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HOW I RUN MY BUSINESS - Start a Photography Business with No Start-Up Money Part 1

Two years ago, I began a family photography business. I didn't have a large chunk of money to invest in the business. In fact, I started the business as a way to supplement my income as a high school English teacher.

Dipping into my savings account or asking relatives for extra cash wasn't an option for my new venture. But I found a way to make it work. Now I have a solid client list in two states (I recently moved to Ohio from Maryland), I've expanded to senior portraits, weddings, and corporate head shots, and I did it all on a shoestring budget.

Over the course of this articles, I'll detail the inexpensive ways I got my business up and running.





A Few Assumptions

Before I continue, I'll say again that this article is written from the perspective of someone who began a family photography business. While much of this will apply to all types of photography, keep in mind my perspective is as someone starting in family photography.

Before you begin your photography business, you should have experience in either Lightroom or Photoshop, the two programs generally thought of as the standard for photo editing these days. In fact, I would say that you should prioritize your comfort with Lightroom due to its ability to organize photos and edit batches of photos rather than one at a time, as is the case with Photoshop.
You should also have one decent lens beyond your kit lens. I began my photography business with a Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens. I used it on a Canon T3i body, so the lens functioned much like an 85mm lens. You don't necessarily need a 50mm to start, but you should have one lens that has a wide aperture, either a constant f/2.8 zoom or a prime with a sub-f/2 aperture. Not only will that wide aperture give you that “professional” look of blurred background bokeh, but chances are you'll have better overall image quality than your standard kit lens. You don't need thousands of dollars worth of glass–like I said, I started with just a 50mm lens. But you do need something better than your kit lens.
Lastly, before you begin your business, you should know your camera inside and out. You should know how to use Aperture priority, Shutter priority, and Manual modes. You should be able to change the exposure triangle settings without taking your eye away from the viewfinder. That means you should be able to use the exposure meter in the viewfinder to adjust your exposure. Yes, you can peek at the screen to see what your images look like, but you shouldn't have to look at the screen or the body to see how you're changing the settings.

Of course, any good photographer will tell you that you need to know light and composition, but all of that will come with time and practice. You can begin a basic family portrait business without the best grasp of light and composition. I did. Everyone has to start somewhere. And there's nothing like paying clients to force you to improve.

With the assumption of photo-editing software and decent gear out of the way, let's begin our start-up costs at $0.00US.

Google Apps

I use the Google applications suite to do most of my client database work. I use Google Docs to save template emails. I use Google Spreadsheets to keep track of client information and track my client workflow.
When it comes to Google Docs, I have the following saved documents that I refer to or use over and over again:
– Pre-written email for “get to know you” questions
– Pre-written email for important information and tips/tricks for the session
– Pre-written email for session preview photos
– Pre-written email for final gallery delivery
– Template for session contracts

I also have the following documents for record keeping and reference:
– Any pricing specials or unique offers I've made in the last two years
– Pricing history since I began
– Blog drafting
When it comes to Google Spreadsheets, I have several databases to help keep track of client data and my session workflow.
The first important spreadsheet I have is my “job list,” which includes the following information in columns in this order:
– Date and time of session
– Client name
– Client email
– Client family information (names and ages of family members)
– Location of session
– Type of session package
– Session fee
I “freeze” the first two columns and the first row so that I always see the column titles as well as the date and time of each session as well as the client name. (To freeze rows and columns, you click “View,” then “Freeze,” then choose what you want to freeze.)
Here's the first part of my job list spreadsheet.

Here's the first part of my job list spreadsheet.
On the same sheet, I then have a series of drop-down menus to keep track of whether or not I have completed the following steps in my client process. Each of the following get a Yes, No, or N/A designation:
– “Getting Started” email (I ask “get to know you” questions early in the process)
– Invoice sent
– Contract sent
– Invoice paid
– Contract signed
– Check-in email (I send an email about a week before the session, checking in and giving some reminders from earlier emails)
– Preview photos sent
– Full gallery sent
– Prints delivered
– Blog post written

I also use conditional formatting to color-code some of this spreadsheet. For the list directly above, “Yes” is colored green, “No” is colored red, and N/A remains white. 

I also color code my session fees. This year, I colored green any session $200US and above, while any session below $200US was colored red. That way, I could simply glance at that column and see whether or not I had more green or more red. (I want more green, obviously!)

I create a new job list sheet for each calendar year.
Here's the second part of my job list spreadsheet that helps me track my client workflow.

Here's the second part of my job list spreadsheet that helps me track my client workflow.
I have a separate spreadsheet for accounting purposes. My accounting spreadsheet has three different sheets: 
1. Business checking account, 
2. Business credit card, 
3. Car mileage. 

The first two sheets are just my way of double-checking what I see in my online banking software. I can also provide more detail about each line item (i. e., what was purchased, who was involved, etc.) 

The third sheet is how I track the mileage on my car in relation to my business. Whether I run to the photo store or drive to Maryland from Ohio, if it's related to the business, it's mileage that I track for a tax deduction.

I also use Google Forms for a simple, three-question survey that I send to clients when I deliver their photo galleries. The responses are tracked in a separate spreadsheet.
Google apps are free, so start-up costs at this point are still $0.00US

 To be continued...

Be safe, be classy, be an artist.

XOXO Catie

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