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How to Start a Photography Business - Tip #1 Do Your Math

My first tip is probably not what you expected to read. It’s not the most creative or inspiring advice. It doesn’t even have anything to do with actually creating photos. But it’s true: if you are going to start a photography business, then you need to do your math. You need to crunch the numbers to figure out your pricing.

Here’s a little secret: doing your math isn’t actually about numbers.

It’s about something else.

But I’ll leave that secret until the end.

Back to your math and your pricing.

Let me first say this: your pricing has nothing to do with anyone else. Ignore what other people are charging. Ignore the prices you’ve seen on social media threads and community chat boards. If you want to do this right, then your pricing should be based on your desires, costs, and taxes.

I started my business eight years ago, and I was clueless. I was just happy to make some extra cash. If you’re reading this post, then I assume you’re in the same place. You’re not an established business with a long list of repeat clients. You’re thinking about turning a hobby into a side hustle or you’re trying to boost a fledgling business that isn’t working just yet.

If that’s where you are, then read the rest of this post and do your math.

Conventional advice is to figure out how much money you’d need to make per year and then multiply that by three. That number is how much money you need to actually bring in. (Why multiply by three? Conventional advice is that one-third is your income, one-third for expenses, and one-third for taxes.) For example, if you want your photography business to give you an annual income of $60,000, then conventional wisdom says you need to actually bring in $180,000.

That’s a lot of money. If you’re just starting out, I’d imagine that number looks impossibly high. Again, you’ve been thinking that it’d just be nice to make an extra $100 on the weekends doing something you enjoy. How could you possibly go from earning nothing to $180,000?

Well here’s the thing about that conventional wisdom:

it isn’t what you need right now.

I have never come close to bringing in that kind of money. I also don’t need to. My business is a side-hustle. It’s not full-time work. (I’m also a high school teacher.) But I do make a minimum of $1,500 per session, and my photography side business keeps our family comfortable.

I have also never used personal funds to pay for my business. Every new piece of gear, website subscription, private lesson, backdrop, hard drive, you name it, has been paid for by my clients.

Let’s assume you are looking to start your side hustle. You are a student, a stay-at-home-parent, or someone with full-time work hoping to make some extra weekend cash from your photography hobby. What math do you need to do?

The first step is the same as I mentioned above: identify the amount of money you’d like to make each year.

Let’s say you’d like to make an extra $5,000 with your photography side business. (That’s a vacation, right? Or a daily Starbucks habit?) Double that and you’ve got the money you need to bring in.