As something of a quick experiment, I asked my Twitter followers to answer the question, “What are the top business mistakes by ‘rookie’ photographers?” Within just a few minutes I had several great responses, and thought they would make a great Monday post for the blog.
It’s one thing to be a good photographer, but quite another to be the owner of a successful photography business. In fact, I’ve seen many technically talented photographers suffer through tough times in their business, while observing others who seem less deserving sail right on by.
The difference in these two scenarios lies in the photographer’s understanding of the importance of business skills.
You’re A Photography Business Owner – Not A Photographer
So, what are the top 6 mistakes, at least according to my Twitter followers?
Here they are, in no particular order:
Undercharging, and not valuing their time, or learning the real costs of running a legitimate business…
This is a big mistake that many newcomers make, usually because they first enter the industry as a serious amateur who’s discovered the potential to earn some money doing what they already like to do. Not that there is anything wrong with amateurs turning professional – far from it.
The problem is, most of them fail to realize that the second they charge for their work, in any capacity, they’ve crossed the line from amateur to professional. That shift also requires a change in thinking, especially when it comes to how they view the value of what they’re providing.
If photographers would just stop at this point to take stock, and fully understand the implications of being a professional, I believe the industry would have a lot less problems than it does right now.
All it needs is a simple shift in perspective – from amateur photographer to serious business owner.
As a business owner, one of the first responsibilities is to fully understand what it costs to keep the business open, and how much it costs just to pick up the camera for a session.
With these factors in mind, plus a realistic valuation of the photographer’s time, combined with the actual cost of sales of material products sold, the photographer can come up with healthy prices that correctly value their work and time.
Assuming that paid advertising will bring in business…
This is an interesting one, and not one I would have necessarily thought of right off the bat, but it is nonetheless true.
I made this very same mistake myself when I started out, much to my disappointment (and an empty wallet)! The advertising in question was the good old “Yellow Pages“, and I think I watched about $3,600 disappear into thin air on that little exercise. At the time, I didn’t know any better, and assumed that I needed to be in the Yellow Pages just because that’s what was expected of a business. Besides, there were plenty of other photographers in there, so it must be the correct thing to do, right?
Other mistakes I made with paid advertising included certain web directories and other paid listings, none of which did anything to provide leads, let alone clients. Some of those listings were, and still are, big names.
If you are a new photographer, and you’re considering paid advertising, it pays to really consider the target market of the advertising, how effective the reach is, the experiences of others who have taken part in it etc. If in any doubt, don’t do it!
Setting price without knowing their COGS…
This was alluded to in #1, but it’s worth reiterating it again here. Knowing your COGS (cost of goods sold) is absolutely critical to calculating a price list that will sustain a healthy business. The COGS should include all the direct costs involved in making a sale, but not fixed costs such as rent, telephone, internet etc.
The one thing a lot of photographers fail to include in their COGS is their time, which is a huge mistake. Your time is your second most valuable asset (your attitude being the first), and you need to charge for it, even if it’s only a nominal hourly rate.
Having determined the COGS for a given product, it’s good practice to mark that up at least 3 times to arrive at a final retail price.
This is where too many photographers get scared, and fall into the vicious cycle of constantly second-guessing and tinkering with their price list – especially if they’re having a hard time at sales.
Trust the numbers, and work on your sales skills.
IMO, in the beginning rookie photographers don’t spend the time to create a “business plan” and then work the plan.
Okay, do YOU have a photography business plan? An actual written plan that gives a frame of reference for your business, outlines your goals, and acts as a roadmap for success?
I willing to bet that the vast majority of photographers don’t have such a document. Usually, this is because they don’t like the task, don’t know how to write one, are too busy to write one, or don’t have clearly defined ideas about their business or 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 does not even need to be complicated! It’s only for you, to keep you on track, so it doesn’t have to be written as though you are a major corporation.
In my opinion, the simpler it is, the clearer it will be, and the more likely you are to stick to it!
Putting a lot of time and effort to shoot for ‘average’ designers who then end up using and abusing new photographers…
This is an interesting one indeed, and covers a subject I see quite often in the various photography groups – the idea of shooting 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 (usually an event of some kind) for free (or a very low rate) on the promise that it will give you great exposure or the prospect of further, higher-paid, work down the line.
This type of practice is an insult to the photographer, and does a lot of damage to the industry as a whole. The promised “exposure” always turns out to be non-existent, and further work usually involves poor compensation at best.
Take into consideration the ideas presented in items #1 and #3 when making your decision about such jobs, and you can’t go too far wrong.
My advice to new photographers is do not fall into the trap of thinking that just because you’re new to the business that you can’t charge what you and your photography are worth.
Thinking it’s easy…
I’m sure that most photographers working today will probably admit that they thought it was going to be easier than it turned out to be! Myself included!
The truth is, running a professional photography business is not easy. Running any business is hard, I don’t care what it is. There certainly are no “get rich quick” business plans for photographers!
Perhaps the “easy” thought comes more from the photography side of things. After all, that part is fun, and we can get technically very good at it – it’s what we came here to do, right?
Unfortunately, the clicking of the camera only takes up 20% of our business efforts, and that’s being generous! The other 80% is occupied by marketing, selling, social media, accounting, planning, studying, marketing (so much fun it’s worth mentioning twice!)… and so on.
Those business-related things are probably the things we became photographers in order to avoid, but avoid them we can’t. They are all essential and critical to our success, so we may as well get used to them.
Read more on this topic in my short ebook “How To Avoid The Top Seven Mistakes In Professional Photography“.
What Would Be Your #7 Top Mistake?
Thank you to the Twitter users who contributed to this exercise, and I do plan to try this experiment again in the future.
This is only 6 of the mistakes that many of us make, and I’m quite sure there are plenty more!
What other mistakes would you add to the list? What would be your #7 mistake to warn new photographers about? Let us know by submitting a comment below.