Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be an entrepreneur. Even in school, I was more fascinated with art, photography, and other creative pursuits. By the time I reached college, it was pretty clear to me that I wasn’t made for the boring life of a 9 to 5 job.

While I was clear on what I didn’t want to do, I still couldn’t figure out what I needed to focus on. As luck would have it, I ended up taking a workshop on photography, and I got hooked. Photography seemed, to me, the perfect creative pursuit that I could pursue professionally.

As I started getting more serious about photography, it became clear that my passion needed to be backed by a carefully crafted business plan, and obviously, the required resources. I needed a mentor who can guide me in starting out with my photography business.

That is when I met Stephen Lanfert, a successful travel photographer who has published several travel photography books. I asked him the secret behind his successful photography business, and this is what he said – “Proper planning, marketing & networking are the three cornerstones of success in any photography business”. Based upon his experiences, and the hurdles that I’ve faced myself, I’ve come up with some advice to guide you as you endeavor to start your own photography business.

Step 1: Find Your Focus

Photography is quite a broad discipline. It covers a diverse range of specializations such portrait photography or photojournalism or fashion photography or something as wide and adventurous as wildlife photography. It’s not only difficult, but also impractical (not to mention, confusing to your clients) to cover everything under the sun.

When I started my first photography business in the year 2010, I made this big mistake – accepting every type of photography job. Though I had a penchant and a passion for portrait photoshoots, I also started taking assignments for event photography and product photo shoots. In the long run, it did more harm than good. I couldn’t fulfill my passion for portrait photography and I wasn’t completely interested in my other assignments either. I was pretty good at almost all types of photography, but I wasn’t able to master anything due to my lack of focus.

Therefore, it’s imperative to figure out what interests you the most. Do you enjoy taking portraits? Or is it event or wedding photoshoots that excite you more? Once you’ve identified your core competency area, you just need to close your eyes, and with full self-confidence, master that particular area! Don’t look back.

Step 2: Leverage Your Existing Friend-Circle to Gain Your First Client

After having figured out your focus area, it’s now time to get some real world assignments. But here comes the first roadblock: Getting that first client.

How are you going to attract that first client and generate sales?

Since businesses are all about developing contacts and personal relationships, there’s no better place to look for your first client than in your already existing network of friends acquaintances. Don’t overthink it.

Go out, meet your friends and inform them of your new photography business. At this point of time, you can also consider volunteering photography work on occasions like friends’ birthday party, engagement photoshoots, or events organized at community, local, and national levels. Grab every possible opportunity to showcase your skills behind the camera. Believe it or not, after you get some real-world, proven experience under your belt, word-of-mouth referrals will start pouring in. All you have to do keep up your good work, stay positive, and be patient!

Step 3: Seek Assistance from a Well-Established Photographer

It’s quite common to feel demotivated when your hard work gets unnoticed, and you find it difficult to attract clients. There will certainly be times like this. Don’t lose hope, don’t panic, and don’t give up. My advice is this: instead of finding excuses to let yourself quit (i.e. “It’s too hard,” “No one likes my work” or “I’m not as successful as I think I should be.”), try seeking the mentorship of a well-established photographer. You can connect with the pros over Twitter, Facebook or via email. You can even try meeting in person! All serious professional photographers will have been through this stage, and their experience will definitely help you overcome these soul-crushing moments in your own career.

Step 4: Building a Killer Portfolio

The next important step is showcasing your assignments to the world. Go ahead, and invest in a domain name for your brand new photography business. Once you’ve bought your domain name, it’s time to build an attractive portfolio website – A portfolio website that enraptures anyone who sees it. For building a successful photography business, it’s very important to show your creative pieces of art to the world. Collect all your masterpieces, and organize them neatly on your portfolio website. Pixpa is the most recommended service when it comes to building online portfolio websites for photographers and designers. There are other platforms offering services similar to Pixpa such as Squarespace, Wix etc.

Testimonials are a plus for building trust among your prospects. You can even request your existing clients (no matter how small) to add genuine testimonials, which will further strengthen your portfolio.

Step 5: Marketing

You need targeted eyeballs to your brand new portfolio website. How will you drive them? The answer is through the right digital marketing. You’ll need a plan for this. At this point of time, if you have adequate financial resources at your disposal, consider going for paid advertising. It’s quick, easy, and can give a good return on investment. Two good options under this marketing plan are – Google AdWords and Facebook ads. Not only will they drive prospective clients to your photography business website, they will build good brand awareness too!

If you don’t have adequate financial resources, consider guest blogging. Guest blogging can be a doubly effective method for broadening your audience. If you have deep knowledge of your niche, it can easily establish you as an authority. Plus, the SEO benefit that you will derive from your articles all over the internet is icing on the cake. From personal experience, Digital Photography School by Darren Rowse is an excellent place to start. Other good options are – Photography Life & Photo Focus.

While guest blogging is one way to market your photography business for free, marketing on forums and groups is yet another potential option. The photoforum, DPreview and Photography Corner are three good places to start with.

Step 6: Networking

No matter how great you are behind the lenses, if nobody knows about you, it won’t do any good to your photography business. Therefore, it’s very important to invest some time networking and building key contacts. Attend all possible digital photography workshops, seminars and conventions. Not only will this build your professional contacts, but also it will further broaden your knowledge about photography. Photoplus Expo is one of such grand events that you must attend. It is one of the biggest photography events in North America, attended by over 21000 professionals worldwide. When you attend events of this size, you’ll get chance to network with potential clients and fellow photographers. This means having more opportunities to interface with potential clients and collaborate with other photographers.

Step 7: Nurture Client Relations

In order to build a successful photography business, it’s important that you do not lose touch with those vital contacts for which you’ve worked so hard to obtain. It’s imperative that you keep lines of communications open with your existing clients. Here are a few tips for you to foster deep relationships with your clients:

  • Offer special discounts to your regular customers.
  • Update your clients with new projects you’ve been working on.
  • Make them feel special by greeting them on their birthdays & other festive occasions.
  • Ask for regular feedback and suggestions.

Step 8: Understand Contracts, Pricing & Licensing

It’s important to understand the pricing & licensing aspects as well. You need to come up with a definite pricing plan. Will you charge on hourly basis OR on per shoot basis? OR, is it going to be a comprehensive package? You have to decide and you have to be able to effectively communicate these terms to your clients to prevent any misunderstandings and complications.

Then comes the licensing part. Licensing defines what rights and privileges you are granting to your clients. You have to be clear whether your contracts are work for hire or if you’re a freelancer who retains all of their copy rights. Bottomline is you have to learn about this aspect of your business so that you and your work are always protected from (those rare, but unfortunately real) dubious dealings with some “difficult” clients.

Step 9: Keep learning & experimenting

Finally, never give up learning. Explore opportunities to improve your skills every day. Attend photography workshops, subscribe to popular digital photo blogs like Digital Photography School, take part in ongoing contests/challenges, and never ever stop experimenting.

These are just a few simple steps to help get your your photography business off the ground. If you’ve started your own photography business, share your insights with us in the comments section below.