The Complete Guide to Becoming a Professional Photographer
Part 3: Finance and Income
So far in this series of articles about how to start a photography business we've looked at important preparatory steps such as establishing clear career goals, drawing up a business plan, and budgeting for equipment and other start-up expenses. Having worked out what kind of money will be going out of our accounts in the first few months, we're now in a position to think about what we'll need to see coming in to our accounts in order to cover this and to start making a profit.
In this article - the third in a series of four articles on how to start a photography business - we will look at possible ways to finance a photography business and consider how much you should be charging clients for your services.
Financing Your Photography Business
There's no doubt that photography equipment can be very expensive, especially if you're a studio photographer using a lot of lights and in need of large premises. Realistically though, anyone just starting out in their career is unlikely to be considering putting together a major studio complex complete with drive-in infinity-coves and stocked with state-of-the-art Profoto lighting equipment. For most people, the, the initial investment required to kick start a photography business should not be all that high.
How to Start a Photography Business With Limited Income
Presumably one of the reasons you feel confident that you might be able to run a successful photography business is because you take good photographs. This means you already have a camera (or at least access to one). At most then, in order to be fully prepared to offer a basic professional service, you might need to buy a second body, an extra lens or two, and some more storage for backup of files. But not a lot else.
In fact, if you want to get your photography business up and running as quick as possible, and with a minimum of investment, then try to make do with what you've got until you start to see some money coming in from your work. If you've been making great images with a minimum of gear up until now, then try to do so for a little longer. This means renting any special items that you don't use on a daily or weekly basis, and only buying them later if they really turn out to be essential and you are turning over a sufficient profit to justify doing so.
If you can work like this, at least for the first few months, then you will likely be able to start to run a photography business without the need for any investment beyond your own savings: significantly reducing the level of risk involved in starting your business and allowing you to begin to see a profit much sooner.
In some cases though - for example for events photography, weddings and commercial photography - investment in some extra professional equipment such as photographic lighting might be necessary right from day one. And if working from home is not an option, then you'll also need to have enough money to cover studio rental until you start turning a profit. Even if this doesn't apply to you, just the purchase of second camera or other basic items might be more than your savings will reach to. In such cases, where can you find the extra capital needed to cover these expenses?
How to Get a Loan to Start a Photography Business
Borrowing from Friends and Family
If possible, the first port of call for extra funding should be family and friends. Persuading those who already know and trust you to part with their money will be much easier than having to deal with professional lenders. Friends and family are also more likely to be understanding if you don't immediately meet your goals and so need a little more time to repay the loan.
Still, anyone but the most cavalier with their finances will want their their money back sooner or later. This means that you will need to persuade them that your photography business is a realistic venture and not just a blackhole that will swallow up their investment and lead to a major falling out.
This is where your business plan comes in (see Part 1 in our series of guides about how to start a photography business). A well prepared business plan will serve to show prospective investors that you have done your market research, planned clear goals, and crunched the numbers. Effectively making your case for you.
Additionally, you should draw up a payment plan, outlining when you will start to make the first repayment on the loan and how often you agree to do so. Putting this in writing - and including a section outlining what happens if for some reason you can't meet a repayment deadline at any point - will help to avoid messy disagreements later on.
How to Get a Bank Loan to Start a Photography Business
If borrowing from people you know isn't an option, then the last port of call is likely going to be to apply for a bank-loan. Again, your business plan will be essential here. But what other items should you bring along to a meeting with your bank manager in order to increase you chances of being granted a bank loan to start a photography business?
Put together a file containing your business plan - with convincingly laid-out goals and evidence of market research - plus bank statements, previous tax returns, evidence of personal and business insurance, and proof of business license if required in your area. Failing to bring any essential documents to a meeting with a lender will not make a particularly good impression, so really try to be thorough in your preparation.
Finally, it's worth noting that a bank is unlikely to offer you a loan if you haven't also got a certain amount of your own money invested in the business already. After all, why should they take the risk if you haven't?
How Much Do I Need to Start a Photography Business?
Whether you ask for a loan from friends and family or from a financial institution, make sure that you ask for enough money to pay for all the items and services you really need. It would be very frustrating to run out of money before you even get started, and by which point you may have exhausted all your borrowing possibilities - leaving you with debts to repay, but still unable to start earning.
Furthermore, while it can be tempting to think that by asking for less money you are more likely to be granted a loan, in fact the opposite may be true: asking for too little to get the job done properly might be understood by lenders as demonstrating that you are not realistic about the challenges of starting a new business.
When calculating how much to borrow, you will not only need to consider how much money is required as an initial investment (if you need help with this, take a look at our professional photography business checklist ), but also enough to cover running costs while you get going, and sufficient money to live on yourself before your photography business begins to turn a profit.
Freelance Photographer Rates
So, now your finances are sorted and you're all set to go. You've got your studio or workspace set up, you're all kitted out with the right gear, you've done the marketing and promotion (for marketing advice see Part 3 of our series of articles about how to start a photography business).
The phone rings: your first prospective client. Result!
But now what?
It's a common question: "how much should I charge for my photography"? Or "how much does a photographer make?"
How long's a piece of string?
Photography is worth what your clients are willing to pay. Not what your family, friends or even you yourself would be willing to pay for such services, but what your market will support. Your market may be very different from your mom or best friend. Rates will also vary significantly from region to region and between styles of photography: clearly there will a massive difference between what a back-room photographer shooting product-shots for eBay listings earns and the income of a world-renowned fashion photographer such as Mario Testino.
How to Calculate Photography Pricing
Whether you should charge by the hour, the day, or per project will largely depend on the kind of photography you shoot. For example, if you're a press or events photographer, doing quick call-outs for a few hours at a time, then charging by the hour is likely the best solution (in this case though, don't forget to calculate the amount of time you will spend editing and retouching into your hourly rate).
Conversely, if you're shooting editorial, most magazine publishers have their own set rates - usually per page, but sometimes as a day rate. I.e. if a magazine commissions you to do a job, they will tell you what you'll get paid, take it or leave it.
However, for an advertising or wedding photographer - who might spend days or even weeks prepping for a single day's shoot - charging for just the time spent on location snapping away wouldn't accurately reflect the amount of work involved. In most cases, a photographer's job does not start and end with pressing the shutter, so if you only factor into your pricing the actual time that you spend shooting, you'll find yourself considerably out of pocket.
For example, depending on the genre you're working in, part of your job is likely to come up with ideas, to scout locations, cast models, brief the stylist, liaise with clients, edit and retouch the photos etc. All of this must be calculated into your fee. There's also the question of what constitutes a day's work to consider: many photographers refuse to offer half-day rates, because in practice half a day on one job is likely a full day unavailable for other jobs.
In the beginning, probably the best tactic is to first work out what you need to earn in order to stay afloat - factoring in all your overheads and the number of jobs you think you can get in the first few months. If you can, also try to check out your competitors' prices. Although this can be tricky at the start if you don't know many other people in the industry, some photographers (particularly wedding photographers) do list their prices on their websites
The fact is though, even if you can get a good idea of what the market rate is and have calculated your expenses etc., it's going to be difficult to persuade people to pay out this kind of money if you've never actually done any jobs before. You might have a stunning portfolio of personal work, but most clients are going to want to see evidence that you can deliver a job on demand, and under pressure. Likely the only way of breaking through this chicken and egg scenario is to offer discounted rates at the beginning while you build up a portfolio.
But here another problem arises: let's say you've done a few discount jobs, but now you raise your prices and a previous client comes back for a repeat order, only to be told that they'll need to pay twice as much as last time. This could lose you an otherwise fully satisfied client. The best tactic, then, is to state clearly right from your very first client onward that your full rate is X amount of money, but that for a limited period of time you are offering a discounted rate in order to attract new customers. This way people will be psychologically prepared for the rate hike when it happens.
As a final thought, if you are massively under-charging, you'll find out sooner or later - and in the meantime you will have put together a strong portfolio of work and got some much-needed professional experience under your belt. If you're over-charging, well, if people are willing to pay it then in fact there's no such thing as over-charging. You can over-quote (and therefore not get booked), but never over-charge.
Pricing of photography services can be a tricky thing to work out in the beginning, and inevitably at some point you'll find yourself doing a job that involves way more work and stress than is justified by the fee you asked for. Try to take this in your stride as just part of the learning curve. After a while experience will give you a good idea as to what is the correct rate to charge, and clients will either confirm it by coming back for more, or you'll start to notice an increasing trend for new leads to mysteriously disappear right after you respond to their request to quote on a job.
In the next article in this series of guides about how to start a photography business we'll be looking at the subject of branding and marketing.
This was Part 3 in our four-part series of articles about how to start a photography business. Subscribe for Part 4, the final Part in this Series. And keep a look out for my E-book!