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Five things I learned in my first two years running a photography business

If you’re thinking about starting your own photography business, or are just jumping into your first few months going full-time, this article is for you.

As I look back on my first couple years of committing to my photography business, I can acknowledge that I made a lot of mistakes. But I also learned a lot. Even as I write this article, it all seems like common sense now, but sometimes you have to go through things to understand them.

Here are five things I learned in my first two years in business as a freelance photographer.

1. It’s expensive

I knew it would be expensive to start out. But if you’re budgeting to start up your own business, try to be as thorough as possible. There’s office supplies, like calendars, printers and ink and computers. Next, there’s monthly payments varying from bank fees to accounting and post-processing software subscriptions. Don’t forget the annual lump sum payments for things like insurance, business licenses and website fees.

There’s incidentals for lunches on the go, gas for your car, fees to join various groups and networks. Printing and shipping are not cheap if you’re selling products. If you’re into learning (and you should be!), continued education in the form of schooling or workshops is another expense. And we haven’t even started on the photography gear yet! But you get the point — be financially aware and prepared.

2. Provide quality products, even if that means upping your prices

You work hard to create beautiful images. Don’t cheap out when printing them!

I learned this one the hard way (as I seem to do with most of my business lessons). I tried ordering prints from a cheap online website in order to lower my quote for a bulk order client. Needless to say, half of the prints showed up looking terrible. With not enough time to get them to redo the order (which probably would have looked just as bad), I had to get them printed last minute, and locally, at a much higher cost.

This caused a lot of undue stress the day before my delivery date, and also took money out of my pocket. If you want to provide your clients with quality products, pay to get it done right and quote accordingly. Cheaping out will only make your work look unprofessional anyway.

3. Don’t be afraid to outsource the things you don’t know how to do

I get it, funds are tight when you’re starting out. But if you’ve never run a business before, there may be certain things that you’re not knowledgeable about. For me, accounting/bookkeeping was one of those things. Having a chat with a bookkeeper about what I needed to do to keep the business side of things straight was key. Being able to contact her with questions and mistakes is still invaluable to me.

Marketing was another area I sought help for. Same with website creation and copywriting. For awhile, I tried printing my own images but eventually got frustrated with my lack of technical abilities and outsourced all my printing as well.

Hiring professionals to guide me in these areas took a ton of stress away. It also made me much more competent as I learned from people who specialize in those fields.

4. It’s easy to always be on the clock; set boundaries for yourself

It can be hard to work when you’re getting the puppy dog eyes!

When you’re running your own business, especially a home-based business, it can start to feel like you’re always on the clock. When I started out, I always wanted to be super responsive to clients, even if that meant immediately answering their 11 p.m. email on a Saturday night. Or searching for Wi-Fi while out camping to check my emails and do social media posts. Eventually, I realized that I needed to allow myself time off from the business. I began setting boundaries in terms of my personal time.

Conversely, creating specific work times is also key. It’s easy when your office is in your house to get distracted by a load of laundry, dinner prep, kids or pets. All of a sudden your “work” day has flown by and not much has been accomplished. Setting specific tasks, work times and break times has been key for my personal workflow.

5. Having a network of like-minded peers is invaluable

Photo adventures are more fun with friends!

I’ve always been pretty happy to work on my own, and used to consider myself quite shy and introverted when it came to things like networking. But as my business has grown and I’ve been introduced to new people, I have found incredible strength, inspiration and camaraderie from other photographers. I’ve met many of the local photographers in my area and have become friends with them. It’s great to be able to bounce ideas, questions, referrals and pricing queries off them.

Some peers I’ve met through in-person workshops I’ve attended and we’ve stayed in touch since. Others I only know from online groups or workshops but they still provide a wealth of knowledge and understanding of what I’m going through with a new business. I lean on all of these people, and they lean on me too. Photography can be a very competitive industry, but it doesn’t have to be lonely. Seek out those positive relationships.

Lessons learned

Launching your own photography business can be a scary and exciting time. You’re surely going to learn a lot of lessons the hard way, but rest assured that you’re not the only one. I probably could have written a list of 100 things I’ve learned in my first two years as a freelance photographer! Just remember to take each failure as a lesson learned, and celebrate each little victory as they come.

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Rafael Jones

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