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Setting up a Professional Photography business is a daunting prospect but specialist professional photography training will greatly reduce the risk.

In an industry that is evolving so quickly, it is essential to understand what key factors need to be considered to both build and maintain a successful photography business today.

Working as a full-time photographer is a dream that many people aspire to due to the promise of both creative reward and being your own boss. And it is absolutely possible to sustain a profitable business as long as the foundations are properly laid with an investment in quality professional photography training. Setting up a business is a huge undertaking and it is essential to focus both energy and investment into key areas that will allow it to grow and flourish. Very few of these factors have anything to do with photography – that just happens to be the product/service that your business offers.   One of the first modules of our professional photography training Foundation Programme involves working out what kind of business you want to run.

What are the key things to consider if you want to set up a professional photography business?

Photography is a huge industry and can be divided into many genres including fashion, commercial, landscape, sport, news, stock, weddings, portraits etc. One of the most obvious but essential factors is the ability to clearly state what business you are in – what it is and what it isn’t.

Once you have settled on your particular niche it is absolutely necessary for your photography skills to be of a ‘professional’ standard and for you to have the right tools for the job.  Carefully research what kit is truly necessary to compete in your chosen market rather than throwing money at lenses etc.  Our kit bags for weddings are far heavier (and more valuable) than for portraits.  Photography is a craft that needs to be learnt though knowledge and practice – there is no shortcut and as Henri Cartier-Bresson stated ‘your first 10,000 photographs are you worst’.

Thankfully most people understand this and put the required effort into their professional photography training – whether through academic study, apprenticeships or courses and workshops.   However, the same cannot be said for their business skills which is a huge problem as you can compare running a photography business to pretty much any kind of business regardless of having just one employee or 100.

Creatives are not always good managers and they tend to want to take pictures primarily but the role of the photographer is only one job amongst a host of others that they have probably never done before.  In addition to creating the product a business owner must also manage the systems (workflow, backup etc), finances, insurance and legal requirements as well as be entrepreneurial and ‘future focused’ by driving the marketing, sales and long term growth of the business.

Your Target Market

Once you are clear on what your offering is going to be you will need to define who your target market is.  A professional photographer should be a brand like any other business with the aim of giving clients a reason to select them over a competitor – what makes them different and better.  It is probably one of the most misunderstood disciplines of business and has very little to do with your logo or your photography style.  Instead, it is a vehicle to express your business values and personality and position yourself in the market – in essence, it defines what ‘supermarket’ you are.

Branding for Photographers

Once you have defined your target market and your brand you can bring it to life through your ‘brand identity’ – the visual toolkit which includes your logo or mark.  Brand design is a specialist discipline and should be viewed as a key investment in your business – a good designer will give you a clear set of guidelines which should allow you to be the guardian of your brand and ensure consistency across all your marketing communications.  I have written more about the process of creating an effective photography brand here.

Your website remains an essential element of your business and despite the abundance of content channels, all communications should ideally drive potential clients back to this hub – your online portfolio. It goes without saying that it should be well designed, fast loading, mobile friendly and easy to navigate.  In addition to beautiful photography ,the words that you carefully pen must be 100% on brand and written with your target market in mind.  More and more potential clients are consuming content via mobile devices so it makes sense to prioritise your website over business cards and printed material.

Once you have done the hard (and soul searching) task of creating a brand and building a strong website you cannot sit back and wait for the bookings to come in.  It would be like standing on the edge of a cliff and shouting into the abyss – the chances of anyone hearing are pretty slim. This is where the role of marketing comes in.

Photography Marketing

At its simplest Marketing is about building and maintaining awareness, about filling a need and generating leads.

Over the next few months, this series is going to explore some marketing techniques and sales strategies that can help photography businesses.  It is important to make the statement here that there is no golden bullet to marketing success.  There are so many communication channels and no single strategy will lead to success.  Rather you have to be continually and consistently present and on brand.

I once read a very interesting (and sobering) comment which stated that businesses never flatline – that they are either in growth or decline.  In other words you can never afford to take your foot off the pedal.

Many photographers don’t relish the thought of using social media for business but it just can’t be ignored and should be viewed as a critical part of any marketing strategy.  We will be looking at the current trends and offering tips to make the time you invest in social media activity pay off.

The term SEO (search engine optimisation) can equally send some photographers running in the opposite direction or glaze over in boredom.

Fundamentally SEO is about getting people to your website – driving traffic through knowing and utilising the actual search terms that people enter in search engines – also known as keywords.  

We will explore how to research the right keywords and how to optimise your websites and integrate them into your blog activity.

And we will also discuss pricing.  Without a doubt, pricing is the most common ‘issue’ that we address with our professional photography training and mentoring because photographers find putting a value to their work incredibly difficult.  So, in addition to marketing strategies, we will explore the minefield of pricing and sales in the hope of giving you some direction and clarity to your business endeavours.

This series was commissioned by Digital SLR Magazine to help photographers understand the essential steps to setting up a professional photography business.

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