10 Tips for Running a Photography Business · Part 2
In case you missed it last week, I covered some of the basic legal requirements you need to start your own business in Part 1.
This week though, we get to learn about more fun stuff like client management systems, branding, pricing, marketing!!
I’ve loved being able to explore all of these aspects of my business (#nerdburger alert) over the last three years.
Please keep in mind that this information is based purely on my own experience and the snippets of wisdom I’ve gathered from various corners of the internet over the years – if you disagree with anything I’ve written here, or have something extra to add to the discussion, I would love to hear from you in my inbox or in the comment section at the end of this post!
Here’s a quick list of what I'll be covering in this blog post:
- What editing tools should you use?
- How do you manage all your clients and shoots and jobs and contracts?
- A chat about pricing;
- Some tips on developing your brand (including some real tips about finding your ideal client);
- Tips on building a portfolio.
6. EDITING TOOLS
Hopefully as a hobbyist you have a basic understanding of the programs you will need to deliver high quality imagery to your clients, being Adobe Lightroom and/or Photoshop.
You can get started as a beginner in either of these programmers. I find Lightroom to be very intuitive, it's designed for photographers purely for photo editing, while Photoshop is a much more complex program, that just happens to have photo editing tools packed into it.
Do you need both?
When I first picked up a camera, I learned how to edit in Lightroom and I use that almost exclusively as my editing program. No person or program is perfect, so Lightroom does have some limitations; and I find Photoshop a much better tool for things like more extensive cloning or healing on a background (particularly on blankets/backgrounds in newborn images).
You can buy a Creative Cloud subscription for $15 a month, which gives you access to Lightroom and Photoshop; or you can access the full Adobe suite for $75 a month.
7. CLIENT MANAGEMENT
When you start taking bookings, you need to write a lot of information down – the when, where, who, and what is all necessary stuff!
I started off with a trusty excel spreadsheet, which I managed to squeeze 12 months out of, before I eventually needed to switch to something else.
In my last post, I mentioned that I switched to LightBlue after my spreadsheet days were over, and this was a total revelation. To have somewhere to generate invoices, record expenses, client information, session details, send contracts and questionnaires – all in one place?! HEAVEN!
But when I had to switch my accounting over to Xero, I wanted a customer management system that would sync with Xero.
Enter – Studio Ninja. Here’s a list of all the reasons I switched:
- It's Australian owned and made - right here in my beloved Melbourne, by photographers for photographers, but other creative businesses can also make it work for them.
- When I send out contracts, questionnaires and invoices to a client, it looks really polished and professional (which is an important part of my branding);
- It syncs with Xero – this is a feature which literally went live a few months ago, and as far as I'm aware, it's the only photographer customer management system portal that does so (insert more heavens parting and angels singing here).
- The support is fantastic! There is a private Facebook group, and the owner/creators will (for the most part) personally respond to you.
- As it still relatively new, there's a huge list of feature requests that they are working through, and if you have a great idea they will try to incorporate it into their workflow.
- There are many other customer management systems out there, such as 17hats, HoneyBook, Iris, Tave, Pixifi - the list goes on. Be aware that some of these tools are restricted to America only (such as HoneyBook and Iris)!
And if you are interested in joining StudioNinja, use this promo code LE69440Y to enjoy $5 off your subscription every month - WINNING!
8....HOW MUCH DO YOU CHARGE?
This topic is highly personal, and kind of divisive in the photography community.
It’s a tricky question to answer, and is honestly something that you will constantly be changing a lot as your skill level and business grows.
There's no one size fits all approach to pricing, and it is absolutely NOT standardized across our industry which can at times make it frustrating for both photographers and clients.
However, there are two basic ways that most photographers structure their fees:
- As a shoot and share (or shoot and burn) photographer – where you shoot the images, and share all the edited files with your client as part of one packaged fee; or
- Through In Person Sales (IPS for short) where you charge a session fee, and then meet with your clients in person to sell individual printed files (and on occasion digital files) to your client.
There are benefits and disadvantages to each style of pricing.
No matter which way you choose, you will likely hear someone tell you that you are too expensive for them – the main argument from IPS photographers is that by meeting with clients in person they have the opportunity to upsell to their clients on the value of their images (and therefore make more money), and that shoot and share photographers reduce the perceived value of our collective skills (a.k.a they make less money). Most photographers who run portrait studios will have an IPS pricing system, as they have a lot more overheads than shoot and share photographers (commercial rent, lighting gear, staff, utilities etc).
Honestly? I think this is all rubbish. I know of successful photographers who charge both ways!
At the end of the day, I think that *most* clients choose a photographer based on the connection they make with you – and if they love you enough, they will book you no matter what your prices are. Of course, there are always going to be the people who price shop around, and that's totally fine. Some of my most beautiful clients are the ones on a budget.
Personally, I am mostly a shoot and share photographer because I find this is what works for me and my business. I manage to run a successful business with my pricing in this way, so don’t be discouraged from the things you might read online about the pitfalls of one way or another – just go with what right feels right to you and what works for you.
If you would like to learn more about IPS photography, you can check out the IPS Mastermind – I couldn’t personally vouch for it as I’ve never paid for any of their educational resources, however they seem to be quite well respected and offer good value for money from the reviews I have read. There is also a Facebook group you can join for free, which might be a good place to start.
How do you actually work out your pricing though?
When I first launched my business, I had NO IDEA about either of those options, heck really I had no idea what I was doing. I ended up trying to balance my fees between what other photographers in my area were charging, vs what I needed to charge to make a living vs what I thought I was worth and vs what I thought people would pay.
Don't do that though, it's not a very logical way to approach things.
What you can try instead is this:
- Work out the cost of doing business (CODB for short). This includes things like insurance, accounting and legal fees, web hosting fees, business name registration fees, equipment, stationary, ongoing education, marketing and advertising expenses etc;
- Work out how much money YOU want to earn as profit (after you've paid your business expenses and taxes). A good way to work this out is look at your personal expenses and figure how much you need to live, and how much you'd like to earn.
- Work out how much work you want to do every year. Do you want to be working every weekend, all year round? Shooting 6 days a week? Unlikely, so work out how many days a week you’d feel comfortable working, or better yet, how many sessions/weddings you want to do each year.
Then use this very basic formula…
CODB + Salary / Sessions per year
This should give you an idea of the amount of money you need to ideally be charging per session to bring in this much money. When you sit down and work this out, don’t be surprised if you find the figure totally shocking and terrifying!
After you've worked out your average price per session, you can sit down and work out a variety of packages for all the different sessions you want to offer.
Pricing is a complicated beast - this is just one way, and a super simple method at that; purely to get you started. I'll be back later on with a more detailed blog post (and some spreadsheets and pricing guides).
What a monster of a topic. This is without doubt, the most time consuming part of launching a business, and like your pricing it will continue to grow and evolve as you and your business do.
Branding includes things like your logo, your website design, anything you would design and send to a client, your business cards - but most importantly it includes the experience you provide to your clients; from the very first email they send you until you delivery their final gallery/products.
Meeting your Ideal Client
In order to know how to design your branding, you need to know who your ideal client is or at the very least have a general idea about who they are.
FYI – the words “IDEAL CLIENT” have caused endless hair pulling out sessions. There is so.much.fluff on the Internet about how to find your ideal client…..
“The top six things you need to find your ideal client!”
“The only advice you need to identify your ideal client in this blog post”
UUUUUUUUUUURGH. Articles like that make me sooooo flipping mad these days, because 99% of those articles are filled with inane things, or the same thing, over and over and over. They also make it sound easy, and it's honestly the hardest thing.
Even for me, this is a process I'm still going through and it's only in the last 6-12 months that I really feel like I've started to get a proper grasp on who my ideal client is, and be able to put it into words.
So where do I start??
Finding your ideal client is HARD and it requires you to be very clear on your values, your photography style, your BRAND and that does not happen overnight. It's OKAY to not know who your ideal client is, if you are new. Keep working on it, refining it and tweaking it and eventually you will have a really good idea.
Maybe you don't know what type of photography you want to do at all yet, so let me be the first to reassure you, that you won't have all the answers to start with. It's okay to not know who you want to work with. Chances are you most likely just want to work with anyone, and you won't say no to work; at least for the first few months.
Eventually you will start to know who you do and don't like to work with.
For example, if you want to be a wedding photographer; think about the kind of weddings you want to photograph and what kind of person might organise that type of wedding. Are you attracted to formal, traditional weddings? Your logo and branding might want to be simple, elegant and traditional. Or if you are attracted to boho themed country weddings, your logo and branding might be a bit more flowery and colourful.
Do you really need to give your ideal client a name, age, demographic etc??
I really struggled with this at the start of my business. I had no idea how old they should be (they could be any age, I'm not ageist!) or how much money they should be earning.
Instead, I decided to write down a bunch of things about the TYPE of person I loved working with, and the type of person I didn't like working with. Writing down what I didn't like helped me narrow down and focus on what I did like (for example, I prefer working with brides who plan outdoor weddings on a beach or private property in marquees, or at homestead type properties; rather than brides who plan weddings that are in churches and hotel reception centres - brides who book these type of weddings might value a more traditional style of photography and that's totally fine.
After a little while, I started seeing a pattern (most of my favourite clients are either creative professionals, primary school teachers and nurses) which then gave me a better idea about how to set up a profile full of demographics. Now I also have two different ideal clients - one for mums, and one for brides.
OKAY - I'm ready to design my brand - should I work with a graphic designer?
YES - 100%! Find a good designer, who specialises in branding - BUT I would recommend waiting until you've been in business for at least a year or two, so you have a good understanding of your business and your brand. A graphic designer is only as good as the brief you give them; a good one can help you create that brief, but you still need to have a solid idea on who you are, who your ideal client is, and what your business is all about first.
10. BUILDING A PORTFOLIO
My evolution to being a photographer was very organic, I've always had a camera in my hand, since I was a teenager, but I just loved taking photos of my friends and I never thought anything of it.
Eventually I started a 365 project, and when I got bored of taking photos of food, flowers, animals, clouds, trees and inanimate objects, I turned my camera back towards my family and friends and just snapping daily life. Then someone who was basically a stranger to me at the time (but is now one of my closest friends), asked me to photograph her sons 2nd birthday party, and that was it. I was ruined. That was the moment I fell in love with photographing people.
There was no going back, which is really funny because I used to run around saying that I could NEVER be a photographer of people! Ha! Never say never!
After that, I spent the next year learning as much as I could, I went to a workshop run by a photographer I greatly admired at the time and photographing as many of friends and their families as I could (for free).
When I launched my business, I had a very threadbare portfolio, but I live in a highly populated area and had an amazing support network who launched my business off in rocket-like style. My growth wouldn’t have been possible without that; your journey will look different to mine, and to every other photographer out there - so if you are comparing yourself to me or anyone else STOP IT RIGHT NOW.
Embrace the journey you are on, shoot for free*, shoot paid jobs, ask to second shoot with other photographers, book mentoring sessions with photographers you admire and just say yes to whatever opportunity comes your way – as long as it resonates with you! Learning to say no to things that give you bad gut feelings is a very, very, very good skill to cultivate from early on.
*You need to be really careful about shooting for free. I think it's a great way to build a portfolio, but you need to set yourself a limit so you don't feel bad about eventually charging and you don't shoot for free forever. After I had practiced, and felt capable of providing a good gallery to my clients, I set myself a limit of 5 free shoots (mostly to friends and family). After that, I started charging.
A quick recap
- Get started with whatever editing tool feels right to you, but stick it out for a while; and learn as much as you can about it.
- I recommended Studio Ninja for all your client management needs;
- Pricing is hard to work out, and will take time;
- Developing your brand also takes time, and don't expect to know all about it overnight (or even at the end of your first year (or three)).
- Tips on building a portfolio.
I’ll be back next Thursday with more!
Thanks for reading ♥