The Photographer’s Market Guide To Building Your Photography Business

20140318-154009.jpg

I love this book. I don’t consider myself much of a reader, but I flew through this book! In fact, after I read it and returned it to the library, I found myself still thinking about it, wishing I could go back and reread parts of it. After a month of not having in my home, I purchased my own copy.

Here is why I love it, chapter by chapter –

In the first chapter of The Photographer’s Market Guide To Building Your Photography Business, Vik examines what it means to be a photographer. She touches on some pros and cons and explains that being a photographer means being in business, having an obligation, and being one’s own product. In her words, it means having intimate relationships, riding the creative roller coaster, and reinventing one’s self every day. She explains that she’s often asked by those considering trying to make a living in photography if they are good enough or if they have what it takes. Vik truly believes that the tools for success are inside of each person. She feels that aspiring photographers rely too heavily on their instructors, friends, and family for that answer. Vik concludes that first chapter by touching on the importance of visual awareness, describing who makes it and who doesn’t make it, and timing. The topic of timing comes up a lot in her book, and the main thing is just to get started now!

In her second chapter, Vik begins with an interview with Ibarionex Perello. Described as a storyteller, Ibarionex is a street photographer who is also a writer and host of the podcast The Candid Frame. I’d never listened to podcasts before, but after reading this brief interview with Vik, I became a fan. I love listening to The Candid Frame now! And I was drawn to give it a listen because Ibarionex’s words really hit home to me. I felt like he was speaking directly to me! He stressed that there’s never an ideal time to start a business and to just jump in and do it. According to Ibarionex, the biggest pitfall to avoid is worrying about all the stuff that I don’t know. This is exactly why I’ve been dragging my feet since last May! Vik explained that the things she didn’t know made her fall on her face in front of her clients more than once. I’m scared of that too. But Ibarionex still encourages me to get over it and to focus on my strengths because my strengths will always be what makes clients want me. That makes me feel a little better!

Vik interviews Kerry Drager next. His advice to aspiring professional photographers is to view rejection in a positive way. Use rejection as fuel to try even harder. This makes sense to me. I just need to remind myself that rejection is a big part of professional photography but that I shouldn’t give up.

Architectural and advertising photographer Karen Melvin is interviewed next, and she advises me to be persistent and keep reinventing myself and my art. Vik asked her if she had any regrets, and Karen said she wishes she had started promoting her work nationally earlier. She explains that it takes more legwork, but it brings more commercial clients, more advertising work, has better production value, and it pays better than editorial. Ok, I’ll keep that in mind – editorial equals not as much money. Check!

Photojournalist Stormi Greener recommends that aspiring photojournalists be persistent. She once got a job by being a pest and wearing a publisher down to get a job. She admitted her photographic work was limited and not very good, but she didn’t give up and he gave her the job! For younger photojournalists, Stormi believes they should look for a school with a good program, find a mentor, and most importantly, do internships. Her biggest regret is not doing a better job of balancing work and family.

Commercial photographer Patrick Fox also believes in persistence and urges aspiring photographers to start with school. Not only photography but even a liberal arts degree instead perhaps. After school, Patrick believes in the importance of getting a lot of feedback on one’s work, making a portfolio or book, and then getting a job and assisting. The book should showcase one’s ten best images – no matter what the subject is – and be updated frequently as one gets new images. As far as trying to specialize, Patrick feels that one should start general and then specialize as one’s career matures. The biggest point that he made which stood out in my mind was his advice to not mimic other people. He recommends taking what one learns from others but then tweaking it to make it one’s own. I like the sound of that! He also believes in the power of reading. Reading anything and everything – even if it’s about things one has no interest in – because then comes a greater understanding of how the world works and how life and events all fit together. Neat!

NBA Timberwolves team photographer David Sherman attributes the start of a lot of his early work to his easygoing attitude. He snagged his Timberwolves gig over more experienced photographers (who were even willing to relocate!) because he’d hung out at every game, freelanced and photographed some crowd shots for them, and mostly because they just liked him. I love learning of people who got their gig based on their personality! It just feels real. And gives me some hope.

Stock, portraiture, and event photographer Jim Miotke stresses the importance of humility – especially when it comes to portraiture. He explains that since it’s a service industry, one has to be comfortable with uncertainty, but if one is doing what they love, the money will follow. Jim believes that before aspiring photographers attempt to go pro, they should read a few good books on marketing and promotion. As founder of BetterPhoto.com, Jim thinks it’s extremely important to open oneself up to getting help from others. Not only will the business grow at a much faster rate, but everything’s just more fun and enjoyable. Makes sense to me!

A few things stood out to me in Vik‘s interview with Doug Beasley. First of all, he shoots fine art and then sells it commercially. This is one of my dreams! How amazing would it be for me to be able to make a living off of the photos I take for fun and from vacations?! I can’t imagine, but it seems like it would be incredible. What’s awesome is that he tried to shoot what he thought others would want and would sell commercially, but it didn’t work! His work was stronger when he shot from the heart. I love this! How inspiring!

The second thing that stood out to me was that he recommends choosing a person whose work one admires and learn how to do everything from them – how to shoot, get and keep clients, show work, and run a business. I thought about who this would be for me. Although I know that I am not currently interested in photographing weddings, I really love the work of Karin Doolin. Sometimes, I wish I could get married again just so that she could photograph it for me! Based on this advice, I already contacted another photographer whose work I admire, Teresa’s PhotoWorks, and she agreed to meet with me!

The third piece of advice that struck me from Doug was his advice to get into the profession of photography not for the money but for the need to express oneself photographically. I think that’s so important for us all to hear. Being told right off the bat to not expect to make the big bucks could be hard to hear, but it bothers me less and less as I think about how wonderful it will be to take pictures and get paid for it period. Getting something for it, besides just the pure joy, excites me.

In her third chapter, Vik turns her focus to the craft of photography and suggests many ways to learn. One could hire a consultant, take internet classes, work in a camera store, get on-the-job training from a portrait studio, find a mentor, teach oneself, become an apprentice, assist an established photographer, attend a tech school, go to a photography school, or attend an art school. All throughout one’s photography career, it’s important to continue learning new business practices and techniques. Vik recommends joining clubs and professional organizations, reading books and magazines, and taking advantage of free information on the internet through podcasts, online clubs, message boards, and YouTube videos. Because one can observe visual trends and access pricing and personal blogs, visiting the websites of other photographers is another great idea too! She ends the chapter suggesting the simple act of interviewing established professional photographers. The interviews don’t have to be more than 15-30 minutes, but one can learn so much and may even get tours of their studios or get invited along on shoots!

Chapter 4 covers digital technology. Affordable, high-quality equipment, editing software, and archiving and presentation options are briefly covered.

In Chapter 5, Vik explores finding one’s niche. Portrait and wedding photographer Bob Dale explains that one should start shooting everything and be a generalist but then narrow it down to a specialty. Commercial and fine art photographer Leo Kim says that one has to find one’s own personal style before the niche can be selected. He claims that one will naturally start out emulating the visual styles of others whose work one admires, but then sooner or later, one’s true self will come out. And then the niche is chosen accordingly! In the past, photographers were able to be generalists, but now, in order to be successful, they have to specialize, Vik explains. Doug Beasley advises one to shoot selfishly, because shooting what one finds interesting will lead to a successful career. Jim Miotke and Patrick Fox both agree. Commercial and fashion photographer Lee Stanford stresses the importance of balance though, recommending that one weighs one’s interests against the surrounding market and then decides on a niche based on both of those things together.

Vik also encourages the creation of one’s own niche by learning as much as one can about the existing niches and focusing on the different things one likes about each of them. If one is interested in specializing and being successful in multiple niches, Vik recommends keeping the studio name general, having different portfolios for each specialty and even creating different business cards, letterhead, invoices, and promotional pieces! She spends the rest of Chapter 5 interviewing a handful of photographers on their niches.

Chapter 6 is an exciting chapter because Vik examines a bunch of different specialities – Wedding, Nature, Portrait, Commercial, Fashion, Architectural, Travel and Wildlife, Fine Art, Photojournalism, Editorial, Stock – and covers their typical location/studio needs, the costs to break into each one, the most successful methods of advertising and promotion, average income, industry trends, where the money is, types of portfolios, specifics on promotional material, and preproduction/postproduction needs.

In Chapter 7, Vik discusses the importance of networking with fellow photographers, gives tips on where to begin and how to start. Although she had brought it up in previous chapters, she again brings up ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers) and highly recommends joining their local chapter.

Chapter 8 is all about the creation of the business plan, as she explores each element – choosing the name, writing a mission statement, speculating the target market, listing products and services, touching on the fee structure and price list, describing the different business entities, coming up with a marketing strategy, putting down some financial projections, thinking about investors and partners, and then stressing the importance of writing this business plan to avoid negative surprises.

Chapter 9 is where I started to become a little less excited about the whole thing. Taxes, record-keeping, location, lease agreements, purchasing an existing studio, buying a franchise, protecting one’s name – all these businessy topics come to the foreground. Vik writes wonderfully and explains them in everyday language, but it’s still not the fun part of this whole process. She’s upfront in listing off some reasons most small business startups fail but remains positive, giving some key ingredients for success. Vik ends this chapter by sharing success stories and interviewing a few photographers, focusing her questioning on business tips. Portrait photographer Chris Darbonne advises aspiring photographers to know what they’re worth, charge what they’re worth, and to not apologize for it. Portrait photographer Michelle Frick‘s biggest recommendation is to set up a fee structure that one can live with (and on) for many years. She regrets that she didn’t really have a set plan when she first started her business and basically gave her images away for a flat fee. I need to charge a price that will allow my business to grow!

I’m really excited about photographer Stephanie Adams. She’s been in the business for over 10 years now and started because she loved taking pictures of her young children which grew into friends and family wanting her to do pictures for them of their children. She primarily photographs children as her job but then photographs landscapes and whatever catches her eye and sells those images as stock. How awesome! Her advice is to believe in oneself and just get out there and shoot. She feels one learns best by doing and then seeing for oneself what works.

In Chapter 10, Vik explores the challenge of bringing new life to an old business, touching on what areas to keep up on, how to avoid disillusionment, and whether to expand or contract.

The next chapter is fun, because the topic of breaking away and exploring new niches is discussed!

Chapter 12 turns to pricing. Again, Vik brings up the ASMP and how one can check pricing against their industry standard. Since this seems to be a good resource, and Vik explains that one can get pricing and fee structure recommendations from them, I went ahead and purchased some of their books. A lot of these photographers interviewed seem to regret not charging enough for their work when they first started out, so I’d be happy not to make this same mistake! Vik makes some really great points when she talks about perceived value. She explains that one’s prices tell the client how to perceive the value of one’s work, and effectively, if one’s billing rate is below the market standard, potential clients will think one’s work is below market quality. When it comes to the pricing ladder, it’s crowded at bottom and one can’t justify being in the high end, so she recommends aiming for the lower end if the middle. That makes so much sense! In this chapter, Vik also goes over how to talk about pricing with clients, how to raise prices, and urges new photographers to protect and not give away their copyrights.

Chapter 13 examines how to store, organize, handle, archive, and package one’s images.

Chapter 14 is all about marketing, and Chapter 15 covers sales. Vik spends a lot of time stressing the importance of utilizing the telephone. She believes it is the single most valuable tool for marketing, sales, PR, and customer relations, and she gives tips on how the make the most of it. The rest (and most) of this chapter goes into detail about the art of the sale. I was happy to realize that I already have all of this knowledge! Out of pure survival at my last job, I honed all these fantastic sales skills. Whew! At least I have some things already going for me!

In Chapter 16, Vik touches on public relations, and in Chapter 17, she gets into the topic of accounting. The big thing is to start with a visit to a reputable CPA (not just an accountant) who specializes in small business. By going to a CPA first, one can save some unnecessary expenses, Vik explains. I am all for that! She also recommends choosing a CPA whose firm is relatively small. Vik warns against randomly picking one out of the yellow pages or just because he’s in the neighborhood. She compares the selection process to choosing a doctor or dentist and urges one to turn to people one knows and trusts and has similar-sized businesses, using the word of mouth system.

After I select my CPA, I am to find a banker, and again, Vik recommends choosing an established one who works at a small- to medium-sized bank that’s focused on service. Ok. I think I can handle this.

Next, I need a bookkeeper? Dang. Now it’s starting to feel complicated again! Here’s what I need to remember – not a full-time bookkeeper but a “full charge” bookkeeper. She believes I can rely on my CPA to recommend someone, but I need to not let my CPA offer to do it for me, because he’ll charge a lot more than the bookkeeper. I really did think that this would be something I could do myself, but Vik and her CPA warn against it, even with the purchase of something like QuickBooks, and they warn against having someone like a family member do it. Ok. Good to know.

Next – insurance agents? She recommends working with a couple, but I’m hoping to just insure my photography equipment through my existing renter’s insurance. Oh, please, let this be possible! And I need a lawyer? I have no idea what to do about this! Thankfully, she comes back to this.

She explains that my CPA will ideally act as my financial planner and that, once my business is growing and starting to profit, I should establish a line of credit. Apparently, this doesn’t cost anything, and I don’t have to even used it, but at least I’ll have it. And my CPA can advise me in when I might need to use it.

Chapter 18 covers legal issues. This is no fun either. She covers copyright and intellectual property law, employment law, tax law, and real estate law.

With copyright law, if I sign off on print rights, I need to be as specific as possible in a usage agreement, and if my copyright is violated, I need to send that person a bill. Always get an agreement in writing – never verbal.

I also need to protect my business name, she says. I need to do a name search to make sure no one else already owns the rights to the same or similar name, and that runs about $400. $400?! Bummer. But if I register my business name and get legal documentation from the start, it’ll save me issues in the future, she reassures. I’m all about that. Maybe my CPA can help me here too.

As far as choosing a lawyer, since there are all these different law issues, Vik recommends choosing someone who has a more general practice rather than getting too much into specialities and that after a little shopping around, I should be able to find someone that’s right for me. I sure hope so. I am definitely not looking forward to this shopping.

I shouldn’t have to worry about real estate law, as I’m not planning on having a brick and mortar studio space, but I do need to think about a tax attorney. I am really hoping that my CPA can help me decide what type of entity my new business should be. If he can’t, I’m sure he can point me towards someone who can. And this whole time, Vik and I are both referring to this mystery CPA as a guy. Are there no female CPAs?

Vik’s final chapter covers the life cycle of a small business. She describes the phases each business goes through, starting with gestation. While I am definitely right up in there and kind of scared shitless, Vik speaks fondly of her time in gestation and internationally imagines herself back in the thick of it when she needs to recharge her creative business mind.

After gestation, she describes infancy, and then goes on to the post-infancy phase. In this stage, she describes something very interesting. She shares a costly mistake she made during this phase, and it involved her mailings. For $1500, she sent out 2500 direct mailings to highly targeted families, using 4″ x 6″ postcards, with a special offer marked on them, included an expiration date for that offer, and got $9000’s worth of additional business. She then spent $4200 on 10,000 direct mailings to families who were not primarily in her target demographic, printed them on 6″ x 9″ postcards, without any sort of offer or promotion on them, sent them all first-class (instead of presorting them for the bulk rate), and only got three inquires – not even actual business – from them. This is crazy!! I guess it’s all about the details and paying close attention to them. Wow.

She continues on through more stages of life – the awkward stages of preteens, the satisfaction of young adulthood, the contentment of middle age, and the conclusion with the golden years. What a neat way to think about all of it!

Vik ends her book with a summary of key ideas, a glossary of terms, and a fantastic and extensive list of resources. Such a wonderful book!

Advertisements

Want to leave me a comment?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s