An Open Letter to New Portrait and Wedding Photographers
After over 10 years of business and four years full time as a photographer I pondered what pieces of juicy advice would have given me a head start in my journey. While some of this won’t appear sexy, running a business isn’t always sexy. In fact, not all your time will be spent photographing beautiful people. You’ll have phone calls, emails, proposals, accounting, and adulting. Tons of adulting.
Get legal ASAP
Straight away do everything you can to get legal. Consult with an accountant what you need to do to pay your taxes. You can also check out The Law Tog. Nothing will sink your ship faster than getting caught not paying taxes. If your business can be found anywhere on the internet, you’ll need to fill out the proper registrations in your town/city/state as well. Make sure you are initially setting aside 1/3rd of all money in a separate account for taxes.
Skin Tone Processing
Kind of like the awkward teenage years, many photographers go through weird skin retouching phases. Pro tip: Make skintones look real. Overly processed skin quickly goes out of style. The less processed the skin looks the more timeless your photos will be.
Nothing will propel your business faster than a coach or mentor. And no, joining groups on Facebook doesn’t count…I see plenty of terrible advice given out daily in those. A business coach is a real person who you meet with online, in person or on the phone. Going through a group coaching session is great as well. I joined a killer online mentoring group, Intuition to Succeed. Getting recommendations is key here. While I suggest going to a paid business coach or life coach, SCORE offers free business mentoring.
Ego is the Enemy
While Facebook likes and Instagram follows may feel like a good metric to base your business on, it couldn’t be further from the truth. At the end of the day a business runs with dollars paid by clients. Customer service is key to keeping your business running. So many photographers are rich on Instagram and broke in real life. The ego loves ‘likes’ but to the detriment of your business.
Portrait & Wedding Photography is About Relationships
It’s so easy to forget that weddings and portrait sessions with real clients aren’t about us. It’s not about winning awards either. When we photograph a wedding, we are being given the privilege of capturing the best moments and the most important people in someone’s life. The way we interact with our clients and their families matters. We serve our clients by giving them the best experience.
Conversations Creates Clients
The sooner you can get a potential client off email and onto the phone, the higher chance you have of booking them. The often repeated statistic is call back a potential client within a minute and you have a 391% higher chance of booking them. If you want a higher booking rate, you’ll need to learn to use the phone. We as photographers assume clients choose photographers based on artistic reasons; many times they book the first person they can get a hold of! Customer service wins the day.
Failure to Print is…Failure
Beyond the actual experience I give to a client on their wedding day or in a portrait session, I now gauge success by my ability to get them to buy prints and albums. In this day and age of iPhone photos, anyone can take a photo. Rarely do people sit down to print art for their home. As a portrait and wedding studio, it’s my job to get prints onto the walls of my clients home, anything else is failure on my part. This is our time to shine! Let’s help our clients print timeless artwork that will become family heirlooms!
Prepare for the Dip
Every business gets the dip. It’s the moment where you question, is this what you should be doing. Prepare for it. Maybe it’s the client challenge of a lifetime or financially you aren’t hitting your goals.
Decide if you want a hobby or a business. If you have a business, treat your business like a business and DO BUSINESS. It’s easy to forget the business end and focus soley on the art. Do you know your cost of goods (albums & wall art)? How about your monthly cost of doing business (you know insurance, taxes, rent, utilities)? What is your time worth per hour? What is your markup on album? What is your markup on wall art? The more you know about your profit margins and how to price, the more stable your business will be.
Outsource what slows you down
Love photography and hate housework? Outsource some of the house work. Freeing up time from retouching, processing or tasks you don’t like, gives you more time to do what you love. Of course if you love retouching and processing, find administrative tasks you can outsource. Scheduling of your calendar is a time consuming task that is easily replaced by Calendarly or Schedule Once.
Learn Body Language
The more you understand about body language, the better your photos will tell a story. Not only will body language help you in posing clients, it will also help with client interaction. People are always giving us clues. It’s up to us to properly uncover them! CreativeLive’s course by Vanessa Van Edwards on body language is stellar.
Backup Your Photos
Nothing strikes fear into new photographers like losing client images. Shoot to 2 cards at once if your camera has dual slots. I prefer a giant SD card in the backup slot for jpgs and shoot raws onto a smaller card. The jpg card stays in the camera for 3 months or more keeping multiple jobs. I personally don’t reuse the RAW camera SD card until my photos have been backed up and processed. In addition, use an offsite backup program like CrashPlan to continually backup your files. At the end of a job my photos exist in 3 or 4 locations.
Mike Allebach is a studio boudoir, couples boudoir and wedding photographer. Hailed by a Inked Magazine as “the Tattooed Wedding Photographer” Mike Allebach possesses an amazing ability to naturally photograph life on the fringe. His photos have been featured in Daily Mail UK, Fstoppers, Petapixel, Rangefinder and New York Magazine.
Mike says about his clients, “In my heart I’m instinctively inclusive, always looking for ways to draw others into the circle and make them feel beautiful, heard, and appreciated. It’s my punk rock ethic. The uniqueness of my photos comes from the uniqueness of my clients. And I believe I have the best clients in the world.”