and I feel like I go blank. They say “So how did you start? How did you get where you are today?” ….. And I don’t have a 5 step program. I wish I did. 5 step programs make everything so much easier. Just do this, this and this and you’ll have a successful business. Welp, unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. It would be so nice if we could all buy a “Photographer’s Startup Kit” but they don’t exist. They don’t exist because everyone’s story into photography is different… and thank goodness for that! If we all followed a 5 step program, we would have matching blogs, the same editing style and the same business all together. How boring!!!
So while I don’t have a “Photographer’s Startup Kit” available for download… I do have some tips. Now, these tips for starting up your photography business are based off of my personal experience. For some of you, this model won’t work…. because you’re not me and we may be VERY different in our approach to business. You all have different strengths and weaknesses and it’s important to realize those before you try to implement these things. If you’re NOT a great blogger and actually DEPISE the “Add new post” button…. don’t blog. It will be a waste of time for you. Who wants to follow someone who despises writing a blog post everyday?! Not me! So make sure that the business ideas that you’re implementing WORK for you.
I started into this crazy business when I was a Junior in college. I really just started on a whim. I second shot two weddings, loved graphic design, was obsessed with interior decorating and so I launched “Inspired Designs”. I just wanted to be creative…. so I launched a business that did it ALL. Mistake #1. What I was really doing was trying to figure myself out. What did I LOVE most….what did I only love doing for myself but not for clients? Where were my strengths?! “Inspired Designs” very quickly became SOLELY a photography business. Once I realize that photography was my main passion… I went full speed ahead. Here are some of the FIRST big to-do’s when you’re launching a small business: (and ps. I’m including images so that this isn’t the most boring post known to MAN!)
1. DECIDE ON A NAME: a clearly defined NAME. I learned from experience that using “Katelyn James Photography” instead of “Inspired Designs” was a HUGE game changer for me. You’re selling YOU…. so people have to know who you are. If your business name is “Over the Stars Photography” ….. It’s cute, but I have NO idea who the photographer is. Again, this is JUST my opinion. I had a business name for 2 years that didn’t represent me and that hurt me in the long run.
2. SAVE YOUR DOMAIN. Go to Godaddy.com or any other hosting site and buy the BEST domain that is available!! I bought “katelynjames.com” when I was in HIGHSCHOOL!!! Yes, when I was 15 I thought to myself “Someone is going to steal that domain! I better snatch it up!”. So I did. I paid $5.99 for 5 years to keep that domain and FINALLY I had a reason to use it when my business launched. Best $30 I’ve ever spent.
3. The BRAND & ONLINE PRESENCE: Start building ideas for your brand. Create a Pinterest board and PIN anything that you LOVE and represents YOU. Hopefully, you’ll start to see a pattern and you can start forming a brand that resembles who you are and what you love. I realize money is an issue when you’re first starting out…. but starting with bad branding will only cost you more money in the long run. Find a talented friend or designer that can help you create a unique brand for your new business. (Logo, colors, overall feel of the brand, website, etc.). Your toughest job is to make clients believe you’re legit when you’re just starting out. If you don’t have a professional logo or website…. it’s harder for prospective clients to take you seriously. A facebook fanpage is great… but a 13 year old middle schooler could start a photography fanpage….you have to take it a step further.
4. PRACTICE & the PORTFOLIO: Many believe that you can launch a website and just start charging whatever you want for your services. I understand how exciting this is. I used to dream about pricing and new products to offer, etc. etc….. and then I realized… I’m NOT THAT GOOD!!! I needed to improve my SKILLS so that this business was actually worth what I thought it was worth! Try not to get caught up in the “pricing” when you’re a beginner. The GREATEST thing you can do to push your new business forward is to PRACTICE and gain a GREAT portfolio! The more you shoot, the more experience you have and the more your name is being passed around! Second shooting is a GREAT way to do this! Eventually, you will have a portfolio of 40-50 GREAT images for your website and you will hopefully have created a BUZZ about your new business. That leads me to the 5th tip!
5. The BUZZ! When you first launch a business…. you can’t spend $1500 on a print ad in a magazine…and even if you could afford it, I would never suggest that you do that. I would advise new business owners to take advantage of what is FREE and POWERFUL…. and that’s Social Media! If you have a small business and aren’t on Facebook……lets just say, you need to get an account TODAY! RIGHT NOW. It’s free and it has viral capabilities! New photographers, TAG your clients in their images! Share albums on their wall! Comment about how much FUN their session was! You will be creating a BUZZ about your business with just a few clicks! Some people give up on facebook because they say “Well I only had 100 fans”. Ok, lets think about that….. that’s 100 PEOPLE that are actively viewing your work! If just ONE of those 100 people has a close friend that is getting married and has a tight budget… guess who they are going to think about referring that friend to… YOU. But you can’t expect referrals like that when you’re not constantly updating your fanpage. Don’t give up….it’s not like you’re losing marketing money with facebook…. you have nothing to lose! USE THIS FREE MARKETING TOOL!!! Twitter is the same story! It’s tough to get followers but if you follow some of the mainstream planners, stylists and venues in your area…. it may only take one retweet for them to notice you! …. But you have to take that risk! Put yourself out there.
6. The MONEY: Create a separate checking account and open up a business credit card account. Keep your finances separate… believe me, this will save you SO much time in the long run. Only purchase BUSINESS purchases with your credit/debit card so that you can constantly see what you’re bringing in and what you’re spending to make your business run. When you’re buying new flats from target AND new ink cartridges on the same transaction…. how are you monitoring your business costs? It gets tricky that way. Simplify your accounts and make the business SEPARATE! When I started my “Katelyn’s Krafts” business in high school… I used this system… and it works! Trust me!
7. TAXES and the BUSINESS LICENSE: The day you start getting paid for your services, you need to apply for a business license. It stinks. It’s paperwork and it’s NOT FUN… but it has to be done. Once you file a business license with your county, you will have to start paying monthly income tax for the first year or so. Again, this isn’t fun either. I totally understand. (ps. This is VA law, everything may be different elsewhere). If you’re a VA photographer… here comes some more not-so-fun news. We have to pay SALES TAX…..yes, even if we’re not selling products. It’s ridiculous but here is the proof. We, by law, have to tax our time and services. So not only do you need to be paying income tax, you have to charge your clients .05% sales tax and file that monthly. If anyone has time to lobby against this…. I’ll be your biggest cheerleader! Seriously, it’s not fair. The state knows they can make a killing taxing our time…. but why aren’t lawyers, mechanics or any service taxed for their time? We should pay sales tax on products… like everyone else. (This ends my rambling!:) Bascially, bottom line, whatever the law says, you are responsible to do it. Paying penalties for un-filed sales taxes because “You weren’t aware of the law” is not fun. (I know from experience). Do it the RIGHT WAY…. from the START! Tip: SAVE receipts, make a spreadsheet of equipment purchases, use Mint.com!)
8. MAKE FRIENDS! This sounds so childish but it’s SO valuable. If you start a business and then sit in the corner, just hoping that friends will come your way…. you’re going to be waiting a LONG time. Get involved with Facebook groups, start attending meetups! Invest in a workshop (mine or any other one that sounds interesting!) Email another new photographer and form a relationship with one another. Believe it or not, there ARE photographers around you that would love to be FRIENDS… not competition! You just have to look in the right places to find them! Put yourself out there and take a risk. So what if a few more experienced photographers shoot you down….that’s only hurting them in the long run. Continue to search for friends that will become companions in this industry!
9. CREATE CONSISTENCY! This may be one of the BIGGEST tips I have. You have to be consistent. If you’re just starting and only shoot once a month… you can’t randomly just post about that shoot… you have to create constant conversations. I started doing this through a BLOG. Wanna see where I started? Welp, here ya go! This is my FIRST BLOG. It was nothing special….nothing fancy… just a little Typepad blog with off centered images because I didn’t understand coding. This was nothing amazing… but it was constant. I posted on this blog and on Facebook as OFTEN as I could because I knew that if I stopped talking about my business… everyone else would to. You HAVE to be consistent. If you’re new and you’re not shooting until May… blog about your new business cards, your branding ideas, your new lens, shoot something for fun! & blog it! Allow people to be a part of this journey WITH YOU! They will connect to that…. if you’re consistent!
10. Decide to KEEP GOING! The first year can be the hardest. You’re probably not going to make any money, you’ll have to work harder than you ever have and you’ll be tired…. decide to KEEP GOING. Decide to keep pushing forward and taking risks. This isn’t over until you allow it to be over. If this is truly your PASSION… make a commitment to keep fighting for your dream!
So I hope this wasn’t just a rambling list of advice. People ask all the time about what my advice would be and this post is it! I didn’t figure everything out on my own and so I think it’s only fair that I try to pay it forward as well! I’m so thankful for the leaders in the industry that believed in me and pushed me to think BIGGER…. I hope this post did that for some of you today! Enjoy this beautiful Monday and here’s to a productive week!!
The day started with bubbly personalities and bubbly drinks in the historic Linden Row house in downtown Richmond. I walked in, found Leah and then one by one I met her amazing bridesmaids. From the moment I met them all, I knew this was going to be a fun day, not lacking any energy! I loved the way this day started…. however, it got even better the moment dad walked in.
It’s an exciting day in Youtube land! We have just launched a brand new series that we’re really excited about!!!! So often when I’m going through KJ All Access episodes and editing our behind the scenes coverage of our wedding days, I find myself noticing a lot of scenarios that require a lot of thought and problem solving in order to create a FINAL image that I love!!
Gosh it feels good to do what I love to do again! This was my first shoot back since maternity leave ended and I loved every minute of it! I have known Matt and Abby for years and years and so while this was a true portrait session with paying clients and outfit changes, etc…. it was also a shoot with dear friends and it was wonderful to spend some time with them!
First of all, let me just say, I do NOT endorse not hiring a professional birth photographer! As you read this, keep in mind that I desperately wanted to have my friend and fellow photographer Jill with me during my fourth birth. I was heartbroken that she wasn’t allowed to be there!
Have you ever showed up for a wedding or a portrait session and took one look at the location and thought…. “You’ve got to be kidding me!!! How am I going to make this work?!” I have. I have had so many scenarios in my career where I have thought….“Ok, how in the world am I going to make this lousy location work as a great portrait location!!?”.
It still feels surreal to tell people about what we do for a living. We photograph weddings and we teach other people how to photograph weddings. It’s quite literally a dream job for a creative like myself who loves people! Every month when we do these Student Spotlights, I’m reminded all over again how much of a privilege it is to be a part of these photographer’s lives and play a small role in their stories.