10 Steps to Starting Your Own Photography Business

December 7, 2015


Aaron Griffy

While others are staring at their phones, are you noticing the perfect spot for a photo? Others might have their heads down, but you have your head up seeing the sunset and knowing this is just the right light for a shot. This is your moment. It's time to get your photography business finally up and running! If you aren't quite sure where to start, here is a quick and helpful list of 10 steps to help you on your way to starting own photography business.

    1. Pick your team. If you haven't already purchased a camera, one of the very first big decisions you'll have to make is which team you'll be on. Team Canon or Team Nikon. And for that matter, Team Sony is also an option. That is, of course, if you're planning to be a digital photographer. If you're headed down the path of being a film photographer, you have lots of other choices to consider. If you have already done tons of research on both Canon and Nikon but are still not sure about the significant difference between the two…ask a friend!
      The response might surprise you! Many will tell you, “Hold them! Go to the camera store and try holding a Canon, then try holding a Nikon. Buy the one that feels right in your hands.” It might be unexpected advice, but it's been spot-on for many a photographer. There are, of course, differences between the two manufacturers, but at the end of the day they're very similar and choosing can be tough. You will take over 100,000 frames with your camera, you want what feels at home in your hands.
    2. Shoot, shoot, then shoot some more. Shoot a little of this, then a little of that. Photographing a variety of subjects in different situations is a good way to find out what you love to photograph the most. Let's start at the beginning with Newborn Photography. Do you like babies? If you do, do you think you have the patience for 4-hour newborn sessions? What about kids or animals? Have do you feel about wrangling small subjects and finding clever way to hold their attention? Perhaps you are into lavish weddings or small elopements. Or maybe taking photos of landscapes is your happy place. Maybe it's taking photos of cows… that could be your happy place. There are all sorts of topics and subjects you can photograph; finding your specialty may happen overnight or take years. Grab your camera and start taking photos; even taking bad ones will help you to become a better photographer and help you find your niche. 
    3. Check out the Competition. Once you've identified your niche, it's time to research your market. Who are your competitors? What do they offer, and at what price point? Who is your target audience, and what are their needs and preferences? Understanding your market is crucial to developing a strategy that will help you stand out and attract clients. Figuring out what your local market look likes aslo helps differentiate your services and create a competitive advantage. Market research can help you to identify emerging trends in photography, understand changes in client preferences, and stay ahead of the competition.
    4. Build Your Portfolio

      As a photographer, your portfolio is your calling card. It's what potential clients will use to evaluate your skills and style. Invest in quality equipment, take the time to develop your skills, and curate a portfolio that showcases your best work. Be sure to include a variety of images that demonstrate your range and expertise.

    5. Create Your Website

      Your website is your virtual storefront, and it's the first impression that many potential clients will have of your business. As a website company, we understand the importance of a strong online presence. Choose a website platform that's user-friendly, showcases your work, and reflects your brand. Be sure to optimize your website for search engines and include clear calls-to-action that encourage visitors to contact you.

    6. Establish Your Pricing

      Determining your pricing can be a challenging task, but it's important to establish rates that are both fair and profitable. Consider your costs, the value of your time and expertise, and the market demand for your services. Be transparent with your clients about your pricing and what they can expect to receive for their investment.

    7. Invest in good education. I realize that in step number three I suggested you not spend too much money on too much gear. But there's another type of investment… your time. Invest time (and then quite possibly some money) in good education for your business. This can be education pertaining to photography skills and techniques or it can be business education. Chances are, you're going to need and benefit from both. There are many workshops and events that feature or are produced by photographers and creatives across the country, from large conferences like WPPI to multi-day events like Creative at Heart and one-day events like
      The Event presented by International Wedding Photographers Justin & Mary Marantz. The beauty of the Internet is that there is a lot of education out there, and a lot of it is free. Each week our team at Showit produces a weekly webcast called Showit Live. We feature a different guest each episode and discuss topics related to small business ownership, photography and living a creative life. Subscribe to our YouTube channel so you don't miss any. In our archives here on the Showit website, you'll also find past shows on topics like Improving Your Blog's SEO, Destination Wedding Photography, and an episode with photographer Jasmine Star about using blogging to grow your business.
    8. Edit your own photos (at the beginning). As your business grows, you may find the need to outsource certain elements, including editing. When you're ready to do that, companies like ShootDotEdit and Photographer's Edit can be great at helping you get a HUGE chunk of time back that you can spend on other aspects of your business. But in the beginning, I think it's important that you edit your own photos because it will make you a better photographer. At the beginning of my business, I edited everything I shot and it helped me to make a better connection between what was happening during a shoot and the results I was getting. I do the majority of my editing inside of Adobe Lightroom and just a little bit of heavier editing using Adobe Photoshop. For culling images, I absolutely love using Photo Mechanic… and I'm not alone. Read why here.
    9. Get your legal ducks in a row. If you're serious about starting a photography business, then you have to be serious about running your business like an actual business. Research the laws in your state and city and be sure that you understand the ins-and-outs of collecting and paying your sales tax, having clients sign model releases, contracts and payment agreements. A great resource for legal information for photographers is TheLawTog.com.
      Photographer and lawyer Rachel Brenke offers a variety of products on the site and you can learn a ton by reading her blog, which isn't just about the legalities of running a business, but also about business in general. And if you're looking for a simple way for clients to sign contracts online, check out our friends at Agree.com. They've built an app for photographers and creatives that does just that. Whether you plan for your business to be small or large, it's important that you take care of the more tedious tasks and make a plan for how you will manage all of them. This is sometimes an area that creatives cringe over, but it's certainly one of the most important elements in building a business with longevity.
    10. Build a brand that's unique to you. Part of building a business is building a brand around that business. It's easy to get caught up in the notion that your brand is simply the colors and fonts you choose, but it's so much more. Branding goes far deeper than that, and the photographers and creatives that really pay attention to every detail of their brand are the ones that seem to have the most success. Why? Because a well-designed, well thought-out brand radiates Quality, Reliability and Strength. That translates to Value, Trust, and eventually, Loyalty. This doesn't mean that in order to be successful you have to start on day one with a professional designer or a brand manager. It does mean that you should very thoughtfully select the details that you will use to represent your business. Your brand should be unique to you, and not a copy of what someone else is doing. It should evoke specific emotions in your ideal clients and it should clearly express who you are as an artist. Part of building your brand includes building and crafting an online identity, which means you're going to need a website. While we're clearly a little biased, we're not the only ones that believe Showit is the best drag-and-drop website building platform for creatives. Showit allows you to be you, to build a site that is free from constrained templates; and provides technology for you to be creative so you can reflect your unique brand and style. This is why photographers like Katelyn James and Amy & Jordan use Showit for their websites.

The SECRET Number One Step to Starting Your Own Photography Business

Create a business that meets your personal goals and needs.

It can be easy to get overwhelmed at the beginning of your business, but also in the middle. There's a balance you have to strike between maintenance and growth, and it can be tricky. If it were easy, more people would do it. Building a business takes time, energy, resources and its fair share of blood, sweat and tears. It can be a wonderful blessing in your life, but it has its fair share of rough moments. It's important to not lose sight of the reason you started your business in the first place. One of the very best things you can do at the very beginning to take the time to outline the goals and needs of your business. You can create a business that benefits you financially, and certainly your business will need to eventually be profitable, but I'm sure there's much more than financial gain you hope to get out of your business. What about creative freedom? Do you want your business to benefit other people as well as you? Are you dreaming of leaving a 9-to-5 job so that you can spend more time traveling, or with your kids? Whatever your business goals are, write them down. Writing goals down has proven to be an important step in actually making them happen. And don't forget about the “needs” your business must fulfill. How much revenue must you generate every month to allow you to leave your full-time job? What are the hard costs of your business that you must be able to pay (with cash) every month? Make your list of goals and needs at the very beginning of your business, understanding that over time they will evolve and change. When your needs do eventually evolve, set aside time to revisit and revise those goals and needs. Making this a consistent activity in your business will help you to stay on track, and will guide your decision-making process. It's especially helpful when you find yourself presented with an opportunity that you're not quite sure is right for you. Being able to assess the opportunity against your list of goals and needs will help provide clear direction on what you should do.

So there you have it, ten steps that should help you on your way to building your photography business. Of course, it's not an exhaustive list and everyone's experience is different. Building a business is hard work, but the results can be so incredibly rewarding. We'd love to hear from you in the comments below what other suggestions you would give to someone just starting out.