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12 Business Mistakes Every Photographers Makes

12 Business Mistakes Every Photographers Makes

Now I started my photography and video business about 10 years ago, that's a decade. Damn, I've been doing this a long time. Now the first few years were rough, I barely made any money, and to be honest, I took a lot of shitty photos. And you bet your ass I made a hell of a lot of mistakes.

These are things that I've done, stories of other friends who have worked on paid shoots, as well as some other stories that I've heard in the industry.

12 Photography Business Mistakes I made… why did I do this?

1. Your clients are not your guinea pigs

Let me tell you the story. All right, so, it was my second year of business, I was just starting to get a few better-paid clients, which was actually really exciting, so I was investing back into the company, I was buying gear, like all the gear we're trying to move to the office right now. And I bought these three big Fresnel lights. They were cheap Chinese-made ones, but they were better because I had never used lights before.

The key point, never used lights before. So it's the day before the shoot, I buy the lights, and the next day I'm on set, I set up all the lights, and I start asking the talent "Hey, go and stand in the lights over there." So the talent stands in the lights, and literally, this is the talent. They were like "Ah! Is this normal? "This is so bright!" And I was like "Yes, it's totally normal, "this is how production is Hollywood does it." PS, it's not how production in Hollywood does it.

So I shot the client for them trying to read the script, literally, their eyes were like squinting, they're like trying to get through it and they started getting red because they were getting really really hot because the lights are old and they're really bright and they're really hot. So then I finished the video, I sent it to them, and they're like "Oh, this is great, we love it." And it really wasn't great at all.

It looked really bad. So what did I learn through all of this? You gotta be comfortable with your gear before you use it on a paid project. So, test out your gear on personal projects or you're gonna lose clients.

2. Have the right gear and prep the gear

Fun story and the reason why I actually got Mercedes-Benz is because the previous photographer actually forgot to charge his batteries and went with the client to a McDonald's and had to wait there for 30 minutes to charge the batteries. Imagine being there with Mercedes-Benz as your client and you're just waiting at a McDonald's, eating a McDouble while the batteries are charging.

Yeah, they're never gonna hire you again and that's the reason why I got offered that opportunity. So please make sure you charge your batteries and have enough batteries on set. Buy more than you need. You can buy those cheap Chinese knock-off batteries. Buy like 10 extra one of those just so that you're not in that position ever. Imagine you lost Mercedes-Benz because your battery wasn't charged.

At least you got a McDouble but, like, bye Mercedes-Benz. So yes, charge your batteries, have the right amount of gear.

3. Knowing when to give discounts

Also, fun fact, C Stands make great coat hooks. All right, do I have a story for you? So a few years ago I was hired for a destination wedding. A woman hired two videographers. Myself, and someone else. And without getting into too much detail, the day before the wedding, I couldn't make it down to the location, but the other videographer could make it.

So, now here I am, calling rental houses in the middle of nowhere to get camera bodies and lenses and lav mics for this other videographer to shoot this wedding.

So, the only person that could actually go up and pick this stuff was the bride. Oh, I am the worst human in the entire world. She's already stressed out and now there's a videographer "Um, sorry, can you go to this rental house "and pick up a lav?" And she's like, "I don't even know what a lav is!" But now she's picking it up. So, we finished the project, the other videographer did a really great job, and guess what I did?

I sent this woman a bill, for the full price that we agreed on. What? I wasn't even there! All right, so, what's the lesson here? Know when to give discounts. This woman was so furious when I sent a full bill. And looking back, it makes sense. That's a stupid move, but I didn't have a lot of money then and I needed it.

And in that case, the best thing that you should always do is take a hit on your business because your integrity is worth more. Know when to give a discount.

4. Communicate deadlines

Setting expectations on deadlines is so key. In the early stages, you're very eager and you want to get jobs done very quickly but sometimes it's just not realistic. Whether your gear breaks down, whether you're stressed out that day, things happen so set a bigger timeline. If you think you can get it done on Tuesday and it's Monday, say you'll get it delivered by Wednesday or Thursday. Give yourself a buffer period.

Fun story about me, I thought that I'd share one of my failures in this instance. I actually left an edit to the last minute where that night at three in the morning, I was so tired, I was trying to finish the edit, I emailed the client at 3 a.m. in the morning. I was like sorry, I can't get the edit done. It's just too much work for poor old Chrissy over here. It's too much. And then they just never hired me again because they received an email at three in the morning.

1. Send emails during working hours.

2. Don't ever do that to a client ever. Make sure you set a buffer period so that if things go wrong, you can actually get the job done on time. So deadlines, communicate proper deadlines.

5. Safety trumps everything

All right, so it was about five or six years ago, we were making a music video one day. And music videos notoriously have a super low budget, but we want to get creative and have fun, so we don't make money, we put all the money into the production. And at that time, we had not shot with a RED, so we're like "Let's get a RED camera." And the DJI Ronin had just come out and we're like "And we'll put it on the DJI Ronin.

"It's gonna look so good!" So we spent all the budget on that, and the one thing that we didn't rent, which is arguably the cheapest thing that you can rent, was sandbags. I think you know where this is going. So, it's lunchtime now, and everyone's getting a little tired, and someone bumps into this Ronin and RED, and all of a sudden the RED falls over and then it hits a light stand and then that light stand falls over and hits another light stand.

Literally, it was like the domino effect. Like it was, what do they call that, Rube Goldberg Machine? We built our own Rube Goldberg Machine, so everything's falling and then one light, there's an assistant here, goes ... an inch past her head. It could've destroyed her. Luckily it didn't, but I could've faced a serious lawsuit there. So always put safety first. Like literally out of everything in this article, this should be the one, put safety first always. Do not risk your life or the crew's life for the production.

6. Sending invoices before the project is completed

Now it's okay if you send a down payment, you've agreed upon that upfront, but if you send me an invoice before the full project is completed, (grumbling) nothing bothers me more than that. So what I would recommend is to set expectations. Say I need 40% upfront and then the remainder once the project is completed.

But if you send some middle invoices before we've agreed on that arrangement, that just bothers people, it kind of upsets them, and it probably will increase your chances of not getting hired again. So do not send an invoice before the project is completed.

7. Editing style

Editing with your style versus the style that suits the project. For example, let's say I was hiring you to edit some car photos and it came back and you manipulated all the colors and the color of the car was completely different but it was like that's your normal style. The client is not gonna be happy with that so be versatile. Understand what is actually appropriate for that client and you will get hired more often.

8. Attitude

I feel like I don't even need to tell you this but be excited when you show up on set. Have some good energy. Don't be a downer. You could do good work but if you're a downer, people don't like to work with people that are depressing or not excited or have this weird attitude or are lazy. So make that when you show up on set, be ready to be helpful, be eager to do good work, and be excited and positive. You're more likely to get hired because of that.

9. Do not say No

If your client is making a request but you can't do it, don't say no. Say here's an alternative of what we could do. If they really want to go with the other way, do your best to try to accommodate. If you say no just flat out, there's a good chance you probably won't get hired again. Obviously, say no if it's within reason. If they're like hey, cut off your leg and then swing the leg as a baseball bat for the shot, don't do that.

That would be very bad. So say no when it's appropriate to say no but at the end of the day, if you can make it happen and there's an alternative, do that.

10. Charging for hidden costs

I hate when I receive an invoice and there's a line item that we didn't agree upon. Let's say it's the transportation and the person charged $200 extra for transportation but they didn't mention it upfront. That stuff is annoying so communicate that ahead of time. Don't make that mistake after the fact because that annoys the client and they're less likely to want to work with you.

So always communicate every single line item upfront and then that way there's no miscommunication when you send an invoice.

11. Do not charge for things that you did not agree on upfront

A couple years ago I did a project let's say it was for $2,000. And I had to travel a very far distance for this. So I sent them a bill with transportation because I heard somewhere that you're supposed to charge for transportation. But, we didn't agree on it upfront. And then I get an email back, they're like "Well, you got transportation in here, "we didn't talk about this." And I was like "But I needed to get to this spot." And they're like "Okay." And then I never heard from them again. So, make sure you label everything upfront.

12. Always get everything in writing

A couple of years ago, everything is always a couple of years ago. In the last couple of years I haven't been making as many mistakes, but a couple of years ago, I was on the phone with a client, we agreed on $4,000 for a project.

I was like "Wow, 4k, all right, let's go." So we went out, we shot this whole video, we spent around like $2,000 to $3,000 on like locations, people, talent, all this stuff, and then I showed them the video and they're like "Wow, this looks great, "send along with the bill!" Sent the bill for $4,000, and he was like, "$4,000? I thought we said two?" And I was like "No, you definitely said $4,000 "on the phone."

And he was like "Well, do we have this "anywhere in writing?" Nope, we didn't have it in writing, we just agreed, over the phone, and I went out and spent $3,000 and got paid two. So always get everything in writing.

The truth

It takes a lot of courage to start your own business. Nobody's gonna hold your hand and trust me, you're going to make mistakes. But what's on the other side of that? You're gonna learn, you're gonna build a business from the ground up and you're gonna start succeeding, which is the exciting part of the chase. From there, you'll start getting the clients that you've always dreamed of.

It might be one year, it might be five years, or it might be 10. But I can promise you if you stick at it, it's going to happen. A friend of mine once told me that you've gotta make a lot of shit before you shit gold. That always stuck with me, and as crude, as it sounds, it's so true. So go out there, make some mistakes, and maybe, just maybe, you'll shit gold.

These tips will allow you to avoid these mistakes and then you don't have to learn the hard way. Also, write a bunch of other mistakes in the comments that people have made in the past so that we can have a whole giant list of things that people can avoid.

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