I feel like this blog post could be something that aspiring new photographers could use in navigating their soon to be business. I wish when I was just starting out that someone had told me a few of these things so that I could have better prepped myself. Regardless, I learned along the way and found a few amazing things that helped me grow and book my first few wedding clients. If you are in the dark about where to start, this blog post is for you.
I can track back to 2008 when I realized I wanted to be a wedding photographer. Yep, I was a sophomore at NC State going to school for a science degree. I wanted to switch my degree to something dealing with art, but people kept telling me that there was no money in art. “You want to have money to pay your bills, right?” is what they would say. And then I would respond with “yeah, youre right.” So, I stuck it out and worked towards a degree that I have never ever used. Truth be told, I often ask myself how far my business would have gone if I would have listened to my gut the first time it spoke to me. Maybe its a good thing I waited until I was older.
Who knew that I would go back to school after that degree to receive another degree in my first love—photography. I am proud of myself for this, the program was intensive, more so than my first one, and really forced me to think—about math, about how far my creativity could go, and showing that I was better than the others. Which, might I add, was a mesh of wonderfully skilled students. When I came out the gate with my degree, I knew I had to hustle to get my name out there. It was 2015 then, and the professional photographer atmosphere was massive (it still is). Everyone was a “photographer” including their moms, their uncles, and best friends. It was my job to make my work stand out against the repetitive sea of other well named artists and hobbyists. I needed work, I needed money, and I needed to build up an amazing portfolio. I needed this like ten years ago, but here we were—starting from the bottom.
I am here to tell you about some things that will help you with your footing, where you should focus your attention, and to inspire you to go out there and kick some ass. Read below for some tips and advice for when you are just starting out. The kicker is? Most of this has almost nothing to do with photography. If you want to start a business girl, first thing is first—you start acting like its a business.
Know Your Why
Ask yourself “why” youre going in to business for yourself. It could be your need for freedom, you don’t want a boss ever again. You could want to transform the lives of others. What is your purpose for becoming a wedding photographer, a commercial photographer, a social media marketer, a boutique owner…girl, what is your purpose? Honestly, your why and purpose will probably change within a few years, so just be honest with yourself right now and how you really feel. I started my business because I wanted to be self sufficient. I had seen the decline of our economy…I had no job prospects even with my first degree—all of my friends parents had been laid off. I started my business because I knew if I was in business for myself, I could make it work somehow, someway.
I wouldnt put too much pressure on yourself for this question, because again, your why will change—just like how mine did. You don’t need a big lofty goal, you just need to realize what it is and ask yourself why this is important for others. Who are you here to serve? Are you here to serve 22 year old brides? Are you here to serve 32 year old brides who have a degree in law? Seriously, who are you here to serve and ask yourself WHY you want to serve them. Whatever you do, don’t skip this. If it helps, then write out a little avatar of your dream customer. Here is an example that I came up with on the fly…
Jennifer is a 26 year old data analyst for a local company based in the triangle area of North Carolina. Jennifer went to UNC Chapel Hill for her undergrad, and then went off to Virginia Tech to receive her Masters degree. She wanted to move back to North Carolina to be closer to family, and when she did she unexpectedly met the guy who she is planning to marry later this year. She always dreamed of running in to a guy on a plane somewhere (she likes to travel alot), but in all actuality, she met her fiance by swiping right on a dating app. Jennifer shops at Anthropology sometimes, but her heart is with the downtown boutiques who have custom clothing from women all across the States. Jennifer has a dog and a cat, and has trained her cat to walk on a leash, just like her pup. Jennifer vacations in the OBX every summer, and always plans atleast a one week trip out of the country to appease her need for culture. Jennifer wants to have a wedding photographer that “gets” her, and doesnt want her wedding images to look like just another wedding in the triangle. She is not a fan of the light and airy images, but more so the adventurous type of imagery.
Make a Website with a very Clear Message
I know this kind of sounds easy, but in all actuality it is not (especially when you are in your head all of the time). Remember your why? Now it’s time to put that on your website. When someone lands on your page they need to know immediately if they want to stay and look around, or leave. Trust me, you want this. There is no use in keeping someone on your website unless they are actually interested in what YOU are offering.
Let’s look at an example. If you’re WHY was to make couples relive their wedding day with happy tearful imagery—then you need to say it. You need to tell people why they need you, and if they resonate with it, then those are the people who you want to continue on your website. I would say something like “Our sole purpose is to create jaw dropping imagery for couples all across the southern region of Virginia.” Simple, right? This is a one hitter quitter. Keep it simple and to the point. Oh, and make sure you write out your location, or where you want to travel to. AKA “Southeast America, Raleigh/Durham, The Carolinas.”
Oh, and something no one tells you to do when you first start out…I am telling you right now. You might not understand NOW, but trust me when I say you will NEED this later…ladies, you need a clear and accessible place on your website where people can opt in to your email list. This is a whole different blog post, but yall, start on this now.
Choose one platform of choice
Look, your first couple of years in business are critical. Also, you are going to find yourself fighting the urge to do all of the things. Dont. You need ONE (and I mean it) platform to share content weekly. And yes girl, you need to post to it weekly. Your platform could be a podcast, a blog, a youtube channel…whatever! It can be anything (but don’t use social media for this). Pick one thing that you are going to use to put out quality good content about your work. I say choose one, because if you choose to do all of them, you will get burned out quickly. Also, none of your fans will know where to go because you may post something on a podcast, and then later try to write a blog post. Be consistent.
Do this every week. If you choose to do a blog, awesome, welcome to mine! With my blog, I try to post atleast twice a week now. When I first started out, I only posted about 1 post per month. That was a bad business move on my end. If I wanted to come out the gate kicking ass, I shouldve been giving Google all of the great content, but instead, I did it only when I had time. Yall, you are going to have to make time now. Listen to me when I tell you that this is important. Your loyal small fan base will want this, they want to know how you are doing—give them that information. Do this to strengthen the relationship with your existing audience so that later, these people can help you reach a wider audience.
Engage with your customer
Now this is the fun part. You need a solid place online where you can engage with your clients and potential clients. For me, this is Instagram. I know quite a few business owners who bow down to the powers of Facebook. But for me, my main source of communication with the public is Instagram. This includes responding to every DM and every single comment. Whatever social media platform you choose as your weapon of choice, do it well. And by doing it well, I mean allotting a certain number of minutes per day for you to post something and to comment and message people back. Oh, and you need to post every day. If you are on Instagram, this could mean that you post to your insta-stories, or a photo in your insta grid. Whatever the case, you need to show up ONCE a day. Remember, what you are doing is important—remember your WHY? You need to start showing up and letting people know WHY your work is important and casting that net out so that others can become aware of you.
And again, make sure you respond to people. Even if its just an emoji…you need to respond. What is worse than when you comment on a friends post and they just magically dont respond back to you? It kind of hurts your feelings, doesnt it? Take the time to say thanks for the comment. Our world is so “social” so its time to embrace it.
Ahh. The word we have all been avoiding. It’s a necessity, and inevitably, what you need to have a sustainable business. But, here’s the thing, you will more than likely not be making a profit your first few years in business. Think about it, everything you make goes straight back into the business. Camera gear, insurance, studio space, repairs, computers, CF cards, the list goes on and on. This is all fine, because, you want to put this money back in to your business. At the same time, you also need to pay your bills.
I would figure out a way to make money while you are still figuring things out with your business. What did this mean for me? I did alot of family sessions, I worked at a bridal shop, and a florist. I know it sucks because you clearly started this business because you didnt want a boss, but girl, you got to do what you got to do. Don’t lose sight of building your business, just make sure you use your money diligently and for the right things. I would spend extra time doing the projects that are going to get you the next phase of your business. For instance, I started teaching beginner photography courses for the sole reason of getting my name out there and to build up my email list. If you want to be a lifestyle and brand photographer, I would do sessions in your free time that showcase this. Then I would showcase this on your social media platform of choice, then turn around write that blog about it.
The fact of the matter is, it’s going to be hard the first few years of business. So please dont come in to this thinking you can fly off to Miami for a fun girls weekend. Unless you have daddys disposibale money to spend, this is the time for you to hunker down and use whatever money you do have—wisely. Invest in yourself. If you’ve been wanting a mentor, or just need help figuring out how to shoot on film—do your research and make sure you use the money you’ve made to invest in that. The one thing that I have clearly learned, its the fact that when I started to prioritize myself, my business started to flourish afterwards.
When you know your why, it makes things a little easier.
I hope this blog post was helpful for you! I was serious when I said this had little to nothing to do with photography, but it hits the nail on the head. These are things that I wish people told me in advance, and who knew how far I would have been if I knew this at the beginning of this journey. If this helps you or inspires you, write me a comment and let me know.