To go pro? Here are a few often unattended-to-points to ponder if you want to turn your talent into a professional photography business.
Let us assume you know your equipment well. While we are at it, let's decide you have an understanding of how a business works. And that you have some decent equipment, a portfolio of images, and you're getting some awesome feedback. As we drill down a bit more, let's begin to use some caution. Based on my experience (which can be debatable) there are a few issues that hardly ever see a full day of sun in this discussion.
First is the notion that positive feedback on your images means you are ready to go pro. Have you taken a workshop, a few courses, viewed some art, been critiqued by a person in authority (someone that makes the hair raise up on the back of your neck in defensiveness)? Remember that photography is personal and if it matters to you, it matters a lot. I see many pics posted online with rave complements from friends, photog groups, and the general viewing public. Make sure you have submitted yourself to some honest and authentic feedback from people willing to be honest - people with cred in this biz. Your family and friends love you and are excited for you. A pretty or extraordinarily good-looking person, or an amazing athlete, or a nude model who knows how to strike a pose does not make for a professional level image in and of itself. It makes for some excitement that you got such a model in front of your camera. It happens to all of us. And this sounds ridiculous, but admit it, this is truth.
Second is the idea of defining your style. This is a numbers game. You must be willing to take a lot of bad and ugly images before you arrive at good ones on a consistent basis. And you must be willing to do it in front of others who will witness your good, bad and ugly results. Only then can you begin to hone your style. Are you a perfectionist? This will be hard. You cannot hone your style and spread your talent in a big way if you cannot tolerate the numbers game. Make a note of this as you ponder the question, are you ready to go pro? Along these lines I believe that you do not need to hone your style before going pro. People need what you are offering! Solid work that is client-centered, collaborative, and delivered with top-notch service is reason enough NOT to hold yourself back while waiting till you have decided you have a differentiated style from others.
Your concept of yourself as a photographer is partly based on how you see yourself and partly based on how others mirror YOU back to YOU. Your style will change and evolve. Your genre will, too. You may discover that while you love landscape photography, you are competing in a genre that makes money more by giving workshops than by selling images. You may discover that the processing of landscape images is more technically detailed than you prefer.
The third point is trickier. Today, photography - with a healthy sustainable profit - is much more than offering to make pictures for someone. Your activity on various social media platforms is critical. It must be consistent and strategic. Are you willing to invest your time and energy on this? Are you a sporadic person? You must feed the social media beast (or hire someone to do it) on a regular basis and create buzz if you want to be seen and heard. Are you willing? Are you generous? Your target client must be drawn to you, your message, your being. Sharing your work, getting it out there, not worrying about covering it up with your logo/watermark is key. Openness, transparency, and generosity is what people seek.
Oh, one more thing. Who are you? Do you know? Who do you hang with? Can you compete in the millennial wedding business if you are uncomfortable with this generation? Do you love dogs but are not patient, animal savvy, or willing to get down & dirty in the water or on the ground to photograph them? Do you want to photograph alternative lifestyles but live in an area far from this market? Do you abhor dealing with conflict or with someone who wants things their way? All of these things will affect you, your message, your reach, your time, your energy, and your success.
Lastly of all - you cannot be afraid to ring your own bell. Being in business for yourself is not about being quietly humble and hanging in the shadows. You must believe in yourself and hang out in a full day of sun. Going professional can seem scary and forbidding. It can also engage the big blue sky and offer you incredible vistas in your life. It is rare and wonderful - just attune yourself to your truth and get some feedback along the way. Here is a crew of furry friends to cheer you on!