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How to Start a Photography Business: The Wedding Photographer’s Guide

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When you first picked up a camera and began taking pictures, do you remember how you felt? As you snapped photos of your surroundings or your friends and family, you may have thought about how getting into photography would be your dream job (and may have thought about starting a photography business).

Fast forward to today, and here you are, a wedding photography business owner. You did the research necessary to learn how to how to start a photography business, and now you spend your time doing exactly what you love and working with clients who adore you. Getting into photography as a business venture is just the beginning.

Start a Photography Business

When you make the decision to find out how to start your own photography business, one of your top priorities is growth. We’ve created a comprehensive list of things you need to know to prepare, build, and sustain your growth, which we will cover in 4 separate blog posts. In the first post of this series, we will cover 4 ways to prepare your photography business for growth.

*As a note, these tips can help you whether you are in your first year or are an established photography business.

1. Goals and Metrics

Some of the first questions you may have when you start a photography business are:

  1. What do I need to start a photography business?
  2. What should I do to set up a photography business that is successful?
  3. Which steps do I take toward building a photography business right now?

With everything you do in business, the key to growth is setting goals as a part of your photography business plan. When you first set out to start a photography business, sit down and write out the goals you needed to achieve to do so.

While working toward an end goal for your business, every decision you make should be aimed at growing your wedding photography business and increasing your profit. If your focus is anywhere else but on your end goal, it will be harder to establish a brand that people recognize.

Your Plan

As a business owner, it’s necessary to think of growth in terms of where you want to be in the future. The first step to this is to figure out where you are today and what the important next startup actions will be moving forward. From where you are now, create a plan using goals and metrics to help you reach your long-term goal. Start by taking a look at the metrics of your photography business. How many weddings did you shoot last year and how much profit did you bring in? These numbers will help you to forecast your metrics for this year.

Tip: Create a photography business plan template that you can adjust each year based on what you achieved the previous year.

Previous Year:

  • # of weddings
  • # of portraits or other events
  • Booking fee
  • # of Associate photographers (if applicable)
  • Average print sale
  • Average album sale

Goals for this Year:

  • # of weddings
  • # of portraits or other events
  • Booking fee
  • # of Associate photographers (if applicable)
  • Average print sale
  • Average album sale

SMART System

Once you’ve taken a look at where you currently are in your wedding photography business and where you want to be, it’s time to create a detailed plan that will help you get there. Any goal you set during this process should be reasonable and should be supported by metrics. Relying on the metrics of your business informs you of whether your goals are realistic and achievable. For example, a goal of making one million dollars in a year sounds like a great goal. But, is it obtainable? To help determine if this goal can be achieved, you could review your income from the previous year to see if it’s within reach of your goal.

By using metrics in conjunction with your goals, you will be able to identify where you want to go and what you need to do to get there. Metrics help establish the framework for making your goals obtainable, and without them, goals may sound great but not be in reach. By having a purpose with metrics to support it, you are creating good systems that will help grow your photography business.

Setting goals is the fastest way for you to improve your wedding photography business on a regular basis throughout the year. Once you create your overall goal for the year, break some of your larger tasks down into short-term goals. Short-term goals allow you to stay focused on your long-term goal but require less of your time and energy.

When setting short-term goals, decide what aspects of your photography business you need to work on to grow, and what parts you can outsource to save you time. Outsourcing to specialists frees you up so you can focus on the tasks that only YOU can do.

The SMART System for Goals:

Specific: Create specific goals that are highly detailed (ex: shoot 15 weddings per year)
Measurable: Base attainable goals on the dollar amount and percentage
Action-Oriented: List the actionable items you need to do to reach your goals
Realistic: Avoid setting goals that are out of your reach
Time Specific: Every goal you make needs to have a deadline

Who’s Doing It Right?

ShootDotEdit Wedding Pro, Vanessa Joy recommends to be specific in the goals you set for your wedding photography business, especially when it comes to booking weddings.

“To reach your goals, you need to know what they are. It’s no use to throw a number out there like ‘15 weddings’ when 5 of those could be $5,000 weddings and the others are $2,000. When making and attempting to reach booking goals, be as specific as possible, breaking down the numbers and doing the math to come up with a concrete target in numbers and dollars.”– Vanessa Joy Photography

Activities:

  1. Prepare yourself for growth within your photography business with metrics from the previous year. Write out the specific goals you need to reach this year for your business, photography shoots included:
    • Number of weddings and other events
    • Booking fee
    • Number of Associate Photographers
    • Total revenue
  2. Where do you want to be in the next year of your wedding photography business? Review your goals and metrics from the previous year. What are you doing differently to achieve your goals this year?
  3. Choose your top 3 goals that are achievable and create at least 2 SMART metrics for them.
    • Create a time frame for these goals to determine when you’ll check in to see how far along you are in terms of attaining the said goal.

2. Brand and Message

Since there are thousands of photographers in the industry who want to book weddings, your brand message has to stand out to reach your goals. When you are unique as a wedding photographer and have a strong central message, it will allow you to attract the right clients to your website and help set the stage for growth. Getting to know your clients is a way to develop your niche to deliver a brand message that captures their attention.

Authenticity

Every photographer’s path differs when it comes to setting up a photography business, so it is important to stay true to who you are as a person and a photographer. It’s important to understand the difference between being unique and being different. Being unique and being authentic to who you are will set you apart from other photography businesses. Knowing who you are and what your passions are will help you to define what it is that makes you unique.

Know why clients choose you. The more you can build a business around YOU, the less you can be copied, and the more your clients will want you. They will book you because they love YOU, and if they love you, they will love your work.

Specialism

Specialism is the way for you to develop a unique brand message that attracts ideal clients to your photography business. Author and specialism guru Jeff Jochum says it best in his book, Uniqueing Your Brand:

“Anyone can copy what you do; no one can copy who you are. The essence to making Specialism work for your business is that you must stand for something other than ‘making money’ to make this happen. Your WHO becomes your primary differentiator, and the real value of your business. We call this ‘YOUniqueness.” – Jeff Jochum

How do you decide if you are a Generalist or a Specialist? Take a look at the events you have booked on your calendar. Are you shooting a variety of events from weddings, portraits, newborns, and landscapes? If so, you fit more into the category of a Generalist – clients can look to you for a variety of photography services.

A Specialist focuses on one aspect of photography, such as wedding photography. Creating a specialized brand will send the message to clients that you only photograph weddings.

Resource: Blog – What is a Specialist?

In his book, Jeff highlights the 4 steps to becoming a Specialist:

  1. Discover who you are and what makes you unique.
  2. Be authentic to yourself. Use words that resonate with who you are and your passion.
  3. Declare who you are and what makes you unique to the rest of the market.
  4. Deliver a message (through your website, social media, etc.) that reinforces your declaration of who you are.

Who’s Doing It Right?

Sarah Roshan, ShootDotEdit Customer, specializes in outdoor wedding photography and markets to ideal clients that share that quality. When you view her website, she shares images from her past weddings that focus on the outdoors, which helps her attract the right kind of client to her wedding photography business.

 

Activities:

  1. Write down 5 things about you that make you stand out from other photographers. What do you offer in your services that other photographers do not?
  2. Determine whether you are a Generalist or a Specialist by writing down the types of events you shoot throughout the year. Do you notice that you book a variety of photography events, or do you consistently shoot the same events?
  3. Create a “want list” for events. What types of events do you want to shoot, and what are you going to do to achieve this goal?

3. Organization

When you first started your photography business, you may have been thrilled to start a photo studio, to work your own hours, and to be your own boss. The truth is, opening a photography business may show you that you might enjoy not having a boss, but not necessarily enjoy being the boss. When you’re in charge, you have the responsibility of growing and maintaining your wedding photography business – that’s a lot of work and pressure.

The E-Myth Revisited, by Michael Gerber, states that most new businesses are not started by entrepreneurs who set out to build a strong business, but rather, by technicians who enjoy the hands-on work themselves. As a photographer, you are a technician who is passionate about the work and your clients. Because of this, you may tend to focus on working IN your business rather than working ON your business.

As the CEO of your business, you take on 3 very different jobs:

  1. The Entrepreneur: You have the vision and the passion to implement ideas that will help to grow your business.
  2. The Artist: You have the vision and passion to create beautiful art with your images.
  3. The Manager: You are in charge of creating a vision to ensure success for your business.

Within all three of your roles, it is necessary to implement systems that will keep you and your business organized at all times. Organization is key to running a smooth and productive business.

“Creating a system helps you stay in control of your business as it continues to grow.” – Mike Adrian

Manuals

As you narrow down the necessary steps it will take to start and grow your wedding photography business, create a manual that outlines every process involved in your business. Taking part in this exercise will help you to dial into your photography business and every aspect of running it. This will help you review everything you currently do, refine it to eliminate any unnecessary steps, expand on those that need clarification, and delegate tasks that do not need to be completed by you. By refining each system within your business, you are setting yourself up for success and can spend time focusing on other areas of your photography business.

Here are the steps to take:

  1. Write the Process: Write down everything you currently do in your wedding photography business. This list should be as detailed as possible so you know exactly what needs to be worked on by someone other than you.
  2. Simplify the Process: The next step is to take a look at your current tasks and figure out what steps can be removed. Also, take note of what steps only you can do.
  3. Assign the Process: As your business grows, start delegating or outsourcing your tasks to in-house employees or other businesses.

Quick Checklist:
Do you have systems in place for everything?

  • Email management
  • Lead management and processes
  • Booking process (wedding photography contract, as well as the information that goes along with it)
  • Client management
  • Post-shoot workflow (cull, color correction, blogging, social media, etc.)
  • Vendor Relationships

Emails

In many cases, the clients you encounter in your photography business want their information as soon as possible. They expect a quick reply from you wherever you may be during the day. Since you probably receive hundreds of emails throughout the work week, setting up systems to manage your emails will help you stay on top of your communication.


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