As something of an interesting experiment, we asked our Twitter followers to answer the question: “What are the top business errors by “rookie” photographers?” Within just a few minutes we had several great responses, and thought they would make a great photography related article.
It’s one thing to be a great photographer, but very much another to be the owner of a successful photography business. In fact, we’ve seen far too many technically talented photographers suffer through difficult times, while observing others who seem less qualified sail right on by.
The main difference in these two outcomes lies in the photographer’s understanding of the importance of business knowledge.
You’re A Photography Business Owner & Not A Photographer
As we’ve said on plenty of previous occasions, it’s not the most talented photographer who wins, but the best marketer and business-minded photographer. What, then, are the 5 most common mistakes, at least according to my Twitter followers?
Here they are, in no particular order:
#1: Undercharging For Their Time And Talent
This is a huge mistake that many newbies make, usually because they join the industry as a serious amateur who’s found the potential for earning money practicing what they already like to do. Not that there is anything wrong with amateurs turning professional & far from it.
The trouble is, most of them fail to realize that the moment they charge for their work, they’ve moved from amateur to professional. That shift also requires a change in thinking, especially when it comes to how they view the value of their photography.
If photographers would just stop at this point to examine the situation, and fully understand the implications of being a professional, we think the industry would have a lot less problems.
All it needs is a simple change in perspective & from amateur photographer to serious studio owner.
As a business owner, one of the 1st responsibilities is to fully realize the cost of keeping the business open, and what it costs just to pick up the camera for a job. With these factors in mind, together with a realistic valuation of the photographer’s time, added to the actual cost of sales of products sold, the photographer can calculate healthy prices that correctly value their work and time.
#2: Setting Prices Without Knowing Their COGS
This was alluded to in #1, but it’s worth mentioning again here. Knowing your COGS (cost of goods sold) is absolutely critical to producing a price list that will sustain a healthy business. COGS includes all the direct costs necessary for making a sale, but not fixed costs such as internet, telephone, rent etc.
The one thing a lot of photographers omit from their COGS is their time, which is a huge mistake. Your time is your second most valuable asset (your attitude being number one), and you need to charge for it, even if it’s only a small hourly rate.
Having determined the COGS for any given service, it’s good practice to mark that up at least 3 times to produce a final retail price. This is the point at which so many photographers get scared, and descend into the vicious cycle of constantly tinkering with their price list & especially if they’re having a hard time with sales.
#3: Not Following A Business Plan
To begin with rookie photographers don’t often spend much time to create a business plan and then work the plan.
Do YOU have a business plan? An actual written plan providing a frame of reference for your studio, defines your goals, and acts as a roadmap for success?
I’m willing to wager that the vast majority of photographers don’t possess such a document. Often, this is because they don’t like the job, don’t know how to write one, are too busy, or lack clearly defined ideas about their goals.
Whatever the reason, if your business was an airplane, it would not have much chance of reaching its destination without a flight plan, would it? A business plan need not be complicated! It’s only for you, to keep you on track, so it doesn’t have to be produced as though you’re a major corporation.
Simplicity means clarity & and the greater the chance you’ll adhere to it!
#4: Working For Free
This is an interesting one, and encompasses a subject we see quite often in the many online photography groups: The idea of photographing for free (or almost free) in the hopes of gaining exposure.
You can’t be in the photography business for very long without someone asking you to photograph something (often an event of some kind) for a very low rate on the promise it will give you great exposure or the prospect of more, higher-paid, work down the line.
This is an insult to the photographer, and does a lot of damage to the photography industry. The promised “exposure” more often than not turns out to be non-existent, and further work usually entails poor compensation at best.
Consider the concepts presented in items #1 and #2 when making your decision about these types of jobs, and you can’t go too far wrong. Our advice to new photographers is to not fall into the trap of imagining that just because you’re not experienced in the business that you can’t ask for what you and your photography are worth.
#5: Imagining That It’s Easy
We expect that most photographers working today will probably admit that they thought it would be easier than it turned out to be!
The truth is, running a professional photography studio is not easy. Running any business is difficult, we don’t care what it is. There certainly are no “get rich fast” business plans for photographers!
Perhaps the “easy” idea comes more from the photography side of things. After all, that part is a lot of fun, and you can be technically very good at it & it’s what you are here to do, right?
Unfortunately, the clicking of the shutter only takes up 20% of your business efforts, and that’s being generous! The other 80% is taken up by marketing, selling, social media, accounting, planning, studying, marketing (so exciting it’s worth mentioning twice!)… etc.
Those business-related jobs are probably those you became photographers in order to avoid, but get out of them you can’t! They are all essential and vital to your success, so you may as well get used to them.
What Would Be Your #6 Top Mistake?
Thank you to the Twitter followers who contributed to this research, and we do plan to try this experiment again sometime.
This is only 5 of the errors that many of you fall into, and we’re quite sure there are many more!
What other blunders would you add to the list? What would be your #6 mistake to warn rookie professional photographers about?