Practical thoughts, tips, and ideas on starting your own photography business:

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Dear friend,

A lot of us are stuck in the rat race of corporate, modern life. I think the first step to gaining freedom in our life (according to Diogenes, the most desirable human good), we must start our own business and entrepreneurial venture.


Whether we like it or hate it, we all live in a capitalist society. Rather than trying to overthrow the system (fight club), I think it’s better to figure out how to game the system; almost like hacking the Matrix to our own benefit.

In today’s world, if you’re self-employed and have enough money to pay for your rent, food, coffee, and wifi, you’re set. As I write these lines I’m in Dalat, Vietnam, where I can rent a good room for only $200 a month, and have phenomenal single origin espresso for only $1 a shot (La Viet Coffee House).

Anyways more or less, I have total freedom. Freedom with my time, schedule, and what to occupy my attention and human metabolism/brain on.

It’s amazing and I feel everyone should have this privilege. And also once I became self-employed and no longer had to worry about money, responding to my boss, or worry about getting laid off, I started to thrive. I started to (spontaneously) write poetry, make beats, and innovate in my photographic approach. I took bigger risks in life, created more stuff (like digital products, pdf books, print books), and I feel like I’m on a whole ‘nother level.

I feel like I’m living life to the fullest, and I want to share this empowerment with you.


Memento mori. Do you want to still be working at your company until you retire or die?

I actually think the biggest problem of being employed by someone else is this:

You become more timid, more domesticated, and concern yourself more with the opinions of others to judge your own self-esteem.

For example, when I worked my first corporate job out of college, this is what I hated:

  1. Not being rewarded by my performance: I could finish all my work in 4 hours, yet when I was done, rather than being rewarded, I was just given more ‘busy work’. To me this was bullshit.
  2. Not being able to go hone when I wanted to: I like some things about office life; playing ping-pong with my coworkers and friends, having free snacks in the kitchen, randomly bumping into coworkers and chatting, and that kind of social stuff. But when I was done with my work and no longer wanted to stay in the office, I felt like a prisoner. I wasn’t allowed to go home until I put in my 8 hours of daily work, which meant killing time on Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, etc. Now that I’m self-employed, I can work wherever I want, whenever I want (ironically enough I work more now, but it’s only on stuff I’m passionate about)

Work freedom

When in Vietnam I try to explain what I do to strangers, I use the phrase: “Làm việc tự do” which means (work freedom). It essentially means I’m self-employed.

Yet the funny thing with this phrase is this:

Freedom is the emphasis.

I think freedom is what we all desire. Freedom to own ourselves, our own schedule, time, etc. Many of us think we want more money, but in fact, the money is a tool to obtaining freedom. The final goal is freedom, and to have the time and energy to pursue your own creative passions, not to be stuck in a cave with a dragon and a pool full of gold coins (Scrooge Mcduck style).

In today’s world which is run by images, pictures, photos, and videos, I feel there are so many opportunities for you to start your own photography business! Some ideas:

  1. Do both photo and video: The future is more video content. If you are a wedding photographer and can do both wedding photos and video, you’re gonna make extra bucks.
  2. Get into photography education: Nowadays everyone is a photographer, and this is a good thing! This means more photographers who are hungry to learn how to make better photos! You can teach your own photography workshops, arrange photography travel tours, etc.
  3. Create and sell photography products: Cindy and I started HAPTIC INDUSTRIES, and we make creative tools and products for photographers and visual artists. Our sales from our products have been enough to allow us to make a living from our passion in photography and art.

Do I need a business plan?

You don’t need a business plan to start your own photography business. You just need to take a “tinkering” approach, and figure it out as you go.

For example when I started this blog in 2010, I just made it for fun, and as a passion project; to share the lessons I was learning in street photography. I seriously didn’t have any plans on trying to make photography my living (I didn’t think it was possible / practical).

Yet after a year of being employed at my old company, I got made redundant. I then thought,

I wonder if I could make a living from this street photography/blog thing?

And 8 years later, I’m still here.

I’ve been figuring it out as I go. I’m sure I’m going to keep evolving until I die. Whenever I thought I had “the answer”, the answer kept changing (because I was constantly changing and in a state of flux).

I just learned from trial and error (bricolage styled tinkering).

Ignore any MBA or business major who tells you that you need a “business plan”.

Instead of a business plan, my simple approach is this:

Calculate what your monthly expenses are, and think of ways you can make money through your photography which can cover those monthly expenses.

And better yet, figure out ways to LOWER your monthly expenses and cost of living.

Remember, the point isn’t for you to become a millionaire or billionaire through your photography. The point is to first cover your rent and expenses, and gain FREEDOM!


Build your own (real) website

Leading lines, steet photography. Subway, station, Kyoto, uji

In today’s digital economy, I recommend everyone to start their own website (1and1.com or bluehost.com) and install WordPress.org

Avoid squarespace, don’t get suckered into just building an Instagram following or Facebook page.

You must own your own platform, or else you’re going to become a “digital share cropper” (remember when black slaves were tricked into thinking they actually “owned” the land they were toiling and tilling)?

With WordPress.org (open source platform) you can easily integrate digital payments (woocommerce plugin, or PayPal), you can customize your theme (I recommend Genesis theme), and you are indexed by Google (read my article on Google SEO and how to become #1 in your own category).

Treat your website like your own platform, headquarters, and home. Instagram right now is all the rage, but don’t you remember how popular MySpace used to be? Live journal? Xanga? Facebook? Flickr?

Anyways, on your own website (which is also a blog), you own it. Isn’t that amazing? A lot of us seek to one day own our own homes, instead of renting. Owning our own website is like owning our own home, instead of “renting” the space from Instagram or Facebook (remember, Facebook owns Instagram).

In your website put your portfolio, your about page, and contact email information. Also build up your own blog as a form or “content marketing“; you build trust with your audience/potential customers by humanizing yourself and “proving your worth” through the quality of your work.


Start local

A very practical tip: when you’re starting off your photography business, start local. Ask friends, family, and coworkers for referrals. Recognize you can start your own photography on the side (side hustle) while you still have your full time job!

Get a few potential clients, and offer a 100% money back guarantee. This will give you more “skin in the game”, and encourage you to hustle more to win their admiration and business.


When do I know once I have a “business”?

Once you get your first paying client, you’re in business!

For transactions, I recommend using PayPal to send invoices and receive payments. I generally discourage cash transactions, because accounting later on for taxes will be harder, and also with cash there’s no “paper trail”, which can cause future headaches.

I don’t think you need to make a full-time living from your photography before you can acknowledge that you have a “photography business”.

When you get your first paying client, screenshot the transaction, and print it out and stick it on your wall. Never forget this momentous moment!!!


Pave your own path

There’s no right or wrong path in photography entrepreneurship. Just think of everything in this article as tips, guidance, or information that might or might not help you.

Ultimately my final tip is this:

Take “calculated risks” when starting your own business. Know what your maximum possible downside is, and ask yourself:

Is my worst possible downside really that bad?

Then,

How can I pursue my photographic business without going broke or bankrupt?

After that, your photography business is all upside!

BE BRAZEN,
ERIC


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