Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Photography tips for beginners, part 2: Starting a business

cute baby courtesy of Christina, photo by j. noel photography (aka me)

I promised more parts to my photography tips series, and today I'd like to share a few pointers on getting a business off the ground, since this past year, I did it! These are simply things I've learned along the way and am happy to share with those of you who might be interested. Also, don't forget to check out part one's tips on how to get started with photography, if you missed it. Lots of good pointers for beginners there too.

OK, starting a photography business! Here's my best advice.

1.  Educate yourself. These days, teaching yourself photography is totally doable. I find that Pinterest is a wellspring of fantastic ideas and links to amazing tutorials and articles that will be invaluable to you.  Just search for photography tips and I promise you'll stumble into multiple boards that will be overflowing with fantastic links. You can start here with mine!

2. At the risk of being obvious and redundant, my most important piece of advice is to PRACTICE. Practice like crazy. Practice on your dog, your food, your family members, indoors, outdoors, and in all types of light situations. Make your mistakes on people who aren't paying you.  Get to know your camera and what it's capable of. I was taking photos for my blog for a good year and a half before I started offering my services to others, so I was somewhat familiar with my camera by then.

When you feel like you're ready to start practicing on people in a more professional format, offer free photo sessions to a couple of your friends or family members to start building your portfolio, and try and be strategic about it. It's always a good idea to practice on people who have a large network and can help spread the word about your work in exchange for the free session! :)

3. Once you have a bit of a portfolio together, create a place where people can go to see your work, and start charging. Not much at first, but enough to make it worth your time. I did $100 sessions my first summer, and the practice I got during this time was invaluable. As for a place to showcase your work, a Facebook page is easy to start up, and I highly recommend creating a blog or website, as well. It is crucial to have a place where people can go to see your work, if you want to start charging. Why would anyone hire you if they have no idea what the results will be like? (see #6 for more info on websites.)

4. Decide on your business name and get together some preliminary branding. I, personally, think it's better that you not get too tied up with having THE perfect branding right away. This can cost THOUSANDS. I bought my logo premade from Etsy, where there is an incredible selection of beautiful logos for dirt cheap. Go here and browse!

5. To make things all nice and legal, file for your LLC. I used Legal Zoom. If anyone else has some advice to share on a different or perhaps cheaper way to do this, please let us know in the comments! I believe it cost me about $400 through Legal Zoom.

6. As an extension of #2, once you have your logo and business name all figured out, buy your domain (I used 1&1 Internet) and start up a simple website. It can be super duper tempting to spend thousands of dollars on professional branding right off the bat, but sometimes I think that's a mistake people make when they lack confidence in their work - which you probably will, at first, and that's OK! But all you really need in the very beginning stages is a nice simple platform where people can go to view your portfolio. I use Squarespace and am SO pleased. There are tons of different templates that you can customize yourself, and they are very simple and beautiful. I have the least expensive package ($8/mo) and it's been all I need to showcase my work so far. Check out my website here, to get an idea of one way you can set up a Squarespace site!

As a side note, I DO think you should have really great and cohesive branding at some point. It's much more professional, and people will be willing to pay you more when you are much more professional. But you need to be savvy in the beginning. Starting a business is extremely expensive, and if you're not careful, it will be a money suck that takes months and months or even years to get out from under and start actually profiting from. Try to strike a balance between looking legit and professional to potential clients and going overboard and spending more than you can afford.

7. Don't be afraid to reach out and ask other photographers for help. Some photographers are a little snooty about sharing info with their "competition," but most are perfectly willing to share some pointers with you or answer your questions.  Personally, I prefer to ask photographers who aren't my direct competition. For example, since I don't do weddings, I'll ask wedding photographers for some pointers or a photographer from a different city or state all together. It just seems, to me, like they'd be more inclined to help. I know I would be! ;)

Organize some coffee dates with local photographers in your area, or even start up or attend a support group. I have learned some of my very most valuable information from other professionals in my area. I highly, highly recommend networking in this way - it's priceless! However, remember there's a fine line between using people and making mutually beneficial relationships. Professional photographers have spent years and years honing their skills and often learning the hard way, so you must be respectful and not expect them to pour out all their knowledge into you. That's not fair. Do your due diligence, but don't be afraid to ask for advice along the way!

8. Invest in good equipment. The first several months into my business, I was doing all my editing on my Sony laptop, and that thing got bogged down QUICK. I spent hours upon hours of wasted time waiting for that laptop to get its ish together, and it was pretty much the most frustrating time of my life. I am pretty cheap sometimes and didn't want to have to cough up the money for a good Mac desktop, which is what all creatives tend to recommend, but once I finally did, it was LIFE ALTERING. I think I cried the first time I edited a session on this thing. Lightning speed, I tell you, and incredible colors and graphics which allow you to do a much, much better job for your clients. Do it. Time is money.

9. Miscellaneous tips: I like TinyPrints for business cards (or Etsy!), and I love this Etsy shop for a great and inexpensive way to package clients disks. I have disks with custom labels printed here.

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Next time I'll talk a little bit about working with clients, and as always, if you have any more great tips to share with us in the comments, sound off! Have a great day. :)

(and don't forget to check out Part 1 of the photography tips series!)

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