You guys ask the most brilliant questions. I was sitting here pondering what business topic to write about this morning and voila someone clicked the “Ask A Photography Question” link on the website and left me a great question. Since the answer to their question is pretty lengthy I think a blog is the best way to do it.
“Hi Carrie, I just had a few quick questions. I love your photography. You are AWESOME! How did you first fund your business into getting the equipment that you needed? How did you market your photography and advertise to people on a low budget? Thanks.”
Initially I started out with a cheap camera and kit lenses. I think the set put me out about $600 and my husband bought it for me using a tax return. That’s what I used as I practiced and took photos of my friends for free. Then at some point I had the opportunity to photograph for a newborn company and needed to upgrade my equipment in order to work for them. There was no doubt about it, I couldn’t afford to run out and buy a Canon 5D Mark ii and really awesome lenses. At the time I also didn’t know what really awesome lenses were either.
Because it was money I didn’t have I needed to sit down and really think about if this was something I wanted to give a try. If I got a loan or used money I didn’t have to start a business I would be paying it back for some time. Is that a consequence I want to deal with if I’m not good at this? At the end of the day it comes down to a risk. I knew my starter equipment wouldn’t be good enough and that a good business would need an investment at some point no matter what I did. Not everyone is willing to take that risk, but that’s what I ended up choosing and it was the right choice for me. It’s not the right choice for everyone.
By taking that risk and getting a business loan to start out I took the fate of the business in my own hands. If anything knowing I would be paying for this for a long time meant that I needed to take what I did very seriously and work hard at it. So, that’s what I did.
As far as marketing on a low budget I spent time going to wedding professional marketing conferences. There were some free ones in my area and I jumped at the opportunity to learn everything I could. I read books, I researched marketing online and figured out what my opportunities were. I made a list of options. Being a wedding photographer I could market on craigslist, wedding websites like the knot.com, bridal magazines or bridal shows. There were other options, but these seemed to be the big ones. With everything I learned about marketing I knew I needed to do only one thing and that was meet potential customers face-to-face. That’s been my marketing philosophy ever since and it worked well for me. I only spent money marketing if it meant I could meet people in person. I never spend money on magazines, websites or anything else. My marketing consists of two things – bridal shows and Facebook.
Bridal shows are a huge investment for wedding marketing. The first one I did wasn’t the most fancy booth ever, but I paid a lot of money for it and I figured if I booked even 1 wedding I made the money back plus a profit. Luckily for me I booked more than 10 from that first show. After booking clients through bridal shows, photographing them, I tag them on Facebook and get referrals. Using these two techniques have been an amazing success for me and have built my business more quickly than I could have ever imagined.
My business has a theme of risks. Opening or starting any business is a risk and I feel that you always are going to have to make the decision on how much to spend or invest in equipment and marketing and if it’s going to be worth it if you fail. You have to think about the worst possible consequence of that investment and decide if you will take the risk. The worst possible consequence of booking a bridal show with little to no experience and putting myself out there is that I wasted a bunch of money and don’t book anything. Even if that happened I knew I would still learn something and might try again.
As far as equipment goes I’m a firm believer that you can create beautiful images with any camera, even an iPhone. However, I also believe that if you are going to offer a paid service to customers you want to ensure you have equipment that doesn’t limit your abilities either. My first DSLR was very limited, and when I upgraded to my first pro camera it was still limiting before I finally upgraded to my Mark ii. While having the best equipment in the world isn’t the most important thing, for me having good quality pro equipment allows me to feel confident in the fact that I know I can work under any light conditions and still create good work. I don’t want to have to worry about if my camera can ‘handle’ any situation and have trouble editing photos later because my ISO didn’t work well enough. I t think the money I’ve spent upgrading cameras using my business loan has been worthwhile and a good investment in my business. I got to a point with my second camera that I knew I could only do so much without having more capabilities to it and that meant my services to my clients were also limited in that aspect. If you feel your camera is limited you because the ISO is too grainy or the cropped frame doesn’t allow for the types of compositions you want then you’ll want to consider an upgrade so you don’t feel limited to those certain things.
I hope that answers your question (whoever you are) and gives everyone a look into the risks that go hand-in-hand with starting a business. At some point everyone starting a photography business will get to a point where they question how to keep going with the equipment and limitations they have to their budget and you’ll have to make some hard decisions. Just know that whatever way you chose to go is fine. Not everyone is going to take the financial risks I have and that’s okay. The way I’ve set up my business is only one way of many ways you can chose and I’m sure each photographer would answer this question very differently.
There are lots of great business tools in The Shop that can help you decide your business’ path, budget, marketing, and goals. The Starting a Business Set and specifically the Creating a Business Plan guide will help you figure out the path that’s right for you.
If you have a question you would like to be answered on the blog please submit it!