You love photography and want to photograph full time by launching a photography business. Maybe you are unemployed or wish to supplement your retirement income or simply wanting to earn money doing what you love.

For those with jobs you may not want to quit the day job until your business is launched and earning you an income and enough income allowing you can quit that day job. Maybe you are unemployed and if so you can get started right away but be careful if your financial resources are limited.

So how do you get started? I have compiled these ideas into the 12 most important steps I believe are crucial to finding success as a professional photographer in today’s markets.

1) What do you to specialize in as a photographer? Is anybody else specializing in the same area you plan or is everybody shooting what you plan to specialize in? Probably there is and while you should specialize in your areas of interest you need to also determine what markets will support you.

While I encourage EVERYBODY to pursue whatever photography specialty they are passionate about, they should at the same be examining if the markets will support them?

It is important to understand that the competition is fierce! While chances are you will have competition no matter your specialty or location, researching and understanding how your business will fit into the local market only strengthens your position upon startup. Again, follow your heart, follow your passion, and carefully evaluate what you plan to specialize in.

2) What is your product? Do you know just what you will do with your imagery to earn an income? Will it be stock photography, fine art prints, weddings, or a commercial studio? You may plan to market all the above but you have to know what you are selling to know who you will sell it to. All these markets are competitive and some are not so profitable.

3) How much competition exists in your area of interest? Determining this can be very easy if you plan to shoot what everybody else is shooting or very difficult to determine if you photograph in a unique niche. Evaluating competition can help you determine what you are up against, how to ‘package’ your products, and also find potential customers.

4) What or who is your market? Who will hire you to photograph their products, take portraits of their staff, shoot their wedding, or photograph their buildings? It’s called market research. If you were inventing a new product to make peoples lives easier, you must know that market and who the potential buyers will be. Photographers are notorious for shooting photos and then looking for someone to buy and that is not always a profitable approach.

5) Do you have the resources to start in this business? Are you planning to quit your job and start photography full time? If you are retiring and plan to start your photography business then you at least have one of the biggest hurdles taken care of and that is how you cover monthly living costs. If you don’t have those resources then consider accumulating enough casg to live at least a year with no income from your photography business.

6) Marketing. How do you plan to tell the world about your product or service? The answer is determined by what you are selling and where that market is. Before ‘opening your doors’ you should have a solid list of clients or at least target markets that use your type of imagery and be prepared to market aggtesively. Promoting the right product to the wrong clientele means a lost sale. And vice versa: the wrong product promoted to the right client can also mean no sale.

7) Your portfolio website must contain enough images to show depth, versatility, experience, and professionalism.  Buyers already have an infinite array of photographers they can work with. While always on the lookout for new talent doing it differently, photo buyers rarely have time and may not have interest in nurturing new talent. Your intro into the market must sell them on your abilities and your products and place you on the same level as those they already work with.

8 ) Business savvy. You are opening a business and it’s a business that sells photography and photo products so you should prepare and plan as any business person. Do you know how much to charge or what the market will bear for your niche products? Are your wedding packages worth $500 or $5000? Are you a good negotiator? Do you know what it takes to stay in business?

These points are crucial to your success. You must understand your cost of doing business, how much it costs you to live life as you wish, and how much is needed to continue creating more products. Then evaluate the going rates for products similar to yours and come up with a summary of how many products you need to break even and how many sales are required to grow your business.

9)  Broaden your horizons. I doubt there are many well established photographers who would deny the difficulty of today’s professional photography environment. While the optimists say the good times will return, the pessimists say they are over. Reality is probably somewhere in between.

However, since you are in the planning stages for your new business; assume the best and plan for the worst. In point number 3; What is Your Product or service: you should have made a list of what you plan to create and sell. While these products might be your wish list of what you hope to sell and live off the earnings, consider other options that will earn income.

For example, if you wish to shoot for magazines, create packages and pitch those to the editorial markets. You can learn to be a writer or team up with one and researching story ideas and querying magazines is one way to broaden your skill set. If you plan a studio, shoot the portraits, but look for product clients and corporate clients. Shooting portraits for a family is not much different than shooting portraits for a company.

10)  Business plan. Now that you have honestly answered the previous questions it’s time to develop a solid plan, a business plan that includes your answers to each of the above points. Plan these steps in a manageable way with goals that are realistically attainable.  Planning is crucial and these steps are just the beginning.

11)  Are you a good photographer? Aren’t we all? Are you ready to enter the market? Seek some good advice from someone qualified to offer it. Offer to pay for that advice. It might be the best money you ever spent. Seek a well known photographer and tell them you want good solid advice and are willing to pay for it. Not just a pay-for-a-good critique, but a critique that tells it like it is and offers some good guidance as well.

12) If you are new to photography and want to learn there are many places to study photography like this Commercial Photography Training Program. In today’s markets you should be qualified to photograph portraits, products, corporate locations, architecture, and pretty much anything a client might ask you to do.  It is so competitive that the more you can shoot the more you can be assured of a successful career.

There is nothing better, nor more satisfying than being a photographer. It is not a job, it is a lifestyle! Few do it for money. Most do it for love and the need to explore and create. If you are planning to do it for these or any reasons, just go do it, but make a plan, a really solid plan! It will take time and it will take a few years, so plan for the long haul.

Good Luck!

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