Mistakes photographers make when starting their businesses

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I was recently asked to write an article for Professional Image-maker magazine to share my advice for child & family photographers who are just starting their businesses.  I thought I would share the published article on my website so hopefully lots of new photographers can benefit from it for years to come!

So here is the article as it appeared in the publication…

The 3 mistakes photographers make when starting their business 

Usually people start a photography business because they have a passion for taking photos and want to make money doing what they love. That makes perfect sense!

However what often comes as an unwelcome surprise is the fact that photographers generally only spend around 10-20% of their time with a camera in their hands (if they’re lucky!) and the rest of the time is spent either doing post-production or working on their business. Not only are you a photographer, you’re also expected to be marketing manager, IT expert, accountant, PA, writer, web designer and many more roles.

It’s getting increasingly hard to start a successful portrait photography business. A study showed that a massive 85% of photography businesses will go out of business within the first 3 years. That’s a pretty grim statistic!

It’s not all doom and gloom though; I believe that if you work hard and avoid these 3 common mistakes below, you can build a very successful photography business.

Here are the 3 most common mistakes I see new photographers making when they start their businesses. (And with numbers 1 and 3 I’m talking from my own experience!)

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  1. Not charging enough to be profitable

Yes I’m going to launch straight into the controversial topic of pricing! Mainly because it’s the most common mistake that photographers make when they start up in business. Yet not charging enough to make a profit is the main reason why only so few photography businesses succeed.

Many photographers who don’t appreciate the value of the experience they are providing offer low prices for fear of not being booked. They want to be the ‘affordable photographer’ in their area.

The truth is that being too expensive is rarely the main reason for why clients don’t book you. And offering prices that are too low could be a turn off for many potential clients.

Your ideal clients will happily pay what you ask if you are offering something they truly want. The key is to deliver an experience that will delight them enough to tell all of their friends about you.

Many photographers fail to factor many of their costs into their prices and don’t charge enough for their time. When you actually sit down and work out exactly how many hours you are working (not just shooting & editing), your costs (including all of the equipment you bought to start your business), you may well realise that it will take you years to pay off your initial costs and that you’re earning well under minimum wage!

Also lots of new photographers look to the local competition to see what they are charging, then price themselves lower as they are less experienced. This is the quickest way to go out of business!

How do you know that those photographers aren’t in the 85% of photography businesses that aren’t turning a profit and will be out of business within 3 years? It’s a dangerous game to base your prices on a business that may not even be turning a profit.

You need to work out your own costs of doing business and how much you need to earn, then price yourself accordingly. If you look at your new prices and they frighten you a bit, that’s good. You are not your client!

It’s much better to start with profitable prices right from the start, than to have to raise them considerably and potentially lose clients in the process. Be proud of your prices and confident in the fact that you are priced so that you will be one of the few photographers that stays in business!

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  1. Not marketing yourself effectively

I could write a LOT about this topic but I’ll try and keep this concise.

As you are running a business, it’s essential that you take time to learn about branding, marketing and the fundamentals of running a small business. You can take the most amazing photos in the world, but if you can’t market your business, or look after your clients properly, then you won’t be able to make money in wedding or family photography.

The truth is that the people who survive in photography aren’t necessarily the most talented photographers. It’s just as important to be good at branding & marketing to ensure your business is a success.

Marketing has changed so much in recent years. Perhaps 15 years ago it was enough to take out an ad in your local yellow pages, do a flyer drop , drop in to a networking breakfast meeting and your marketing was done for the year! Nowadays marketing goes a lot deeper than that. We are lucky because much of it is now free, but it does take a lot more work.

Many photographers are scared to promote themselves for fear of looking too salesy or spammy. The good news is that you don’t need to be pushy at all; modern marketing is all about being authentic and real.

Authentic branding is by far the best way to promote yourself. When people see the real you, they relate to you and it builds trust. And being yourself is the best way to attract your ideal client too.

By sharing more about you and your life than just your photography work, you automatically build your brand. Share your thoughts and speak from the heart. Make your wonderfully unique personality your brand and trademark.

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  1. Comparing yourself to others

This is a big one for photographers, we are all guilty of comparing our work and our businesses to someone else’s.

It’s so easy to be distracted by what other photographers are doing and it takes you off track. For example, you’re happy with your visual identity but then you see another photographer launch their new logo and it makes you want to change yours. Or you see someone else using some trendy new presets and it makes you want to change your editing style completely. We’re all attracted to these shiny new things, but all they do is distract us and before you know it, you’ve wasted a whole morning playing around with new PS actions!

When you find your own style and branding, it’s so much easier for you to differentiate yourself from other photographers. So the more we focus on what we are doing and the less we compare ourselves to others, the easier that becomes.

So forget about trying to fit in and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Set your own (profitable!) prices, find your own style, be proud of your work (without spending too long comparing it to others) and show off your wonderful personality.

So if you can avoid these 3 mistakes, by pricing yourself profitably from the start, marketing yourself effectively and staying focused on your objectives, I’m confident that your business will be one of those that succeeds and you’ll reap the rewards!

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Vicki Knights Photography 

Vicki has become one of the UK’s leading child & family photographers over the past 9 years. Her work has been described as beautiful, natural and expressive and has been featured in national press and on many blogs.

Vicki runs The Delight Retreat every year for family & child photographers. It’s an inspiring 3 day photography workshop retreat in Sussex which inspires, motivates and encourages photographers to create a business that delights their clients and themselves.