If you consider yourself an artist, with the sole intent of getting hired to create beautiful imagery and hope that people are going to come knocking at your door to buy your images, congrats! You’ve failed as a photographer in 2015.
That’s the stone cold truth. If you don’t have someone to market or advertise you, your work or your business, no one is going to know who you are or what you do. Not a single person will buy what you have to offer. If you’re offended by that last sentence… That’s great. I have your attention.
As I’m writing this article, it’s around 2:00am on Sunday. The majority of my day (yesterday), I worked on miscellaneous projects ranging from photo editing, accounting, creating content for future projects, to future marketing campaigns, and I just finished the second last chapter of my new book – Photographing Men. Why should you care? Because while I’d rather be doing anything else than that, I’m busy staying ahead of you.
I say that because I don’t see photography as solely an art form. It’s a viable business that revolves around SELLING a service or product. Don’t believe me? Go try and buy a camera without a single dollar in your checking account. Go order a new lens while your credit card is maxed out. I’ll wait.
While money isn’t everything, it does afford you the opportunity to buy the equipment that you need or want to create the art that in your mind. That’s the plain and simple truth. And before you start saying, “Well _______, went to ________ on a non profit trip to _______ and he did it for free!” That’s great! Who flipped the bill on the plane flight? Who’s flipping the bill on their food and housing accommodations? The money is coming from somewhere. Someone is paying for that assignment.
Before we begin, I want to note that I’ve been a professional photographer 3.5 years. Before making that leap, I was a regional sales manager for a company who specialized in children’s education. My job revolved around selling educational services to school districts in NYC and training 25+ employees on how to sell those same services. My sales strategies made the company an eight figure income. My point is – I’m great at SALES. If that’s not you, then listen up.
If you’re truly interested in making this a career, here are 3 things that you need to change in order to make that happen:
1. YOU HAVE A 9-5 MENTALITY
You don't need to work 20 hour days, but if you have to choose between going to a bar with your friends and editing your client’s photos, don’t forget that the rest of us are going to choose business over pleasure – maybe not ALWAYS, but when it counts.
Before I became a photographer, I complained a lot about working 60 hour weeks at my corporate office because I wanted to spend more time doing the thing that I loved – photography.
My office job afforded me the opportunity to go to miscellaneous workshops and classes with the hope that some day, I would be able to quit my full time job and shoot full time. For about a year, it seemed unobtainable. There was no way, I would be able to make my salary as an artist.
It wasn’t until I met a successful young woman, by the name of Lindsay Adler, who worked an ungodly number of hours as a professional photographer. There were times that she would sleep 3-4 hours per night to finish projects and assignments, while still working on writing her third book. The ONLY people I knew with her work ethic were never “creatives,” they were ALWAYS entrepreneurs.
Meeting this young woman, allowed me to meet other “creatives” who shared her work ethic: Scott Kelby, Joel Grimes, etc. Each of these creatives shared the same work ethic any entrepreneur I’d met had. They were willing to put in long hours in order to reap the rewards. By doing the thing that they loved, it didn’t feel like work and they were more inclined to spend more time doing it.
2. YOU CANNOT CUT YOUR EXPENSES
You need to cut all unnecessary expenses you have.
Before we begin, let’s establish that I’m single (according to the IRS) and I do not have children (unless you count an Olde English Bulldog). If you do have children, the content in this section still pertains to you, but could be harder to manage.
Before I was a photographer, I LOVED cars. Not just loved – I owned 3 of them and a Harley. I had a monthly payment on two of those vehicles and they were all insured. I was 24, living in NYC. If you only knew what my insurance payments looked like. And If you read that again… I lived in NYC – You don’t NEED a car in NYC. So I sold them all… Minus the Harley.
The point is, you need to cut unnecessary expenses in your life. If you have a $100 gym monthly membership that you don’t use, an $8 Netflix account you don’t use and you’re downloading premium content to install onto the games you’ve download on your iPhone, you’re spending money needlessly. That money should be reinvested into your business.
I make this analogy all the time – if you had a $20 box of candy and you sold it for a $20 profit, don’t spend all $20 on yourself. Take $10, put it into your pocket and reinvest in another $10. If you’re a real risk taker and feel like it, take that extra $20 and buy two boxes. If you’re able to sell them at the exact same profit, you’re making money.
The analogy is used to represent bills. If you have to keep the $20 to pay your bills, you’re not growing your business… You need to start being wiser with your money.
The way you that you market yourself and your business will directly impact your income. I’ve met too many photographers who made a decent living in the late 90s and early 2000s, who are quick to say things like “I remember ______ used to pay me $X0,000.0 per day for the smallest of assignments.” That’s great! What did you do with it all? Don’t be THAT photographer.
3. YOU REFUSE TO LOOK AT IT LIKE A BUSINESS
As a “Professional Photographer,” your business revolves around selling photographs in SOME form, be it digital or physical print. You’re selling a product or service. It’s a business.
Don’t misunderstand what I’m trying to say - The quality of your product does matter, but it should not be the sole thing that you focus on. You need to constantly spend time evolving your business to grow with the times, in marketing, branding and your style of photography.
In my time working in the fashion industry, I’ve met my fair of photographers, stylists, hair stylists, etc. who all refuse to change with the times. Do you know what happens to those people? They become relics of the past. They don’t know how to adapt and grow with modern times and they’re forced to do another things aside from photography to earn a living.
This has been the most IMPORTANT Lesson that I've learned as a photographer.
The point of this article is that you need to start focusing on learning how to run a business if you want to make it as a photographer in 2015/2016. Despite what you’ve heard about “overnight successful” photographers, the probability that you’ll replicate their success is slim to none. Heck, for those of you looking for an agent, but don’t have a list of your own clients already or at least a decent social following - good luck.
Focus on running your photography business as you would any other business. That’s the way to success in 2015. It’s the photographers who are willing to work their behinds off and see it as entrepreneurs that will succeed.