1) Develop a Niche
Initially the most important item to consider is who or what you want to photograph. It is not recommended to be “everything for everyone.” Specialize, specialize and specialize is the more important advice I can give you at this stage. If you narrow your audience you can focus on their specific needs and command a better price.
In 1999, I was photographing weddings, events, children, infants, families, seniors etc. I was being the broad- based photographer. My kids then were in elementary and middle school and I decided I only wanted to work when they were in school. That immediately eliminated weddings and events. I thought very carefully about what age group I enjoyed the most and decided it was babies. That also fit into my schedule because most new moms are home for at least three months after their baby is born. Babies have siblings and parents, so it was natural that I also photographed children and families. My marketing efforts and dollars were spent on babies and I soon became respected as a photographic artist specializing in infant and newborn photography. This age group made so much sense for me because it was an excellent time to start building relationships with young families. Years later, I am still photographing the same children I photographed as infants. Infant photography may not be for everyone or not for you. It does require a lot of patience.
You need to decide who you want to photograph. Do you love pre-school children ages 2-5? Do you prefer older children or perhaps high school seniors? Or maybe weddings are in the cards for you. This is the first step in the building blocks and it may takes days or weeks. Once you have decided it is time to move on to developing your brand.
2) Develop your Brand
Branding is a term used more and more these days with all the business competition that prevails. What will set you apart from your competition? What is your USP (unique selling proposition)? Fail this part and you will fall flat on your face. This building block takes a lot of time and self-reflection on your unique skills and the look you want to create. You should begin with a theme. I started in 1999 with angel babies. That was my look and it identified me as an artist. It has evolved since then but I have never stopped branding. I have brands for all of my product lines which are just as important as the name of my business.
Start brainstorming this process for yourself. Write down ideas, decide on a theme and stick with it.For example, maybe it will be candids of kids ages two and up. Start to develop a tag line and a logo associated with this brand. Use it in all your advertising and on your website. You will soon be known as the action photographer for kids. This could be a highly profitable brand, since most of the public does not have a clue (or the proper camera) about action shots.
3) Decide on a Business Entity
Now that you have found your niche and designed your brand it is time to open your business. First decide on a business name and next do all the necessary paperwork to establish your business in your state. All states have different registration requirements so it is best to check on your local level.
There are three business entities
1) Sole proprietorship
You will need to consult with an attorney or CPA as to which is the best set up for you. You can start as a sole-proprietorship which is the easiest one to form and then change to an S-Corp when you grow. Each one has its own tax advantages so again, you will need to check with your CPA. Which ever one you decide on, make sure you have a separate checking account and use Quickbooks for your accounting. I am a firm believer in keeping good financial records. This area should not be compromised. You are a business person first, photographer second.
4) Invest in sales and marketing classes if you are not well versed in this area. The best teachers in this field are not necessarily photographers; sales skills are universal whatever you sell. I cannot stress the importance of this enough.If you cannot market or sell your products, you will not earn a profit and earn a living. Why be in business if you cannot earn a income to support your lifestyle? You and your family deserve adequate compensation for your skills.
Begin learning sales and marketing skills and keep it up; it is an ongoing process. Some of the best sales training comes from sales gurus who have been around for a long time; Zig Ziglar, Brian Tracy and Jack Canfield to name a few.
Start by deciding how much money you need to make each month to survive. Then decide how much you need to sell in order to make that goal. Write down that goal and tape it next to your desk so you see it everyday.You will need a budget to arrive at these figures which is our next building block.
4) Develop a Budget
A lot of photographers have a problem with this category because they are right brained and have difficulty using their left brain to process the numbers. I am fortunate that I think with both sides of my brain and I actually like preparing budgets. A budget is only a guide, however it should be checked daily and compared to previous years, if there are any. How can you know where you are headed if you do not have a road map?
Developing a budget can be accomplished using financial software or an Excel spreadsheet. I recommend using Quickbooks where you can compare budgeted amounts vs. actual amounts. It makes it life easier using software developed for a specific purpose.
5) Invest in Yourself
Develop a positive attitude day in and day out. Have confidence and it will show through to your clients. Read motivational books to enrich your life. I read books and motivational quotes everyday. They keep me going even through the tough times.
Always have time for yourself and your family. Do not have your work cellphone on during personal time and try not to check your email. You need down time to recharge your creativity. Clients may want you to work during your time off and sometimes you just have to say no. Always schedule a vacation or time off with your family. A work-a-holic is not positive for anyone, not even customers. If you are a Type-A person, have a schedule of work vs. personal time and stick to it.
6) Develop Superb Customer Service Skills
Without customers we do not exist. You only have 15 seconds to make a first impression with a new client. During this 15 seconds everything matters; your body language, your facial expression and your clothing. It is a good idea to have someone videotape a practice introduction to a new client so you can see for yourself how you appear.
Selling is giving the customer what they want and in return they compensate you. It is important to find out what the customer desires otherwise you waste your time and their time. Offering free consultations with your potential client is recommended so that you know in advance what the customer wants. If you cannot fulfill their request this would be the time to say no. Sometimes to be successful you have to say no and this is okay. You cannot be everything to everyone.
Once you have made a sale and gained the trust of a client your goal is to keep them for life. This can be achieved through relationship marketing. Books have been written on this topic, but the one I highly recommend is “The Relationographer”
Here is a summary of what you can do to keep customers coming back to you:
a) Send them a thank you letter after every purchase.
b) Send them a card on their birthday or anniversary.
c) Send them a holiday card and gift every year.
d) Send them reminders for portrait updates.
I have found the best source for cards to be Send Out Cards Go to the website now and you can send a FREE card to whomever you would like.
Treat your customers like gold. Always remember their names and their children’s names. Show genuine interest in their family and their activities. People love to hear the sound of their names and that you have remembered an event in their lives. Always return phone calls within three hours. If you are out of the office then call in for messages.
Providing superb customer service is what will separate you from your competition.
Now you have several very basic building blocks for a photography business plan. There are plenty of resources available online but this this should get you started. Good luck beginning your photography dream of owning your own business.