So, you’re starting a business. Or a passionate hobby. Or you’re simply putting yourself out there more and want to know the right way of doing it. The easy answer is that there is no right way, and that anything you do will work out in the end. And while I do believe that is true, I also believe that certain tips could help tremendously in not spiraling downhill.
When I started my business I had no idea how to go about it. This ended up being mostly a wonderful thing. I am so glad that I didn’t have a business model to follow because if I had, I might not have pursued exactly what my passion was. But what I do wish I had were a list of potentially big problems that I would want to avoid no matter what I was pursuing or how I was pursuing it.
1. Understand Copyright.
It doesn’t matter if you’re an artist or not, copyright is something that should be understood at least in the most basic sense. Copyrighting my pictures is one thing, but copyrighting information is a whole other ball game. If you put yourself out there in any public way, and you share what you have to offer, someone else may take that information and run with it. Before you know it, the information you worked so hard to create could be making someone else money, which means you’re losing money. Don’t be paranoid, but at the same time, do be smart. Talk to a lawyer about what your rights are and how you can best protect yourself.
For example, I teach workshops. This is a concrete way that I compile information that is specific to my business and share it with others. Before each workshop I have all participants sign a release form saying that the information provided during the workshop is for private use only and is not to be distributed publicly in any way.
2. Organize yourself in a big way.
When you are starting a business, it is incredibly difficult to foresee all of the problems that might cross your path. For me, some of those potential problems were keeping track of print sales, understanding print editioning, and backing up my work. If I had thought enough about the business side of what I was doing then, I wouldn’t have had so many headaches along the way. Think logically, and get second and third opinions. Talk to someone who has been there. Attend a business class or workshop.
By looking ahead and organizing your business, you prepare your business to grow. Some really helpful things that I did were to create a file and folder naming scheme to organize my images. Now I know where every image is from 2009 on to now. Something else that helped was to choose prices and stick to them, perhaps raising them each year (or not, just depends), but never swaying from what was chosen for consistency.
3. Save your domains.
When you decide to pursue a passion, hobby, or to make those into a career, it is very important that your social media stay consistent. Once you have your business name, save that business name on all the websites.
Mine is just Brooke Shaden, so when I sign up for a new site, like Twitter, I would make my username www.twitter.com/brookeshaden. That way when someone wants to find me, they simply type in my name and I will be the first one that pops up. Even if you don’t think you’re going to use a website, claim your name anyway. It can’t hurt, and you don’t want to fall down in the searches.
4. The moral code.
Understand your limitations before you begin putting yourself out there in a big way. Understand what you are comfortable with, what your business stands for, and how important it is to stick to your beliefs. If you are uncomfortable with doing something, stick to your gut. Your business can suffer long after a poor decision is made.
A great example of this is the Internet, and how simple it is to get sucked down a negative hole. I want my business to stand for kindness, creativity, and promoting passion…because that is who I want to be as a person. If someone engages with me in any negative way, I either ignore the situation or write a few nice words and kindly bow out of the argument. I won’t engage in a negative experience, because when you own a business on the Internet, it is never only between you and the instigator. Your business is public, therefore your opinions and how you handle the opinions of others is public as well. Represent yourself in a genuine and business-savvy way.
5. Do the math.
When you start a business, math is a big part of that process. I am terrible at math. So, this was not my strong suit. Understand exactly what you are investing in, because every business is an investment in time, energy, and money. Understand the costs of your startup and how much money you need to make to get past that hurdle.
My startup costs included printing, framing, and shipping prints for exhibitions, driving costs, equipment, and location rentals. I thought that the profit I would be making from print sales would balance everything out, but I was very wrong. The money wasn’t rolling in as I had hoped, but instead I spent thousands of dollars with no way of getting it back at the start. This was a shock to my career, and could easily stop anyone in their tracks and make them reconsider.
Be smart about the money it takes, and research all potential costs as well as profit margins that are reasonable. My advice is to expect nothing in terms of profit, and expect the worst in terms of expenses. This is not pessimistic thinking, it is realistic, and can lead to starting the career of your dreams so long as that career isn’t sunk before it hits the water because of bad budgeting.
What business startup tips can you share?
pat - I know when you are working to start your business dont give your digital for nothing done that so many times that i am paying for it people got edited digital for nothing to print with someone else …
just tell them you are a business and even thou they are friend they should support your art. you get stuck with people that want to suck your work for nothing so stop before turns into to a nightmare… it did for me …
brookeshaden - Pat that is wonderful advice. Always good to help people out where possible, but if you forget to help yourself along the way then no one benefits.
Kora - Is there a particular model release that you like to use or did you have a lawyer draw one up?
Sorry was one of my question I wanted to ask while you were in DesMoines but forgot.
brookeshaden - Hi Kora!
I looked up standard model releases online and then I wrote my own based on some terminology that I saw, and then had a lawyer look it over to make sure it was okay. It is very short and general 🙂
Kora - Thanks lady!
Danica - Thanks for these ideas! The domain thing is big and deciding what content you want on each social media site. I don’t know if you will answer this but when you’re starting out how do you find pro or semi-pro models to work with. I’ve been shooting as a hobby for about 8 years. I’ve used just about all of my friends and famil and now I really would like to start using models. I have no idea of how to go about that. The other problem is that I live in the mid-west near Chicago. I’m not sure if I should contact modeling agencies or what. I’d like to trade shoot for print.
brookeshaden - Sure! I have mostly used friends and family to be honest, and I still do. Just last week I photographed two friends and my sister-in-law. I love it more than anything. I also do self-portraits quite often. But aside from that, I’ve found models on Model Mayhem and that has worked out really nicely. I’ve found people on there who went on to become friends and who are passionate about what they do. If you want to go through an agency show them the work you do and ask if you could test with some of their models – I just find that for the work I do I don’t need agency models, and in fact usually don’t prefer that, so I stick with the people around me who inspire me. I wish I could be more help!
Danica - No that’s a big help! I’m on Model Mayhem but I didn’t know if that was worth it. Thanks for the response! I love your work.
Tanya - Thank you for all of your suggestions. I really enjoy your passion and commitment to quality. You are definitely one of my “go to” for inspiration. 🙂
brookeshaden - Wow thank you Tanya, I appreciate you so much!
Helen - Hi Brooke! I´m student from Slovakia (beauty but small country in Europe) and I really love your work! I think you are so cute person 🙂 You inspire me and make me strong every day. Thanks so much for you tips. I take photos for 2 years and it´s my passion. I´m going to on the university and study languages next year but I want to be a professional photographer, too. I know my photos have to be different if I want to be successful. I want to be art /surreal photographer and be in galleries . I study photography too in my free time. What do I have to do? 🙂 Thanks so much for your answers 🙂
PS: Sorry for my english. I know I know you are very busy but If you can please look at my photos on the facebook and say something about it 🙂 I will be the happiest person in this world! 🙂
brookeshaden - Hi Helen! It is great to meet you 🙂 Thank you so, so much for being kind and loving and making my day brighter! You are in a great situation because your key to success is to simply do what you love and never stop trying to work on that. Create the images of your dreams, learn as much as you can and need to technically to make the reality match what you see in your visions, and your voice will shine through. Right now the coloring in your images stands out to me the most. Develop a signature look and concepts that speak to who you are, and you will shine. <3
Helen - Brooke, I´m crying from happiness now. I have so much ideas for my next works and because of you I´m very happy. And thankful for all 🙂 I will be here always and sometimes I will sent you messages 🙂 Bye. Yours Helen from Slovakia 🙂
Evelyne - Hi Brooke!
First of all I’m so excited for every new blog post you put up. And these are some great tips as usual! Right now I have a hard time organizing my files and folders so my question is if you could be a little more precise about your system? Do you make folders for every year and then months and so on? If this is too personal you don’t have to answer but I’d appreciate any help on that topic as I couldn’t find anything on the internet…
Janelle Pietrzak - Evelyne,
I just watched this an I think it is such a great method for folder workflow. Hope it helps.
brookeshaden - Hi Evelyne! Sure thing!
I have an external HD and a server (private, at our house…but you could use the Cloud too, or any equivalent) and I back my images up to both.
Within those drives, I have a folder that says PHOTOGRAPHY.
Within that folder, I have each year that I’ve been taking pictures: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and a constantly updating 2014.
Within those, the folders are named based on the title of the image.
Within that, I have the .PSD file (named shaden_title_of_image.psd), a .TIF for printing, and a web-sized .jpg for sharing.
I hope that helps! 😀
Evelyne - Ahh thank you both so much, that really helped a lot!! 😀
Libby - This is so helpful Brooke! I’m starting to consider making a real effort with my photography, and I was wondering if you have any advice on approaching galleries? How can I walk up to a gallery and sell myself without sounding like I’m desperate for them to sign me up? What’s your experience with galleries been like? I realize this might be a lot of information for a simple comment – I’d love to see a whole post about it!
Also, I believe you’re a Doctor Who fan, and I’d love to share one of my most recent photos with you: https://www.flickr.com/photos/libbyb12/14499724391/in/photostream/lightbox/
brookeshaden - Hi Libby! Thanks for writing! I approach galleries by doing extensive research into where I might fit in, and then I send an email, short and sweet, with a link to my website 🙂 I’ve got loads more info on this for purchase in the “STORE” section of this blog, from my creativeLIVE classes. I’d be happy to write a post about it as well in the future 🙂
LOVE your Doctor Who pic!!!! That is fantastic!
Thomas Oscar Miles - thank you brooke! 😀 i really hope to make my photography into a well running business, I’ve started selling prints and all but its a bit up in the air! I would love to do gallery work and all, but for now i guess I’m just building up my skills and portfolio of work! 🙂
brookeshaden - That’s great Thomas!!
Libertad Leal - Such great advise Brooke! Thank you!
brookeshaden - Thank you Libertad!!
Irene Oleksiuk - Brooke,
Just wanted to day you inspire me in many ways, your images, your words and your great attitude. Thanks
brookeshaden - Thank you so much Irene, that means a lot to me <3
Carina - How do you go about pricing digital files at the beginning of your business? Many clients want them included but I keep finding such a wide variety of price ranges and when I try to boost up the prices I lose my clients. Should we give any? Or just give a watermarked cd? I was also considering giving candid pictures from weddings on a cd included with package but then any “special” edited pictures watermarked. What are your thoughts?
brookeshaden - Hi Carina! I am sort of strange in business because I price the session and 1 completed image when I do a commission and then additional edited images are extra – I always create one or two art pieces for a client. So I’m not shooting events or portrait sessions in the traditional sense. I’ll try to write a post about pricing in the future 🙂
Carina - That would be great because I think that is the biggest thing for this industry right now. New photographers need to properly be educated on how to price their work because it doesn’t only affect them but it affects all photographers when clients don’t understand why they can get something from one person for 20 and another for $300
Tara Eveland - I agree with all of those tips for sure! My biggest advice is to find a tax professional right away and keep records with THEM if you are not good at doing math or organization (as many creatives truly are not). I had a very very rough time at my first tax year for my business!
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