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How to Start a Photography Business With No Money/Experience in 16 Steps

Do you want to start a photography business from home? If YES, here is a detailed guide on how to start a photography business with no money or experience; plus a sample photography business plan template and a photography service marketing plan.

16 Steps to Starting a Photography Business from Home

1. Understand the Industry

According to the united states Department of Labor, as at 2014, there were 124,000 photographers with a median hourly wage of $14.66. In this industry, the lowest 10% earned less than $8.71 and the highest 10% earned more than $33.14 per hour. Photographers in the District of Columbia earned the highest hourly median wage at $33.15 as at 2012.

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Interesting Statistics About the Industry

As at 2014, 3 in 5 photographers were self employed, while 3 in 10 photographers worked part-time; also demand for certain types of photographers usually fluctuate depending on the season. For example, the demand for wedding photographers usually increases in the spring and in the summer. The revenue for the photography industry is $10 billion, and the projected annual growth for 2011 to 2016 is at 2.6%. There are over 185,075 photography businesses, with over 231,171 people employed.

This industry has experienced several changes as digital cameras and postproduction technologies have increasingly affected operators. While photographers are benefitting from the supposed changes by increasing their availability and efficiency, consumers also have now begun to take professional quality images without the need of a specialist photographer.

However, according to research, revenue is expected to improve slightly in the next five years as more operators will focus on niche markets such as sports and church, direct photography, events, and such like that to sustain demand. Major products are family portraits and images for corporate advertising and marketing materials. Portrait studios account for about 70% of the industry revenue with commercial photography accounting for about 30%.

The photography industry also specializes in a range of photography services that include school portraits, individual and group portraits, commercial or industrial photography, photography for special occasions. The final products of photography can usually be printed on a photo paper, or distributed electronically in compressed files such as portable Network Graphics (PNG) or JPEG format.

There are other specialized photographers that can print photographs on magnet, mugs, table calendar, and other promotional items, although the sales from these products generate less than 1.0% revenue. In this industry, demand is closely tied to consumer income and corporate marketing activity. The profitability of companies depends heavily on how effective their marketing is. However, large companies usually have economies of scale in marketing and production.

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Small companies can also effectively compete by offering specialized services or be able to access favorable locations. The photography industry is the United States is fragmented, with the 50 largest companies generating about 40% of revenue.

2. Conduct Market Research and Feasibility Studies

  • Demographics and Psychographics

When it comes to the demographic and psychographic of those who would require the services of a photographer, it is obviously everyone from babies, young ones, adults (men, women) to senior citizens. Groups and families also require the services of a photographer, as well as the pets of these families.

Anyone who can afford the services of either an amateur or a professional photographer, also, companies that intend to advertise their products.

3. Decide Which Niche to Concentrate On

As regards the niches within the photography industry, the end service is usually not different, which can be in paper form or digital format, but the mode of taking the photographs, and the kind of photographs taken can be different. In essence, some of the areas of specialization in the photography industry include;

  • Portrait photography
  • landscape and alcohol
  • one color
  • aerial shots
  • shower stalls,
  • Pet photography, and so many other such niches.

One thing about all these niches mentioned is that it makes it easier for smaller entrepreneurs to choose one and specialize on, but larger companies usually offer two or more kind of niches.

The Level of Competition in the Industry

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Starting a photography business might not be difficult or expensive to start off depending on the scale, but it is an extremely competitive industry, as photographers continuously vie for the perfect shot that will be remembered forever; especially as good photographs do not just have to be technical in nature but also illicit feelings in the viewer.

There are currently over 150,000 U.S professional photographers, and over 500,000 amateurs that are freelance or part-time photographers. This has caused a stiff competition especially for professional photographers because they get to compete with amateurs for jobs. The only leverage the professional photographers have is in corporate jobs and via association.

4. Know Your Major Competitors in the Industry

Even though this might be regarded as a fairly competitive field, there are still brands that over the years have made a name and reputation for themselves, either online or offline. This is probably due to the fact that they have applied certain principles that have made them to stand out over the years. Below are some of the well known brands in the photography industry both in the United States and in most countries;

  • Lifetouch (United States)
  • Picture People (United States)
  • Portrait Innovations (United States)
  • Getty Images (United States)
  • Shutterstock (United States)
  • Fotolia (United States)
  • Corbis (United States)
  • Dimension Studios (Australia)
  • PixiFoto (united kingdom)
  • Studio Alice (Japan)

Economic Analysis

Before starting out the photography business, you should ensure that you carry out a thorough investigation of the industry, and be certain that they have their target market – who is ready to pay for such service – in sight before starting off the business.

Recently, there has been a decline for professional photographers, no thanks to the economic downturn as well as the growth of amateur photographers. Even though there is a projected growth for between 2011 and 2016 at 2.6%, it shows that the growth is slow.

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This is so because there are many people resorting to using their own devices such as smart phones, personal cameras, tablets, and other gadget devices to take photographs of themselves, friends, families, and memorable occasions, and will not want to procure the services of a professional photographer. Also, the downturn of the economy has seen people not having enough disposable income to be able to afford the services of a photographer.

Who then drives the demand for professional photographers? Mostly corporate consumers like companies who require the best shots for their products so that it could be used in advertising, events such as political campaigns and rallies, occasions such as weddings and so forth.

However, the demand for the services of a photographer depends on the income of consumer and attendant circumstances. To generate income and profits, photographers can keep their overhead low, especially as getting equipment is a one and for all activity.

5. Decide Whether to Buy a Franchise or Start from Scratch

The fact that the required start-up capital for a photography business is not that expensive depending on the scale of startup doesn’t mean starting from the scratch will be the best option. However, this doesn’t mean that you cannot start from the scratch if you want to. If you intend starting out small then it makes it easier and ideal for you to start from the scratch.

However, if you haven’t worked in a studio before, starting from scratch might be a totally risky move, because you will have no idea on how many clients will come depending on the season, and how much they are likely to spend. An option worth considering is in buying an existing studio, perhaps one where the owner is retiring, and check the books to see how viable it might be. Taking or buying a franchise is one that might be of great benefit to you especially if you do not know about photography at all.

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6. Know the Possible Threats and Challenges You Will Face

Some of the threats and challenges that you are likely to face once you start your own photography businesses are;

  • Variable income
  • finding clients
  • copyright
  • legal liability
  • Competition
  • declining prestige of the photography profession
  • high cost of photography equipment
  • And so many other such challenges and threats.

As an entrepreneur, there isn’t much you can do about threats and challenges, than to try and maximize every opportunity you stumble upon, and be optimistic about the overall business.

7. Write a Business Plan

Every business requires a business plan. If you are serious about starting this business with the aim of making a name for yourself, competing and making profits, then you should ensure that you have a business plan before investing your hard earned money and time into the business.

You will need a comprehensive business plan for your photography business, a business plan that will guide you and give you a clearer picture of what you intend to achieve by starting the business.

A Business plan is the roadmap to the next year(s) of your business, and tells you what you will need to do, when you will need to do it, and how much it will cost. It also helps you plan for emergencies, know the kind of insurance you will need, and anticipate possible problems ahead of time. The time spent doing a business plan will be worth it for your photography business.

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The whole idea of writing a business plan is not just to draft strategies that will help you effectively administer and manage your photography business, it is also so that a financial spreadsheet can be created that will show all of your income and expenses especially through the first year of business. The spreadsheet gives you an idea of what will be needed in the first year, and when it will be needed.

Writing a business plan is intended as a guide to envisioning and planning for a successful and sustainable photography business. The essential parts of a photography business plan include the business summary which contains your company description, your management and organization and the services and products you intend to offer.

The other essentials include market analysis which includes the following, industry description and outlook, distinguishing characteristics, size of the primary target market, how much market share you intend to gain, and competitive analysis. Marketing strategy and planning which includes marketing strategy, advertising strategy.

Financials such as forecasts and budgeting and cash flow is better once you sit with an accountant to work through the numerous details. Also, a financial expert is likely to think of thinks that haven’t yet been considered as well as recommend some financial management applications.

However, it is not easy to write a business plan and can be very technical especially for people who are easily intimidated by figures and projections, or who do not see writing a business plan as a top priority even though they believe it is a necessity. For entrepreneurs like this, they can use the services of a business consultant to help in writing the business plan, or they can download a photography business template online as a guide.

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How Much Do Photographers Make Monthly / Annually?

Although, the amount photographers make monthly or annually in the countries listed above is dependent on loads of factors, yet some photographers who have attained the celebrity status earn far higher than the average photographer in the industry. But for the purpose of this course, here is a detailed analysis of what photographer earn in the United States, Australia, Canada and United Kingdom.

How Much Does It Really Cost to Start a Photography Business?

Depending on the part of the world you reside in, the cost of starting a photography business may slightly be different. On the average; the basic photography gears (cameras, light stands, flash, camera bags and memory cards et al) are sold online and you can buy them at the same price from an online store as anyone from any part of the world.

If you are tinkering with starting your own photography business, your major concern should be how to raise the required start – up capital to kick start the business. That is why it is important to conduct a thorough feasibility study in order to get an estimated value of the amount needed to start a photography business. Here’s an analysis of what it cost to start a photography business.

8. Choose a Suitable Location for your Business

When it comes to choosing a location for your photography business, it is important to think of a good location that will be used for your business. It wouldn’t be advisable if you are into model photography to choose a location in a residential area, instead you would have to locate your studio in town. If you are however into family and pet portraits, then it would be advisable to site your studio close or in a residential area, depending on your target market.

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However, it is obvious that choosing a good location is not limited to just the location but also the costing for the location. You would have to remember to keep your start-up overhead head low, and if you decide to locate your studio in popular locations such as a downtown area or mall, where the costs are high, you might need to carry out aggressive marketing that will bring in the clients so as to make up for the high expenses.

It is also important to note that instead of breaking the bank to source for money that is to be used in renting a facility, you could also run your business conveniently from home especially if you have enough space in your den or garage to store your equipment.

If you are starting out alone, it would be better you keep your costs low and start from home at first, only going to locations that the clients require, however if you are starting out with more than one employee, then it would do well for you to rent an office space.

9. Hire Employees for your Technical and Manpower Needs

­­Most of the equipment that is used to start a photography business can be bought cheaply as fairly used from a photographer who is either retiring or looking to upgrade on his equipment. The fairly used equipment if managed properly can be used for a long period of time, especially if you are starting off your business on a small scale.

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These are some of the equipment that you would need to start off your photography business;

  • Camera
  • Lenses
  • Lighting
  • Processing System
  • Tripod
  • Sundry Equipment
  • Software
  • External Hard Drives
  • Printer

With these kinds of equipments, you can basically run your photography business from home, especially if you have a spacious garage. Renting an office facility is required for those that intend to start on a medium or large scale.

The number of employees needed to operate a photography business varies, as it can be run by one person if the clients are modest in number. However, for photography businesses with large clients, you would need to employ a manager, secretary, other photographers, cashier, and front desk officer. This is about 5 to 7 employees.

The Service Delivery Process of the Business

The production process usually varies from one photographer to another because of too many variables that are involved, as there is no established standard production process that applies to everyone.

However, there are general processes every photographer would at one point in a time undergo while carrying out his or her tasks. They include setting up the camera and capturing images, transferring images to a computer, importing images to a photo application, and organizing and sorting images.

Other general processes include post-processing the images, exporting the images, backing up the images, and either printing out or publishing images on web.

10. Write a Marketing Plan Packed with ideas & Strategies

Building a photography business depends on how you understand the business, while talent is essential; it is not a guarantee of a successful business career. While running a photography business, you have to know what is coming in and going out as related to finance, so as to help make you profitable.

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This also means that you have to be mindful of the reputation you build through the offering of quality products and services; and also know how to attract new clients as well as retain current customers so as to turn a profit.

Most business people think that advertising is marketing but it isn’t. Advertising is part of a marketing strategy, and means placing ads in different forms of media to promote awareness, attract new business, or encourage people into taking a specific decision. Every other thing that is done after an advertisement can be referred to as marketing, especially when it has to do with your brand which is regarded as your reputation.

Here are some tips that can be adopted by you as marketing strategies for your photography business.

  • Plan the customer experience by introducing yourself and services, and accompanying it with a thank you card at the end of every assignment.
  • Allow your customers use the social media to market your photography business with their testimonials.
  • Use the social media yourself by posting your photographs on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, and tagging friends and family members who are likely to tag their own friends and families as well, thereby creating a huge referral service for you.
  • Ensure you appreciate those that comment positively on your works.
  • Network with other photographers in your area or region, so as to get tips on how to improve your business.
  • Even though anyone can be called a photographer in his age, ensure that you differentiate yourself by getting to know the basic essentials, such as how to compose images and achieve proper exposure.
  • Write books and articles on photography
  • Engage in direct marketing
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11. Work Out a Reasonable Pricing for your Services & Products

While most creative photographers do not like to refer to the pricing of their products, it is however, regarded as an important part of running the photography business. As photographer, you cannot just set your prices as you can’t be sure that your prices are realistic, appropriate or profitable.

The factors that should determine your pricing as a photographer running a business is the quality of your work, your perceived value in the market place as well as the perceived value of your photographs, your confidence, what your competitors are charging and how much it cost to produce a photograph.

12. Develop Iron-clad Competitive Strategies to Help You Win

This industry is one that is saturated with amateur and professional photographers and so gets more competition than other industries, especially as everyone is now a photographer. However, this does not mean that there aren’t competitive strategies that as a traditional photographer you can deploy to win your competitors and get customers for yourself.

To become an outstanding photographer, you would need to get all the necessary tools that would ensure that you produce only top quality. The first strategy is in not treating other competitors as one but as fellow customers, this means that you could ensure that your competitors become one that help your business grow instead of directly competing with them.

You could also ensure that you offer certain kinds of packages for different clients, and add incentives to the different packages.

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13. Brainstorm Possible Ways to Retain Clients & Customers

The surest way to increase customer retention for your business apart from the provision of excellent services at all times is to use your customers to get more customers. Some photographers have their businesses grow based on customer request, by offering customers special offers, preferential treatments or discounts; sending acknowledgements of recognition, and thank you notes, and also communicating with customers about special events in which the customer might be genuinely interested.

Another way of increasing customer retention is to ensure that your photographs not only meet the expectations of your customers but exceed it as well. Customers tend to stick to businesses that use all these ways to ensure that they are retained, and also go as far as referring others to the company.

14. Develop Strategies to Boost Brand Awareness and Create a Corporate Identity

There are strategies to building a photography brand these days, more than before. Strategies needed to boost the brand of a photography business is very vital because this is a saturated market industry in the United States that have more photography business starting up each day. The strategies are one that would make a potential client choose you and not another photographer in your niche or area.

Below are some of the platforms that one can leverage on to boost the brand of your photography business, and advertise the business as well:

  • Advertise your photography business by giving magazines discounted rates for some of your pictures that they are likely to use.
  • Promote your photography business online via your official website
  • Encourage your customers to help with referrals for a discount
  • Leverage on social media platforms especially ones that promote the use of pictures, such as Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Twitter, to promote your photography business.
  • Create a unique name that customers can remember and refer to.
  • Make use of mobile marketing to get your photography business known and recognized
  • List your photography business in online directories.
  • Attend seminars so as to network with other photographers, both established and new ones.
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15. Create a Suppliers/Distribution Network

Depending on the kind of photography business you intend to specialize in, you might need to source for distribution agencies that might help in getting your photographs to where it might be needed for a price.

If you are new in the field, it might not be easy for you to sell your images, especially if you specialize in stock images, but if you already have distributors, then you would need to ensure that you are in the right relationship with them as this will help your revenue base. Having a relationship too will also help you grow, as you will be given tips and advices on what to do to become a better photographer.

16. Tips for Running a Photography Business Successfully

Running a photography business successfully requires time, because it takes a while before your clientele base can grow large enough for you to get steady referrals. In any business, especially a new one, referrals are one of the most important places where one can get new clients especially if you are just starting from the scratch.

As a newbie, if you constantly compare your progress to established photographers, you are likely to feel discouraged, which is why you should know from the start that your business will only be successful with time. Most people usually underestimate the huge amount of time that needs to be dedicated behind the computer screen editing, accounting, and sending emails so as the photography business will be successful.

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Apart from having a desire to grow, you would have to stay mindful of where the photography business industry is headed. The most successful photographers are the ones who see changing tides and study how they can turn whatever change into a competitive advantage for their business. Being willing to be flexible in your Business model is a vital ingredient to you remaining long in business.

  • A Serious Approach to Moneymaking

Photography may be one of the biggest attractions in the world and it may be a craft or an activity (as it has become today) that is on the rise with every minute, but an aspiring entrepreneur like you cannot afford to forget the fact that a business is a business at the end of the day. You may love photography with all your heart and you may be one of the most successful professional photographers in the world. However, none of that would matter unless you know how to take your enterprise or your business seriously and separate it with all the playful notions that are being associated with photography nowadays.

Being a professional photographer may have afforded you the luxury of living off of your talent and making money whenever and wherever you felt like making money without breaking too much of a sweat. However, in the photography business world, you will hardly be granted any off seasons or breaks from toiling hard day and night to make your business thrive and keep your head above water. In simple words, running a photography business is exponential times tougher than being a professional photographer.

  • Adaptability is Key to Success in the Photography Business
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Since this is the 21st century, you have to be highly adaptable as an entrepreneur to make a name for yourself in any industry. There can be no room whatsoever for stagnancy. The word stagnancy can often be misinterpreted by professional photographers.

In the opinion of most, stagnancy refers to physical immobility. In terms of mobility, you will hardly come across any professional who is as mobile and attached to travelling as a photographer. Therefore, you cannot blame photographers for immobility.

You will however come across several professional photographers who are guilty of stagnancy in terms of where there business is. From purely a business standpoint, stagnancy is the inability to make a business move in a time when the industry is undergoing a change.

For example, if there is a rising demand for wedding photography in the industry, then your photography business must have the capability of shifting gears and embracing wedding photography in order to capitalize on the changes that are going on in the industry. Sure, it is always preferable to select a niche and stick to it, but that advice is applicable only for professional photography.

In the field of business, you need to be open to ideas at all times in order to make your business survive. If you cling on to a particular craft that your business has succeeded in, even though that craft is no longer relevant, then you will struggle to keep your business afloat in the industry. Adaptability is the key for any entrepreneur, so if you are the kind of person who does not deal well with change, then perhaps the photography business is not suited for you.

  • The Photography Business Awaits You
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Once you have digested all of this above information, processed it in your head and considered all the factors that are instrumental to your business, you will be in a better position to determine whether or not to make the jump from professional photography to photography based entrepreneurship. If you are willing to increase your work rate, enhance your adaptability and augment your ability to appeal to consumers, then the world of photography business awaits you with outstretched open arms.

Is Starting a Photography Business Right for You?

Among the countless challenges that an entrepreneur has to face throughout his or her career, the biggest and the most flustering is perhaps answering the fundamental question that concerns all those who are involved with entrepreneurship. “Is starting a business really the right thing to do?

This question revolves around the head of all those individuals who harbour a certain degree of fear towards losing it all in a failed business. There is hardly any doubt about the fact that entrepreneurship involves a considerable amount of risk.

However, true entrepreneurs are not deterred by the risk of financial loss and damage of reputation. If anything, this risk or gamble of sorts, is what drives them and motivates them to make a mark in the industry that will separate them from the crowd of mediocre and average Joes.

a. Photography Based Entrepreneurship

When it comes to building a business based on photography, the approach to entrepreneurship has to be reconsidered. You cannot simply go out all guns blazing and keep firing in all cylinders. Your approach must be one that is of a cautious, tentative and analytical nature.

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Going with the flow will certainly not reap rewards for you when you are trying to start a photography business. Using your photography skills or those of other people, and turning it into a source of income generation is not nearly as simple and uncomplicated as selling happy hour meals in a fast food restaurant.

Needless to say, a lot of thought and planning must go into the formation of a photography business. If you are willing to carry out that entire planning, bear all the burdens and push your employees to achieve the highest industry standards, then the photography business may be something worth considering. However, before you acquire all these attributes and set your sights on opening the doors to your business, you need to first attain the right mentality that is needed for a person to successfully launch and run operations in a photography business.

b. The Right Mentality

What exactly is this mentality that you are supposed to possess and which is supposed to bring you the goods in this field? Well, it all depends upon your perception of photography and your love for it. If you go around and ask entrepreneurs in the photography field, they will tell you that photography is their passion. This is quite a generic answer which you expect to come out of the mouth of any entrepreneur who is turning a craft into a business.

However, you need to ask yourself how their passion is any different from that of a professional photographer who is working in the field day and night, and serving as the obedient employee in a well reputed organization or is engaged in freelancing. In other words, you need to figure out what makes an entrepreneur in the field of photography different from a professional photography whose love for the craft is clearly evident. The biggest difference between the two lies in their perception of photography.

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The business owner of a photography studio for example sees photography as a means to generate revenue and establish a celebrated organization in the industry. A professional photography on the other hand views the art of photography as a form of lifestyle with which he or she is attached by a sense similar to holy matrimony.

You cannot take the photography out of a photographer, but you can take the photography out of a business owner. Does that make people who own photography businesses any less passionate than professional photographers themselves? Not really. If anything, it makes them multi dimensional and highly versatile.

c. Photography Is No Longer a Primitive Art

We are currently living in the modern age of photography where the profession now hardly draws comparisons to primitive arts such as sculpting and painting. Unlike the primitive arts, photography is advancing at an astronomical rate courtesy of mammoth and rapid developments in the field of technology.

One of the primary rules of entrepreneurship is to take advantage of anything and everything that is on the rise and which is worthy of being considered a hot commodity. When a person turns the art of photography into a business, he or she does not necessarily do so out of the desperation or lust for money. He or she is simply an opportunist, who is hitting two birds with one stone.

The entrepreneur who runs a photography business has the distinct privilege of being involved in the industry which he or she is emotionally connected to, while transforming his or her much beloved craft into a product or a service that is worthy of giving the products or services of major corporations a run for their money.

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Being a Photography Talent Vs Photography Promoter – What’s the Difference?

Gone are the days when people believed in the binary economic system of talent and promoters. Any person, who possessed commendable expertise in a craft, was considered talent, and any person who marketed this talent was considered to be a promoter or an entrepreneur.

In other words, the world was made up of two kinds of people; those who earned a living out of their creativity and exceptionality and those who made a living by selling the art of talented people. Marketing talent was the old school approach towards entrepreneurship. Such an approach will hardly be of any benefit to you if you are conceptualising the idea of launching your own photography business. If your intentions are to make a fast back out of the extraordinary faculties of another human being, then your photography business is destined for failure.

On the other hand, if your intention is to expand your interest in the field of photography and discover a new way to augment the returns on your investments (both in the form of money and in the form of raw passion) in photography, then owning a photography business is what you should be looking to do.

This is the 21st century, and it is very much possible for you to establish yourself as a talented photographer and a dynamic business person all at the same time. Being a master of an art and being a promoter of a craft do not necessarily have to be mutually exclusive. If anything, modern day photography demands that you market your ability, skills and talent to the best of your potential.

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Professional Photographer Vs Photography Business Owner

The contrast between being a professional photographer and being the owner of a photography business is nearly the same as being a chef and running a restaurant. As a chef, your job is confined within the kitchen. Beyond the kitchen hours, you need not stay busy. The owner of a restaurant on the other hand has to keep an eye on operations 24/7 just to make absolutely sure that everything is running as smoothly as it possibly can.

You have to play a similar role as the owner of a photography business. It is on your shoulders to make sure that your business produces images of top notch quality consistently throughout prolonged periods of time. You cannot under any circumstances accept mediocrity as an entrepreneur.

Achieving high quality every single time should not only be your goal, but rather your religion. You have to eat, sleep, and breathe state of the art photography production if you want your business to be any different from all the struggling photography businesses in the industry and if you want your business to stand toe to toe with the big boys in the industry.

Constant improvement in your skills and that of your employees is not just a recommended option, but rather an obligatory action. If you do not pay heed to simple business principles, your business may just become another starving artist club. That is the lowest you can sink to in your career as an entrepreneur, let alone in your career as a professional photographer.