Loring Weisenberger
January 20, 2023

8 Tips for Running a Successful Photography Business

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Starting a photography business requires more than creative and technical skill. If you want your business to survive and thrive, you’ll need to develop some serious business chops to match your artistic sensibility.

In this post, we’ll give you a crash course through photography business 101. Using eight essential tips, we’ll talk about not only how to start a photography business but how to optimize your photography business plans for growth. 

Let’s begin with the foundation. 

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1. Develop a photography business plan

The basic tenets of photography business 101 aren’t all that different from those of regular business 101. If you’re figuring out how to start a photography business, step one is developing a photography business plan.  

A photography business plan is a document that details a photo company’s goals and strategies. It’s a map for starting a photography business that matches your vision of success. 

To that end, there is no right way to create your photography business plan. It is a tool to help focus your decisions. All that matters is that your business plan works for you, regardless of the exact form it takes.

However, there’s also no reason to reinvent the wheel. You can develop your photography business plan more efficiently by studying those of already-successful entrepreneurs. 

While not specific to starting a photography business, the U.S. Small Business Administration notes that a typical business plan in most industries utilizes some combination of the following nine sections: 

Executive summary

The executive summary is a brief overview of what your business is and why it will be successful. You may want to include a mission statement, a breakdown of your services or products, and other basic information. 

The goal is to quickly describe what makes your business valuable. 

Company description

The company description is where you get into the details of your company. This is the place to dig into the minutiae of what your company has to offer and how it will operate. You can touch on several topics, including but not limited to:

  • The company’s value proposition
  • Target markets
  • Competitive advantages
  • Any particular strengths from which you feel your company can benefit

Market analysis

As you might guess, the market analysis section of your photography business plan is where you analyze the market within which your company will operate and compete. Here, research reigns supreme. You’ll dig into customers, competitors, and any critical information that could affect your company’s relationships with either group. 

Organization and management

The organization and management section of your business plan details your company’s structure. If you’re figuring out how to start a photography business entirely on your own, this section should be relatively straightforward. 

However, if you’re starting a photography business as an LLC or other corporation, you should include as much detail as necessary. 

Service or product line

The service or product line section of your photography business plan describes whatever you’re selling and the value it creates for your customers. 

If you want to sell prints as a part of your photo business, for example, you’ll want to describe those prints as a product with as much detail as possible. The same goes for any services, like wedding photography or product photography. 

Marketing and sales

This section is where you describe your initial marketing and sales strategy. How do you plan to find and keep customers? Figuring out how to start a photography business is as much about figuring out how to get paid as it is taking pictures. 

Funding request

If you’re looking for outside investment, the funding request section of your photography business plan is where you’ll break down your funding requirements. Articulate how much funding you need and why, so your investors know what they’re getting into.

Financial projections

The financial projections section of your business plan is where you’ll map out your photo company’s financial future. It’s important to be logical and realistic when constructing this section. 

If you’re overly optimistic, starting a photography business could land you and your bank account in serious trouble. 

Appendix

Finally, the appendix is where you’ll stash any supporting documents or information. For instance, you might include income statements from freelance gigs that support your financial projections. As a rule of thumb, if it’s an external document that you find useful, include it here. 

2. Focus your portfolio

Your portfolio is an essential component of understanding how to start a photography business. However, it’s not just about the quality of your work. Your portfolio must display the right quality or qualities within your work.

Arguably the most critical lesson of photography business 101 is that clients will only pay for work that they’re confident you can do. Therefore, your portfolio must be specifically designed to inspire that confidence. If you want to shoot intimate portraits, a portfolio full of sweeping landscapes probably won’t help you land you a job. 

Tips for Running a Successful Photography Business - Wrapbook - Family Photo
If you want to photograph products professionally, don’t include shots like this in your portfolio. SOURCE

This is a great example of where your business plan can come in handy. There are a lot of photography business ideas swimming around out there, but not all of them will be right for you. 

When figuring out how to start a photography business, you’ll have to first zone in on only those photography business ideas that make sense to you both creatively and financially.

For example, if your best friend is a wedding planner, consider starting off as a wedding photographer. Or if you love working with kids, a family photography business might be the way to go.

Once you feel confident about the kind of work you want to be hired for, tailor your portfolio to specifically and exclusively demonstrate that kind of work. If your portfolio is strong and focused, you’ll be more than ready to begin seeking clients. 

3. Know your worth

When figuring out how to start a photography business, it’s important to know how much your services are worth. It’s a key part of your marketing strategy, and a large portion of your market research should be focused on it.

On a practical level, knowing your worth is also key to your pricing plan. How much will you charge for what services? This question can be the difference between success or failure.If you overestimate the value of your services, you’ll have a hard time acquiring clients based on price alone. However, if you underestimate t your business risks becoming financially unsustainable. 

Of course, your pricing plan is not just a matter of market value. Your fee structure should also reflect the value of your time and energy. By carefully balancing market value with personal value, you’ll be able to design a pricing plan that can support both you and your business over time.

4. Hire your first crew

While it may not be an immediate concern when first starting a photography business, the ability to hire additional team members to help on your shoots will become necessary. Learning how to crew up with photo assistants, lighting technicians, and other personnel is an important tool for your company’s growth.

However, that brings up a few questions. How do you know when it’s time to hire someone? How do you gauge their value to your company? Are they really worth the extra cost?

A lot of it will depend on your situation, but there are a few general concepts worth keeping in mind. When hiring additional personnel, you want to balance the advantages of speed and quality against the disadvantages of cost. You can boil the decision down to clear value points by asking simple questions, such as:

  • How much will you pay the new worker?
  • Will they incur any indirect costs?
  • Will hiring more personnel create any extra labor for you?
  • How much faster can you operate with a new hire? 
  • Does their presence empower you to take on work of higher quality or volume?  
  • Do they add expertise outside of your skillset? 
  • Is the new hire’s price measurably offset by your increased capacity or capability? 

The idea is to analyze the value of any extra team members with as much objectivity as possible. As your photography business grows and your own abilities are stretched, you’ll find that new hires evolve from non-starters to no-brainers. 

5. Optimize for efficiency

When figuring out how to start a new photography business, you’ll want to optimize your operations for efficiency as much as possible. In other words, you need to maximize your revenue and minimize your costs.

The actual numbers are the easiest part of optimization. Your receipts and invoices will tell a story about your company’s income and expenses. With that information, you can modify your practices to increase the former or decrease the latter.

Tips for Running a Successful Photography Business - Wrapbook - Photo Studio
Finding the perfect photo studio is an incredible feeling, but is the value it creates really worth the costs you expend? SOURCE

However, you may also have to consider the place of abstract values within your business. For example, doing certain jobs at lower fees might allow you to create new contacts or improve your portfolio. On paper, these jobs are a wash, but their value over the long-haul might be worth a temporary loss. 

The best advice in these cases is to be cautious and look at the big picture. Be explicit about expectations. Avoid setting the wrong precedent by politely communicating that the reduction is an exception to your rule. If you handle this communication well, it can be a flattering experience for a client. They may be more willing to work with you at your full rate down the road.

Finally, remember that optimizing for efficiency is a process that must occur over time. When first starting a photography business, your access to data will be limited. 

As you do more work, you’ll gradually gain a deeper understanding of both the marketplace and yourself. Give it time and your photography business will be an unstoppable machine. 

6. Know when to walk away… and when to grow

Sometimes running a photography company requires tough decisions, particularly if you’re trying to increase efficiency. When you’re first learning how to start a photography business, every job seems like a great opportunity. 

As your business grows, however, you’ll find that some jobs (and even clients) are not as worthwhile as they seem. 

Fortunately, the most difficult part of handling such situations is recognizing them in the first place. Be in tune with your business. Consider the value of your efforts. Know what a client or job will cost you, both financially and intangibly. 

In other words, know when to walk away.

You must apply a similar approach in the opposite direction when dealing with new growth opportunities. It’s critical to invest in yourself and your business when the time is right, but that doesn’t mean you should leap to buy a new lens the first chance you get. With every opportunity, you must weigh the potential value of the investment against its cost in terms of both finance and risk. 

7. Promote your photography business

A pivotal step in learning how to start a photography business is figuring out a promotional strategy. Luckily, you’ve built a strong portfolio and have all the materials you need. Now, you just have to get it in front of your potential clients’ eyeballs.  

A website is the cornerstone of most professional photographers’ marketing strategy. It creates a place for your work to live online and grants your business an air of authority. Fortunately, modern website design is incredibly easy with the help of services like Squarespace, Wix, and WordPress.

Advertising is the next logical step, but many photographers find more value in an active social media presence. Your own choices should be determined by your company’s niche and where its audience is most reachable. 

Tips for Running a Successful Photography Business - Wrapbook - Press Photography
Joining the APA is a great way to expand your connections with professional peers. SOURCE

Regardless of your niche, networking is the ultimate form of self-promotion. Even though it’s more about making connections than sales, networking is by far the best way to create business opportunities. Simply put, it makes you known, and being known is always the first step in acquiring a client. 

8. Set up payroll the smart and easy way

No one gets into photography because they enjoy payroll, but payroll eventually becomes a necessity for any growing business.

And learning how to set up payroll for photoshoots can be a major advantage to your biz. 

While third-party payment apps like Venmo are quick ways to get payment out, they're not equipped with functional compliance guardrails or payment history tools, let alone itemized expense tracking or cost breakdowns. These apps can barely keep track of payments, much less the specifics of overtime, fringes, or reimbursables.

The ability to track payroll costs is vital to the success of a growing business. Without it, basic tasks like hiring and managing teams for a shoot can become financially precarious. You’re more likely to incur budget overages job-to-job and less likely to know why.

Plus, navigating the compliance complexities that impact the photo industry, like the legal difference between contractors and employees, the practical implications of AB 2257, and which startwork documents are required from state to state can get overwhelming.

At Wrapbook, we're making things easy for creatives. With built-in compliance features, you can hire and pay employees or contractors worry-free.

From onboarding workers to actualizing budgets, Wrapbook allows you to manage it all—we're a one-stop payroll and project management solution empowers you to make better business decisions faster and with more confidence.

Hire, (rehire), pay, and track expenses— all in one place.

To learn more about how Wrapbook can help level-up your photo biz, download our guide here.

Wrapping up

Starting and running a photography business is not for the faint of heart, but it can be a rewarding endeavor for those entrepreneurs willing to put in the time and effort. With enough sweat and a solid business plan, you can build your own photographic empire. Now for the fun part. Next up, we're talking how to find the best photo studios in Los Angeles or New York City.

Find more resources for photographers here.

Disclaimer

At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice.  You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.

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About the Author

Loring Weisenberger

Loring is a Los Angeles-based writer, director, and creative producer. His work has been commissioned by a diverse range of clients- from Havas Worldwide to Wisecrack, inc.- and has been screened around the world. Through a background that blends project development with physical production across multiple formats, Loring has developed a uniquely eclectic skillset as a visual storyteller.

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