When you envision a day in the life of a photographer-turned-entrepreneur, what do you see? A studio filled with all the equipment you need, carefully planned shoots with pleasant clients, and a steady stream of revenue while doing the work you love?
In reality, running a photography business of this sort rarely goes down so smoothly. Clients aren’t all uniformly ideal. They can be demanding. They might require you to shoot under difficult conditions or go on location with only the gear you can pack. Sometimes your schedule will be overbooked, at other times you’ll be scraping to fill vacancies.
All these little headaches add up. It’s easy to get caught up in the hassle of making sure your business is profitable. This leaves you feeling less like a photographer and more like an entrepreneur who happens to be surrounded by camera gear. You might start to question if the venture is really worthwhile.
A gig in disguise
This scenario might sound familiar if you’ve ever worked as a gig-based photographer. And that’s because it still resembles a freelancer’s model of operations.
A freelance photographer can drive up the price of their services through some combination of skill, experience, and added value. Maybe you’ve made a name for yourself and earned referrals through previous clients.
Being able to charge more per project will help you make a living off your passion. But it still limits your overall earning potential. You can only earn money in proportion to the time you spend working.
Every client you take on will leave you with less time and flexibility. Squeeze too many jobs into your schedule and you get stressed juggling them all. Raise your rates too high and you price out many clients, probably missing out on revenue sources.
Find a system that works
You need to stop making a direct exchange of your time for a client’s money. If you truly want to be an entrepreneur, you have to embrace your core job: finding a business model that not only works but also scales.
Businesses, unlike employees or contractors, can earn money all the time. Even without your personal involvement, the right business model can scale and bring in revenue.
One way in which photographers can scale their business is to hire more people to execute various functions. Instead of obsessing about your social media feed or copying what other photographers are posting, you pay a web developer to build and maintain your professional site.
More importantly, though, this sort of delegation must include the actual task of shooting. You can’t sustain hands-on involvement in every shoot, because it means that every client is a time commitment on your part. It will cap your ability to take on more clients and earn more money.
There are a few problems with focusing on the entrepreneur’s side of the equation. Although it’s going to bring in more income while freeing up your time, it also takes you further away from real photography work. And that passion was presumably a major reason for getting into this sort of business in the first place.
Another concern is capital. Hiring more people requires more funding. A small photography business can run into cash flow issues. If you’re bootstrapping, it might be a while before you can even afford to start delegating work to assistants.
Finally, the quality of output can become an issue when you let assistants handle the shooting work. They can be competent, but are they able to achieve the exact same shot you would’ve created? You might end up putting off clients who seek you out based on your reputation and vision.
Putting it all together
The ideal photography business model would combine the best of both worlds. It would give you the ability to take in clients and make money without locking up your schedule. And it would still allow you to work as a hands-on photographer.
This can be difficult to achieve, but it’s not impossible. You need to be more creative and explore all the possible income streams from photography. Doing shoots for a client is only one option.
You could try to sell user rights to your photos, for instance. Adding a clause into your contract would allow you to license them as stock or sell them for editorial purposes. Or you could print images onto merchandise, increasing the potential revenue from each client.
As you build your experience and reputation, you can also sell courses or books that teach aspiring photographers or entrepreneurs. And you might be able to eventually make money by selling fine art prints. Some combination of these added revenue streams, along with hiring more employees as your business grows, will enable you to run a successful business based on your photography passion.