5 Lessons I Learned From Running My Photography Business

Running a business is not easy!  Especially when you are running a business while working full time.

When I decided to start a photography business, I really had no idea how I would do it.  I mean, I wasn’t even a professional photographer.  My only experience in photography was shooting around with my old Cannon DSLR or iphone.  I also knew nothing about the technical side of photography.  All I knew is that I loved my art and I clearly had an eye.  I was determined to make this happen.

Little secret, being a great photographer has little to do with taking pictures.  (Seriously)  To be a great “working” photographer I knew I had to treat this new venture like a business.  And you know how people say you have to treat your business like a baby?  That saying is so true but it means more than nurturing or caring for the business.  What this means is that just like with raising a baby, your goal as the parent is to raise this child to be a wonderful, productive adult because when they are productive they can give back to you.  The same is true with growing a business.  The goal is to feed and nurture the business knowing that when this business reaches maturity, the business can then give back to you.  It becomes a source of revenues that can power other projects or ideals.  In fact, you don’t have to be a slave to your business always stressing to figure out where the cycle of “hustle” ends.  I made a choice when I signed the lease to my studio that I would raise my business in the way that I raise my daughter, to be a wonderful, productive business.

So,  here are a few tips I want to share with you that has helped me grow my brand in year number one.

But first an introduction!

 

 

My name is Nakisha and I am the owner of Hodgepodge Studios, an artist collective in Philadelphia.

I am a photographer and I also work full time in healthcare marketing.  I have a degree in business with a concentration on marketing and communications, but all the most valuable lessons related to business, I learned in the streets (not in business school).  Short and to the point.

This is Not a Hobby!

My first tip is to always treat your business like a business.  Some photographers actually snear at people who are too business oriented which is so weird to me.  But check this out, if you want to grow your brand effectively and efficiently, you must think like a business owner.  Often times I talk to people who start their business without a business plan.  Wait, WHAT!  WHAT????

Listen, I get it.  A business plan can be scary and in some cases, very expensive!   Please do not let this intimidate you.  You don’t always have to spend a grip to get a good business plan.  You can take the time and write it out yourself (I’m going to share my template for my business plan in another post, stay tuned), get a notepad and go one step at a time.  This will make your life so easy.  Your business plan is literally the blueprint to the business your building.  When I knew I was going to start Hodgepodge Studios I created 3 plans!
1.  Business Plan

2.  Marketing Plan

3.  Social Media Plan

I know so many photographers who pick up a camera and say, OK!  I’m going to run a business and they end up just kinda taking jobs that don’t align with the brand they are trying to build because they want to pay their bills.  You cant live like this…I mean, you can but it’s so stressful.

It is worth noting that I went HAM with my plans and you don’t have to do what I did, I suggest you do whats best for you.  Since I was a beginner (photographer) Promoting my photography right from the start was not the ideal plan for me.  I needed to take my time and perfect my craft before I started really putting myself out there.  I also wanted to build my studio brand and my photography brand at the same time but totally separate.   Making sure that I had a specific plan for each part of the business was key.
Giving myself deadlines and timelines were another important way to hold myself accountable.  Since I decided to invest in some classes with celebrity photographers, it was important to factor this into my timelines and business model.  I will include more about this in another post.  The main point here is if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  #facts

Networking In Your Niche

Meet Rafeeq.

Rafeeq and I met via Instagram and we connected.  I really liked his style of work and he was a lot of fun to chat with.  Networking has always played a huge role in my success and an entrepreneur. Working with other people helps build your tribe (a group of like minded folks).  Having a huge support system is very valuable.   There’s always so much to learn, why not learn from those who are doing what you want to do.   Now I hear you…some people have actually told me that other people in their field do not want to help or mentor them.  I personally have not had that experience   I have a mentor who runs an exceptional photography business and he encourages me so much everyday to be the best I could possibly be.  I love that kind of input.    He is one of my best friends and has been doing photography for close to 20 years.  The things I have learned from him have been invaluable.  Although our styles are completely different, the foundation is the same.

 

Know Your Worth

Whoa!  Its about to get real.  I’m not speaking to anyone in specific.  I’m just saying this is real talk and some of you may be offended.

Some people will always look for a bargain and some people you will inevitably have to turn away.  That’s just business.  Every client is not your ideal client.
I legit get people all the time who DM me or call and ask me to do a shoot for them and they literally have no problem asking me for a discount or a trade.  I’m saying to myself, whoa!  I don’t even know you.  We have no connections or affiliations.  Why would I be motivated to shoot for you for free?
Here’s the thing, unless I reached out to a person whom I see as a good fit for my brand or portfolio, I’m not shooting you for free.  I think its rude to even ask.  That’s number one.  Secondly, We are all out here surviving.  We are all trying to make a living at our work.  It’s like me asking you to show up to work for free and put in a good 8 hours of labor.  Not going down.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I don’t mind bartering or doing a trade if there is value.  I’ve been building my portfolio for the last month and I consistently do free work for my benefit but the models also benefit because they can use these beautiful pictures to promote themselves.  There has to be a mutual gain…always.

Here’s another thing that has me crazy.  Photographers, stop charging pennies for your work.  If you are seasoned and you do good work, you wont make it to the next level charging beginner prices.  For some reason, most people associate price with value.  There is an assumption of what the cost should be and there is an average.  I would know the average for my demographic and never go below that price.  When you are trying to find your price you of course have to be reasonable.  Meaning,  You cant just take a number out the sky or try to match someone else pricing without knowing  all of  the cost to run your business.  This should include the lease, marketing, electric, labor, and supplies (equipment should always be factored into your cost of every shoot).  I know that specific dollar amount that I have to charge just to walk through the door.  Knowing your cost will help you understand what your time is worth.

Of course I understand that some people wont turn down jobs because they need the money.  Babe let me tell you how I learned the hard way that no good deed goes unpunished and I always take into account the work that will be involved with each client I take.  Sometimes its better to say no and keep it moving.

Get Analytical

If you don’t pay attention to the back-end of the business,  you are doing yourself a great disservice.  Many times we focus on the front end and the revenue that comes in the door.  Knowing how that client came in the door and how to keep them is so much more important.

Speaking of revenues, how much did you make last year on your business?  I track and record all incoming payments and outgoing cost every month.  If I do the math and theres more money coming in the door than going out, I’m doing a great job.  If I see its the opposite then I know its time to make some changes.  When you run a photography business, most likely you are not only the photographer, you are also the marketer, the accountant, the HR person.  You wear many hats.  Its important to keep your books straight so you can see the real profits and/or losses.

On the backend of the site, I can see exactly who my client is.  I can see what content they like by the pages they visit.  This helps me understand what content I should produce and post.  If you have a website, you should have google analytics and familiarize yourself with it.  This tool can be the big answer to all of your question.  My job as a photographer is to make sure I run a solid business so that I can continue to take great pictures.

Invest in Yourself

Its so tempting to just break the bank, especially after you have completed a high paying gig.

The rule of thumb is to never spend more than you make.  While it is so tempting to put big purchases on credit card, I never want to be a slave to my business.  Typically you want to invest a third of your profits back into the business.  Just remember that if you put money back into your brand, your returns will be higher.

Conclusion

Peace and Love

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