The keys to growing a successful business as a photographer in Vancouver.
If you’re reading this it’s likely that you’re pondering the beginning stages of starting a business as a photographer in Vancouver. This blog will be the 1st in a series about the combination of business, entrepreneurship, and photography. Speaking as someone who is working as a full time photographer in Vancouver – I hope to provide you with some actionable inspiration to go out and make this dream happen for yourself. It will certainly not be easy, but if you have the passion for it and are willing to put in the effort, it will likely be the best decision you’ve ever made. Let’s get into it.
#1 Find your niche as a photographer in Vancouver
This may sound obvious, but it’s important to become a specialist in your field. Don’t try to do it all. Find an area of photography that you love and dedicate yourself to becoming a master at it. When I first began, I made the mistake of thinking that I could do it all and boy, was I wrong. Learn from my mistakes! Focusing in on one area of photography will also help in the latter stages of building your website (we’ll get to that) and begin optimizing for SEO. Fyfe Photography specializes in architectural & aerial/drone photography and video, so our clients usually find us online by typing in something related to “drone photographer” in Vancouver.
#2 Develop your skills
This not only goes for photography, but for life. Commit yourself to a life of learning and know that you will never know it all. Always be open to learning something new. If you think you’ve got it mastered – trust me, you don’t. If you get to a place where you think you know everything, I can guarantee you there will be somebody at your same level who actually is doing the hard work to improve, and they will be the ones more than likely to end up getting that shoot, that contract, etc. Put in the work to always be improving a little bit each day. It’s not only worth it, it’s a necessity.
#3 Create a website
This one should really go without saying. If you want potential clients to find you and take you seriously, you’ll need a killer website that stands out. A strong site will be the backbone of your customer acquisition system and the place to show off your portfolio. However, there is a right and wrong way to set this up. We’ll get more into this one in a later blog specifically geared towards this topic, but there is a ton that goes into this one. Not all websites are created equally and yours needs to be built correctly with your end goal in mind. Getting tons of clients.
#4 Put yourself out there as a photographer in Vancouver
Don’t think that just because now you have an awesome site properly optimized for your target keywords “photographer in Vancouver” that clients are just going to start flooding in. They won’t. You need to go out and get them. And by go out and get them I mean by getting up at 5am everyday 7 days a week, writing emails and making cold calls introducing yourself and your business. If you don’t do this for at least 12 hours everyday, you better believe there’s someone else out there hungrier than you who is. So, you better put in 15 hours just to be safe. If you’re not willing to do this everyday for at least 12 months you might as well not even bother, as business isn’t for you. The 9-5 is over. This is more like 5-9. Entrepreneurship at the startup stage WILL take most of your waking hours. Until you have enough money coming in (which will likely be a year or more) this is what it takes. Yes, this is risky and yes there’s a high probability you might fail, but don’t be afraid to take some risks. You don’t deserve remarkable results by taking unremarkable actions.
#5 Have an emergency fund and be prepared to use it
This is no joke. You’ll need to quit any other job if you’re serious about starting a successful photography business. Becoming successful isn’t a side hustle – it’s full time, max effort 100% – so forget about doing anything else and dedicate yourself to this completely. There’s no other way. I cannot emphasize this point enough. To do this, you’ll need to have at least 1 year of expenses saved up in cash (do NOT go into debt). You’ll need these cash reserves in order to put in the 15 hour marketing day efforts, without any money coming in.
#6 Get comfortable with rejection
This can be a tough one on the ego at first, but you’ll have to learn how to not take things personally. For every 100 emails you send out, you might get 1 person to agree to booking you. This is normal. It doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person or that your work is horrendous. It just means that you need to keep following up, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned – it’s all about the follow up. There are also ways to craft emails based on human psychology that will have higher open rates, and better chances of being replied to – which we’ll learn about in a separate blog along with some sales and marketing techniques.
#7 Ask for help from another photographer in Vancouver (or in your area)
I wish I had done this way more when I first started. Find someone in your area who is working in the field you want to be in and reach out to them. You’d be surprised how willing people are to chat about their passions. Invite someone out for a coffee and let them know you’d like to pick their brain. Chances are, another entrepreneur will be willing to help. You might think that people in business want to protect what “theirs” and keep all the clients for themselves, and while this is certainly true for some, this is a scarcity mindset. Someone worth listening to will have the opposite – an abundance mindset. They already know that there is more than enough work to go around. And let’s be honest, you’re not really competition – yet. They will likely be willing to share with you how they got to where they are, and probably have some great advice Don’t be afraid to ask for it.
#8 Find a mentor
This doesn’t have to be in the traditional sense. These days, with the amount of information available on Youtube you can find a channel teaching the exact skills you’re interested in learning. For me personally and although he doesn’t know it, Peter Mckinnon has been a mentor. The skills I’ve learned from watching this guy are insane, and the inspiration has been invaluable.
#9 Charge accordingly
When you’re at the beginning of your career, don’t expect to command the $10K day rates that the top pros are charging, but don’t undervalue your work either. If you’re serious about becoming a successful photographer in Vancouver, you’ll need to charge accordingly. Reverse engineer it based on your monthly and yearly expenses. Figure out your cost of doing business and how many shoots you need to do each month to cover your expenses, and make a profit. You won’t be getting a pension in retirement, so you’ll need to do better than just covering your expenses, and set aside some for money for investments each month. More on money management and tax strategies in a separate post.
#10 Market to companies, not individuals
In order to charge what you need to charge to live and work as a photographer in Vancouver, you’ll need to market yourself to large companies rather than individuals. Wouldn’t you rather send a quote to a large real estate developer who you know has a marketing budget in the thousands of dollars, rather than an individual realtor who might only have a budget in the hundreds? We will explore this more in depth in a later post.
#11 Don't worry about the gear
I don’t think I’ve ever (maybe once or twice) had a client ask me what kind of camera I shoot on. It’s not about the type of camera you use, it’s about your ability to sell yourself as a professional creative. Obviously, you need to be shooting with a pro-level system, but if you get too caught up in having the latest and greatest and find yourself spending countless hours online looking at gear, you’re wasting your time. Instead, start emailing and calling companies you want to work for. Send them to your website so they can see your work, and ask them if they have any potential photography opportunities. This is literally how you book shoots. And they don’t care about what camera you have. The only time this might come into play is when a client wants to do a large format print on something massive (like a billboard) where yes, they might ask for a camera with a minimum resolution, but this is rare and for most projects the work is only being displayed online.
#12 The abundance mindset
If you think it’s not possible to become a photographer in Vancouver, or that the market is already saturated or that the competition is already too far ahead, or any other excuse of why you can’t do it, you’re wrong. You will need to shift your mindset to become one of abundance. Know that there’s a ton of money flowing around out there transferring hands in the creative world and there’s no reason some of it can’t be yours. If you work hard enough and truly believe that you can do it, success will be the outcome.
#13 You're not actually a photographer
Wait a minute, you thought you were a photographer? Nope. You will have to start thinking of yourself as a business owner/sales & marketing manager and editor instead. Most of the work you’ll be doing (90%) is actually marketing to land new clients. Maybe 2% of your time will be shooting. The other 8% will be spent behind the computer doing edits. This is the reality of being a photographer in Vancouver (or anywhere). Oh, and don’t forget all the admin stuff – proposal writing, invoicing, estimating, bookkeeping, payroll, taxes, insurance, licensing…it’s ok, this is why you’re getting up at 5 from now on!
In future blog posts, we’ll be doing a deep dive into the nuances of each item above and everything that comes with creating a photography business from the ground up. Stay tuned! For other blogs, click here.