This is part 6 in my series of blogs about wedding photography as a business – dream vs reality. So it all makes sense I recommend you start at part 1.
I will share what I have learned about the reality of being self employed for the first time in my life and the practicalities of earning a living from wedding photography.
Here in part 6 I will talk about the importance of contracts and “terms and conditions”, along with my thoughts on buying equipment and designing your website.
Disclaimer: I am not a solicitor and do not have any recognised legal qualifications. I will simply outline the process I went through and things I learned along the way so you have an idea of some of the dangers and where to start.
Drawing up a contract for every commission you undertake is of the utmost importance. I will never work without one, even if the commission is for a friend or a relative. In fact I have known friendships to end over wedding photography where no contract existed.
In an earlier part of this series I said it was a good idea to belong to one of the recognised photographic societies, like The SWPP, The MPA, The BIPP, The RPS and so on. One of the advantages of belonging to them is you can get free advice on how to draw up contracts and the dreaded “Terms and Conditions”.
My contract lets my clients know exactly what I am providing them with, exactly how much they have to pay for my services and the dates the payments are due. It includes their personal details, times dates and locations of the venues where the photography is required, how many images are included in the fee, how those image files will be supplied and whether extras like an album or large print are included.
I often refer to my “Terms and Conditions” document as the “War & Peace” bit. There are a lot of things to cover like what happens if you fall ill, if your equipment fails and so on. You also have to be very careful that you use the right words and the legal implications of not doing so.
For example, there is a massive difference between promising to provide “high resolution digital image files” and promising to provide “full size digital image files”. If you don’t know the difference, find out now! Otherwise you could easily find yourself being sued.
The simple use of the word “and” when you meant to use the word “or” can make a massive difference, so be careful. My T&C’s are a combination of those suggested by the SWPP, those suggested in a book I bought on the subject of contracts and a couple of my own. I believe I have all the bases covered and the solicitors I have photographed weddings for in the past have agreed.
I really cannot over emphasise the importance of having correctly worded contracts and T&C’s when you are a sole trader.
Some thoughts on equipment. How often have we photographers done it, eh? Seen the latest gadget and thought “Wow, I really want that!”. There is an old saying amongst anglers that I think is appropriate. Fishing tackle isn’t designed to catch fish, oh no. It’s designed to catch fishermen and make them part with their money!
I can’t help but think there’s an element of that behind a lot of the latest gadgets that appear in the world of photography.
My advice, when you change from taking photographs for a hobby to taking them for a living, is to ask yourself a simple question. Will that gadget benefit my photography business. Do I really need it ? Or do I just want it.
If it’s the latter, with photography equipment being so expensive, I suggest you hang on to your money for something you actually need, something that will benefit your business, rather than something you just want.
Another piece of advice I was given when it comes to investing in equipment. As a general rule, if it is going to depreciate, lease it.
I looked into hiring cameras and found it best for me if I bought them. If it’s something you want only occasionally, for example a really expensive lens for a particular image you want to create, then hire it.
I also looked into leasing my computer from Apple. For me, it worked out cheaper to buy it but it might be worth your while checking for yourself.
Transport was a no brainer for me. My wife owns her own car and I owned mine. Because of the way tax allowances work, I sold my car and now lease a van for work.
For me, it makes a lot of financial sense to do so. I can use my wife’s car for social, domestic and pleasure purposes and the van just for work. Having all that room also means that things like “soft boxes” can be left set up and ready to go saving me time at weddings.
One of the things your business must have is a good website. When I started out, I knew absolutely nothing about website design or how to go about getting one. I’m still not an expert so, as with everything I write, note the usual disclaimer. If you want an experts opinion on your website, pay an expert for it. This is just a few of the things I have learned but, as technology advances so quickly, it’ll probably be out of date the day after I publish it!
Well, the first thing you need is a name for your website. Sounds obvious, but it’s not as easy as you think. I started out using various combinations of my name and my initials. Trouble is both “Kevin” and “Taylor” are really common. Or should I say popular!
Every combination I came up with, the website address was already taken except for KPT ( my initials ). So that’s what I started out with. Bought the domain name then designed my first website. It was rubbish.
I approached a company called The Image File ( many others are available out there but they have given me superb customer support and, just for once, I highly recommend them ). First question I was asked was “What’s the name of your company”. I told him. “Really?” came the reply, sounding somewhat disbelieving.
“Why do you photographers always try and use your names or initials, even when it clearly doesn’t sound good?” He was right of course. So, I held a little competition. Bottle of wine for the winner! And the winning name was “HeadOverHeels Photography”, because people are HeadOverHeels in love when they get married ( plus that domain name was still available! ).
Those of you with an unusual name, now’s the time to be grateful for it.
I then attended a few lectures on how to design a website, lessons in “good practice” because Google makes the rules here and if you don’t abide by what Google says, heaven help you.
One important lesson I learned, no two. Firstly, these companies who offer to improve your SEO and to put you at the top of page one for searches, then charge you a fortune for the privilege. They can’t do anything that you can’t do yourself and they can’t guarantee to put you at the top of page one. Pay them to do it if that suits you best, but you can save money by learning to do it yourself.
Secondly, Google doesn’t like cheats and is constantly changing their search algorithms because of it ( or is it so they can charge for advertising ? Sorry, being cynical there ). Use these companies who sell lots of back links to boost your ranking at your peril, and don’t complain when Google finds out and penalises your website for doing so.
I think the best bit of advice I can give with your website and SEO is, don’t try and cheat.
Please think about this for a minute. Google employ some of the best programming brains in the world. They are far more clever than me at what they do. Am I really going to be able to out think them and gain an advantage?
As well as being dishonest, it can cost you dear when (not if) Google finds out. In my humble opinion you should let your website develop organically. It may take a bit longer, but at least you won’t get penalised for cheating.
Well that’s everything I can think of for now. What started out as one blog has turned out to be nine so far. (Yes, there’s another three to follow thanks to readers asking questions).
The next two blogs will be on the subject of qualifications and competitions. Once I started writing them, I was surprised at just how much there is to know on these subjects. They are finished and will be published over the next couple of weeks.
If you can think of anything you would like me to blog about, please drop me an email and I’ll do my best.
If you have read all my blogs in this series, you could be forgiven for thinking that I’m trying to put you off from starting out in wedding photography. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I don’t know if you have any religious beliefs, but I believe we only live this life once. We don’t get a second chance. If you love wedding photography and have absolutely set your heart on earning your living by photographing weddings, then go for it. I love it and would happily cheer you on to success!
But I want you to go into it with your eyes wide open. Appreciate the risks involved and be prepared to work hard. There is a world of difference between taking photographs as a hobby and doing it to pay your mortgage and put food on your table.
In other words, there is a difference between the dream and the reality.
If you are finding my articles useful, you will definitely benefit from reading this article about how to start a photography business on the shootdotedit website.