Business Trends
Getting Started--You Can Make Money

You learned in photography classes about producing images--traditionally and digitally. Now, you want to make some money from your investment of time, energy, and money. You enjoy making images and want more than the technical satisfaction of a job well done. It is time to address the business aspects of "selling yourself." Even professionals who began and ran their businesses for many years by referral and word of mouth are being forced to re-evaluate their strategy.

Whether you plan to pursue part-time or full-time assignments you will want to work with techniques that are efficient and cost-effective. Your objective is twofold. The first is to find and sell to photography clients. The second is to work at a level of professionalism these clients will respect. Clients will treat you as you have trained them from the beginning of your relationship.

Like many photographers, Isaac Howard started his business hooting weddings and portraits for friends. Now with 20 years experience, he explains what it is like to start making money with your photography. "The first thing you need to do is look at your own personality. Are you willing to be a businessperson, to charge your friends and keep the necessary records for the federal and state tax returns? Most of the photographers who I have known want to be the artist and not the businessperson. When you first start trying to make a little extra money with your camera, your first customers are your friends. Charging your friends is very hard for most people and keeping the proper records is more work than they want to do. But if you plan on making money and using the tax deductions to your benefit, it is a necessary evil."

Twenty, 15, 10--even five--years ago, you could market yourself with just a portfolio and a business card and get work. Now you need many different forms of marketing to reach clients, help them understand what you can do for them, and remind them until they have work for you. Most photographers starting out simply quit too soon. It takes time, patience, and a plan. It takes getting the client's attention. This is the true challenge of the marketing and promotion of photography services.

Money by itself is not the most important factor in self-promotion. Whether you have $500 or $5000 to spend on self-promotion, the rules and techniques are the same. When you are just starting out, the key is to identify the best photography clients for your work.

This will increase success and decrease rejection. Ask yourself these questions. What are you selling? Who buys it? How can you best reach these clients?

Howard adds, "Your camera can open many doors and take you a lot of places. If you think you want to make a buck, start by shooting the things you are already involved in, your work, the family, hobbies. Weddings and family portraits are a big starting point for many people. Youth sports are another big item that you can do with little investment other than your time. With three kids in sports, I have spent a lot of time photographing them in action shots like these. I was at a soccer tournament and was asked to photograph on of the other players. Of course, the parents offered to pay me. Look around and see what you are getting in the mail. If you live in a small town, check the local weekly paper and the school district's paper. There are always local and regional newspapers looking for photo stories and you can sell your work to them. From a church-sponsored trip to Haiti, the city regional newspaper picked up a series of my photos including this Haitian child. Once people start seeing you with a camera at community activities and school functions, they will ask you for pictures like one of their kids in action."

Essential to success, a written business plan is the best way to turn your time into money. There are dozens of formats for writing a business plan. Check with your local Small Business Administration (SBA) office for their publications on the subject. Another option is to make an appointment with a consultant, such as SCORE (Service Corps Of Retired Executives) a division of the SBA. Here is just one example of writing a plan to make money with your photos.

· Statement Of Purpose. You want to be a high tech product photographer. You will provide these manufacturers and their agencies with photos of their products for use in promotions, ads, and catalogs.

· Business Objectives. You will evaluate the aspects of business such as your business skills and knowledge, business forms and records, an annual budget, bookkeeping and marketing software, technical skills, required equipment, etc. Take your time with this step. These are all factors over which you have the power to control and change for the better.

· Marketing Objectives. Once you have evaluated the business side, list the steps or tasks to market your work. They should include all your efforts, such as portfolio and self-promotion. This your marketing plan and it is one of the most important parts of your business plan. Be very specific and list or state exactly what you will do and when you will do it. For example:
· Personal Selling Strategy. Concentrate on new clients for high tech product photo assignments and plan bimonthly calls for portfolio presentations.
· Call past clients monthly for follow-up on new work coming up.

· Keep the call list small and manageable. You can make 10 to 20 calls a week and mail promo cards after calling. For larger lists, use a direct mail campaign.

Howard ends with tome tips on planning your start up business, "When you are first starting to make a buck with your camera use the material you have handiest. A good 35mm with a long lens can get you started in the youth sports business. When or if you start to specialize you will need to invest in other equipment for the job. But unless you have a lot of money to spend, don't. Portraits can be done without studio lights when you understand how to use available light."

But Does It Work? I'm always asked when I speak at photo conferences, "Does these techniques work?" and my answer is always the same. They work when you do the work. Probably the biggest problem to overcome is the tendency to do "shotgun" marketing. A mailing here, and ad there. You avoid this problem with a written plan. With your plan, you can ask, "Does this fit into my strategy?" whenever time or opportunity to promote yourself comes along. The key to making money with your photography is to do something daily from your marketing and business plan. Making money with your photography is something you can do every day.

Jacks Smith's picture

Yes everyone can earn money if they are talented in his field.
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