cover image of how to start a photography business blog post

How To Start A Photography Business That Actually Makes Money

You have been told by your friends, family, and a rather annoying voice on your shoulder that you are ready to go full-time and run your own photography business.

But what now? Where to start…

In this article, we look at practical tips on how to start a photography business that actually makes money!

Having this structure will keep you focused on what needs to happen in order to realize your dream.

Advice Before You Start

Here are the things you ought to think about before you start your photography business

1. Focus on Action

As you begin to take steps towards starting a photography business, it’s important to focus on action.

We often get stuck in ‘analysis paralysis’: we research and overthink each step to the point where we don’t take action.

Remember that no decision is permanent and it’s going to be a long process including lots of changes.

Your business will be completely different in five years to what it is today. You need to start to progress and be open to change as you go.

person taking a photo of a model
Keep things simple and take one step at a time to see long-term growth.

Your time and budget will be very limited in the early days, and this will influence many decisions.

So keep in mind you need to think strategically and act swiftly in order to see growth as quickly as possible.

2. Build Your Photography Business with What You Have

When you’re starting a photography business, budgets are low and time is of the essence. Now is not the time to invest in new photo equipment and then rush to learn how to use it.

Your time is better spent maximizing the skills and photo equipment you already possess.

Get to know your current camera/computer gear well so that you can use it quickly, efficiently, and are prepared for the needs of any client.

A man looks at the back of a DSLR camera
Get to know your current photography kit well, so you get the most out of it.
Photo by William Bayreuther.

We often only use a fraction of our camera’s features. If you learn to use it well, it may serve you for an extra year or two before you need to upgrade.

Save equipment upgrades for when you have an established clientele and consistent income from your photography business.

Step by Step Guide on How to Start Your Photography Business

Here are the actual steps that you should prioritize

Step 1: Choose a Memorable Name

This can be your name e.g. John Smith Photography or it can be something more unique and memorable e.g. A Fine Portrait Inc.

Pro Tip: Check with your local business registrar, domain name registrars, as well as social handles to see if your name is available. More tips on naming a business.

Step 2: Create a Website / Portfolio

Every business needs a website in this day and age.

Early on, all you’ll need is a landing page for potential clients. Your business doesn’t yet have its ‘personality’, so it’s perfectly okay if the website is quite basic.

Essential information that you should include:

  • Your portfolio: showcase your best work and make sure the work reflects what you want to offer to clients;
  • About‘ details: use this to introduce yourself and give a bit of background about yourself; and
  • Contact details: provide an email address and/or telephone number so potential clients can book you.
An image of a photography portfolio
Maintaining an online portfolio and a website with your contact information is a must for finding leads for your photography business

You can also host your portfolio on social media.

Hosting your portfolio on a unique domain has SEO benefits. However, hosting it on a platform like PhotoBlog or Instagram gets you eyeballs from day one.

So if most of your clients are already on a specific platform, it makes a lot of sense to host your portfolio on that platform. Plus, it will save you a lot of money on site building and maintenance.

For practical tips on social media, please refer to Social Media tips for Photographers

Step 3: Create a logo

Your logo sums up your business in one design. In some cases, a logo is a picture, letters or something more artistic with a specific color scheme. You can use it on your site, social accounts, and photography business cards.

Related Article: 45 Free Photography Business Cards

Pro Tip: If you are on a budget, use this DIY design service or a freelance designer. You can also post a logo design contest which will yield a lot of ideas to choose from. For logo inspirations, check out this Pinterest collection.

A sample logo design for a photography business
A sample logo design for a photography business

Step 4: Create Business Cards

Your business card should stay relatively basic at first. It should include the following information:

  • Your name
  • Telephone number
  • Email address
  • Website and social media links

Make sure all the information is clear and legible. You need to make it easy for people to find you.

Business cards and branded/headed paper: essential when starting a photography business
Marketing materials, such as business cards or headed paper, are essential when you start any business.

Be generous: hand out plenty of cards at every networking event you attend (more on that shortly).

Use a business card service like VistaPrint and GotPrint to print them.

Related Article: 45 Free Photography Business Cards

Step 5. Organize Yourself & Automate

From multiple shoots to edits, you will have plenty of things to do when your business gets going.

So how do you keep sane and make sure everything goes well?

The secret is to use checklists, information sheets, and templates to automate.

A photo of a reminder card. Following a checklist is a great way to fulfill your photography business orders
Following a checklist is a great way to fulfill your photography business orders, A photo by Jennifer Venter
  • Checklist: Following a checklist is a great way to ensure that all your clients receive a consistent service. Make sure they cove the due process from the first contact to final delivery of the images.
  • Information sheets: These are great to present photoshoot options available at the booking stage. These sheets would cover FAQ basics e.g. outfit guidelines, best times to do certain shoots, as well as what to bring along to the shoot.
  • Email templates: Create templates in Outlook/Gmail to automate your admin tasks as much as possible. For example, you can have an email template that you send to gather more information as to what the client expects from a photoshoot, tell them about your services, and fees…etc.
A photo of a photography booking form showing important information for a session
A booking form will save you a lot of time and provide your clients will important information.

Step 6: Know How Much to Charge Your Clients

Do market research and networking to find out the going rates in your area and specialty. Be aware that photography rates will vary depending on specialty, experience, and seasonal demands.

As much as you “love being a photographer and don’t care if I get paid”, as a business, you will have costs. Such as time spent shooting, editing, and depreciation of your equipment.

Research how much to charge: Join Facebook groups and local camera clubs. Then network with other photographers to find their rates. You can also inquire from local photography business to gather pricing information.

Related Article: Photogrpahy Pricing Guide

Finally, when you send invoices, use a professional system such as Quickbooks, 17hats, Paypal Invoicing or Freshbooks.

A photography rate card showing how much you charge your clients
Most photography businesses advertise their pricing on websites and FB groups.

Step 7: Prioritize Customer Satisfaction

Early on in my business, I was told by an experienced professional that it’s easier to nurture your existing clientele than to always look for new clients. They were right.

Take time to create a client process that is smooth and pleasant. If you have content clients, they will come back to you time and time again. Happy clients usually give referrals too.

Here are things you can do to make your photography clients happy

  1. Have clear, branded paperwork (including client contracts)
  2. Keep open communications at all times so your client has clear expectations: this includes information about pricing, as well as what to expect during and after the shoot
  3. Be punctual and on time
  4. Be positive and kind at all times
  5. Make sure they walk away with the best possible experience they can have with a photographer
  6. Underpromise and overdeliver: if you say their images will be ready to view in 3 weeks, deliver them in 2 weeks
  7. Keep the relationship going: send out an occasional email to see how they’re doing, or to tell them about a special offer you have for them; and
  8. Wish them well during their birthdays, the holiday season, or New Year.
A smiling woman wearing red
Keep your clients happy if you want to run a successful photography business. Photo by Michael Dam.

Most importantly, make clients feel as though they have found a new friend in their photographer.

Step 8. Legalize Your Photography Business

Once you start accepting payment for your services, you’ll want to make sure your business is legal.

You’ll have to research and acquire all the paperwork needed in your province for running a photography business. In most places, this will include:

  • Getting a business license
  • filing tax
  • and opening a business bank account.
A home business office desk with shelves  and filing above
Make sure you have all the legal papers you need in an office to save you from headaches later on.

Step 9: Keep Your Business Finances Separate

Once you’re fully documented, make sure you keep clear, up-to-date, basic financial records.

You’ll need a separate bank account solely for your business, to separate out expenses and income for tax purposes.

Plus you’ll have to submit tax calculations every year. If numbers are not your strong point, or once your business has taken off, this will mean you should hire an accountant.

A woman holds a wad of 100 dollar bills
Make sure you have a separate business bank account for tax purposes. Photo by Photo by Alexander Mils.

How to Market Your Photography Business

Now that you have established a photography business, Here’s how to get new clients.

1.  Start Marketing from Day One

Most photography businesses fail because they procrastinate on the most important element for success.

Marketing.

Here some of the marketing avenues that have worked for my photography business.

  • Word of mouth: make sure you follow up with your existing clients and treat them with respect to earn word of mouth business.
  • Repeat business: Note potential future business opportunities and create reminders to inquire. For example, if you did an engagement shoot, keep an eye for the wedding.
  • Social media: Share your best photographs on FB and Instagram. If you a corporate photographer, also focus on Twitter and Linkedin where corporate clients are more likely to pay attention to your work
  • Referrals: Create a referral reward program for clients that continually refer your photography business to others. This can be a great marketing tool for wedding, newborn, and corporate photography.

Related Article: Photography Marketing Tips

A photographer proofing photos for their photography business
Use your photographs as marketing materials to promote your business and brand. Pay attention to brand consistency and massage.

2. Make It Easy to Find Your Business

It is surprising how many photography business websites are missing contact details of the photographer. Before you spend a lot of time and effort on finding leads to your website, make sure those who find you can contact you.

Create business listings for your photography business on Google listings and Bing Places. Make sure to list your address, phone number, services, and pricing information on these listings as well as your website.

A photo of a Google Business Listing showing the business information next to search results
Adding your business listing to search engines is a great way to find new customers

3. Promote Your Photography Business on Social Media

The world of social media can seem tempting but overwhelming at the same time.

The key is to approach every post with clarity. You need to be strategic. Pick just one or two platforms to use consistently.

If you’re not sure which platforms to use, think about who your target audience is. For example, a typical Instagram user is very different from a typical LinkedIn user.

Once you’ve picked a social media platform to focus on, be consistent about posting. This will help grow your following and build your brand, even if you’re not quite sure what your brand looks like just yet.

An iPhone screen with apps and social media icons on it: using social media is vital when starting a photography business
Take the time to work out your social media strategy. Photo by Sara Kurfeß.

4. Get Friends & Family to Share Your Work

You may not realize it, but you all already have a network of people willing to support your new business: friends and family.

It’s not a good idea to abuse personal relationships for profit, but you can be open and enthusiastic about your new endeavor. Perhaps offer them a complimentary shoot, and ask them to share with friends if they’re happy with the results.

Whether you’re at a family picnic, on social media, or out on the town with friends, don’t be shy about letting people know what your business is and why you love it.

Related Article: Family Photography Tips

Two young boys walking and holding hands: friends and family can boost your photography business
Discuss your new venture with friends and family–spread the word.

Let the topic arise organically. Often, there are opportunities to talk about recent client experience, a project you’re working on, a local event you went to, or a specific type of photo client you’re wanting to connect with.

Tell people what you do with enthusiasm, and that will get them excited to help you thrive! This method can, however, be slow to yield results, so start talking up your business as soon as you are serious about the idea.

5. Network with Clients

Often, networking and relationship-building are the main forms of marketing a photography business.

It’s essential to start networking as soon as possible, even before your business has officially launched.

It’s too late to start networking when you need something.

Women networking at a conference
Networking is essential to starting a photography business.

So where do you begin with networking? To start, you should always have a target audience in mind for your business.

Once you have that, spend some time researching where those people socialize, where they shop, and how to find them.

For example, if you’re targeting mothers with young children to offer children photography, try searching for mom groups on Facebook. If you are looking to work with large corporations for events photography, LinkedIn is a fantastic platform to connect with corporate clients.

6. Network with Other Photographers and Professionals

You should also market yourself to other professional photographers–especially ones who are ahead of you in business–so they can send referrals your way.

A group of men at a networking event
Connect with fellow photographers so they can send referrals your way. Photo by Hello I’m Nik 🇬🇧.

Strategize your networking by targeting events and communities they attend. Connecting with fellow professional photographers opens you up to possible jobs as a second shooter, or to referrals from photographers who aren’t able to take on every client.

A great place to start is Meetup, where you find all kinds of groups in your local community. Also check out sites like Facebook groups, Eventbrite, Creative Mornings, and Rising Tide for in-person events.

Once you find the events and places that work for your business, be consistent about showing up and getting to know people.

Men holding tablets while women explain the functions at a networking event: essential when starting a photography business
There are all sorts of events at which you can network when starting a photography business: from large gatherings to small ones.

General Advice

Here are some general advice to keep in mind when you are running your photography business.

1. Never Stop Learning

Whether you get together with a fellow photographer, or you enroll in a course, educating yourself keeps you competitive.

Sites including PhotoBlog offer a seemingly endless amount of resources/articles from which you can learn new photography techniques.

Other sites, such as YouTube, or CreativeLive, offer a wealth of online photography courses, covering most genres: these are usually free or inexpensive to purchase.

If you learn better with books, here are some popular photography books on the market today.

There is no substitute for practice though, so whichever type of training you undertake, make sure you put the time in afterward to hone your skills.

A photographer sets up their camera on a tripod to take a night shot of the Houses of Parliament, London
Keep learning new photography skills to keep your brand competitive. Photo by David Marcu.

2. Learn About Business

Don’t forget to also learn about business topics such as marketing, client relations, and financial planning.

Knowledge about business topics, marketing, networking, and your website, should all work together to create the branding for your business.

Related article: Google Adwords for Photographers

3. Focus on a Photography Niche

Depending on your skills, equipment, and location, decide on a photography niche that gives you the best chance at succeeding. Focus on what you are skilled at right now and then you can always diversify later as your business and skills grow.

A specialist photographer will be able to charge higher rates and attract more clients as they offer a specialized service.  Although being a jack of all trades has its perks, being a master of one is far better.

A photo of a baby from a newborn photography business
Specializing in your field of photography allow you to charge better rates and offer a superior service.

Conclusion

Starting a new business is always challenging. Use our tips to take steps towards building a solid foundation.

The toughest step is always the first one, but the sooner you begin, the sooner you can start making money doing what you love.

Related Article: How to Make Money with Photography

Adapt to change: as you learn and grow, adjust aspects of your business and watch it thrive even more. Do you run your own successful photography business? Leave a comment below and share your secrets to success.

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About the author

Jennifer Venter

I am a passionate trained photographer currently living in China. I love travelling & meeting new people so my photos tend to fall into those categories. I love coffee, fashion & Christmas. Contact me via email ([email protected]) or Instagram (@fleetingtimephotography).

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