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Ten Steps to Jump-Start Your Photography Business

Here are ten key steps to start and grow a profitable, debt-free photography business.

1. Practice! Keep a camera with you all of the time. Study other photographers and try to emulate images that you love. Spend time learning basic and advanced image editing. Learn your camera in and out, and practice with settings and modes that you don't normally use. Take advantage of free and low cost photography blogs and web sites. Consider joining PPA, WPPI, SEP or a local photography group or club. Make a list of 50 things you want to do with your photography and try to cross of one item each week.

2. Define Your Business. Create a business name and get some cards printed up. You can get several hundred cards for under $20. Do your web research to make sure you aren't choosing a name that is already used.

3. Define Your Finances. Get a separate business checking account. You will want to completely separate your business financial activities from your personal finances. Get online banking so you can check your balances. Keep a spreadsheet at home or use a program like Quicken to track and record your expenses.

4. Get online. Hosting a website is not expensive. You can purchase great photography web templates for under $100. Create and feed a blog. Get on Facebook and create a business page. Search for and join web-based business locators like Merchant Circle and Google Local Listings. Create coupons and special offers to draw in customers.

5. Define your target market, both geographically and demographically. What kind of work do you want to be known for? Seniors? Weddings? Landscape? What other work would you take? Draw three columns on a sheet of paper. In the first, note the kind of work you would love to do; in the second, what you would be OK doing, and in the third, what you would rather not do. It will help you formulate your mission and marketing messages.

6. Set Your Prices. Define your value proposition to your customers. You can't give work away, or undercut everyone, or you'll go out of business. If you factor in your time and the cost of everything to keep your business running once you get established, you will understand why prints cost what they do from other professionals. Benchmark your competition and understand their pricing and offerings. It's better to be in their range but not highest or lowest as you are getting started. If you price cheap, people will undervalue your contributions and as you grow it will be harder to command the prices you need to be profitable. It's OK and expected to change pricing.

7. Spread the word. Read Guerrilla Marketing books by Jay Levinson, and Purple Cowby Seth Godin. Blog like crazy. Study "Search Engine Optimization" to make your web's page rank higher. Look for ways to generate publicity. Approach family, friends, co-workers and people in church for special "starter" sessions. Offer your customers rewards for referrals.

8. Develop Partnerships. Create cooperative relationships with local businesses, nonprofits, schools, churches and other organizations. Become their "go-to" person for event photography and promotional photography. Donate sessions, products and gift certificates to fund-raising auctions and galas. Get to know the leaders in your community and find ways to make them successful and visible through your work.

9. Grow your business debt-free. Create a list of the hardware, software and purchased services that you would like to have. Price them out and rank them in order of your need. Only buy them when your business bank account allows it. Make sure you have reserves in the account to cover samples, upcoming fees and taxes and insurance. If you devote a high percentage of your first few years profits into growing your business assets, you will be able to stay debt-free and keep the business growing, while still taking some profit each year.

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