September 6, 2009
Los Angeles and Orange County Photographer Mark Rober Halper’s Guidelines for Running a Successful Business
I’m a member of a number of forums for professional photographers from Los Angeles and Orange County photographers as well as from all over the world. One of the most striking things that I’ve noticed is just how often people post problems that are rooted in the same issue; the failure of photographers to act like the creative professionals that they are.
I was recently approached by the DWF to do a video for their online instruction and chose to a “Ten Commandments” version of the following advice. I’ve taken out the “shalts” and the “thous” for my purposes here. We owe it not only to ourselves, but to our clients who put their trust in us, to bring the same level of professionalism to our business that we do to our photography itself.
These ideas are not by any means “original”, but rather a collection of much of the sage advice I’ve received over the years:
Treat yourself a professional, and respect both the importance and great value of the work that you do.
Respect your clients by only accepting those projects that you are capable of doing. A good rule of thumb is that if you couldn’t look a good friend in eye and tell them that you’d be a solid choice to hire, then you aren’t yet ready for the project.
Put all of your agreements in writing, including those with the people you hire. Most disagreements seem to arise between well meaning people who remembered or understood a “verbal agreement” differently. Written agreements are the best way to be sure everybody is on the same page, and that any potential conflicts are resolved before either party is committed to the project.
Account for as much as possible in your agreement. Forums are a great place to see what other people didn’t cover and later ended up having issues with. You can use their mistakes to your benefit.
Be open about your policies, and don’t charge somebody differently just because you believe they have more money. Charge based on objective criteria, such as usage and time.
If something feels wrong in your gut, chances are you’ll end up regretting you took the project.
If there are multiple clients interested in one day, the first one to be willing to commit to the date (by contract and/or deposit) is the one who deserves to reserve it. Don’t turn down work if you aren’t formally booked by another client.
Email can degenerate; if you see that starting to happen it is almost always better to pick up the phone before the conversation gets out of hand.
Your rates should be commensurate with what is necessary to maintain a comfortable lifestyle and building a long term business that can continue to service your clients for years to come. Photographing cheaply may have short term benefits, but in the end will put you out of business. If you are working in different part of the field (such a commercial photographer shooting a family portrait) be sure to charge professional rates for the appropriate kind of photography.
If you don’t act like a professional, expect that other people won’t see you as one or treat you with respect.