I'm Tori, a portrait and wedding photographer based in central New Jersey. Thank you for visiting my little corner of the internet; I'm so happy you're here. Come check out the full galleries from recent weddings and portrait sessions, behind the scenes, personal posts, helpful tips and more. Please feel free to take a look, and let me know if there is anything special you'd love to see in a future post. I hope to hear from you soon!
I will start with the fact that none of this happened overnight. I hope you find comfort in that. Nothing good and worthwhile is going to happen tomorrow (and if it is, tell me your secrets!), it takes time, consistency, and so much dedication. There is back story to everyone’s journey, and mine so didn’t just start at “I want my own photography business,” nope. Not even close.
There is so much I could explain from the origins of where my interest in photography began and how much of a process it was over the last 10+ years. All of that plays into the firsts of starting my business. Of course, learning how to use my camera was definitely one of my firsts. Learning the history of photography. Learning how to store and file my images. Learning the art of running the art.
I just want to give you a few quick tips and steps I took to starting my career when I really decided it was time to take it more seriously than ‘just this little thing I like to do.’ I can give you waaay more than 3, but for the sake of helping you find ways to start today, here it is:
I cannot stress this one enough. There is so much to learn when you’re starting a business and to find someone who is willing to pour their experience into you to help you avoid all of the struggles isn’t cheating. I felt guilty for a long time that I found such an incredible mentor and friend who was willing to teach me the ropes from legal tax questions to how to price a wedding album to making a solid wedding day timeline.
I felt guilty because I didn’t feel like I was putting in as much work as I should be. I didn’t have to bootstrap it as much as other people had to before me. And then I realized that some people get into college because they know people and others get in based on their qualifications and either way, both got into college. It’s what they choose to do with their college experience and education that matters.
I found a mentor who definitely helped me start my business on the right foot, but I know I would have figured it out all on my own if I hadn’t. It just would’ve taken way longer, and I don’t have too much pride to ask for help. Everything I do, I ask for help. Whether I’m asking Google, Youtube, free resources from other photographer’s blogs and email lists, to paid workshops and conferences.
Ask for help, find the people who will share their experience with you, and treat them well. All I can say is don’t just take, take, take. Be a valuable resource back for them in whatever way you can.
Wondering how I found a mentor? Instagram 🙂 wondering how I found someone who was so willing to take me under their wing? Gut feeling.
I searched Google for local photographers and my main goal was to find someone whose work I even liked to start, because I wasn’t about to settle for some half-ass photographer knowing that I would then learn how to become another half-ass photographer.
Google gave me nothing.
I started stalking local-based hashtags (#njweddingphotographer, #newjerseywedding, #njbride, #njphotographer, #newjerseywedding, etc.) and clicking through profile after profile until I found someone whose work I loved (ps – I only found ONE photographer I truly loved). THEN, I read her captions and got a feel for who she was, the type of work she did, and what she valued.
I was into her captions AND her work, so I hopped to her website and that’s where I was sold. I felt her personality through her site and I just had a gut feeling that we would get along. I felt like she was such a genuine and kind person (which is why I’m sure so many couples fall in love with her, they get the same feeling!) By the way, her name is Jennifer Larsen and she’s the best human ever!
I sent her an email asking if she was looking for an assistant and if she would be willing to take on someone who is looking to learn and assist for free. We sat down for coffee and ended up chatting for a few hours far beyond anything I expected to chat about. That email and coffee date changed my entire course in life, truly. I challenge you not to seek mentorship from just anybody. Choose your people wisely and stick to them fiercely. Be good to them, they’re offering you a wealth of knowledge that they have worked tirelessly at for many years, don’t take that lightly.
I am creative minded and numbers hurt my brain.
I know it’s not impossible for me to do my own taxes or stay organized with my expenses, but I just knew from the start it was never going to be a strength of mine. Before getting myself sucked into a spiraling hole downward of poorly kept records and spreadsheets, I decided I was willing to invest in someone who is an expert at all things money. I found a CPA and bookkeeper who was willing to take it all over for me, and he keeps the health of my business running.
Thank freaking goodness.
I know SO many photographers who can do their own Quickbooks and keep track of all that mumbo jumbo, but I wanted to start my business off with the TIME to work on my art and craft and not on the parts of my business that stressed me out. He helped me file my LLC SCorp (and explain what all of that even meant!), and he takes care of all of my taxes.
So, when everyone else is late-night stressing over finding files and tracking their last 6 months that somehow got lost, I sit tight and wait for his email that pretty much says, “Here’s what you made this year: $$$, Here’s what you owe in taxes: $$$. And I’ve got it all covered.” Done and done.
Yes, this is a big ol’ expense, but for me, it pays off in the amount of time I save not worrying about it. I’d rather pay for someone to do it right and do it well, than lose money (aka my time!) trying to do it myself. You have to decide if you are willing to invest your money or your time, but either way, you have to get your legality in check.
Get that LLC, get that business bank account and card going, and start early. It’s a million times easier to set this up right away and not stress over whether or not you’re ‘legit’ enough to charge people for what you do! Yes, this means you have to pay taxes, but as they say, ‘that’s the cost of doing business!’
Pro tip: I highly recommend finding someone who works specifically with creatives instead of just any CPA. Either way, it will be super helpful, but it’s definitely a plus to have someone who knows your specific needs and has dealt with the questions you’ll likely have relating to your field of work.
I feel like I hear so many photographers say they’re super Type A and organized out the wazoo, but holy heck, I was not. A CRM is a client relationship management system, and it’s essentially a hub for anything to do with your clients from contact information to contracts, emails, payments, and so on.
I had heard about it early on in my business but figured I could just keep track of everyone in spreadsheets or in my email. Only two clients in, and I was already a disaster on my end! I will gladly dedicate an entire blog post to Honeybook, my CRM, to explain all of the features that have saved my butt, but if I could give any business owner advice EARLY ON in their business, it would be to bite the bullet and make that monthly or yearly payment to keep yourself organized and looking professional to your clients.
I can now send my clients contracts, invoices, questionnaires, etc. in a click or two, have them sign and pay everything securely online, and provide an incredibly professional experience. It’s convenient on both ends, and I love that I can make my client’s lives and my own easier with Honeybook!
I would miss emails all the freaking time without it, and now I am on top of my 40+ clients a year from inquiry to final hugs goodbye, and it feels damn good.
Whew, okay… I know that is a lot to take in even in just three tips! I can’t pretend like there isn’t SO much more, but this is what helped me feel like I wasn’t drowning in my business from day one. These few resources and investments were game changers for me. Curious about any of them? Comment your questions or shoot me an email and I’d be glad to help! 🙂 Interested in more photography tips and tricks?! Email me what you’d like me to write next – firstname.lastname@example.org!