Post-Graduation: The Next Three Steps

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So you’ve graduated. You walked up on stage and got that important piece of paper that certifies that you are filled with pure photo awesomeness. With a degree in hand, you are probably preparing for crowd control. After all, starting tomorrow, thousands of people will be banging down your door to hire you as their photographer. You may have already purchased parking cones, road flares, and a megaphone, and hired a slew of security guards in orange vests. Your road to fame starts tomorrow….or maybe after the weekend…..ok so maybe after this month…hmmmm……maybe when school starts up? Ok….so maybe after January when wedding planning starts. And yet, your phone is silent.

How well does this describe you? Is there an element of truth in that? Are you expecting your business to immediately take off? Though an exaggeration, this somewhat describes what I thought photography would be after I graduated. After all, I had nice fancy equipment, I had a degree in Art, and I had already started advertising (if you would call putting printed 4×6’s in dorm bulletin boards advertising). I just knew it was just going to take off. But it didn’t. My phone was more silent than ever.

So just how does a newly graduated photographer jump-start his or her business? Save yourself the stress and just learn from our experience. Here are three keys that will help save your sanity after graduation.

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First, get a day job

Yes, I said it. Go get a job. It may have absolutely nothing to do with photography; you may be dusting mouse pads for dell’s tablet-pc division. I would argue that it may be more advantageous to have a non photography-related job. Why? Reason number one, this puts you into an environment that gives you permission to continue to learn without being a starving artist. The self-inflicted stress of waiting to get hired will kill your creative skills. But, when you have another job putting bread on your table, you can experiment with photography and refine your style at your own pace.

A little over a year ago, we started instructing an aspiring photographer who already had a job as a full-time computer programmer. Because he didn’t need the income, and because he had nothing else to worry about but working on his trade, he is now (only a year later) booking just about as many weddings as we are.

The second reason to get a job is that it may be the best form of marketing you have; getting known in the community will bring business. For the first year after I graduated, I got a job working as a preschool teacher (of all things). VERY quickly I became known as the photographer (yes the one and only). When anyone had any photo needs, I was the person they turned to. I ended up shooting 3 of my co-workers weddings, all of the kids in the school as the school photographer, and 5 40×60 advertisements for the school. That, more than anything else, jump-started our business and helped us get where we are at now.

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Second, shoot, shoot, shoot!

I cannot emphasize this enough. You need to be shooting. A lot! School is great at teaching you how to use your camera, but it cannot give you experience, and it can’t give you clientele. You might be tempted to say, “But no one is hiring me. How can I shoot?” Great segue into perhaps the most controversial point of this article: shoot cheap. Even shoot free.

Several months ago, my husband Dustin read an article on photofocus.com. The author made a good point about not cheapening the market by lowering your prices. I see the author’s point and his concern, but I totally disagree. Our rebuttal can be found here. Now you may disagree with me. But honestly, who will hire you when they have never heard of you and you are charging as much as people who have had 20 years to build up a clientele?  You may say, “But I’m better than those people with 20 years of experience!” That may very well be true. But does the average person see that? Is the average person annoyed that the eyelash is in focus while the eyeball is out of focus? No. Can you honestly expect someone to gamble $5,000 on a wedding package for someone they don’t know and no one else seems to know? I wouldn’t gamble that much!

You’ve got friends. Use them! And your friends have friends. Use them. But how do you avoid falling into the trap of being known as the ‘cheap’ photographer? Do what Brooke Snow (a very well established former student of ours) does! On occasion she’ll shoot for free…but on her terms; she designs the photoshoot, she picks the clothes, she chooses the location. For example, here’s a “casting call” she did just earlier this year for a project she’s working on. And she is sure that the client understands that this photoshoot is for portfolio purposes, not because she’s a cheap photographer.

In no time, you will build your client base, build your portfolio, and you will have something amazing to offer.

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Third, set it up right to begin with

Don’t know much about a self-proprietorship, limited liability or an s-corp? How about CSS, html, SEM, or SEO? Ironically, being a photography business is often less about capturing images than it is about marketing, budgeting, customer service, and processing images. Not all aspects of a photography business are fun (how I hate the Oklahoma Tax Commission) but all are essential to a successful company.

Now let me clarify; we are not saying you need to be your own Webmaster, accountant, and attorney. In fact, that would be counter-productive. But at least have it taken care of. There’s nothing more dangerous than working without a tax license, business insurance, and thorough bookkeeping. At worst you may be sued, fined, or bankrupt. Get a business license and a tax ID number. Go get business insurance. Sign up for PPA and their free legal help.  As you try to do everything right, your clients can feel your honesty and trust you with their business. You will make mistakes, but with the business set up correctly you are on the right path.

A degree guarantees nothing in the business of self-employed photography. But follow these suggestions and I guarantee you will be booming before you know it. With all your chess pieces in place, you’re ready to play the game.

Amber & Dustin Fife are a husband & wife photography duo out of Norman Oklahoma. Each month they will be sharing tips on becoming better, succesful photographers. You can learn more about them at http://www.fuelyourphotography.com/featured-interview-fife-photography/

 

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