A lot of people dream about being professional golfers. Imagine getting paid millions and traveling around the country doing nothing but play golf! Here’s all you have to do to make that dream come true. Start when you’re 5, so go tell your daddy or mommy that you want to be a pro golfer. Then spend the next 10 years with a parent driving you relentlessly and whenever you’re not doing anything else, be outside hitting balls. Then spend the next 8 years with a series of coaches honing every facet of your golf game, driving you relentlessly and then you stand less than a 50-50 chance of making the cut in the junior tournaments.
Professional golf isn’t something people pick up on a weekend, it’s a lifestyle they started when they were young and it’s a job they work every day towards. Photography is not that different.
To be a professional, photography has to be more than a hobby, more than something you do on the weekend. It’s a competitive business that is a demanding, fast-moving professional field that is getting more and more competition from people walking around with smartphones and low-end digital cameras.
Here are five things I wish someone had told me about the business years ago.
You Have To Know How To Run a Business
Take classes in how to run a small business. You have to understand taxes, billing, cash flow, insurance and contracts. You can’t be a successful photographer without knowing how to be a successful business person.
It Will Take a Long Time To Make Any Money
Wedding photographers can sometimes build up a steady income in a couple years but don’t count on it. Mainly figure on starving the first few years until you have a deep portfolio and build up a client base.
I’ve known a few people who managed to claw their way to a living shooting commercial stock photography, but it took them a few years to build up that kind success. The advantage to specializing in stock photography is that once you build up your income, it’s recurring revenue.
Once you have a base of income, you can use that to branch out and experiment.
There Is New Competition Every Year
Just when you claw and starve your way to some kind of a living, you’ll find one day that clients start telling you about someone offering the services you’ve been providing for less than half of what you’re charging. While that happens in almost any business, in photography it tends to be particularly devastating.
You have to spend a lot of time monitoring your market, checking on your competition and staying one step ahead.
You Trade Regular Hours For Working All The Time
Being a photographer means trading the security of a regular paycheck for being an independent businessperson. In other words, you trade regular hours for working all the time. And some assignments take the concept of working hours to new and bizarre extremes.
I don’t know any professional photographer who doesn’t work all the time, nights and weekends included.
You Will Need a Emergency Fund
At some point it’s going to happen: You will get sick, hurt, sued or, in the case of PJ, arrested. When that happens you’ll need an emergency fund to get through it. Even if you prevail in court, you can still end up being out of business.
If you’re injured and can’t work, you have to have enough cash in the bank to keep the doors open and pay the bills.
Photography as a business is a job and you have to approach it that way. If it’s not a job you eat, sleep and breath, you’re going to have a hard time makeing it.