If you’ve been doing photography as a hobby for a while, learning and improving as you go, chances are you’ve already had a few paid gigs, or have at least been asked to do photos for someone in your life. If so, you may be starting to think about how to turn your photography hobby into a business. I’ve been doing photography as a hobby my entire life, but renewed my passion for it within the past 10 years, and am just beginning my fifth year in business as a portrait photographer. If you’ve been following my articles, you know that I also work full time outside of photography, so juggling both can sometimes be a challenge. In this article, I’m going to provide some insight on how you can make your photography hobby into a business that you love.
The first thing I want you to really think about is WHY you want to pursue photography as a business. Is it to help people, spend more time with your family, pursue your creative passions…? If you are clear with why you are doing photography as a business, it will help you make decisions when you find yourself in a bind. For example, if you want to pursue photography as a business to make extra money to take an annual vacation with your family, then that is your WHY. When faced with a decision on whether to take a photography job or spend an evening with your friends, knowing your WHY may make the decision easier. If your WHY is to spend more time with your family on the weekends when you’re all home, and you’re thinking about being a wedding photographer, you may have a conflict. I hope you can see how getting clear on WHY you’re in business will help you prioritize and make decisions in your business. This will be crucial in keeping photography as a business something you love versus hate.
Starting a business can be stressful, and the last thing you want to do is turn something you love as a hobby into something you hate when you make it a business. It is definitely possible to keep the love once you make photography your business, but you do have to be very intentional about it.
HOW TO KEEP THE LOVE
SPEND SOME OF YOUR PROFITS
What? Yes, you’re going to be working more, so having a plan to spend some of the profits will keep you motivated and enjoying the fruits of your labor. Whether it’s for a family vacation or some new gear you want to try, spending some of the money you earn will make you feel good and keep you motivated.
KEEP YOUR DAY JOB
When your hobby becomes the thing you need to do to put food on the table, things can get a little stressful. Be realistic about going full time as a photographer. You might just want to keep your business as a fun, part time thing, and not put pressure on yourself to go full time.
CHALLENGE YOURSELF WITH PERSONAL PROJECTS
Set aside time to learn new things and challenge yourself with personal passion projects. You might be doing family sessions on the weekends for a little extra cash, but if you have a passion for shooting hockey, for example, contact your local team and see if you could shoot their games. You might get the opportunity to become the “team photographer” if they don’t already someone established. Whatever your photography passion, make sure you take time to incorporate it into your life. Find the thing that fills you up and gives you energy, and do more of that!
COLLABORATE WITH OTHER CREATIVES
Spend time with other creative professionals. Collaborating on creative projects with others can breathe energy and life into your own business. If you’re a wedding photographer, this might mean collaborating with a group of wedding vendors on a styled shoot, or if you’re into theatre, you might consider working with a local theater group to recreate scenes from Grease or some other production for a themed shoot.
There a number of opportunities to connect with other creative professionals online, but it is also fun to connect in person once in a while. The Rising Tide Society’s Tuesdays Together meetups are a great example of this. Visit their website to find a Tuesdays Together meetup in your area.
The Improve Photography Retreat is another great opportunity to connect with other photographers in person. I attended the inaugural event in Phoenix last year, and cannot wait to visit Charleston in March. It’s a great opportunity to learn, shoot, and connect with other photographers.
LEARN TO SAY NO
Running a business can suck the life out of you if you let it, so don’t be afraid to say NO. This is where being clear with your WHY will come into play. Don’t be tempted to take a job just because of the paycheck. 9 times out of 10 it will bite you in the butt, and you’ll end up regretting it. Be intentional about your growth, and the work you say yes to. If you learn to say no, you’ll still have a business you love many years down the road.
Set up systems and workflows within your business that will allow you to spend time on the things you love the most, which is most likely time behind the camera. Things like marketing, editing, and bookkeeping can consume your days, so make sure you are using a client management system to be as efficient as possible, or outsourcing some of those tasks, if possible. My article comparing five photography client management systems can provide some guidance in this area.
SET GOALS AND STICK TO THEM
Set realistic goals for your business, and stick to the them. If you are working a full time job and you have a family, it isn’t feasible to think that you can take on 3 portrait clients a week, especially if you do your own retouching, bookkeeping, and social media marketing. Give considerable thought to how you are going to run your business before you just put yourself out there. If you don’t, you may find yourself curled up in a ball of stress because you can’t possibly get everything done that you’ve committed to.
You must create a work schedule for your business that is realistic with regard to the amount of non-shooting time your business will take. This is an extremely important factor in whether or not you continue to love photography after you’ve turned it into a business. Make sure you factor in family time, vacations, training, and other commitments when you develop your schedule. Your sanity will thank you!
KNOW YOUR COST OF DOING BUSINESS
One of the quickest ways to burn out in any small business venture is to work your tail off for little to no financial reward. Even though money may not be your motivator, you do need to be paid for the service and work you are providing. It will be much easier to continue to love photography once you’ve made it a business if you are seeing the results of your efforts in your bank account, your quality of life, or your ability to do things with and for your family. In my article on Photography Pricing, I walk you through the exercise of calculating your cost of doing business. If you haven’t done it yet, now is the time. Your continued love for photography depends on it.
I hope these tips on how to make your photography hobby into a business you love have given you some food for thought, and will help you keep perspective in your business. I want photography to be something you love for years to come, even when it becomes your business. If you’ve found yourself going down the rabbit hole of frustration and resentment with your business, step back and revisit your WHY – have you gone off course and need to find your way again? Did you fail to plan properly, and now it’s time to do the work? It’s ok to pivot in your business, but just make sure you’re doing it intentionally, and that the changes are in line with your why.
You know that saying, ‘If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life”? That’s what I want for you in your business. Let me know how you’re doing with this, and I would love to hear any other advice you have found to help you keep the love of photography in your business.
BONUS: In case you missed them, here are links to a few more articles you may find helpful as you turn your photography hobby into a business.
How to Know When to Start Your Photography Business by Kirk Bergman