Exposed! :: Tips for Turning Photography into a Business ::

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My job has perhaps never been as challenging as the past two weeks.

Our new baby boy (now ten days old) decided to arrive two weeks early. Mum's water broke early Saturday morning -- 10 hours before I was to run a workshop. In the middle of the night I arranged back-up as I packed hospital bags and supported my wife's increasingly frequent contractions. It was a bit of a scramble and I couldn't call in sick!

I often have people tell me I have a dream job. It is pretty nice but there are many challenges people never see. Over the last 20 years I've made big blunders, had wonderful surprises and learned many, many hard lessons.

In this edition of Exposed! we share some tips to take your photos into a business with fewer bumps in the road.

Starting a business is like having a baby
Starting a business is like having a baby.

Jump in or move on

Nike says, "Just do it."

Yoda said, "Do or do not. There is no try."

It's good advice.

I've seen many people half-heartedly attempt a business. "I'll just see what happens." That's no way to succeed!

I worked with Malak Karsh, renowned landscape photographer, in the 90's and what I admired most was his drive. When Yousuf and Malak Karsh escaped to Canada from their native Armenia, they arrived with nothing but determination. They had no choice but to succeed. They had to. Their livelihood depended on it.

Running a business is hard. If you want to succeed, start the business as if there were no other option but success!

Make time

I don't have enough time (and something tells me baby is going to keep me even more busy) but I've learned to delegate, prioritize and collaborate to get ahead.

When the business started I worked 6am to midnight most days of the week. There was time to eat, shower and do groceries but most of my awake time was spent working. I didn't have a lot of a social life.

I did keep a very part time job for years and they kept asking me to work more. But I found the more time I invested the quicker the business grew. It made for lean years as I turned down extra work outside the core business. I learned to find ways to get more efficient. As the business continues to grow this is still one of my biggest challenges - finding the right people to help!

I also aim to do what I love and delegate the rest. Businesses fail because of what does NOT get done. I flounder and procrastinate around the tasks I dislike. So I aim to find people to relieve me of these tasks! Making the photos is fun but admin, marketing, distributing the work is often the tough part for creative people.

So, develop a network of people who love to do what you don't. They can help you succeed. And that leads us to the next point...

Collaborate and share

Combining forces with someone can create a stronger structure. My strengths and your strengths may cancel each other's shortcomings. It may create something greater for both of us than could be done separately.

Choose your collaborators well. They will either contribute to something better or deliver a step in the wrong direction.

Sometimes running a business is hard!
Sometimes running a business is hard!

Do something different

When I started photography all I wanted to do was shoot stock imagery. I spent the largest chunk of my time shooting and sending 'commercial art' to agencies who still market and license our imagery around the world. It was dreamy!

But the stock photo market changed, the web came along and digital cameras made the stock niche look deceptively easy. Supply of stock imagery increased while demand stayed steady. Prices plummetted. I eventually stopped producing for the market with tail between legs, feeling defeated. Too many people competing made my dream job unrealistic.

It took a while but I started rebuilding in photo markets where competition was much less fierce. Things got better! I still see new photographers chasing saturated photo markets bursting with people willing to undercut the industry into unsustainable oblivion.

If this is your dream job's playing field, STOP! Find or create an untapped niche and make it work! Do something different!

Challenge normal perceptions

Well-meaning friends or profit driven retailers may urge you to buy the latest gadget or follow the latest marketing trend to be successful. They may also suggest, "that's the way it's done."

Challenge the norm. Don't be swayed by the masses. Look for the next wave rather than trying to climb on the one that has just passed. Evaluate each decision for your situation. And separate wants from needs.

High tech gadgets can help your business but be ruthless evaluating their real benefit! I am not just talking products. Challenge the norm in processes, too."You NEED to market your business through Facebook, Twitter, and the world wide web."

Do you? For most people/businesses the web is likely a good idea but look for other ways to success. I know successful photographers with no significant web presence, Facebook or Twitter.

Challenge the norms and don't listen to the ads that tell you to keep up with the Jones's. Living simply while starting a business can free up cash flow that can help you reach your future goals. Pursuing success may mean new, different lifestyle choices that can help propel you on your road to prosperity.

Charge what you're worth

Set your prices at sustainable levels. That means researching the market, choosing a price point and educating your clients as to why you are worth it! Businesses that undercut prices either find ways to be uber efficient and sustainable or go out of business quickly.

You want to attract clients that are willing to pay a sustainable wage. You need to be efficient, competitive and earn a healthy living to stay in business.


Take stock of your life, desires, goals and current situation. Evaluate what you are willing to change to achieve your dream job. If you do decide to go for it pursue success with the tenacity of someone with no alternatives!

Pro Perspective

My path to the dream job was a long one.

There are few businesses that rocket to success overnight. The hardest part - harder than the photo skills, developing sales networks and the administrative silliness - is sticking with it to make your dream work.

Final Frame

I am quickly learning how babies work. I am also seeing parallels between new babies and new businesses -- they take all your time, energy and make you worry a lot! Both are worth it!

Take photos.

Have fun.