Friday, 18 November 2011

So you want to start a photography business...

Whether you are a talented amateur photographer, or have a great deal of experience working professionally, starting your own photography business demands that you make important choices about the market segments you will serve, and how you sill serve them. These choices will determine what kind of operations you must develop and how to direct your marketing and the services you will offer clients. As I will explain later, it is increasingly difficult to cover all types of photographic work due to the competition from specialists and other external factors, so do your homework on what your business should be...

You should also keep in mind that because of modern technology in the form of DSLR cameras, you do not even need the room for a dark room. You need only to have a personal computer and a photo-editing program. The standard is Adobe Photoshop. There is no need to clutter yourself with equipment you do not need; you can rent equipment when you need it. You even have the freedom to work part time until you can devote yourself full time to photography. All you need to be is a serious photographer and a dedicated business person.

While the technical skills needed to make a successful photographer have never been easier, other aspects have changed our business. The market for photographs of virtually every type has widened, the world seems to have an insatiable appetite for photographs. However the price has fallen as the marketing net has broadened. Sites like shutterstock have sliced into our profits like a hot knife through butter. The good news is, photographers are needed in many more fields. For instance many people now, mor ethan ever, remember special occasions with photographs and more people are taking photos of their kids, and as the number of people that own cameras increases.

Another way to generate an income is to teach photography. With the growing number of amateur photographers out there, the need for people to run workshops and teach photography is also growing. In my opinion, it seems to be recession proof. Photography is an escape, and during a recession people need an escape more than ever. They will therefore find the money to invest in themselves. Taking photos that one can be proud of does wonders for a person’s ego! And while the economy and investments twist in the wind, who doesn’t want to give themselves an ego boost.

So you see, it can now easier than ever to turn your dream into reality and create a worthwhile business out of an engrossing passion. However in today’s modern world there is more to than simply pointing a camera and shooting a picture. You need to be aware of marketing techniques, and here marketing simply means growing the potential of transferring ownership of a product, in this case an image from a buyer to seller. You also need to be aware of any local gaps in the market in your local area, understand the power of the internet and know your competition. You should try to always be aware of your competitor’s prices. To undercut an existing photographer is one choice, but to neglect to value your skills and not charge enough to cover your overheads is another matter entirely. Remember this, it’s an important point. Reduction in price to gain business is a slippery slope. Sell your value to justify your competitive price.

Writing a business plan is a great place to start. It helps to keep you focused on the areas you specifically want to exploit. A business plan helps you to define your goals and strategies, it will be changed and updated, but it will help you to keep things in perspective and keep you focused. You should always refer back to it when things become confusing or complicated. Everyone’s business plan will be different, as every objective will be different, but there are certain common factors that make up a good business plan which will help your business grow. It allows you to develop a professional attitude to your business, which not only helps you to increase your earnings, but also help you to finance your business when needed.

For the photographer a business plan should include your business name, or your own, with full details of the proposed location of the business, a copy of your logo, as well as details of your copyright notices. You should also consider what is the form of your proposed business is going to be (sole ownership, partnership, Limited Liability Company or Corporation). This should be followed by a table of contents, which focuses on a logical order. Included after this should be the type of business you intend to pursue, in a fair amount of detail, and it should contain the services you intend to offer. This section should include any future goals or avenues you would like to explore, stating your clear objectives. This is so you can check at a later date whether your objectives are on course, or if you have got sidetracked. If you envision at any time you may need financial help, then you should include your personal business history to show how viable you are as a business person.

You should also state a clear and concise marketing plan that should demonstrate how your business will differentiate from the businesses of your competitors. You should be able to establish who your customers will be, how large the potential market is, as well as where your market will be, as in wholesale or retail or a combination of both. You should also be able to determine how long this type of market will be available to yourself.

The next section should clearly define your opposition, as well as their strengths and weaknesses. This should include the ways you may be able to exploit any gaps in the market in the specific area where you live. A section should follow this on how you intend to market and promote your individual services. This is called a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. You should apply this to your business and your competitors.

A financial segment should be included as to how you intend to manage the day-to-day bills of the business. How you intend to price your services, and what factors influence this pricing structure, which includes a section on your competitor’s financial structures. This means a fair amount of detective work as well as homework. Get your friends to ask from quotes from the local competition. Or try an even more direct approach, tell your competitor’s that you intend to start a new business, and that you do not want to undercut them, as this reduces the cake for everyone. They may well offer to help you construct a pricing structure that ensures everyone’s livelihood. It is in their interests to help. Not everyone will be cooperative, but it may mean you can get a truer picture of the market factors that govern your area.

Make a list of all the equipment you will need in your first year, as well as how and where you intend to purchase. Note any difficulties that may arise in obtaining your supplies. Note whether the prices of your supplies have a seasonal fluctuation, which may help you influence you when to buy. You should make a note of any local licenses that will be necessary, as well as any zoning restrictions that may restrict the growth of your business. You should also conduct a study of all your business insurance requirements.

The final segment should be devoted to how you intend to finance the growth of your business, as well as isolating what your financial needs will be. This should include a projection on your future earnings, as well as an accurate assessment of your outgoings. This should be assessed on a monthly basis for the first year and on an annual basis for the following three to five years. An important aspect of the financial statement is an assessment of the break-even point of your business, in other words the minimum you will have to take to pay your expenses.

Financing your photography business can come in many forms. There are numerous small business loan avenues through local and federal government agencies and there is the route of a business/personal loan or line of credit. You can also build the business slowly, rent equipment as you need, use your own money and credit and build the equity over time.

You can also approach government agencies and companies to sponsor specific initiatives. If you are a landscape or nature photographer, maybe there are local and national dollars available to sponsor a book etc.

The opportunities for aquiring money is out there, its just not easy to aquire. If it was easy, everyoen would be getting it. My advice, believe in yourself and your abilities, dig hard and talk to everyone. You will find the money if you are passionate enough and believe in your abilities.

Once all this has been done, take action. Planning is important. But planning isn’t enough. You have to take action on your plans and put them into place. Follow through and make sure your business is always moving forward.

Good Luck,

Kev