A surprising number of photographers never write a photography business plan when embarking on their careers as freelancers.
A business plan outlines your business-related goals and how you intend to achieve them. It helps you define the operational structure of your business, who you will market to, and how.
It also gives you a comprehensive understanding of the financial commitments and expenditures that will be required. Essentially, a business plan is a road map to success.
There are many ways to write one. Unless you’re borrowing money from a bank or have an investor, there is no need to have a very formal business plan.
However, the more you integrate the various components of a traditional business plan, the more specific you can be about your goals and are more likely to achieve them.
When writing your photography business plan, here are the sections that I recommend you outline in great detail. Each section should be about 1-3 pages long.
The Components of a Photography Business Plan
The Executive Summary is where you define your photography business. What will be the legal structure of your business? Will you be operating as a sole proprietor or an LLC?
This is where you describe your chosen niche or niches, whether you will have a home-based photography studio or a rental, and the equipment you will need to execute your shoots.
The Executive Summary is an overview of your business and lays out how your business will meet the needs to your target clients. It’s helpful to write out a mission statement for your photography business, as well as tangible objectives and the keys to success.
Product and Service Description
In this section you will create a detailed, comprehensive description of your services and products. What is the focus of your business and where are you at currently in terms of developing your business?
For example, when I wrote my first business plan a few years ago, I determined that not only would I shoot editorial and commercial food photography projects, I would also mentor and coach food bloggers and photography enthusiasts one-to-one and in group workshops.
As I refined my goals, I added blogging and writing about photography to my product and service description.
For the type of photography I do, I deliver files online. However, if you’re a portrait or wedding photographer offering prints or albums, this would be a part of your product description.
Start with some research about the photographic industry in general, as well as in your area. This will help you narrow down your target market and start forecasting your costs.
Who are you going to serve? Come up with some examples of your ideal clients and find out as much as you can about them so you can market to the right people. At this point, it’s helpful to create a client profile or avatar so you can really understand your potential audience.
Before I wrote my food photography business plan, I thought everyone was my client. Food is such a wide niche. I reasoned I could shoot for restaurants, food packagers, marketing and advertising agencies, book and magazine publishers, small businesses and stock agencies.
This type of thinking is not helpful. You need to narrow things down if you want to be successful in your photography business.
I soon realized that my target market was composed of high-end restaurants, marketing agencies, and book publishers. This is where I still focus my marketing efforts.
When researching your target market, also research the size of the market, the present status of the market, and any trends for the future. Ask yourself if this market is accessible, affordable, and achievable.
For example, if I had focused all of my attention on going after high-end restaurants, I wouldn’t have gotten my business off the ground. There are not enough in my area to keep me busy, nor does restaurant photography pay as well as commercial photography.
Therefore, I had to include other kinds of food photography clients in my target market.
You should find out who your main competitors are in your target market and demographic area. Research them and determine how your services will compete and differ from them.
It can be difficult to pinpoint, but there is something unique about you that will set you apart from your competition. You need to determine what that is. This will affect your branding and how you market your business.
As a word of caution, never differentiate yourself on price. Photographers need to focus on the intangible values they bring to the table and how they can best serve their audience. You can’t do this by leading with price.
Trust me–you don’t want to be known as the “the cheap photographer”.
Key Marketing Strategies
Once you have worked out who you will market to, you need to come up with some strategies. What activities will you undertake to get your name out there?
As a commercial food photographer, I regularly send a PDF of my recent work to advertising agencies and publishers who publish cookbooks.
If you’re a commercial photographer, you may want to include external promotion in your marketing plan.
Many successful commercial photographers are no longer represented by agents who charge hefty commission rates.
Instead, they pay to be included in high-profile directories. And they sign up with production service companies that promote their work and connect them with clients who are looking for a certain aesthetic.
These companies help ad agencies, brands and publications to produce photo shoots and provide photographers with marketing support.
If you’re a wedding photographer, you may want to connect with bridal boutiques and hair salons who might be interested in cross referring business. If you do architectural photography, network with real estate agents.
In this section you can break down where you will be operating your business in more detail.
Many portrait and product photographers have home-based studios. If you’re a commercial photographer and will have clients and creative directors visiting your set, you will need to rent a studio for your shoots.
Depending on what kind of photography you do, you might not need to rent a studio on a monthly basis.
As a food photographer, I often shoot on location at restaurants. When I do commercial and packaging work, I rent a local studio for the day.
I am not shooting jobs as often as a portrait photographer might, as my work includes a lot of project management and post-production. There is no point in my spending thousands of dollars on a studio space every month. That would absorb a lot of my profit.
I actually spend most of my time at home, behind a computer.
Think about your niche and where you will be shooting most of the time. Maybe you’re a real estate photographer and will spend a lot of time in your car, driving from house to house. Or you’re a natural light photographer specialising in outdoor family portraiture.
Completing this part of your photography business plan is where you will focus a lot of your energy. You should spend considerable time determining what equipment you will need and how much money you will need to spend to purchase it.
If you have been a hobbyist or are semi-professional, presumably you have a lot of the basic gear you need to get started.
Most likely, you will need to spend quite a bit more in this area in your first year of business. For one thing, when you are shooting professionally, you need to have two of everything in case of technical difficulties and equipment malfunctions.
Not only do you need at least two batteries, two memory cards, tethering cords, lights, etc, you need two cameras.
I once assisted on a shoot where the photographer’s camera suddenly stopped working for no explicable reason. Luckily he had a couple of backups. He would have been in big trouble with the client and a whole team of people waiting on him and no functioning camera!
When doing your financials, try to project what your expenses and income will be for your first three years of business.
You will have to invest in gear over time and also maintain that gear. In addition, you will also have to pay for editing and accounting software, office supplies, computer hardware, marketing materials and support, and a variety of other expenses.
Perhaps you will need an assistant on your shoots. How much will you pay them?
All of this needs to be considered.
How much money will you need to get started and survive until a positive cash flow is reached? Where will the money come from?
Finally, set up your pricing structure, depending on the type of photography you do.
If you shoot portraits, you may want to offer packages. If you’re a commercial photographer, you may opt to have a day rate and charge for image usage.
Initially, your pricing structure will require flexibility so that you can build up your client list, but be sure not to start too low because it’s very difficult to raise your prices significantly once you are more established.
This component of your photography business plan will take some analysis on your part.
SWOT stands for strengths-weaknesses-opportunities-threats.
When you compared yourself to the competition, you thought of what made you unique and different. Most likely, you came up with several strengths.
You may also have advantages that you can make work for you.
When I first started my business I got a lot of work through a relative who owned a branding agency. The work was not related to my niche, but it gave me the experience of leading professional shoots. And I was able to start earning money right away.
Another strength that I identified was that I had hundreds of images to license through stock agencies from years of practicing my food photography. I was able to start earning passive income in my business with very little extra work.
Think of what gives you an advantage in your business right now.
Your weaknesses are areas for improvement. Perhaps areas where you need to build up your skills. A weakness can be a lack of experience or technical knowledge required to work with a certain level of clientele.
It is important to be aware of this so you can make these weaknesses a part of your goal setting and make strides to improve in the future.
Opportunities mean chances for developing your photography business. Are there trends you might take advantage of, such as changes in technology or social factors?
Threats can be defined as the challenges that can undermine your business or be serious obstacles on your path.
Maybe most of your competitors are already established in their businesses, with their own studios and twenty years of experience under their belts, as was my case.
Maybe your main obstacles are rapidly changing trends and a lot of competition. Or the constant need to update your technology, which can be very costly.
Do a Timeline
I strongly suggest writing a timeline for your business. The key to knowing which challenges are next for your business is to map them out in a timeline and add it it to your action plan. It helps to do a rough timeline on a monthly basis and then refine it as time passes.
A timeline is a management tool that you can use to hold yourself accountable for your actions, and modify it as required. Your timeline can consist of marketing and financial activities, legal matters, and operational activities.
You don’t need to get complicated. You can simply write down a task you need to complete and the date you aim to complete it by.
Start by writing a timeline for the first three months of your business.
Here is a sample timeline:
Preparation and goal setting are key to success in any business. A plan for your photography business can be the difference between a wildly successful business and one that languishes into obscurity.
Start today by working on your photography business plan.
If you can set aside 30 to 60 minutes a day to do so, you’ll finish before you know it. And then you’ll be far ahead of most photographers, who have no plan whatsoever!