This is a guest post by Hemant Naidu, an emerging photographer based in Saskatoon, Canada.
About six months ago I had a thought of entering the professional photography scene. Call me stupid, but that idea started to blossom into something more than just something in my head. The thought of shooting professionally has been a dream of mine for sometime, but I just never could get over that hump to make it a reality. Did I really want to run a business, something I didn’t really know much about despite having a business degree? And being thirty-five with a wife, a mortgage, two dogs, and a baby on the way, did it really make sense to think about starting a business?
After answering “yes” to those questions there was still a few other questions that kept running through my mind. The first was whether I was even good enough. I think this is a question that all photographers struggle with throughout their career and I’m pretty sure that it’s an impossible questions to ask. It wasn’t that I didn’t have confidence in my work, but I would always find myself trying to compare my shots to other photographers in the area. I had to make a conscious effort to stop doing this and to just trust that I was in fact “good enough”.
Is It Just A Job?
The second question that worried me slightly was whether I would lose my passion for photography if it became a job. Just because you love something as a hobby doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a going to be a good career fit for you. It took me a while to realize that if I let this fear stop me from giving it a try I may end up robbing myself of a career that I have dreamed about.
As much as I wanted to pursue a career in photography I did want to minimize my risk as much as possible. I currently work as an Agile Team Lead for a software development company which involves me managing a group of programmers. I enjoy the job greatly and welcome its challenges so keeping my day job for now is not a problem. The thing is that if I start to see a significant increase in my photography contracts I am going to become incredibly busy very fast. I often think about the logistics of managing a full time job, a part-time photography gig, and a family life.
The “2 Year Plan”
Despite all of these fears I decided to take the plunge, and got the ball rolling on setting up a small business. Who would have thought that after all of the complicated paperwork that would be the easy part? With the business now set up I had to devise a way to get my name out there. Even though Saskatoon, Canada isn’t a massive city it still has a fairly competitive photography industry with a huge range of talent. It was at this point that I really started to think about my “2 year plan” and how I was going to set myself apart from other photographers in the area.
It’s All About WOM
It seemed to make most sense for me to rely on word of mouth marketing. If I could leverage the people I already knew to get the word out I was sure that opportunities would start to materialize. I found the book “Word of Mouth Marketing” by Andy Sernovitz to be an invaluable source in planning a word of mouth marketing campaign. If I wanted people to talk about me I would need to give them interesting things to talk about, meaning that I needed something unique to set me apart from the rest of the crowd.
Something I noticed in my market was the relatively low use of social media outside of Facebook. Twitter is very popular in Saskatoon, but seems to have been adopted by only a small amount of the photographers. I was already an avid Twitter user from a personal perspective, but I thought it was important to also manage an account for my business. I put a lot of importance in using Twitter as a marketing tool and have been slowly creating a group of followers, while also trying to connect with local photographers, and some heavy hitters in the industry. Because my network is still relatively small, Twitter gives me a unique opportunity to reach far more people, in a shorter amount of time, and with much less effort than traditional networking.
I also see an opportunity to be one of the first photography studios in the area to take advantage of the convergence of photography and video with the new DSLRs. From what I can tell the fusion of these two formats is few and far between in my market. I understand that utilizing and producing quality video with these cameras is not trivial, but I am definitely up to the challenge. It is still breaking in here and I would love to be the one that leads the way.
Despite moving past my three main fears I mentioned earlier (or at least learning to cope with them) there is another topic that I continue to struggle with. I understand that there is a lot of discussion about so-called “Uncle Henry’s” and “weekend warriors” coming into the scene, undercutting professionals, and devaluing the profession. This is the last thing I want to do and I certainly do not want to be viewed this way by established pros in Saskatoon. My desire is to have them view me as a colleague as opposed to an enemy, and I am doing all that I can to ensure that I go about establishing my business in the proper manner.
I think like many new photographers in the industry finding a reasonable pricing strategy is a source for many headaches. I know it has been difficult for me, and has caused me to constantly evaluate and compare it to others. It’s hard to measure one’s skills and put a price on it, but it still needs to be done. I have found resources online such as goingpro2010.com and photofocus.com to be invaluable in helping me in this area. For now I am comfortable with my pricing structure based on what I see other new “responsible” photographers in the area charging. Despite this I can’t help but always have that idea in the back of my mind that someone out there is cursing me as that darned weekend warrior. All I can do ensure that I am putting out quality work and providing a pleasant experience for my clients. Hopefully that will speak for itself.
It has been about five months since Naidu Photography was officially registered as a legal business and I’ve spent the majority of my time networking, building and tweaking a concrete business plan, trying to facilitate a word of mouth marketing campaign, and getting my head around the accounting nuances that come with the territory. Sure I’ve had shoots which have been fabulous, but now I am really starting to see what I’ve heard so much about running a photography business – it’s twenty percent photography, and eighty percent business management. Fortunately this hasn’t stopped me from driving forward, but has only made me hungrier to get this business off of the ground and flying.
I welcome your comments below! Tell us what challenges you have faced when starting your business. What would you like to learn from other emerging professional photographers?