So you’ve decided to take the plunge and hang out your shingle as a wedding photographer, huh?
First, congratulations. It takes a lot of courage to do that.
Second, be strong. Because as much courage as it took to hang out your shingle, it takes even more courage to keep it hangin’ out there when the going gets rough. As many of us have learned these past few years, there is no magic Easy Button in this business.
By the way – could someone please get on that? It would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
So here it is folks – a list of ten things Jeff and I believe that you should do in your first year of business as a wedding photographer, in no particular order.
And keep in mind that this is just our humble opinion – the comment section is where we want to hear your voice. I have a feeling that there are quite a few of you out there with some itching opinions on this very topic. We’d love to hear from you below.
1. Shoot Your First 100,000
Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers, says that every expert has to put in 10,000 hours of their particular craft before they can be considered a master. That typically equals somewhere around ten years.
It’s so important to be shooting consistently when you’re in this business. Your camera needs to feel like it’s an extension of your hand – natural and easy – and that only comes with time behind the shutter. And this practice doesn’t stop after your first year. I’m sure any seasoned professional would agree with me that when we go a few weeks without shooting, we can get stiff. I know that it takes me longer to get into the groove of a shoot if I haven’t shot for a week or so. So the key is consistency.
Not only do you need to shoot consistently, but you need to shoot a LOT in your first year. For me, I like the benchmark of shooting 100,000 images in one year. I’m using the number of 100,000 loosely, but I like using a tangible number that’s tough to reach. It creates a clear, driven goal. It took me a year and a half to shoot my first 100,000 images (I tried so hard to reach that one-year goal!) but I attribute my quick learning to the large amount of time I spent using my camera. (And keep in mind that this doesn’t have to be in your first year – you can challenge yourself at any time to shot 100,000 images in the next year).
So how can we shoot 100,000 images if we’re still looking for work in our first year? Beverly Hills photographer, Roberto Valenzuela, gives great advice on the subject. He says that instead of packing up our camera between shoots, we should keep it handy with a memory card inside so that we can pick it up at random and shoot around our house for fifteen minutes every day. You don’t need to photograph people, just objects around your home. You can shoot a bowl of peaches and study how different light moves across it because the peach skin is similar to people skin. A teddy bear will help you study body shape. Shoes on your nightstand or the dishes in your kitchen can help with getting ready and reception details.
In short, your 10,000 hours begins now. Start shooting.
2. Find New York
I once heard my friend Dane Sanders say that if you know that you’re going to New York, then finding the road to get there is easy. It’s when you don’t have a destination that you’ll get lost.
You’re going to be working with your nose to the grindstone to build this business, so begin developing a clear idea of where you’re going and why. Write down what you want your ideal business to look like – is it a part-time gig that will pay for your kids’ college education? Is it a full-time business that will replace your day job? Is it a large studio or a one-person show?
In short, what is your New York? You won’t get anywhere until you know where you’re going.
3. Build an Online Presence
Alright, we’re coming down from the clouds and getting into the nitty-gritty of building a business. Whether it’s a blog, website, or Facebook page, you need to create an online landing page where people can view your work and begin hiring you. When building this first landing page, remember that the point is to give people the tools they need to hire you easily and efficiently, so even if you don’t have a solid brand yet, just focus on the essentials: an about page, a sample of your work (which you’re creating while you’re shooting your 100,000 images), and your contact information.
Make it easy for potential clients to contact you. Keep it to the point, throw in some of your unique personality, and when people inquire, be quick to respond.
(Check out Copyblogger for great insight on building online landing pages that work)
4. Buy the Right Gear
What gear you ultimately invest in will depend on a lot of factors: your budget and needs, your style of shooting, and your specialty (wedding, portrait, pets, travel, fashion, etc). But here are two great rules of thumb:
1. Don’t go into debt to purchase gear. Once you’ve purchased your first camera and start getting paid for shoots, invest in upgrading and building your gear set. If a particular piece of gear will help you book more shoots and get paid more, then buy it. If it’s just fun to use – maybe wait a bit.
2. Only buy gear and lenses that will reflect your style. Your gear is only a tool to aid your particular vision, so figure out what works for you. Just because ‘everybody’ has a certain lens doesn’t mean that you’re required to have it, too.
5. Read 10 Books About Business or Branding
You need to have an insatiable appetite for learning in order to succeed as a small business owner, so begin those good learning habits now by ingesting good, valuable content frequently. Here’s our recommended list.
I suggest beginning with The E-Myth Revisited.
6. Invest in a Computer and Backup System
Along with your camera and shooting gear, you will need to have an adequate processor for your images. A laptop will not work. Don’t even try. A laptop just won’t be powerful enough to process your large image files quickly. You’ll also need a large monitor that can be calibrated.
Our main color machine is a decked-out 8 Core MacPro & an Apple Cinema Display. The new iMacs are totally sweet and great machines, and you get good bang for your buck if a MacPro is out of your budget. Keep in mind that all the iMacs have glossy LED displays, which means that you need to be able to work in a somewhat dark room to minimize glare and keep colors true.
You will also need to have a game plan for backing up your images or else your business is in jeopardy of ending before it even begins. Here’s our backup system, so take a look and modify it for your own needs and budget.
7. Notify Your Funeral List
One of the biggest mistakes I see new photographers make is that they spend quite a bit of time and resources on building their online presence, buying gear, and crafting an amazing pricing structure (all important!) but then they forget to tell the people they know in real life about their new venture…
Make a list of the people in your life that you believe would be at your funeral and let them know what you are up to. Tell them that you are just starting out and that you will provide incredible service to anyone who trusts in you during these beginning stages. Then treat those first clients like gold and start building your marketing strategy.
As you’re coming up with your funeral list, remember that the people on the edge of your network are the most powerful. What do I mean by the edge of your network? I mean that your cute friend from work who has a completely different set of stylish friends from you is more powerful than your mom (I love you mom!) This is because a direct connection (like your mom) seems like a forced referral, while a casual acquaintance talking about you to her friends actually carries some real weight.
8. Give to Your Ideal Clients
While you’re shooting your 100,000 images in that first year, you will want to be shooting anyone and anything just to gain experience. This is definitely ok.
But as you’re shooting, start identifying your ideal clientele (the people you vibe with most), and figure out ways to begin attracting and photographing those ideal clients. You will most likely need to make a lot of concessions with your time, pricing, and resources in order to make this happen, so be generous. If you can start building an ideal portfolio in the midst of your shooting now, you’ll be ahead of the game in the long run.
When you find your ideal clients, give to them. Be known for generosity, caring, and consideration. Doing this will be the biggest driver in helping thou land more ideal clients.
Working with your ideal clients can be one of the most fulfilling things you’ll do in this business – and we’re passionate about helping other photographers discover who their ideal clients are. If you’re interested in learning more, we’d love to invite you to one of our workshops.
9. Build a Community of Colleagues
Photographers have an incredibly lonely job. We work and build our businesses from home – alone. We dream and think of new business ideas – alone. We shoot – alone.
So it’s incredibly important to get out of your shell and build relationships with like-minded photographers that are in the same stage of business as you. Having other people to lean on, ask questions of, talk through ideas with, and basically connect with is absolutely priceless. Local photography groups are a great way to connect as well as online forums and conferences.
Our favorite online forums are the [b]shool & the Pictage Forums and we LOVE our local PUG group for connecting with local photographers. If you don’t have a community group in your area – start one! It doesn’t have to be crazy official – simply getting together with 4-5 photographers in your area for coffee (or vino) once a month will do wonders for your business.
10. Develop Your Style, Begin Your Brand
So you’re shooting your 100,000 images right? This is the best way to start honing your style and developing your brand – which is the toughest part of the entire job. Keep a journal and start digging into your heart. Who are you? What makes you different? How do you want to present yourself to the world? To your ideal clients?
For most people, it will take a number of years to build a solid brand, so don’t feel discouraged if it doesn’t come right away (it took Jeff and I four years to develop our current brand). The point is to keep working at it until you get it right. In fact, I would suggest that most folks shouldn’t hire a graphic designer until they’ve been in the business for a few years because it will take that long to figure out who you really are. Or, if you DO hire a graphic designer in the early years, just be aware that you’ll need to revisit your visual identity at some point and do it all over again once you have a clearer picture of what your brand actually is.
One of our favorite quotes around here is from Walt Disney who said “Get a good idea and stay with it. Dog it, and work at it until it’s done right.” This will take a long time – it takes everyone a long time, but you must stick with it.
11. Make your Business a Business
Okay, I know we said 10 things, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the importance of making your business a business. You can follow all the advice above, but at the end of the day, if you don’t operate your business like a business, you will fail. Ouch, that kind of hurts to write – but it’s true. Oh so true. Did you know that 90% of photography businesses fail in their first year, and 80% fail within 5 years? Staggering – and I’ll tell you that it’s not because of their images; it’s because they didn’t make their business a business.
Hear me on this. Before you accept a single paying client, you MUST file all the paperwork with your state and local governments, hire an accountant and a lawyer to make sure you’re set up correctly, and make sure you’ve got your business insurance dialed in. This is just for STARTERS – there’s a lot more, but we’ll cover that in a future post all dedicated to business practices. For now, a great resource is Jason Aten’s blog for Starting Out Right in Business. Bookmark that bad boy.
These are just a few concrete things that we believe are solid practices for your first year of business. But remember that there is no magic key that will unlock success. It’s all about time and hard work. So don’t be discouraged if your dreams don’t come true in one year (or more) – but begin building a foundation for those dreams now and you’ll be in great shape.
Now it’s your turn. What are some concrete practices that helped you in your first year of business? Or what are some “wish-I-had-done-this” pieces of advice for those starting out?
Erin is a Celebrity Photographer on Chic Critique!
Increase your confidence and improve your images by signing up
for her 4-week VIDEO critique in April.