People get into photography driven by a love of making images, not a love of dealing with business issues. It is passion and creativity that drives us, not a desire to spend hours doing book keeping or other business tasks. I see plenty of photographers who produce brilliant work but struggle to make a living. That leads me to consider – can non business minded people succeed in photography business?
This is a big question – so where do we start? We need to start by understanding what success means to you. What is your definition of success? There are as many answers to that question as there are photographers, but the only answer that matters is your own. What is your definition of success?
- to be able to call yourself a professional photographer regardless of whether you make any money?
- to make enough money to fund your gear purchases?
- to make a significant supplementary income to add to another primary income source?
- to make an income equivalent to the national average income?
- to make three times the national average income or more?
Lets look at each of these.
Success Level 1 – Calling Yourself a Pro. If success is to be able to call yourself a professional photographer, regardless of the income generated, then yes – this can be achieved without much business knowledge. If you want to reach this level of success, focus on acquiring pro standard equipment and get a nice website. You may not have too many clients knocking down your door, but you will have some nice gear to use, time to shoot personal projects, and a nice website to display your images. You can also look into membership of your national photography body.
Success Level 2 – Fund Your Gear Purchases. If success to you is to be able to generate enough income from your images to fund your gear purchases – this too can be done with limited or no business skills. If you would like to do this, I would recommend looking into micro stock photography sites and selling prints online. In both of these models you simply upload your images to the site and they do the work to attract buyers and complete the sales transaction. Keep in mind that any sales generated are likely to be slow to start with and build over time. You will need to be patient. If your goal is to generated a few thousand dollars each year then this is a legitimate way to do it – and thousands of photographers are doing this. If you are interested in using micro stock photography to get here, you may be interested in this post.
Success Level 3 – Making a Significant Supplementary Income. By a significant supplementary income I mean greater than $10,000 per year. I expect you would need another source of income in addition to this. Perhaps you work full or part time and run your photography business outside this. If you hope to reach this level of success it will help if you start to learn some business skills. At this level you may be using micro stock photography to provide some of that income and you may be taking on some commissioned work. It could be weddings or family portraits or other client work. At this level it helps to have an understanding of business structures, so you can consider what structure suits you best, particularly if it is going to continue to grow. You would also benefit from some understanding of invoicing, book keeping, marketing, and tax.
Success Level 4 – Making the National Average Income. At this success level, if you are running your own photography business, you will need to have some business skills. In addition to the skills mentioned above you’ll need to have a good understanding of marketing your business, and that will probably include a good understanding of social media and online marketing. This will ensure you generate a pipeline of future clients which sustains your business into the future.
Success Level 5 – Making 3x the National Average Income or More. If success to you means generating an income three times the national average or more then you will need business skills. In addition to the skills above you may need to also understanding issues related to contacting and sub contracting, employing staff, contract law, pricing, and you will definitely need a strong marketing plan. You possibly will need to invest time and effort into generating partnerships – perhaps with wedding venues, or advertising agencies. At this level it is likely your photography skills will need to be very strong as well. That’s my take on what is required to meet these levels of success. I see many photographers producing great images but not succeeding financially. If you are one of these, my recommendation is to invest in building business skills, not photography skills. It is also possible that investments in the business need to be into generating new clients, rather than further investments in equipment. That might be advertising or a new website or promotional materials.
In summary, you can achieve success levels 1 and 2 with limited or no business skills. If you want to ‘get serious’ and move to levels 3, 4 and 5 you will need business skills. If you are starting out it is absolutely legitimate to work your way up through the levels. If you believe you are not business minded – don’t worry, business skills can be learned along the way. If you are determined to succeed, the skills can be learned. Equally, if you have strong business skills you can get started at level 4 and 5. There is no tried and true formula here – you can make it your way based on your own skills and knowledge.
These are my thoughts about whether non business minded people succeed in photography business. Here comes the disclaimer – I’m not a business adviser, or financial adviser, or any type of adviser. I’m a photographer. Please keep this in mind and seek your own expert advice. Can non business minded people succeed in photography business? What do you think? What is working for you?