I'm sure you've read a few dozen (if not hundred) posts about New Year's Resolutions, or lists of things that you should do in 2014.  I'm not much for resolutions, but I do have a short list of things that I think every photographer should do this year.  Why?  Because your business depends on them.  Seriously - these are the 6 things that I think could make the difference between a growing, profitable business - and one that fails in 2014.  


1. Photograph things that you love.
I'm not talking about photographing weddings because you "love" them.  Presumably, most photographers choose their business based on something they are passionate about - whether that's newborns, or weddings, or family portraits.  That's great, but it's really not where I'm headed.

Right now, make it a goal that you're going to photograph things that you love in 2014. Make photographs that mean something to you, outside of what you're paid to do.  Find a way to connect with a personal project that makes you both a stronger photographer, and a more balanced person.  Find a way to practice your art.

Practice a lot.  Practice on your friends.  Practice on your dog.  Practice on your kids.  Take a class, better yet, take two.  Take pictures constantly.  Take at least 20,000 photos for this year, just because.  Learn about exposure, composition, color, and depth of field.  I don't care if you shoot film or digital, but shoot until you burn up a shutter.  Then, get a new one and shoot some more.

Make photographs.  Experiment.  Do crazy things with your camera.  Learn what it can do, and push the boundaries.  Look through photography books and learn how the legends make their shots.  Then go out and take more photographs - at least 10,000 more

2. Learn As Much As You Can About Your Business.
The reality is that you are a small business owner. As much as you are a photographer, you are a business owner, and as much as you invest in becoming a better photographer, it’s just as important to become the very best business person that you can.  For a lot of photographers, this is scary, but the level of resources available to learn about running your business profitably, is truly remarkable today.  

The truth is, there are a lot of people that are a lot smarter than either you or me.  Many of them are experts in things that are super helpful to our businesses.   The challenge is finding those people, and absorbing what they know.  Fortunately, many of them are more than willing to teach and share.  Some have written books.  Some are regular presenters on business topics at conferences and events.   Here are a couple of resources I recommend highly (shameless plug!):

The Photographer’s Resource Guide

Starting Out Right: Building a Profitable & Sustainable Photography Business

Additionally, there are a lot of really talented business people teaching and speaking at various conferences.  I’ll be at the Inspire Photo Seminar, outside of Boston this February, and I’m speaking at WPPI - both on business related topics.  

3. Expand Your Network
I've written about this several times, but easily one of the most beneficial things you can do to expand your network, is what I call "Meet One/Touch One." 

It's really pretty simple.  Every month, make it a priority to meet one new industry peer or vendor.  It can be a planner, a venue sales director, a florist, a designer - whoever you want it to be.  Make it a goal to meet just one.  
There are a lot of great tools to connect with people - often Twitter, Facebook, and other social media are great places to start getting a sense for people - and to even introduce yourself.  Just be sure to be authentic, and make it about them.

In addition to making one new connection each month, every week - reach out to one person who already has a relationship with your business.  This can be an existing vendor or industry partner - or it can be a client. The key is to reach out and touch one person each week - to reconnect, and strengthen the relationship.

For me, my goal is to send one handwritten note each week to someone.  Often its a thank you note to a client for their business, or a note to a vendor when I read something good about their business - or see a featured wedding published that they were a part of.   I only write a note when it's authentic and genuine - and about them.  I look for cool things that are happening with clients and partners, and send them encouragement when appropriate.

4. Get In The Habit of Saying Thank You
I'm a HUGE fan of the handwritten, personal note.  I can't think of many things that have a greater return on your effort, than taking 5 minutes to write a quick note to someone, sticking a stamp on it, and dropping it in the mail.  We ALL love getting personal notes.

When we get a note that has been handwritten, it communicates that we were important enough for someone to stop what they were doing, sit down at their desk, take out a pen and paper, and write down something meaningful.

My rule is this - whenever someone books me, or gives me money (places an order, etc), they get a handwritten thank you note.  It might sound like a lot of thank you notes, but there's no better time than now to make it a regular part of your workflow.

5. Quit

When you think about all of the things that go into running a photography business, it can be overwhelming.  At the same time, how much time are you spending on things that don't help you grow your business?  How many of those things could you either find a better system, or find someone else to do them for you?  Right now, decide that in 2014, you're going to quit doing things that someone else could do.  

In fact, here's my  rule: ONLY DO WHAT ONLY YOU CAN DO. 

What do I mean?  Exactly that.  Look at your business honestly, and figure out the stuff you need to be doing, and only do that.  Find someone else, or create a system, to do the rest.   Why?   Because, If you're a wedding or portrait photographer, chances are, you have very little margin in your business - and as a result - in your life.   It's almost always better for you, and better for your business, to find someone else to do the rest. 

Here's a few resources to help you, so you can quit spending time on the things that someone else could do:

ShootQ for client relationship management, booking, workflow and communications
ShootDotEdit for image post-processing
NinetyNine Beans for bookkeeping and accounting (full disclosure - I'm a part-owner of this company) 
Zenfolio for online hosting of image galleries for wedding clients
Preveal for in person client viewing software on my iPad. (It's super simple, and it's gorgeous!)

6. Make Money
I've made this point more than once, but if it's a business, it HAS to be profitable.  Otherwise it's just an expenseive hobby (which is fine, but not a business).  Understand what it takes to be profitable.  

Do the HARD work of figuring out what it costs you to be in business.  Do the HARD work of creating a pricing plan that makes sense, and makes you money.  Do the HARD work and create a marketing strategy around your ideal client, and be willing to say no to the wrong types of business.

Remember that every dollar you spend on the newest, fanciest gear, is a dollar you can't spend on your mortgage, or your kid's braces, or college.  Remember that every time you work for free, it gets harder and harder to make money.  There’s nothing wrong with making money - in fact, if you’re not making money, your business is failing.  If you’re not running a business to make money, you should find something else to do - and just take pictures for fun.  



There is nothing "easy" about building a business of any type - photography or otherwise.  There's no 10-step plan, no business-in-a-box kit you can buy, and no workshop you can take to guarantee you'll have a successful business.  Even still, human beings are drawn to the appearance of success.  We're attracted to the idea that anyone can be an overnight success.   In reality, there are no overnight success stories - there are only "years of hard work" stories.

Starting a Photography Business, Business of Photography, Business plan for Photographers

In fact, you want to know a secret?  Almost every uber-succesful business is the result of two things: a TON of hard work, and a little bit of luck.  You can't plan for luck - you can only work really hard so that if you happen to stumble across luck - you're ready.

Even still, so many people seem to think that it can be distilled into 10 steps.  There are a lot of people that believe that starting a photography business is easy.  If that's you, here's my suggestions  These aren't sexy. These are just 10 things you should do before you even think about starting a photography business.

1. PRACTICE PHOTOGRAPHY.  Practice a lot.  Practice on your friends.  Practice on your dog.  Practice on your kids.  Take a class, better yet, take two.  Take pictures constantly.  Take at least 20,000 photos for free before you even think about calling yourself a pro. Learn about exposure, composition, color, and depth of field.  I don't care if you shoot film or digital, but shoot until you burn up a shutter.  Then, get a new one and shoot some more.

Make photographs.  Experiment.  Do crazy things with your camera.  Learn what it can do, and push the boundaries.  Look through photography books and learn how the legends make their shots.  Then go out and take more photographs - at least 10,000 more.


2. FIND SOMEONE TO APPRENTICE WITH.  Second shoot a few dozen weddings.  Seriously.  There's no better way to learn than to learn with someone who has experience.  Find a respected photographer and work your tail off.  Carry their bags around and set up light stands.  Learn how they approach a wedding, how they handle formals, how they manage their clients, and how they create incredible photographs.  

I still second shoot a few weddings every year because it's the best way I know to experiment and practice things I can't always do at my own weddings.  Even once you've mastered your camera, that doesn't mean you'll have a clue what to do when you show at a high-stakes, high-energy, high-emotion event like a wedding.


3. GET A REAL JOB.  You know, the kind that pays your bills.  It's unlikely that your photography business will support you for the first 2 or 3 years (if you're lucky).  With that in mind, get a job - or keep the one you have.  For whatever reason, photographers seem to be eager to quit whatever job they have that puts food on the table.  They are in a rush to jump off a cliff and hope that they suddenly figure out how to fly.  How on earth does that make sense?  Do something to make money - you're going to need it if you're serious about starting a business.


4. SAVE AS MUCH CAPITAL AS YOU CAN.  Put 3-6 months of living expenses in a savings account before you "launch" your business.  Only purchase gear when you can afford to pay cash - and build up your gear as you go.  There's no reason to go into debt.  After all, the average photographer spends $5K in gear a year.   If you put that on a credit card, the average american will end up paying $7-$9K to pay off that gear over 8-10 years.  By then, 95% of photographers will be out of business, paying off gear that's only worth pennies on the dollar.

Buy your gear with cash, but get good gear.  If you're shooting a wedding, you better have at least 2 solid bodies, a wide, normal, and tele prime or zoom lens, a pro grade flash, and multiple pro quality memory cards.  That's not cheap.  You can do it without going into debt, but you're talking about a pretty serious investment.


5. HIRE AN ACCOUNTANT.  You're starting a business, for crying out loud!  You're about to make one of the most significant financial decisions of your life - and you think it makes sense to do it without the expertise of someone who knows how to keep track of your money?  Who cares about what new lens to buy if you don't even know if you can afford it.


6. GET A LAWYER.  For all the same reasons as you need an accountant.   This is a HUGE decision you're making and you want to be sure you set your business up in a way that protects you from liability.  Why on earth would you just use someone else's contract?  Why on earth would you just make one up yourself?  It seems like no big deal until you get sued, realize you had a weak contract, and discover that as a sole proprietor, all of your personal assets are now at risk.  Your bank accounts, your home, your life savings - everything.  All so you could save a few hundred - or thousand dollars.

(you're still practicing your photography right?  You're still second shooting right)


7. DEVELOP A PLAN. How are you going to get clients?  What's your marketing strategy?  Yes - your network is a great place to start.  But how are you going to leverage that to build a sustainable business?  Who are the clients you want to work with - and how are you going to get in front of them?  Are you going to advertise, do bridal shows, have a website?  Write down your plan to market your business.  

As you develop a plan, ask yourself why - of all the things you could do with your life - why are you choosing this?  Does running a small business fit into your life?  Will it provide for your family?  Will it help you have the kind of life you really want?


8. CREATE SYSTEMS.  The average photographer spends 15-20 hours a week on editing, and another 15 on administrative tasks.  Neither of those make you any money.  Before you start taking clients, figure out how you're going to organize your processes.  Develop a workflow, build a relationship with a lab, decide on products and WRITE IT ALL DOWN.  This way you can spend your time doing things that make you money - instead of reinventing your workflow for every wedding.  For many photographers, it makes sense to outsource most of the non revenue generating tasks of your business, including your editing, album design, production and even bookkeeping.

(keep making photographs.... lots of them... practice as often as you can)


9. LEARN ABOUT SALES A large part of what you do with your time will be sales.  When you meet with clients - that's sales.  When you conduct viewing sessions - that's sales.  If you're going to make any money doing this - that's sales.  If you are terrible at sales, read books (by Jeffrey Gitomer or Neil Rackham to start) or take classes.  You might even consider hiring someone to help with this aspect of your business.


10. KNOW YOUR NUMBERS. You hired an accountant - listen to what they tell you.  Know how much it costs you to be in business.  Understand your fixed expenses vs cost of sales expenses.  Know how these relate to profitability.  You are a business owner - ACT LIKE ONE.  Be intelligent and do the hard work when you create your pricing.  For some solid help - read the PPA Benchmark Survey.  Rationalize your pricing, understanding what it takes to compensate for your time.  Know how to create packages, how to move people to action by pricing, and what your margins are.  

Many photographers just make stuff up when it comes to pricing, and the end result is - they don't make any money.  Often they don't even know they aren't making any money until they do their taxes. Ask your accountant to set up your chart of accounts and use managerial accounting practices.


You know what, I could easily give you 10 more steps before you start a photography business.  If you do these 10 things, there's still a pretty good chance that your business might fail.  Do you love photography and love creating something of value for people?  If so, than maybe it's worth it to give it a shot.  You probably won't get rich (contrary to popular belief), but you can do something you love - with purpose.  


What about you - what else would you add?  Leave your steps below...


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10,000 HOURS

Do you ever wonder what it is that makes some photography businesses so successful?  Is it that they have such exceptional raw talent as photographers?  Is it that they have the world's most wealthy and beautiful clients?  Is it that they are marketing geniuses?  I guess it's possible that one or more of those things are true of them, but that's not what separates them from everyone else.  The truth?  Hard work - a lot of hard work.


If you've read Outliers, by Malcom Gladwell, you're familiar with the idea that it takes 10,000 hours to be truly "great" at anything.  I won't go into all the details of the book, though I highly recommend you read it.  Gladwell makes the arguement that the greatest success stories essentially come down to 2 things: a lot of luck and a lot of practice.

He argues that across industries, across different disciplines, and across artistic endeavors, the standard is the same: it takes 10,000 hours to truly become great at something.  It takes that much practice to truly master your craft in a way that no one else has.  It takes that much practice to become "great." 

Of course, "great" doesn't equal "successful."  That almost always requires something else - luck.  Here's the thing though - I think a lot of people sit around waiting, hoping, praying that they'll get lucky.  Unfortunately, luck is not particularly predictable.  And, even if you get lucky, you still have to be "great."  You don't become great by accident, and you don't become successful just because you got lucky.  

I think this is great news!  I think this is so encouraging for those of us that want to become great artists, and build successful businesses.  I think it's a call to action, for each of us to practice, practice, practice.  It's a challenge to pick up our cameras even when no one is writing a check.  It's a reminder that the more we shoot, the better we see. Since January, I've taken thousands of photos, and less than 10% of them are for paid clients.  I don't know what "practice" looks like for you, but maybe it's stating a personal project.  Maybe it's photographing your kids.  Maybe it's offering your talents to a charity organization.  I'm not even worried about "great," but right now, I'm striving for "better."

Luck, though it's not something you can plan for, is really about what you do with it.  The truly great stories of success are about people who had put in their 10,000 hours and were uniquely able to take advantage of their situation.  The good news is, practice is something you can do something about.  


What are you doing to become better?