I hear the same story from photographers all the time. "I got into photography because it was something I loved. I took photos of everything. At some point, people started to tell me how much they liked my photos, and started asking me to take photos of them. Eventually, they started to pay me to take photos, and suddenly - I had a business."
When photographers tell me this story, it's almost as if they were walking through life, tripped, and when they got back up, they suddenly had a business. So often, photographers never intentionally set out to start a business, it just grew out of a passion, and a hobby, and became so much more.
Whether this photography thing you do is a business or a hobby is totally up to you - but you have to decide. It can't be both, and if it's a business - it has to make money. Often, there is a tension between the photographer, who started with a hobby, and the businessperson, who now has to figure out how to take this hobby and turn it into something that makes a profit.
For many photographers, it's as if there are two completely different people, living in the same body. There's the photographer/artist, and then the business owner, and they are rarely on the same page. Figuring out when to think like a photographer, and when to think like a business owner, can be difficult, and can lead to some tough decisions. If you've decided that this photography thing you do is a business, here are three things you can do to help grow something profitable and sustainable:
1. Think Like a Business Owner First
Photographers think about things like photoshop actions, apertures, cool new gear, blogging, composition, bokeh, natural light, and pretty photos. Business owners think about acquiring new customers, streamlining their workflow, eliminating inefficiencies, increasing market share, and the bottom line. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't think about the things that photographers think about - but when thinking about your business, be an owner. When making business decisions, figure out what's best for your business.
2. Business Owners Make Money
Photographers make pretty pictures, business owners make money. I'm not sure why it's so taboo to admit it, but if you're running a business, it has to make money. Why? Because you can't pay your mortgage with pretty pictures. If you're going to give your life to something it should add value to your life. Sure, you may not get rich being a wedding or portrait photographer, but your business has to make money.
3. Every Decision Has A Cost
Every time you say yes to something, you have to say no to something else. Every time you say yes to working with the wrong client, you have to say no to the opportunity to work with the right client. Every time you say yes to buying a new piece of gear, you have to say no using that money for anything else - like paying your mortgage. Every time you spend your time on things that don't help you grow your business (editing photos for example), you have to say no to marketing and growing your business. Be sure to count the cost of every decision, keeping in mind that the financial cost isn't the only cost. Often the opportunity cost is even bigger.
Is this photography thing you're doing a business? Or a hobby?