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  • Writer's pictureSteve Payne

Ten Commandments to Success

In Photography or Any Small Business - Part II



How to be a success in photography is a question that I’m often asked. It’s also a question that has spawned many checklist-type answers, half-baked claims, and just downright useless information to those needing a REAL answer. Photography as a career and/or business is just like any business or career, to rise to the top takes determination, education, pro-activation, and a never give up attitude. I’ve heard it called GRIT. It’s not going to work to be average at photography anymore. You’re either going to be one of the very best, or you’re going to starve to death. Period. Here in part two are 5 more principles that I think are important enough to be deemed part of The Ten Commandments to Success in Photography.


6. Thou Shalt Be Organized and Work Efficiently

If you are working disorganized and inefficiently, you’re starting out with a distinct disadvantage that only compounds itself as you get busier and busier. So work hard at being organized and efficient from the very beginning of your career, and constantly tweak and improve your methods and workspace, so that when you’re there the only thing you have to think about is the work, not the mess in your space or the flaws in your workflow.


7. Thou Shalt Look And Act Professionally At All Times

I notice a lot of photographers who think that the sloppier they look, the more artistic respect they’ll get. Now if you’re playing the top tier of photography, photographing celebrities and the rich and famous, you can sometimes get away with this. But, if you’re working with the people that most of us work with, you’ll get more respect more quickly by dressing appropriately for the situation. There’s no one way to look that’s for sure, just don’t disregard it altogether, as it can be an issue for many clients. Make the sure bet, look and act professionally at all times and make it a non-issue.


8. Thou Shalt Know Thy Numbers

If you want to sleep at night, you’ve got to know where you stand financially at all times. This doesn’t have to be difficult, in fact, it can’t be, but you’ve got to know it. This also means not depending on photography as your sole source of income until you’re good and ready. You must be producing consistent income, and staying busy with work that is fulfilling to you. Then and only then, should you consider going it alone in photography. There’s nothing worse than being strapped financially and trying to work efficiently at the same time. It will make decisions for you that you don’t want to make and can put your business in a compromised position that can be hard to get out of.

When discussing price, it is absolutely necessary that you know your numbers and believe in your own value as a photographer and service provider, as well as what it takes to stay in business. Something like, “I’m definitely not inexpensive, but I’m worth every penny.” If you have doubts about what you’re charging, it will come through in your actions, and you’ll underprice yourself, slowly go into debt, and out of business. If you really think that you can charge $25 or $30 dollars an hour and stay in business, you’d better quit while you still have some money in the bank, and do photography as a hobby. No kidding.


9. Thou Shalt Get An Accountant

Along these same lines, having a first-rate accountant on your side is one of the smartest moves that you’ll ever make. Getting your records organized from the start, the way an accountant wants to see them is a huge advantage at tax time. Don’t think you’re saving money, by not using an accountant. There will come a day when Uncle Sam wants to take a look at your books, and if you don’t have an accountant, it can be a pretty daunting and draining affair. But, if you do it’s a cinch. In fact, good records and an accountant will make it less likely that an auditor will dig very deep since they quickly see things in order and that you have nothing to hide.


10. Thou Shalt Take Care Of Thyself

Photography is the kind of business that will drain you dry in many ways if you let it. It can ruin relationships with your family, put you in poor physical health, and stress you out to the max. So, take care of you on a regular basis. This would include quality time with your family, regular physical exercise, healthy eating habits, and the attitude that there IS more to life than photography.

Don’t define yourself totally by your work. No matter how successful you become, you’re not that big a deal…really. You’re not running the country, or making life-or-death decisions on a daily basis, so relax. And, be a big deal to the people in your life; who are really what this life is all about anyway, not photography.

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