One of the easiest businesses to set up is a portrait photography business. With a camera and a business card, you can start finding clients anywhere in your community. Right?
Actually, it’s not quite that simple. While many photographers get started that way, and can find a handful of clients just with the people they know, the tough part comes after those first few clients. How do you find more? How do you build a sustainable business?
If you’ve been struggling with building your own portrait studio, see if you are falling into one of the traps below.
Myth #1 One camera is all I need
When you first got into photography, chances are it was with one camera body, and maybe a lens or two. That works when you don’t have to rely on it. But what if it quits working in the middle of a paid shoot? Or what if you leave your camera and a lens on a tripod to move in and adjust your client … and the entire thing collapses, leaving pieces scattering everywhere? Backups are mandatory when you are a professional.
Myth #2 I’m a natural light photographer and don’t need flash
Have you ever seen people advertise they are a natural light photographer? What does that really mean? We personally built our business off of natural light photographs too – in fact I highly prefer the look. But there are many times when you simply don’t have the natural light you need for a professional shot. An on camera flash won’t cut it. You need to be able to separate the flash, use flash in a variety of ways, and use it to highlight and amplify the look of your work. And you have to know how to use it.
Myth #3 Everyone will see the difference between me and my competition
When you look at your work, you view it through your own eyes, and see it with all the love and passion it took to create it. Yet most of your potential customers get lost when they view your work and try to compare it to the next guy. If you build a website just like everyone else; if you put a handful of images into a gallery portfolio just like everyone else; if you use the same words in your advertising just like everyone else; your prospects won’t be able to separate you from your competition.
Myth #4 If I charge $75 a sitting, I’ll make $75
You already own the camera. You already own the computer. You already have a website in place, and a business card ready to hand out. You already own Photoshop. You already own the car you’ll take to get to the portrait location. Which means when you charge a client $75 for the portrait and you hand them over the digital files, the $75 is pure profit, right? It’s not what you do with that $75 when they hand it to you that counts. It’s what that $75 has to cover along the way that you need to look at.
Myth #5 My clients will automatically know how to pose
As a portrait client, you have to know what looks good, and what doesn’t. Having a couple stand next to a tree can leave them looking stiff as a board. But if they lean against it, and add curve and style to it, it brings out an entirely different look. While you don’t have to over-pose, you do have to be able to instruct your clients, and move them into positions that accentuate a portrait. It doesn’t automatically occur.
Myth #6 Clients will love my creativity
I remember some of our first engagement portraits. We loved photographing environmental images, and would incorporate a lot of the Rocky Mountains into each of our portraits. Yet even with all the creativity we would use to create amazing images, the clients would always end up buying a head and shoulders, smiling at the camera image. It was frustrating – until we learned that people want what they see. Because that’s what our first clients expected, that’s all they wanted. We continued to take both, and over time, we only displayed what we loved. And in turn more clients would buy our environmental images, because that’s what they were sold on. It takes time for people to accept your creativity, and be willing to pay for it.
Myth #7 Saying I’m available for travel will allow me to travel all over the world
I bet if I visited a dozen sites today, I could find the phrase “available for travel” somewhere on their sites. A common belief amongst photographers is that if you say it it will happen. Yet people don’t understand that, and they will never be searching for it. If you want to travel to a certain location, photograph in a certain area, you have to promote it.
Myth #8 Giving the CD with high resolution files upfront won’t hurt my sales
Once you release the high-resolution images to a client on CD, they won’t buy one more thing from you. Yes, there are exceptions. But the majority of people will never be back, and will find a way to print them off at the lowest possible cost in town. (If they print anything at all.) If you expect a certain sales level in order to stay in business, you must achieve that before you release your CD.
Myth #9 I don’t have to understand marketing or sales
The only way to continually bring in new customers is to have a marketing strategy in place, and work at it every day. And the only way to convert people into clients is to understand sales. If you don’t like it and want nothing to do with it, hire it done. That’s the only way to succeed.
Myth #10 I can work when I want to and play the rest of the time
When you own your own business, you work at it 24/7/365. When you’re out to dinner with friends, a new idea may pop into your mind and you’ll need a minute or two to write it down. Or you’ll wake up at 2 in the morning, thinking of one more thing you need to do to complete a clients order. It never stops. And if you promised a client an order, you have to deliver. That might mean missing your daughter’s play if you are behind schedule, or turning down a chance to head out for a weekend cruise with the girls. Its your business, your reputation, and it has to be done.