I've suggested several times that one way to earn extra money is to turn your hobby into an extra income. I've also highlighted several examples of how people have done this including ham radio users, wet shavers, bloggers, artists and more. As such, I'm excited about today's guest post from Stephanie Simpson. She's a Los Angeles-based family photographer (you can visit her website for more info), who's also a contributing member of Digital Photography Blogs, a collective of photography blogs for shutterbugs of all levels. Stephanie has turned her photography hobby into a business and now shares her suggestions on how you can do the same.
About a year ago, I decided that it was time to make some changes. My daughter was about to start preschool and I was going to have nine glorious hours to myself every week. That's when I knew what I had to do. I've had a camera in my hands most of my life, and even have a Master's Degree in Cinematography. But still photography has always been just a hobby, until last year, when I decided to start my own family photography business.
Ok, now what, I asked myself? Where to begin? I spent months doing research and setting up my business before actually launching, and here's what I learned along the way.
Before delving into the nitty gritty of a photography business, it's critical that you first examine yourself. Are you the kind of person who can run a business, live with unsteady income, keep on top of the paper trail, work easily with clients, look for work every day, and constantly market yourself?
Not everyone is cut out for freelancing. Knowing how much income is coming in every month is a big deal, and the unsteadiness of freelance can be very stressful if you're counting on the money.
I freelanced for years in the motion picture industry, but when my belt got a little too tight one year, I chucked it all for a regular job at Warner Bros. Studios. I loved the regular paycheck, but my days were filled with drudgery. But my life situation has changed now, and I no longer have to fully support myself with my freelance earnings. This takes the pressure off and allows me to build the business gradually with diminished stress.
Do a Lot of Research
If you are interested in Stock photos, product shoots, food photography, headshots, or Weddings, learn as much as you can about those unique industries, and the best practices for those businesses.
Research your home market. What do local photographers charge for the services you plan to offer? How do they market themselves? How is your photography different from theirs? What can you offer that they can't? This can help you to brand your business and tell you how to position yourself in the market.
I find that my photography is a lot more colorful and fun than some of my competitors. My pictures are as strong as some of the big players in Los Angeles, but I bring a unique playfulness and color to my shoots. Knowing this helped me to design my website to reflect my strengths.
For thorough details about starting your own photography business, check out the book, "Photography: Focus on Profits," by Tom Zimberoff.
Build a Portfolio
The big question is, what kind of photographer do you want to be? Do landscapes light your fire? Do you dream of photo shoots on the Serengeti, or are blushing brides more your speed?
I like photographing people, and I love capturing the personalities of little kids just being themselves. It seemed like a natural fit for me, so the next step was to build my portfolio. I did this by offering to photograph my friends' kids for free in return for using the images on my website. They got something out of it, and I got to practice what I do.
This gets a little complicated if you really want to photograph bats in South America, but there are ways to explore your genre in your own neighborhood.
Many photo business books focus first on the equipment you will need to buy, the studio space you will have to lease, and the start-up money you will have to spend. My advice is to start small and build gradually.
1) Don't quit your day job. The beauty of a photography business is that you can start small, build your business and portfolio gradually and then be in a much better position to decide whether you are able to do this full-time. This was a perfect solution for me as a stay-at-home-mom wanting to bring in extra income.
2) Keep your expenses small. Since you're already interested in photography, you probably already have a pretty nice camera and some lenses. Instead of splurging on a lot of sweet new gear, make a personal rule that you won't buy more equipment until you've earned the money to buy it through your photography.
3) Outline your services and set your rates. Based upon the rates of the competitors in your market, how much do you want to charge for your services? What is included in the package? Will you offer prints? Will you deliver on CD? Be as specific as you can.
4) Build a nice website. Your website is probably the first place a potential client will go to view your work. It should look like you and reflect the kind of work you do and the kind of clients you want to attract. Here's mine.
5) Be prepared to wait. The jobs are not going to come rolling in by magic. There may be long periods of time with no work at all. That's why you didn't quit your day job, after all. If the phone isn't ringing off the hook, it's probably time to step up your marketing efforts.
Setting Up Your Business (the paper trail begins)
1) Name your business, file for a DBA to establish yourself as a business entity, and file for a Federal Taxpayer ID so you can get a bank account in your business name.
2) Research the tax laws in your state with the Franchise Tax Board to determine if you need to charge sales tax for all your services or just your prints. Every state is different.
3) Consult an accountant. Most first conversations with accountants are free, and they can let you know if you have to file quarterly or just once a year. My accountant helped me choose accounting software, and advised me about what home business expenses I can deduct and how to track them.
4) Consider business insurance. One client tripping over your tripod could send you to bankruptcy. I worry that I'll ask a child to sit on a stool, they'll fall off, get hurt, and I'll get sued. Scary proposition, so I've invested in good liability insurance. This will also protect your gear, if it's ever stolen.
5) Set up a contract template. For a great resource of generic photography contracts, check out the book Business and Legal Forms for Photographers, by Tad Crawford) It also has a CD with the templates that you can customize for your own business.
Taking the Plunge
Photography is a great baby-step business. You can get your business off the ground with very little start-up capital. It's not like opening up a restaurant! If you've got the photographic skills and your portfolio is strong, if you are self-motivated and you are organized enough to run your own business, maybe now's the time to be paid for your pictures. Happy shooting!