Taking good pictures is an art form, but for photographers trying to make a living, it’s also a business — and when you turn your passion into your livelihood, it’s only normal to make mistakes. Every photographer makes a few of them. Do you know what some of the most common business mistakes in the industry are? What should you be on guard for when you’re setting rates and bidding on jobs and trying to market yourself? How can you tell? To help keep you from making avoidable business blunders, here’s a look at some of the most common mistakes photographers make when running their own businesses. Learn from the photographers who have gone before you, and you set yourself ahead of the pack:
It’s all too common for photographers to undercharge for their services, either because they’re new to the business or because they’ve never learned better, but this is a huge mistake. Here’s why: First, undercharging undercuts your value and, also, it makes it hard to charge more later. Once you’ve told the local magazine your rate is X, for example, you’ll have a hard time raising that rate down the road, despite how your skills or needs may change. So to be smart, you need to charge a rate commensurate with your needs. As business expert John Harrington advises in this PhotoShelter interview, “Determine what your cost of doing business is, and … start out with a rate that is profitable for you … The key is to set a rate that is sustainable over time.”
What about when your expenses change? How should this affect rates? If you have to rent equipment for a shoot, travel to a new location for a project, and/or take on other expenses specific to a job (e.g., parking, shipping, etc.), you run into trouble quickly if you’re not factoring those costs into your pricing. That’s why you need to pass all your costs onto your rates. Outline all expenses on the estimate you send to clients, give them a chance to ask questions about the specifics, and you save yourself miscommunication problems and spending more than you’re charging for a given assignment.
Using a Flash Website
Sure, a Flash website looks cool, but here’s the thing: Flash websites won’t work on tablets or iPhones, so right off the bat you’re losing a good chunk of your audience. If your happy clients send your URL to their friends or associates, those friends or associates could be immediately turned off when they try to bring up your site and it won’t load. Besides that, Flash websites are also hard to update, hard to navigate, slow and not conducive to bookmarking (goodbye, Pinterest referral traffic!).
So if Flash is a mistake, why do so many photographers use it? It can be kind of cool to go to a site and have images flashed before you, especially when they’re flashing with special effects, and that’s part of Flash’s appeal. When viewed on traditional desktop computers, Flash-based sites can be slick. But photographers also choose Flash-based sites for other reasons: They didn’t research other options, they’re mimicking another site they like, they don’t know better, and so on. Whatever the reason, though, Flash is not the best choice for professionals looking to gain new clients. Avoid it.
Forgetting to Get Online Reviews
When a potential client is looking for a photographer, the most likely place he or she will look is online. And when potential clients go online to look for photographers, they are going to rely on other people’s opinions — both people they know and people they don’t — for information. That’s why photographers who forget about online reviews are making a big mistake. “The two biggest things we see (for consumers) are photos and reviews,” said Court Cunningham, CEO of marketing company Yodle, after surveying 300 small business owners. While a whopping 90 percent of consumers were shown to be influenced by positive online reviews, Yodle’s survey revealed only half of small business owners were getting the connection. Ignoring the power of online reviews is like ignoring a major sales tactic. In other words, it’s something photographers can’t afford to do.
How can you make the most of online reviews? The most important step you can take is to ask your satisfied clients to write reviews for you. Be proactive about it. When the bride who hired you to do her wedding photos loves your work, ask her to write a review you can post online. When there’s a local business that keeps asking you to do new projects, see if they could write a little blurb to sing your praises. These reviews do matter, so don’t neglect them.
Skipping a Business Plan
Running a photography business is no different from running a bakery or a printing company, at least in one important way: It demands planning and strategy in order to be successful. Without a clear business plan, you leave your business up to chance. And while there are a lot of good reasons that a well-thought-out business plan is so crucial to business survival, here are a few especially motivating factors to consider:
- It cuts out guesswork: Should you rent a space? Hire a second shooter? Buy that extra lens or rent it? If so, when? With a business plan, these questions stop feeling unanswerable and you have a clear path laid out before you.
- It makes loans easier: Whether to start your business or to grow down the line, it’s possible you’ll need a small business loan — and to get a loan, you have to have a business plan.
- It improves communication: Even if you’re a one-person show, having a clear business plan will make you better able to communicate expectations for the future — to your spouse, to friends and to potential clients.
- It helps you grow: The whole point of a business plan is to make your business successful and scalable. You determine where to allocate resources and what strategies to implement. This sets your photography business up for long-term success.
How do you create a business plan? Check out Photography Spark’s Business Planning Cookbook.
In the world of social media, Google+ may feel like a newer player, but, with around 40 million users, it’s a powerful one, and that’s why photographers can’t ignore it. If you think of Google+ as an extension of Google itself, it’s easy to see why this network has staying power. To make the most of Google+, fill out your profile, organize your contacts through Google+ Circles, and engage with your connections. Get in the habit of using it to engage with other photographers and potential clients, hold video-chat meetings through Google Hangouts, and improve your rankings in personalized search.
How exactly does Google+ help SEO? Personalized search essentially involves the way Google+ brings up results of people a user is connected with, earlier than it brings up results of people who the user is not connected with. So when someone in one of your Google+ circles searches for something related to the photography you’ve posted, there’s a greater chance they’ll see it.
How can you grow your Google+ audience? In a social media handbook for photographers published by Photo Shelter, fine art photographer Matt Suess, who has more than 22,000 Google+ followers, gives this advice: “The best way to grow your audience is to post meaningful content and interact with your followers and with those you follow.”
Not Having a Portrait Agreement
A portrait agreement is a contract between you and your client that specifies the details of a given shoot. You ask your client to sign it, then you sign it, and it protects you from costly misunderstandings down the line.
What is typically included in a portrait agreement?
- Your client’s name
- Date and time of shoot/session
- Price and/or deposit
- Breakdown of what’s included in the project
- A list of agreements the client is accepting by signing (e.g., “Payment is due by X, deposit is non-refundable, in an emergency situation X will happen, etc.)
Where can I view some sample portrait agreements? If you want to get a better idea of how a portrait agreement should look and/or what it should include, Photography Spark recommends The Law Tog.
Not Having a Watermark
In an Internet world loaded with photography, it’s easier than ever for work to be stolen — and you only have to be a victim of photography theft once to know how frustrating it can be. That’s why ignoring the realities of online theft is not an option for savvy photographers. You need to find ways to protect your work while also showcasing it. How? Enter the watermark. A watermark is a sort of stamp you place on your photos — like a logo or a copyright symbol with your URL — to identify it as being your own. While watermarking your photos is not the only way to protect them, it is an effective strategy for keeping your work branded as yours. When your work ends up elsewhere, without your permission, at least you know it’s marketing your photography business, too.
The downside of watermarking: Sometimes photographers resist watermarking because of the way it clouds an image’s beauty. Rather than seeing a beautiful shot of a baby girl, for example, a watermark can make it so you see a logo front and center instead. Likewise, a watermark can’t guarantee that your image is safe; it only acts as a deterrent to theft.
Are there other ways to protect your pictures? Should you decide you don’t want to use a watermark, there are other options available to protect your pictures. Disable right-clicking on your images with a plugin such as No Right Click Images Plugin, for example, which is another deterrent (although not a guarantee) against theft.
Not Tracking Paid Marketing
Here’s one of the biggest problems small businesses have with growing their brands: They know they should be marketing, but they don’t know how to tell if the marketing works. They understand that paid marketing can be a powerful tool for finding clients and promoting your business name — but beyond that, things get confusing. According to Neil Patel & Ritika Puri at QuickSprout, what makes paid channel advertising so useful is the fact that it’s measurable. “It’s possible to calculate both a long-term and short-term value for how much revenue resulted from even one incoming website visit,” they say.
So how should you be tracking your marketing? Set up Google Analytics on your photography portfolio and/or blog, and pay attention to the kind of traffic you’re receiving. If the goal of your website is to drive visitors to your “contact us” page where they can request free consultations, see what gives you the best results by testing designs and calls-to-action. On your contact page, add a question that asks the visitor to say how he or she found you: social media, search engines, referrals, etc. Track these answers to see which channels are bringing you the most new business. When you discover a marketing tactic isn’t yielding results, either adjust it or abandon it to move on to something that works better.
For more information on using Google Analytics to track marketing results, see this article from Get Busy Media.
How to Avoid Common Mistakes in Photography Business
As any self-employed photographer would tell you, professional photography is about more than good images. It’s also about proper planning, research, strategy, marketing and business sense. That’s why thinking through the common mistakes outlined in this post is so valuable. When you understand some of the typical ways that photographers trip up, you understand better how to avoid those same mistakes. How will you implement the tips in this post to improve your marketing strategies? What mistakes have you unknowingly been making in the way you run your photography firm? Why not do something about it today?
Photo credit: Luc Hosten