By Allen McEachern
1. Follow Your Passion, Not The Money
I made the mistake of starting my photography career in debt, fresh from a return to university. I then moved to a part of Canada that I had never been to, where they spoke a different language. I know, not the brightest, but it happened. As a result of this I had to chase the money a bit more than I would have liked. I shot a variety of subjects for a wide base of clients. I never turned down a photo job for the first few years. The positive was that I experienced a variety of revenue streams within the giant realm of photography. The negative side was I was not following my passion, and it showed in my work. I should have followed my passion. I lost two years that could have been better used developing my niches. Specialist = deep niche. Generalist = wide market spread. Both work, one is more profitable.
2. Assist An Established Photographer Who Shoots What You Want To Shoot
I read that approximately 9000 people graduate every year from photo related studies in Canada. I don't know if this is true, but it seems possible. Lets assume it is true. How many of those graduates would do a paid masters degree if they could? To me, this is what it is to assist an established professional photographer. I suggest two years if you can handle it. Assisting will teach you more about what you already know. You will also learn about operating a studio, and how to treat clients. Your knowledge of customer service, value creation, networking, pricing, licensing, and negotiating will increase. For me, the time was hard, because I didn't want to mop floors, but I learned a lot that I might not have gained otherwise.
3. Invest In Learning About Business, Marketing, and Sales
Lets go back to those 9000 graduates. They all learned about lighting, cameras, lenses, post-production, shooting styles, etc. How many learned best business practices? Did they study contract negotiation? What about licensing their work, marketing, sales, small business financials, investing...the list goes on. The reality is as a photographer you need to be a business person, even if you take a staff job somewhere (if these even exist anymore). The more you can learn about business the better off you will be. Do you have a marketing plan, a business plan, a financial plan? The public library is a great place to start. I would recommend ASMP's "Professional Business Practices in Photography" as a good entry read. ( http://www.asmp.org)
4. Buy The Equipment You Need, As You Need It
I see photographers all the time who have gone to the camera shop, loaded up the credit card and filled their bags with everything cool. New lenses, the best flash, the big cameras, and so forth. We all love the gear, but start to act like a business. Buy what you need, as you need it. I always look through the local classifieds first. Sites like Craiglist, Kijiji, and others are a great starting place for good gear. I stay local because I want to be able to meet the seller in person and see the gear first hand. Think back to those 9000 grads...how many went on to start photography businesses or careers? How many of them went broke? How many of them are selling their equipment to pay off their debts? My last word on gear is this...save for the equipment you need. I know I will need to replace my computer every three years, my cameras every two years. I plan for this. I bank 10% of every contract right of the top and invest it in a small term deposit account that pays about 3% interest. This account is there for equipment and other business emergencies.
Protect yourself, your clients, your equipment, your studio, your health. Commercial insurance is a must. I know it sucks to pay, I have paid about $1000 / year since 2005. But I sleep better, and work better, knowing I am completely covered regardless of what happens. There are many options available to photographers. I recommend policies that cover the replacement of your equipment along with commercial liability. I have a worldwide coverage for 365 days a year. No matter where I am in the world, I'm covered. Shop around for the policy that meets your needs. Speak to other photographers. Contact photographer associations such as EP, CAPIC, ASMP, NPPA, and so on...
Do you have something to add? Resources to share? Please feel free to leave a comment.