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Becoming a freelance photographer

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On becoming a Freelance photographer

Some really important things to consider

Keith Cooper looks back on several important factors that helped him set up a thriving professional photography business.


5 things about being a ‘Pro’ photographer you need to appreciate

A simple product photography setupIt’s just over 10 years ago that I decided to put away my business suit and become a full time professional photographer. I’m still regularly asked how to do it, and what is needed.

Personally I prefer to say that I run my own photography business, rather than use the term ‘Freelance’. Why? …because it more accurately reflects the fact that I run a business that has employees, includes photography, and that we’re a limited company, which is VAT registered (a UK ‘sales’ tax).

These are the five simplest things I can think of that you cannot afford to ignore…

There are many other business side of photography articles on the site – I’ve also included some links that expand on topics mentioned here.

1 You’re running a business

I’m always amazed at how low down the list (if it’s there at all) many would-be pro photographers put this. So often I’m asked “Where can I sell my photos”, as if creating the work was a given and it was just a matter of finding the right outlet for them.

A business has customers, and your job in that business is to meet customers needs, by providing products that they need or want.  It doesn’t matter how great your photos are, if nobody wants them.

Similarly, just because one person buys a photo or hires you doesn’t mean that others will.

2 Profit

Ah yes, profit.  I’m assuming that if it’s a real business you will be needing money to live on? Even if you are just trying things out, and still have a ‘real job’, the idea is for your business to make some money.

It took my own business (working full time) some 15 months to turn the corner and become profitable. I’d budgeted for 18 months in my initial business plan (allowing for equipment and paying my wages).

Looking at profits allowed me to get an idea of prices too. If I know how much money I want to make a year, and divide that by the number of jobs I want to do in a year, then I get a rough idea of how much I need to charge. The important thing about this back of the envelope calculation is that it makes no reference to what other people are charging.

waiter giving out free food

What do you get for free?

Make another estimate of what you absolutely need to live on (hopefully considerably lower than the figure used above) and use it to get an idea of how much work you need to be doing.

If the ‘breadline’ figure still means charging more than you feel you can get for the work, then take this as a big hint that you may not have a plan for a business that will last.

Don’t be too optimistic about how much work you will get – assuming that you’ll do 5 jobs a week is one thing…

3 Marketing

Not much work arrives (initially) because people just happened to hear about you. Most of it takes some effort and time put into marketing your services.

A big part of the ‘effort’ comes from it perhaps not being something you are comfortable about, or that you easily find excuses to do something else ‘important’.

It needs doing – little and often beats a concerted effort once a year.

The time element should not be underestimated either – that ‘5 jobs a week’ estimate earlier doesn’t leave much time left over to build the business, look after a web site, or spend time on social media.

Oh, and for most people, social media is nothing but a time sink, by all means see what it can do for your business, but try and be realistic.

4 Taking photos for yourself

Building a photography business is going to take a lot of work. You will rapidly realise how little of it involves actual photography.

There are a lot of photographers about these days – your work will need to stand out in some way (and be marketed accordingly). Remember too that the business is changing fast – keep up with business and technical developments.

Leave time for yourself (and others!) – for stuff you enjoy. Find the things that fire your enthusiasm and don’t give up on them.

I couldn’t do wedding photography myself. It would deaden and stultify my interest in photography in a month. I have no interest in it whatsoever.  More importantly, I know that once that spark of interest was extinguished, the rest of my work would suffer.

Know your limits and plan accordingly – if you don’t want to work weekends then don’t, although this may limit some sorts of work…

5 Planning does not happen by itself

My original plan for the business was written on a single A4 sheet down the pub, whilst chatting with some friends.

It really doesn’t matter how you do it, but write it down.

The plan should be something you look at every so often and ideally have some dates for targets. It’s also not set in stone – update it and write that down too!

Is that it?

Yes, in essence, all my other decisions were covered by these 5 basic categories. Have a read of some of my other short articles, but my feeling after 10 years is that these are the main areas that people should think about before trying to ‘make it’ in photography.

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