It is interesting to look closely at the evolution of many freelance photography businesses, and this is because many of them begin more as a hobby than anything else. Why is that?
A photography business is not going to have the same sort of short-term setup period as many other businesses because it will require a large number of pre-existing images and shots. For example, the freelance photographer looking to begin operating on a full-time and official basis is going to require a somewhat comprehensive portfolio. This is not an item that can be put together “overnight” or even in the matter of a few weeks, and this means that the photographer is likely to have been “working” for many years before they go into business.
Photo by Vinoth Chandar
Often this work has been done as a hobby or general enthusiasm. This means that the photographer may have a huge library of images from which to build a website, or even to sell to stock photography sites, but it may not be enough to start a business.
Does this mean that you shouldn’t start a photography business if you don’t have an expansive portfolio? No, but if you have only a few assignments under your proverbial belt, you may want to start looking through all of your past work to find images that might appeal to the individuals and businesses with whom you wish to work. For instance, you might find that you are fixated with architectural photography, and this could form the core of your business. Alternately, you may realize that you are a portrait photographer and can begin building a portfolio demonstrating your personal style or approach.
Photo by Mike Baird
The Need for Specialization
This takes us to the next major issue connected with the beginning of a photography business, and that is the area of specialization. While you could hang out a sign that simply says “photographer” you are likely to get a lot more business if you are a specific type of photographer. For instance, will you be a wedding and special event photographer? Perhaps you would like to be a portrait specialist? Maybe you envision yourself as some kind of photojournalist? Whatever the type, be sure that you design the business to coordinate with the goals.
Formulating a Business Plan
Here we come to one of the primary steps for any type of successful business – creating the “plan”. Yes, we know that photography is an artistic endeavor and that you may not want to deal with the many official line items in a formal business plan, but you must face the simple fact that you are going into business and this requires administrative and managerial efforts on your part – on top of all the photographic work.
A good business plan is going to be a great deal like a road map to success, and will include such details as:
Your company name – this is the official name under which you have registered the business with federal, state, and local agencies;
The format of the business – most freelance photographers work as a sole-proprietor, though some do advance to LLCs (limited liability corporations) as well;
The goals of the business – this is going to help you identify the ways you intend to sell the images. Will your goal be to create a stream of income through stock photography sites? Will you function strictly as a portrait studio? This is essential to your success and must be worked out before officially opening your doors for business;
The budget – what sort of startup funding do you have? Do you own the equipment you need? Will you need to setup a website? Understanding the costs and the available funds can tell you immediately if you are ready to “quit your day job”;
The market – this is a factor that will differ widely from photographer to photographer. This is because the world of the Internet makes it possible for anyone to operate a photographic business of almost any kind from just about any location. The market might be as small as the local community press or as massive as the entire planet. The key is to know the market and determine how best to access it; and
Legalities – understand your legal obligations as a business owner. You must register with all of the proper agencies and function properly with the tax codes. Make sure that you have dealt with the financial obligations around your income too. Often it is a good idea to meet with an accountant and an attorney to be sure your proverbial “ducks are in a row”. This is also a good way to get educated about your business too.
Once a business plan is completed, you will need to understand the importance of your professional appearance. This doesn’t mean your garments; it means that you will have to have an office, phone line, website, business banking account, etc. If you want to work with clients and business professionals you have to be in the same “league”, and this is the final step in becoming a professional freelance photographer.
Top image by Mike Baird