending someone a Word document with a list of prices. It’s just not good enough.
5. You are a business owner… act like it. Always be professional. No matter what. Do not complain on Facebook about an annoying client or another photographer. We all deal with annoying stuff on a daily basis. Like that potential client who took of tons of your time then decided not to book you, or the photographer who revamped her blog to look just like your site. Yay! Or the person who just last year asked you to teach her how to shoot “without using the automatic setting” that is now offering workshops. Ahh! It seems crazy, right? You might feel the need to vent to the entire World Wide Web. Don’t do it! Because in the big scheme of things that stuff just doesn’t matter. If you’re doing things right someone will always copy you. But when you lash out it makes you seem rude, immature, insecure, and unprofessional. And I don’t know about you, but I refuse to work with people who act like that, so I try to take the high road myself!
6. Wasting time online is lame. I remember spending endless hours online when I was trying to get my business going. I was always looking for “inspiration” and visiting every photo blog I could find. Talk about overwhelming! There’s nothing wrong with turning to the web for a little inspiration, but a few minutes before a shoot should do it, and there are so many other places to get inspired: music, books, magazines. When I think about all the time I spent lost in the web I’m a little embarrassed! And what did I get from it? Mostly trying to copy other people’s ideas, using lame props, taking pictures with tilted horizons (big pet peeve now!) and feeling frustrated over comparing myself with other photographers. Which leads me to…
7. Stop comparing yourself to others. You are unique. Right?! If not, why do you have an artistic business? Your work and your journey as a business owner will not be just like anyone else’s. When you compare yourself to others you waste precious time and energy. There will always be someone who does it better and lots of someone’s who do it worse. I regularly follow a handful of blogs, but only one of them is a photo blog. ONE! It’s just too tempting to get sucked into the comparing game, and it’s not worth it!
8. Back up your work. You need a back up system. There are a lot of options out there, but I’ll just tell you what I do. When I get home from a photoshoot I dump all the images into a folder on my computer and make a copy of the folder on an external hard drive. Then after I edit the shoot I replace the hard drive images with the edited ones, burn them onto a cd, and delete the folder on my computer. (I never save the unedited images). One time a client came to me several years after her shoot and wanted to buy the cd of images. The only problem was that I had somehow deleted them. All of them. Ugh-I wanted to cry. Honestly, I probably did. Somehow I’d forgotten to put any of her images on the hard drive, so when I deleted the folder on my computer they were gone. Forever. Don’t make that mistake and lose a big sale like I did. Find a back up system that works for you (there are some great online options too), and be disciplined about it.
9. Take your time. Building a successful business isn’t a race. Don’t feel like you have to do everything today. Just because other photographers are at a certain level doesn’t mean you should be there too. Give yourself a break! Get a plan together, set some goals with dates attached, and work your butt off. You can do this!
10. Learn the art of under-promising and over-delivering. Prime example: I tell my clients their proofs will be ready “within 3 weeks.” My contract even states this. But I almost always deliver them within 2 weeks. This seems like a small thing, but it goes a long way toward making my clients feel like I’m efficient and have good customer service! It gives me more than enough time to edit the pictures, and the client gets a fun surprise a full week before they expected it!
I recently wrote this article for my blogging buddy, Molly, over at Specs and Wings for her “Business Heroes” series and wanted to share it here too. Check out her cute blog. Lots of inspiration!