You are a professional photographer as soon as you sell a print or get any money for your photography. Excelling at that requires taking on tasks and responsibilities, some of which apply to amateur photographers too. However, there's much more to it than many people imagine.
Years ago, someone told me that the graveyards are full of people who were invaluable to their work. At the time, I worked for a dreadful employer. Over time, it became stressful, so I left. Are you cut out to be your own boss and do what I did, turn what you love into a business?
Part of being a professional photographer is running a business. If you are self-employed, that means doing all the tasks that some companies will spread between several people. Apart from the core business, you will be a bookkeeper, an administrator, be in charge of marketing and advertising, the website builder, the social media campaign manager, the IT expert, the health and safety manager, the person who changes the printer cartridges, as well as the janitor emptying the bins and sweeping the floor. As soon as you employ an assistant, you become an HR manager too. Most of those jobs are not revenue-creating, but are essential. It requires a degree of organizational prowess to keep on top of it all.
However multi-skilled you are, some rivers will be too daunting and deep to cross. You may need to employ an accountant, a website developer, or a lawyer to write your terms and conditions. If you are too busy, you might pay someone to empty your bins.
An online presence is essential for a business, and any amateur wanting to promote their work should consider that too. Consequently, there is a need to develop a strong website. This should represent both you and your business and should be visually appealing. It must also be easy to navigate, providing detailed information about your photography training services. Use high-quality images and videos to showcase your work and services.
It's not enough to have a website. You must update it regularly, or it will slip into obscurity. That's one of the consistent items required for search engine optimization (SEO). Don't heed the emails promising to get you first place.
Taking the time to improve your search engine optimization (SEO) will help you to appear at the top of search engine results. I am sure you can see the one dilemma here: everyone is trying to do it. Regularly updating your site and having people linking to it from others is advantageous.
Many of the same promotion methods still apply today, as they did for hundreds of years. That's mainly word of mouth. The word will get around if you offer your clients good quality products and services. It's not as immediate as social media; if someone has a good experience with you, they will tell one or two others. However, if that experience is bad, they will tell ten.
Of course, these days, word of mouth means social media. Creating social media accounts on platforms is essential. Depending upon your business type, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and Twitter can all help promote your business. Remember to share your work on those and post updates about upcoming events and the success of past ones. Take time to interact with your followers.
Connecting with other photographers and industry professionals helps too. I've sent work to other photographers when I've been asked for services that I am either too busy to take on or are outside my field of expertise. Likewise, other photographers have sent work my way. Networking with other photographers and industry professionals is a must. But invest your time in networking with the right people. It is pointless reaching out to people on the other side of the country when most of your work is local to you. Joining photography groups and clubs is worth the effort.
It's not just photographers one should network with. Being in touch with other local businesses and organizations can boost your profile, too. However, do consider attending national photography events if you need to cast your net further. I've made some valuable contacts at the UK's Photography Show that brought me extra revenue.
I loathe receiving marketing emails, so I don't send them. Furthermore, I don't have the time to do that. However, many successful businesses build an email list of potential and current clients, and email marketing keeps them informed. It's effective, but being on the receiving end of unsolicited emails is annoying. Beware, the laws about unsolicited emails are strict in many countries, and you cannot spam others if they do not want you to.
Offering free sessions is an excellent way of finding new clients. Many photographers run free portrait sessions, and the client buys the prints. If photographic training is your thing, then taking people for a short photo walk, giving a talk, or going to help at a photography club is a great way to promote yourself. It doesn't have to be free. Encouraging your existing clients to refer their friends and family to your business can work well. Offer them a discount for doing so and a money-off voucher for their friend.
Can you write? One way to keep your website up-to-date and noticed by search engines is to write articles. Share your expertise and pass on valuable information to your potential clients. It sounds counterintuitive, but if you give away knowledge, people will assume you have more to give them when they come for training.
Cross-promoting other businesses in your area can help. I'm not suggesting you promote your direct competitors, but wedding photographers often share links to other wedding providers, whereas some photographers partner with a camera store to offer discounts. Amateur photographers sometimes have blogs and will feature and be featured by others.
It's important to know when you are being successful and why. Therefore, tracking your promotional campaigns and seeing their impact is essential. You can track your website's hits using Google Analytics, and Meta has some valuable tools, including Insights, accessed through the Meta Business suite.
Sometimes, things go wrong. Having fallback processes in place is essential. We should put preventative measures in place to minimize some high risks. For example, what would you do if you were a wedding photographer and woke up on the morning of the event and were sick? Do you have someone you can call to cover for you? Do you have a second camera? Does your camera have dual memory slots in case one card fails? Do you replace your memory cards and cameras before they die? Does your car have a breakdown recovery service? Do you have a backup for everything?
There is one other thing to consider: adequate insurance. Business insurance is expensive, and it isn't just your equipment you must protect. I sometimes take mobile studio equipment on location and once had a flash head explode and catch fire. What if that fire had spread to the building I was in? I also heard a horror story of a photographer who took a step backward and knocked over someone standing behind him. The person fell, hit their head, and suffered brain damage. The photographer's insurance was insufficient to cover the damages that were awarded. Somebody else had their camera equipment covered by their house insurance, or so they thought. When it was stolen, they came to claim, and the insurer discovered that the photographer had done a couple of paid photography jobs, and that invalidated the cover.
Before setting up a photography business, you must be sure that you are the type of person suited to that. It will mean having very little income for the first year or two. You will be required to work until late at night and start early the following morning. When things go wrong, and they will, you must be able to accept that failure and work around it. Running a business requires a degree of organizational skills. Additionally, you must have a personality that others find agreeable; someone I've met repeatedly tries to start a photography business, but it is a constant uphill struggle. Why? He is known for his abhorrent racist views; consequently, nobody will use him.
To set up and succeed in business, you must love what you do. Although being in control of money is essential, it's not about chasing it. Income is just a natural by-product of your work. Giving your customers and clients a high-quality service is what it is all about. It's hard work with extended hours, but there is nothing better. For me, earning my living by spending time with fabulous clients, sometimes up a snowy hillside or on a stormy beach at dawn, enjoying a wedding or party, or playing with creative effects in a studio is nothing short of brilliant.
So, if you are thinking about changing to being professional, you have the money to keep yourself solvent for a couple of years until you have built your business so it earns enough profit to feed your family, and you have the self-motivation to work from early in the morning until late at night, then go for it.
Have you considered going into business? Have you done so already and got advice to give others? What were the advantages and pitfalls that you found?
Thank you Victor