What I wish I knew when starting a photography business
When I went into business almost 5 years ago, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I have always loved photography. When I was younger, I was always the one with the camera. I loved going into Costco and picking up my pictures and the surprise on the inside of the envelope. In college, I wanted to further pursue my love of photographs and started taking college courses where I learned how to develop my own photos. I had no idea that 10 years later I would be starting my own photography business and talking to you right now!
Life had thrown all kinds of things at me in my college years, and I while I still carried a camera with me (mind you it was one of those disposable cameras) Fast forward to the digital age, I had little to no time still no thought in my mind about working for myself. I had a good career and I felt like I was doing alright for myself. Then life throws me another curveball, and in walks Josh, the love of my life, sweeping me off my feet. We ended up moving to Florida and long story short (if I’m even capable of that), I became a stay at home mom. I was able to rediscover my love for photography when Josh gave me my first DSLR camera. I had forgotten pretty much everything I learned in college and started reteaching myself how to use it.
Where my business story really begins
Living my nomad-ish military lifestyle the moved us to England a few years later (I know, right?!?) We initially thought we were only going to live there for a year. I had just gotten a fancy new iPhone and decided that I would keep the camera in storage. Rookie move on my part. In my defense, the battery was I was only a few weeks in when I felt that need to have the camera back in my hands. Off to the shop we went and I had myself a new shiny camera. I had people telling me everyday how beautiful my pictures are, and would ask me to take pictures for them. From there, Meredith Hodge Photography was born.
In my opinion, it’s important to tell you my backstory. I want you to know that I am not that much different than you. It’s an exciting feeling to make the decision to go into business for yourself. I remember thinking that I was good at this, and it is something I could make a little money while doing something I enjoyed. Boy did I not know what I was in for!
I knew from the very beginning that if I wanted to run a business, I need to treat it like a business. I spent the next few weeks and months doing all of the research I could to develop my policies and my business practices. The nature of my business has certainly evolved over the years, but one thing that has always stuck was that I wanted to be professional. I wanted my business as well as my website to be, all the way down to the way I communicated with my clients. I wanted people to take me seriously. If you are anything like me, you want people to take you seriously. It’s why you’re here, isn’t it?
Lessons I have learned
I often do a hard “lessons learned” look back on things not only in life, but in business as well. I love mentoring other photographers to help elevate their own business. Hopefully the hard lessons I have learned will help you avoid pitfalls in yours.
Build a proper portfolio before charging
Brutal honesty time. The IRS does not care if you think you are just doing this as a hobby. If you are getting any sort of monetary compensation for your photos, you are no longer a hobbyist, but a business. https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/hobby-or-business-irs-offers-tips-to-decide. Before you start accepting money from someone be ready to open your doors as a legitimate business. More on that later.
Develop a plan to create the policies and procedures for your business.
I think this is probably the most important when starting a business. You don’t want to burn out trying to do it all in the early stages of business! First and foremost carve out a few hours a day where your attention is solely built on your business. People think when they go into business for themselves they are their own boss and they can spend more time with their family. FALSE. I spent a lot of time with my nose in my computer and on my phone learning everything I could and I still didn’t know what I was getting into. While I was in the same room as my family, I wasn’t present. Don’t be do what I did. Set yourself up from the beginning. Don’t know where to start with policies? Get your FREE Business Starter Kit here.
Especially in the first few years in business. When you are in the beginning of starting a photography business it is so important to watch every nickel and dime. Don’t spend money on something you think you have to have. Odds are, you really don’t need it right now. I have seen many photographers fail because they think they need all the props they can get their hands on right from the jump. If you need to spend money, invest in one on one training, or a mentor. Set your self up for success by keeping keeping records of everything you purchase. Open a business bank account as soon as you can in order to keep your business finances separate from your personal.
Know Your Craft!
Have a legitimate understanding of the Exposure Triangle, and how to maneuver within it IN CAMERA! Be comfortable taking pictures in manual. Study different types of light and how it affects your pictures. Be confident in directing people on what to do and how to pose them in flattering ways. Most importantly, know how to identify and correct problems on the spot.
Find out what it takes to run a business in your area/state. Go to the Commissioner of Revenue Office website for a list of requirements to operate a legal business in your area. A business license is not expensive. In Virginia, you are required to register the business with the SCC. While it’s not necessary to get a business license for the state, you do have to get one through the city/county you operate in. In most places it cost less than your monthly coffee expense!
These are just the tip of the iceberg! Starting a photography business takes more admin and learning how to run a business than camera work. Have business questions? Leave a comment below or get in touch through the Education page!