It seems that the idea behind the ‘micro-business’ and photography go hand in hand. Almost half of the UK’s photography businesses consist of sole traders or freelance photographers and more than 90% of businesses comprise between 1 and 5 people.
It’s easy to see the attraction of going it alone as start-up and operating costs are relatively low, there’s the possibility of running your business alongside other work while you find your feet and, of course, you have the opportunity of getting paid for doing something you love.
You know what makes a great picture, but do you know what it takes to get set up as a self-employed photographer? This guide aims to help you find out.
Before you set up: things to think about…
Polishing your credentials
The official estimate of around 49,000 people in the UK who work in the photographic imaging industry doesn’t tell the whole story. On top of this, there are many ‘enthusiastic amateurs’, and semi-professionals all vying for jobs. The work is out there, but with lots of photographers chasing it, this work is unlikely to fall into your lap automatically.
Studying to get ahead
Good amateur photographers making the move into paid roles are faced with a problem. They may have an awesome portfolio, but it isn’t a portfolio of paid work. Consider improving your formal credentials to help land those crucial first jobs. For some this could mean aiming towards completing a Level 2 or 3 Certificate/ Diploma in photography. If you have the certificates already, but you are a little bewildered by the latest edition of Photoshop Lightroom, a catch-up course on digital photography may be useful.
For everyone making the leap into professional work membership of the British Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP) and/or Association of Photographers is worth considering. This is especially if you are thinking of specialising in commercial work.
Choosing a specialism
At the very beginning you’re likely to be open to any work that comes your way. However, when it comes to marketing your business attempting to be ‘all things to all people’ could end up preventing you from establishing an authority in any particular niche.
Choosing a niche
When choosing a niche to focus on start with your skillset, including your non-photographic skills. For instance, if your love of photography sits alongside experience in the world of industry or engineering, have you considered industrial or commercial photographic work (as part of bids or company brochures, for instance)? The work here often involves giving the photographer discretion over what type of images will best portray the essence of the company. If you already have insight into the business processes in a particular niche could you use this as a selling point?
Looking for customers
Remember that for consumer-based portraiture and events (e.g. weddings and family shots) a certain customer-focused and all-round outgoing personality is a must. If you are more ‘corporate’ than ‘bubbly’ take this into account when looking for customers.
Your start-up budget is the other big factor that’s likely to determine which area to look at. In particular, the downside of studio work is that you need a suitable space in your own home or (more likely) you’ll need to factor in the cost of commercial rent.
Setting up: the essentials
Getting your business structure right
Especially in the early days, it’s typical to operate as a sole trader. For this, you’ll need to register as self-employed with HMRC. To give your work a more business-like feel you might want to consider trading as a limited company. This is cheap and easy to do if you go about it in the right way. This can also be useful if you’ve thought up a great name for your photography business and don’t want anyone else to register a company in the same name. You can also keep the company as ‘dormant’ unless and until you want to start using it.
Getting your equipment together
Specialising in a specific area can help you narrow down precisely what cameras, lenses, lighting and other equipment you’ll require to get started. In the first year it’s typical for this initial investment to effectively wipe out your profits. The good news is that through capital allowances you can deduct some or all of the value of essential work equipment from your profits before you pay tax. From day one get into the habit of keeping track of your paperwork, to help make filling in your tax return as pain-free as possible.
Building up your client base
Hone your portfolio specifically towards your target market. When trying to reach out to that market think carefully about where your work is likely to get the most notice. For family portraiture, for instance, could you reach out to playgroups, kids’ clubs and PTAs? Have you considered teaming up with a web designer to extend your reach into corporate work?
Work hard on the look and feel of your website. Think about ways to establish your authority, perhaps by featuring regular hints and tips for amateur photographers or by reviewing the latest piece of kit you’ve bought.
Reputation is everything. List yourself on local review sites, and encourage customers who like your service to leave their comments.
Looking for further tips on the ‘admin’ side of getting your business off the ground? Check out our help centre for further advice and information.