Starting a new photography business

Discussion in 'General Shop Talk' started by nkmaurer, Mar 7, 2007.

  1. nkmaurer

    nkmaurer TPF Noob!

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    Hello, I am a college student getting ready to graduate in May and I am seriously thinking about starting a photography business afterwards. I worked for a photographer for 2 summers and have done several side jobs during school. I have been able to save up to buy my camera, a few lenses, backdrops, lighting, and a few props. I live in a small town outside of a city, and even though there are several photographers, wedding photographers are limited. I have photographed a few weddings and have also received calls from people that I had to turn down because I am away at school. I currently have all my equipment in the basement of my home so when I graduate I would plan to run my business there for a year or two until I am able to move out. I am fortunate through scholarships to not graduate with a lot of debt.

    I am looking for advice from those who have been through starting their own business. I have been reading resources online about starting a business and plan on hiring an accountant. I would just like to hear any advice, suggestions, regrets, problems you faced, what you wish you knew, what you would do differently if you could start over, and what is realistic to expect during my first few months (summer), year, and on.

    I would appreciate any help and opinions that you have to give!

    Thanks in advance!

    Noelle
     
  2. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Welcome to the forum.

    I'm just in the process of starting my own photo business, so I'm practically in the same boat as you.

    For weddings especially, I think it's important to have a good deal of experience before becoming the primary photographer. I see that you have worked for a photographer...that's great.

    Also, for weddings, backup is extremely important. You can't make excuses because your camera or flash/lens stops working at a critical moment. You need to be able to get the job done. Weddings are (or should be) a once in a lifetime event.

    I took a course in the fall, 'Designing Wedding Photography'...it wall all about how to start out in the business. One of the most important points (and you will hear this from many pros) is not to set your prices too low. There are many reasons for this but this is as good a tip as any.

    Another tip I learned...is that you don't need a huge gallery of images for your portfolio. 10 to 20 really great images can do the job. Remember, when you hope to be judged on your best images...you may often be judged on your worst...so keep your portfolio to only the best of the best.

    I'm sure I could think of many other things...but there are many others here who can offer great advice.

    Welcome aboard.
     
  3. AprilRamone

    AprilRamone TPF Noob!

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    I'm still pretty new myself (only started in Oct. 2005) but my best advice is to not get discouraged if it's really slow in the beginning or at certain times of the year. I think photography is just one of those businesses that relies a lot on word of mouth and it just takes some time to spread. Use the slow time to develop your talent and skill so that when business picks up you'll be that much better.
    Good luck:)
     
  4. Jim Gratiot

    Jim Gratiot TPF Noob!

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    Welcome, Noelle...

    First off, this forum's a great place for advice... ask lots of questions!

    Second, I would spend several days looking at as many photography websites as you can... make a list of all of the "good" things you find, and try to incorporate them into your business.

    Third... write down some specific goals you'd like to reach in your business (3 months out, 6 months, 1 year, 5 years, etc.)

    Fourth... talk with as many other local photographers as you can... particularly ones with lots of experience. If you're looking to do weddings... consider working as an assistant (for free) on a handful of them.

    Fifth... develop a specific marketing plan. People won't generally come to you when you're new... but you can certainly come to them. Read a few marketing books and remember that -- sad but true -- good marketing is more important to your lifetime success than taking world-class pictures.

    Sixth... think "outside the box." There's a much bigger world in photography than just weddings.

    Seventh... tell everybody you meet that you're a photographer. Have some sample pictures and a business card with you wherever you go. Pass them out liberally.

    Eighth... don't worry about your lack of "real-world experience." One of my clients shot 8 weddings her very first year, and will probably double that this year. (She just got back from a wedding shoot in Jamaica!). Success in this business doesn't have to be painfully slow (although there is a learning curve).

    Anyway, that's my 2 cents... for a start.

    Good luck... keep us posted.
     
  5. Patrice

    Patrice No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Here are a few things I've learned from starting and operating a business. This is not only about a photography business -

    Keep an eye on your cash flow - mismanagement here will kill your business faster than anything else.

    Keep your expectations reasonable - most small businesses don't make a lot of money at the beginning, in fact most spend the first two years in the red. Be prepared to work considerably more than 40 hours a week. Average business owner likely puts in 60 or more every week.

    Be very diligent with your tax collection and be really prompt in remitting it back to the government. You do not want these guys on your back.

    Understand that you are the last to get paid. First your employee (or assistant) has to be paid at every pay period. Also very important is to make sure your suppliers are paid promptly. This means you will need some cash reserves in case revenue does not keep up some months.

    You do not need a full time accountant for a small business. Keep your books in order, your expenses and receipts well sorted and an accountant can do all you need in about two or three days at year end.

    Only buy stuff that will either make you some money or save you some money. You do not need an oak desk in your back office!

    Good luck, the experience can be very rewarding.
     
  6. nkmaurer

    nkmaurer TPF Noob!

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    wow, thanks for everyone's repsonses.
    I guess I can just throw out some more issues that I am facing, which are a lot haha, while I am getting ready to create my business plan.

    I said earlier I do have an accountant cousin luckily that is going to help me start out. But, since I am 4 hours away at school, we are waiting until spring break to talk about all of this face to face and I wanted time to research on my own. in other forums I have come across people talking about the good and bad of being a sole proprietor and incorporating. And some people complaining wishes they were the other one. What are your thoughts on that? I am familiar with them, but don't necessarily know when way is the best route to go.

    Pricing! I am currently trying to figure this out. I live in an area where I cannot over price starting out and expect people to come no matter what I offer. There are a lot of photographers that do portraits, so that is competitive. That is why I have chosen to do weddings because photographers are very few. I enjoy doing weddings and in the few that I have done on the side has actually been marketing that I haven't tried to do yet since I am in college away! I have gotten great feedback from the weddings that I have done even though I know their is much room for improvement. Do you charge different amounts for wedding resales and portaits? I have been around two different types of businesses when it comes to pricing. I worked for one that charge $50 for an 8x10 and I have a friends mom that charges $20. Of course the one I worked for just built a new gorgeous studio and has been in business for 20 years and had employees. The other started the business a few years ago as a side job she loved doing and is as busy as she wants to be. She works out of a garage that is next to her home and has little overhead expenses. She did not seem as stressed out about making the sale. THe person I worked for, and was in charge of all sales, was constantly worrying about making enough during the summer to get through the slow months. Any suggestions on how to price without going to high or to low for both weddings and portraits?

    I have been trying to research taxes and all that, can't wait to meet with my accountant for her to help make sense of it. On average what percentage of sales does a photographer make? If that can even be answered. I am wanting to go full time and just want to make realistic expectations especially for the frist year.

    Do you suggest when starting a business to get software like quickbooks? Back to the studioes I was talking about, the at home business did it all by hand in notebooks. Where I worked we used quickbooks, but I am only familiar with the parts I had to use, invoicing and sales receipts.

    I'm sure I will have more and more questions coming :) Thanks for your input and ideas!

    Noelle
     
  7. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    It would probably be a good idea to use a simple accounting software like quickbooks etc. It will make it easier when tax time comes around.

    As for pricing...that is something that can be hard for everyone to figure out. You should check what the others in your area are charging and use that as a guide. Again, don't undersell yourself. My instructor said that was one of the main reasons for people who tried and failed in this business. Word of mouth is king in this type of thing...and if word gets around that you are cheap...you might get some work but you will have a heck of a time raising your prices to where you can make this thing fly. Many photographers have even said that when they doubled their prices...their business doubled as well. People tend to think that if they are paying more, they are getting a lot more (as long as there is perceived value). If your price is low, they think your service is low and that your product isn't all that valuable. Does that make sense?

    Are you shooting digital or film? On of the biggest debates today is whether to sell prints or digital files. In the old days, the photographer never gave up the negatives and made most of the money selling reprints and albums etc. Now with the digital world, people want files. But if you give them files, they can make their own prints so you loose that income. People will even make illegal copies if you give them proofs...they probably don't even know it's illegal to make copies without your permission. So what is the solution? I haven't figured that one out yet. It sure is easy to just charge more and give them the files...one problem then, is that you have less control over the final output. They might print them on cheap typewriter paper and hang it on the wall, looking like crap...then tell people that it's your crappy photo. If you sell the prints, you have full control.
     
  8. Jim Gratiot

    Jim Gratiot TPF Noob!

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    I wouldn't spend a dime on an accountant... until you start making some money. There are several "accounting for small business" books out there... and until you start pulling in the big bucks, your money would be better spent on marketing or research materials.

    Same thing with incorporating and all of that... try this career out for 6 months... then if you still think it's what you want to do... then you can worry about the "technicalities" of running a business.

    For the next few months, I'd just a) talk with photographers, b) read about photography, and c) take as many pictures as you can.

    I think that if you put everything you can into making your business work... I'd say that you should be able to make at least $25,000 by next summer. (But you truly have to eat, drink, and breathe your business... otherwise you'll make far less.)
     

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