NESOP Architectural Photography instructor, Keitaro Yoshioka, took a few minutes to share his thoughts on the most important elements for an emerging photographer in developing a marketing and business plan.
NESOP: What do you believe are the five most important elements to guide an (emerging) photographer in developing his/her business plan and why?
Keitaro: First of all, I think it is important to note that I don’t believe the standard MBA-format business plan works well for photographers. It doesn’t fit the creative model for new photographers attempting to launch their careers. Originally a vehicle for obtaining bank or investor funding, the “traditional” business plan has elements that are important but others that simply don’t apply in this context.
I also think it is important that anyone entering this field understands the difference between photo enthusiasts and professional photographers. If you want to make a living as a photographer, you need to have technical, creative and business skills and understand that, as a professional photographer, you are running your own business.
With this in mind, I require my students to create both a marketing plan and a five-year plan. Five key elements in developing these are:
1. Have a vision and trust your vision. Know what makes you and your work unique. The are a lot of photographers out there and they all have something different to offer; the most successful ones will all agree that you must trust your vision. As an emerging artist, understand that your portfolio may be as good as or better than many of the established professionals. To succeed, you must stay true to your vision and market yourself well.
2. Create your marketing materials and marketing plan; keep your “brand” in mind when doing this. You are going to send out your own promotional cards and other promo materials (hard copy and/or electronic depending on your clients and strategy). These materials should include your strongest image(s) and the images and materials should clearly represent/describe what you do. Your materials should convey the image you want for your business.
3. Research the market to identify your potential clients. Create your (client) database based on research. Your database should contain the company name (if applicable) and contact information (mailing address, e-mail address, direct phone or extension, website, social media sites, etc.) for all the individuals who will make the hiring decision. Don’t simply target a department—send your materials to the marketing director, photo editor, creative director, art director, etc. Ultimately, you want to get in front of these individuals, show them your portfolio and make a (positive) impression on them. Create a schedule to follow up with anyone to whom you’ve sent your promotional materials—do what works: make a cold call, set up an appointment to meet, etc. Just be sure to follow up.
4. Plan (and budget) to stay educated and stay in business. Photography is always changing. Today, more than ever, photographers must stay current with the latest technology and trends and always be ready to reinvent themselves. This is true in terms of the equipment we use to make images and the ways and technology we use to market ourselves.
5. Have a (five-year) plan. Rejection is part of being a photographer, so if you are a freelancer or planning to operate your own studio, the ultimate question is how you will handle that. Do you have a plan for the “lean” early years? Do you plan to take other (unrelated) work in an effort to support your photography? If so, how long can you support yourself in that unrelated field while still managing to produce new bodies of work and promote your photography business? Because THAT is the focus—building your business and your career as a photographer. Some may see results within a year. Others may take five years to start earning a “stable” income from photography. There’s no guarantee in this business. One thing is certain, though: If you are not shooting and if you are not aggressively marketing your business, you will not get jobs. So, however you do it—make a plan, set goals for your photography business and constantly revisit them and work toward achieving them. __________________________________________________________________________________
A successful commercial photographer for over 25 years with client lists including IBM, Microsoft and Proctor & Gamble, Keitaro is not only a masterful photographer, but an expert in handling the business aspects of the job.