It’s easier than ever before to start a photography business. With digital cameras in the hands of everyone, it may seem like all you need to do is print out business cards and you are ready to go! But there is much more to do if you want to start a successful, thriving photography business.
This is the final blog post in a 3-part series on preparing your business for your first clients. To get the full effect, read 10 Things to do Before Starting Your Photography Business and 10 Things to do Before Marketing Your Photography Business before reading this post. Once you’ve completed the steps I outline in those posts, you are ready to prepare your business for taking actual, paying clients. Let’s get started!
- Write a Questionnaire
Instead of trying to guess the best style for your client, use a pre-session questionnaire. This will help you get a better understanding of your client’s needs, style, and what they want to achieve with their photography session. Have a questionnaire prepared before taking your first clients and let their answers help you find a connection with them. It will be a small investment of your time into a system that can be used repeatedly in your business and the knowledge will help you become a better professional.
2. Make a Communication Plan
Managing client expectations is a crucial factor in running a successful photography business. I often hear complaints from photographers that their client was a no-show, or the client wants the edited images right away instead of the 2 weeks you quoted, or they want a re-shoot because the kids were cranky. These are all common scenarios that happen when client expectations haven’t been managed properly. Clients can not be expected to understand what we go through as professional photographers (but I DO understand – it’s A LOT!). It is our job as professionals to communicate clearly, as many times as needed, what the expectations are on for both parties. Decide what you need as a photographer and business owner, and tell your clients in the consultation, in the contract, in follow-up emails, in the reminder emails, and after the session. I promise you, the will not remember everything you tell them, so it is your job to keep your cool and keep up with your broken record. Believe me, even if this seems like a lot of extra communicating, it will save you a lot of headache in the long run.
3. Organize Payment Procedures
Collecting payment from your client before the session date is an important step in the client management process. This is essential because once a client has paid money for your services they will take the session seriously. I suggest you start by taking a deposit upon booking the session. Even just a small amount like $25 will transform this experience from a casual consideration into a purchase, which almost guarantees that the client will commit to the session. When you are further along in the process, you can increase that small deposit into taking the full session fee upon booking and the full ordering fee at the ordering session. You need to decide what types of payment you will accept and set that up before you start taking paying clients. I recommend using Paypal or Square so your client can pay the deposit online, hassle-free. This process should be clear and easy for your clients. Remember, never provide services or images without payment. Don’t make this common mistake, especially with friends and family. It’s up to you to request and collect your payment — no one is going to do it for you! Do not wait for your clients to ask about payment or price, or they might be left under the impression you’re providing your services for free.
4. Get a Contract & Model Release
If you are a newer photographer, or even an experienced one that hasn’t used a contract in the past, the term “contract” can seem intimidating. This really isn’t as scary as it sounds.In Step 2, I talked about having a communication plan for your business. The contract is really just a communication tool. The contract simply outlines what the client will be expected to do and to receive and what the photographer will be expected to do and receive. Having these expectations in writing can be very helpful in explaining things to your clients. A contract is also a great tool to use if and when there are misunderstandings, because you can reference that you had clarified your point in writing. A model release is another simple document that your client signs giving you permission to use their images online and in your marketing materials. These contracts only require a little before you start taking paying clients, and it’s much harder to create these documents retroactively after you’re open for business.
5. Secure Session Locations
When a client books a photo session with you, they may or may not have a location in mind. Often times they will rely on you as the expert to suggest some good locations for a photo session. That means you should be prepared with at least 3-5 good locations that you have actually checked out (scouted) so you can visualize how the session will look and describe why that location will be a good fit for your clients. You can ask in local photography Facebook groups for some ideas. You can also check out Instagram for hashtags or locations that photographers are using. Ultimately, the best way to scout out new locations is to drive around in your car, at the time of day you would likely be doing a session, and see how things look. Take some pictures with your phone and make a note of pros and cons or details about the location for future reference.
6. Create a Price List
It’s very important to have a firm pricing list before you start taking paying clients. Don’t just guess and throw out a number based on what others local photographers are charging. You need to take the time to calculate your expenses and the time involved in your sessions. You also need to have a clear picture of your ideal client is so you can target that person with your prices. So many photographers make the mistake of waiting until that first client calls and then trying to “wing it” with their prices. Don’t put yourself in that position because you will likely lose money. Keep in mind that prices can always be changed and tweaked (and increased!). The most important thing is to be firm on your prices.Don’t let the client decide how much they would like to pay or if they would like to pay at all. You will work hard for your clients and your deserve to be compensated for your time and talent.
7. Decide What Products You Will Sell
Photography products range from prints to large wall art, albums, and digital images. Before you start taking clients, it is important to sit down and decide on what kind of products you want to sell to your clients. Look into different printing companies to order samples and review prices— Miller’s Lab and White House Custom Color are some of my favorites. Once you’ve done some research, make a list of the products you will sell to your clients. If you are going to offer digital images, I suggest selling them as a digital package instead of including them into your session fee. Provide a digital delivery service such as Shoot Proof so your clients can view the images online and download after purchase. Another way to do this is by delivering a custom USB..These are decisions you need to make ahead of time so you are prepared and professional when you start taking clients.
8. Arrange Your Timeline
If you are just starting out, it may be hard to determine a timeline for your work, but it’s an important thing to consider before paying clients come knocking. Clients will want to know how long it will take you to get them their finished photos. The first part of your timeline will include the time it takes to set up the session and book everything (including payment). Then, you need to think about how long your session will last. Finally, you need to decide how much time you need to edit and deliver the images. Are you going to fully edit all the images and select them for the client, or are you going to show the unedited gallery to the client and let them select photographs for editing? These decisions will affect how much time you need to process the images. Think through your timeline carefully and keep in mind that you can be flexible with each client and as you understand more about your business and working style.
9. Make Your Business Legal
Well, you are just about ready to start taking clients — woo hoo! Just a few last things to make it all legitimate. If you already made your business Facebook legit, that’s awesome! Now it’s time to make it legally legit. This is important, so don’t avoid it just because it’s not as fun as choosing a logo. If you want to be taken seriously by your clients, you have to take your business seriously. Do some research about setting up a small business your local area. You will need to decide if your business will be an LLC, Sole Proprietor, or S-Corps. Then you need to get your EIN (Employee Identification Number) so you can pay taxes on your business. Often times, I hear photographers talk about how this is the most confusing part about setting up a business. I highly recommend speaking to someone that specializes in this from your local area. Look into the local community college to see if they have a small business center. Many cities have volunteers that help small business owners set up their business correctly.
10. Deal with Bookkeeping
Finally, we need to keep track of all that $$ you are going to make, right? You will need to open a business bank account. It is important to keep your personal finances separate from your business finances. Don’t wait until April 14th to try and figure this out. It is much easier to do this one step at a time and line it up now so you can keep everything separate as your business grows. While you’re at it, find a system like 17 Hats or Freshbooks to keep track on your income and expenses. Just pick a system that will track your expenses and income so you can always have an understanding of your business finances and ultimately the health of your business.
There you have it! Now you can follow the steps given in these 3 blog posts to prepare you for taking paying clients! Don’t forget to download the FREE Startup Guide and get the bonus training videos to help you get started today!