Running a photography business has likely been a dream of yours from the time you picked up your first camera and saw the world through the lens. There’s no arguing that the life of a photographer is rewarding and freeing.
You get to choose the types of photographs you take, which clients you do business with and what hours you work. However, running your own business can also be stressful if cash flow is tight. In the United States, photographers earn an average of $21 per hour, with some earning upwards of $50 per hour. However, the majority of wages are around $13 per hour. Of course, the type of photography you do, where you live, your experience and other factors come into play.
Photography isn’t a career where you’ll get rich over night, but it does bring personal satisfaction. Since your budget is likely tight, here are some ways your business might bleed money and how to stop the carnage.
1. Buying Too Much Equipment
Photo: One Idea LLC
Let’s face it: You love a good photography gadget. While some are necessary, such as light indicators, others are simply because you like technology and want to take the best pictures possible. Unfortunately, new equipment is expensive and doesn’t always translate into a noticeable difference for the average person buying your images. Set a quarterly budget for how much you can spend on new or replacement equipment. Before you make a purchase, think about whether you really need the item or if you just want it.
With a limited budget, you’re more likely to only buy what you really need. You can even spend too much on storage options. Look for a reliable photo storage solution that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, as you’ll often keep copies of pictures for years.
2. Taking Out Too Many Ads
Marketing is a catch-22 for most small-business owners. You need ads to find new clients, but they are expensive, and it’s hard to know which ones are effective. Similar to purchasing equipment, set a marketing budget for the quarter. Then, spend time digging into the analytics behind past advertising campaigns. Did you have the most success with a particular Facebook ad? Why? Perhaps sending out postcards to your current clients gets a better result. Think about how best to spend your advertising dollars for maximum profit. Starting a loyalty or referral program might result in more clients than online advertising.
3. Not Collecting Payment From Outstanding Invoices
Your cousin’s best friend got married and asked you to take photographs. You showed up, did an amazing job and haven’t heard from her since. Perhaps you’ve even called her multiple times with no response. This is a common scenario for any business owner who offers services and then collects payment. Graphic designers, writers and website creators all deal with slow-paying or nonpaying clients.
First, reach out to the friend again and explain that you can only keep her photos for a certain amount of time, but you don’t want her to lose the memories from her special day, so it’s important for her to contact you. Explain you can work out payments if she is short on cash. Money trickling in a little at a time is better than none at all. However, do not give her the images until you’ve received all her payments. Set up some parameters for the future, such as charging a sizable sitting or event fee. This puts money in your hands upfront in case you never hear from the person again. Also, they are more likely to want to get the package that came with the sitting fee, such as two 8x10s, so they are more likely to contact you and look over the photos you took.
4. Failing to Seek Word-of-Mouth Referrals
Is your schedule filled with appointments? If so, you may not need this advice. However, if you have open slots and lags in work, then the reason may be lack of referrals. Spend time talking to your current clients and make sure they are happy with your services. If they are, ask them to tell their family and friends. Offer a discount or credit to anyone who sends you a new paying referral. If people can earn free pictures of their own, they are much more likely to talk you up. Ask them to share your page on social media or pass out brochures for you.
5. Neglecting Liability Insurance
An estimated 40 percent of small businesses don’t have any type of insurance. However, not only do you have professional liability for failure to perform, but you may be liable for damages or injury. Think through the types of insurance you need, and make sure you aren’t overspending but are covered. Settling a big lawsuit or paying attorney fees definitely qualifies or overspending. Talk to your insurance agent about how best to protect your assets, but also explain that you’re on a limited budget. Some insurance companies offer umbrella policies that cover you in a worst-case scenario situation and aren’t overly expensive.
6. Spending Too Much Time on Projects
As a photographer, you likely love what you do and have a passion for producing amazing commercial and personal photos. However, you can also get caught up in hours of editing work or spending longer than you should on a single photo shoot. Since time is money for photographers, you must figure out how to balance your time but not lose quality in your work.
Make a checklist of the things you typically look for when editing photos, such as lighting, shadows, contrast and saturation. You might also include fixing blemishes and reducing glare on eyeglasses. Do you really need to spend 45 minutes tweaking the color of one flower? Probably not, and it is unlikely anyone else would ever notice it.
Make Your Photography Business Thrive
Paying attention to these six factors helps alleviate cash-flow issues you might experience as a small photography business. Keep in mind that you can also save money in your studio by turning off lights when you aren’t in session, adjusting the thermostat and other factors. Perhaps you can save a little money on rent by negotiating with your landlord or sharing the space with another photographer you trust. Look for ways to keep money in your pocket, and you’ll soon outpace your earnings and have a more secure future.