Mistakes New Photographers Make and How to Avoid Them
Starting a photography business is exciting but has many pitfalls if you don't set strategic foundations early on. Common newbie mistakes include lacking client contracts, underestimating startup expenses, no specialty niche focus, poor marketing, disorganized systems and improper pricing strategies initially. However by leveraging best practices around specialization, efficient workflows, packaging profitable products/services, gaining photography business education, tracking detailed budgets, and sticking to industry pricing standards, new photographers can establish operational processes primed for growth, profitability and lasting success.
Starting a photography business is an exciting venture - you get to be creative, work for yourself, and get paid for doing something you love. However, there’s more to running a photography business than just having talent and an eye behind the lens. If you’re new to professional photography, there are some key mistakes you’ll want to avoid in order to set your business up for success.
Lacking Solid Contracts & Paperwork
One of the most important things new photographers overlook is having legally sound contracts and forms in place before taking on any clients. Without proper documentation in writing, you leave yourself vulnerable if a client decides to back out last minute, asks for their money back on an order, tries to get usage rights they didn’t pay for, and more. Cover your bases with contracts like:
- Photography Service Contract: Outlines exactly what services you agree to provide, rates, deposit and final payment info, cancellation terms, copyright, etc. Get client signature.
- Model Release: Gives you permission to publicly use photos of people for your portfolio or promotional purposes
- Property Release: Needed if shooting at private properties or public/recognizable locations to allow commercial use of images
Having solid paperwork protects you, ensures clients understand terms upfront, and looks professional. Seek samples if unsure where to start.
Many new photography business owners don’t realize just how much goes into funding a photography business. From gear purchases and upgrades, software, website hosting, insurance policies, advertising spend, continuing education, travel costs and more - expenses add up fast. Not properly estimating operating costs and budgeting leads to money struggles that threaten new businesses. Combat this by:
- Tracking every business expense for 2-3 months in a spreadsheet, then analyze spending to estimate annual totals in each category
- Researching local rates for liability insurance, benefits, taxes, rentals, etc. These vary based on location
- Including personal draw + payroll expenses if planning to hire staff
- Building an operating budget with 20% buffer for incidentals
While it’s tempting to want to photograph everything as a newbie - weddings, portraits, real estate, events - lacking focus spreads you too thin. Specializing early allows you to hone skills and processes while better marketing to ideal clients. Otherwise, inconsistent quality and confusion result. Choosing 1-2 specific niches you enjoy to start leads to success faster.
Poor Marketing & Branding
Many aspiring photography business owners invest minimally in branding, if at all. But poor logos, lackluster websites, little SEO, and no marketing plan causes struggles getting found and booked by clients in such a visual medium. Set yourself apart immediately by:
- Creating logo concepts & branding guidelines around a specific style niche
- Building a professional photography portfolio website optimized for conversions
- Producing consistent social media, blog and video content showcasing work
- Prioritizing Google My Business, reviews, SEO, local content, and Google Ads
No Client Management System
Efficient client management is challenging without using an integrated system for things like booking, contacts/email, contracts/forms, invoices, calendar, galleries, communication threads, and more in one dashboard. Piecing it together across separate apps becomes chaotic fast as you scale. Invest immediately in streamlined systems like Honeybook, 17Hats, or Dubsado.
Improper Pricing & Fees
Determining what to charge as a new photographer can seem confusing. While underpricing seems good for securing clients initially, you wind up working more for less pay. Overpricing leads to losses from lack of bookings. Set fees strategically based on:
- Local photography market rates (research competitors)
- Level of operating expenses
- What target clientele can reasonably afford
- Common industry price ranges based on deliverables
- Communicating the value you provide
Adjust as you progress in skills and demand. Use profit loss statements to track ideal rates.
No Product Sales Strategy
Photography sessions make up only part of potential revenue. You leave money on the table without a defined strategy for selling professional photo products like albums, wall art, personalized gifts, digital files packages, or prints. Build out a portfolio of profit-driving products, then create consistent offerings around the most popular items.
Unstructured Client Management
Disorganization early on around client relationships, projects, and requests risks repeat business and referrals. Adopt these professional policies to start:
- Follow up within 24 hours to inquiries
- Send email reminders on contracts, payments, appointments etc
- Deliver final galleries within set timeframe
- Automate follow up emails after sessions
- Ask for reviews immediately after each shoot
- Track details in CRM so no projects slip through cracks
No Long Term Goals & Planning
Getting overly focused on day-to-day photography projects prohibits growth. Carve out dedicated time to think bigger picture about 12-24 month goals for your brand, ideal future clientele, team expansion plans, financial and impact goals. Plot measurable quarterly checkpoints. Revisit and adjust regularly.
Overlooking Ongoing Education
Photography technology, equipment, software, styles, and trends constantly evolve. While foundations carry you somewhat, falling behind on continuing education prevents progress. Allot time and budget regularly to:
- Take established photographers’ online courses
- Attend conferences, workshops, seminars
- Assist & second shoot for other photographers
- Experiment often with new gear/tech/techniques
By being aware of these common new photography business pitfalls early on, you can instead set strategic foundations. Define your specialty and style, create an efficient workflow, track expenses diligently, package products and services for profit, automate and systematize processes, market consistently, stick to industry standards around pricing and policies, focus on a niche, and continue advancing your skills. In doing so, you position your photography business for faster growth and long term success.