The business of photography

Ask any photographer how much of their time they spend taking photos and the answer might surprise you. I would say I spend about 15-20% of my time on shoots, if that. The other 80-85% is spent hustling for business, going to networking events, meeting clients, sending invoices, chasing invoices, paying invoices, replying to emails, sending receipts to my accountant, updating my social feeds, updating my website, updating my business plan, putting together my newsletter, brainstorming concepts,  putting together mood boards, preparing for shoots (see my last blog post for more on that) and retouching photos. Phew! And this list isn’t exhaustive. It’s great because no two days are the same but there is no escaping the fact that being a photographer means running a business as well as taking photos. Thankfully, I get a real buzz out of the business side and I have simply outsourced any of the tasks that made me want to die inside - such as bookkeeping and accounting. That doesn’t mean I have a fuzzy picture of my financials. I can tell you, down to the last penny, how much money has come in, gone out and is outstanding. What can I say, I’m my father’s daughter. 

I think a lot of photographers don’t achieve the commercial success their talent deserves because they either aren’t prepared or aren’t equipped for the business side. I must say, it took me a couple of years to figure this out. The first two years after I graduated from Goldsmith’s were spent taking a lot of photos that not a lot of people saw or bought. As I discussed before, I had office jobs alongside taking photos when I first started out. These jobs were the catalyst to me fully confronting the importance of the business of photography. I couldn’t hack working in an office. The jobs and people I worked alongside were perfectly nice and very accommodating, it just wasn’t what I wanted to do and I felt sadder and sadder that I wasn’t making a living from photography. I actually remember the very moment I decided to make a change. I was walking to work and with each step closer to the office I became more hopeless. At Eton Square in Chelsea I suddenly freaked out and burst into tears. The situation had become untenable and something needed to be done. 

Work, work, work, work, work

I started chasing paper like you wouldn’t believe. I said yes to every job that paid. I said no to any job that said ‘we don’t have a budget but this would be great for your portfolio!’ (Jog on, how patronising is that?) Side note, I think I’ll write a post on the epidemic of being asked to work for free: the pros and cons. Let me know in the comments if you’re interested. After building up a steady, but small, stream of income I took the plunge and quit my day job. There is nothing like the threat of eviction or starvation to make you get to WERK. And I haven’t looked back since. My income immediately increased significantly because it HAD to and has increased year on year since. I plan on keeping it that way.

Photographic agent, Lisa Pritchard, has written a book entitled ‘Setting up a successful photography business’. I wish I had known about this book when I was starting out as it covers everything you need to know for making a success of a photography business from contracts and terms and conditions to marketing and agents. Still, even years after I set up my business, I found useful tips so definitely recommend reading it. I read a lot of books about business, marketing, finance, and hustling. I can put together a reading list if you’re interested, just let me know in the comments below.    

Learn, learn, learn, learn, learn

Lisa’s overview is far more comprehensive and well edited than this blog post will ever be, but my top tips are as follows:

  • Write a business plan: I’ve done this for the first time this year and have noticed a big difference. It keeps me focussed on my goals. My strategy, sales targets, and marketing plan are all included in the business plan. It can seem daunting but a business plan isn’t supposed to be long. It should be concise and it’s about where you’re going more so than what you've done. Plus, it is so satisfying ticking off the things you’ve achieved as you go along. 
  • Find a mentor: A mentor will give you invaluable guidance. My mentor, Zoe Whishaw, has shown me how to position and brand myself as the kind of photographer I want to be. It’s a work in progress of course and I’m still learning so much. It’s funny, because I didn’t even realise I wasn’t on the right track when we first started working together; an objective voice is so important and will get you where you want a hell of a lot quicker than scrambling around on your own. 
  • Track your finances: As the old adage goes, that which is measured, improves. I record exactly how much I earn every month. I can compare it to what I earned the same month, the previous year, year before that and so on. If you know exactly how much you’re earning, it will spur you on to earn more the following month and identify where there are decreases or increases in earning, which will help you figure out what to do about them. 
  • Hustle: I spoken before about tenacity and the fundamental importance of not taking no for an answer. Talent is not the key to success. It’s important of course but it’s useless if you’re not prepared to get out there and sell yourself. If I remotely cared, I might be embarrassed about how unabashed I am in selling myself, asking for introductions, and following up emails that have gone un-replied. But I’m not, because I can’t be. A gal’s gotta eat and in the words of Modern Family’s Cam ‘I am used to nice things!’ Incidentally, I’ve just read this brilliant blog post, by August's Cybele Sandy, about how hustle is the secret ingredient to success in photography. Vindication!