Having switched from a corporate job 2 years ago to being a full time photographer has been a road full of learning. I’m writing a multiple part series on tips for making the switch.
The first part was about Passion. You can read that HERE
2- Learn to run a business
Every 3-4 months, I get an email from students asking to interview me for their photography class, where they have to meet a professional photographer and hopefully learn about the realities of the career choice. We chat about gear, we chat about social media, we chat inspiration. But one of the biggest piece of advise I have for them is not what lens to buy or what Creative Live class to follow… it’s learn how to run a small business. This is what will make the biggest difference in you being successful and not just trying to push a hobby into some money.
Learn how to make a business plan, how to market yourself, how to think outside the box in what you want to offer. Client relations, basic bookkeeping and all that wonderful stuff that creatives are usually never associated with. Do you need to be an expert? Nope, not at first. But having the knowledge of how to run things is key. There are plenty of free resources out there to help small entrepreneurs get started. There are classes you can take. There are experts who might mentor. I’m lucky in that my girlfriend is a born marketer. I have a friend who is great with finances. I have experts I hire on as well… so that I’m well surrounded by people who know more than I do.
You can still get by without much marketing. You can still make money if you don’t have planned business growth strategies. Anything is possible. If you want to make photography an actual career, have a decent paycheque (and decent is all relative of course) then get all the tools you can to make it so.
I know some photographers who are very well off but do standard work as they are excellent business people. And I know some photographers who are barely making a living but who create such stunning pieces of art.
Keep in mind that you are a photographer now running a photography business, and not just a photographer. I spend 20% of my time behind the camera. The rest is a mix of editing, marketing, networking, bookkeeping, blogging and so on. The graph below, found online, gives you an idea of the time spent running a business. It is made for wedding photographers, and numbers can easily vary, but you get the idea… 🙂
You can learn some of this along the way, but getting a small business degree will give you a great leg up on the competition. So before making the switch, ensure that you have some knowledge of what you will need to start a business.
I worked 15 years in the corporate world. Armed with a high school diploma, I made my way up the ladder. I was around accountants, marketers, IT gurus, CEOs, admin staff,… I forged relationships with vendors, dealt with all forms of clients. I learned the importance of paper trails, follow ups, how to network. So I had a decent bag of knowledge when I left (along with some pension money, and a good chunk of change set aside… but more on that in the next blog post 😉 )
Since then, I’ve pushed learning of marketing to specific audiences. The importance of social media (and being careful not to overflow what you put out there). Doing taxes led me to basic bookkeeping. And as I deal with business as clients, I know how to work a conference table, establish client needs, create new needs, which leads to bigger contracts.
One of the key things having a varied client list and how throwing all your eggs in one or two baskets is not always the best thing. If I had 90% of my work from the same source, I’d be so stressed as you never know what may happen with that source. A new VP might come into the company and bring their own photographers in. The client might change their business model. So even though you produce stellar work, on time and on budget, you can get axed. At ANY time. So keep that network going and make sure you have a fall back plan to make that axe blow hurt a little less
Hope these write ups are helpful and motivating! I’m thinking the next one will be on Planning … just as you plan photoshoots, just as you plan vacations, you need to plan your exit.