If you’re reading this story you have likely also run across other “How to Start a Pet Photography Business” instructional Web sites. I looked at those sites quite a bit when I was first putting together ideas for my company, and though they are a good resource for someone who is unfamiliar with business plans, incorporation forms, or budgeting, there are many aspects of the pet industry that they do not cover.
In my first year as a pet photography business owner, these have been my key issues:
- Who to market services to
- How much pet owners are willing to pay for portraits
- What services are most desired
- What equipment to purchase
These are some finer points that have to be looked into but the most important of all is to have a marketing director for hire to take care of your backend affairs like budget and paperwork but now let us take a look at some tips:
How to market your business is the ultimate question that must be addressed. Your marketing plan determines who your niche market is, what they are willing to pay, and what services they will expect.
There are two ways you can approach niche marketing in pet photography: you can target the low cost, mass quantity consumers (i.e. take cheap pictures in pet stores) or you can target the upper class consumers looking to purchase fine art. Both approaches have positives and negatives.
Mass quantity marketing is potentially easier – you can place your information all over town on bulletin boards, in newspapers, at stores, etc. However, if you target consumers who will ultimately be looking for a discount, you will have to establish a loyalty program that provides incentive for return visits or be in a location that will subject you to enough new steady business to keep your company afloat.
Marketing to upper class niche buyers can be harder because you must have very targeted publications, a thorough knowledge of the community and the gatekeepers of information, and good negotiating skills. Wealthier consumers may not push you for a price break, but they will expect excellent quality for their money and more product options than just standard small size prints. Your customer service must be second to none, and you must feel comfortable having fewer assignments but charge enough to keep your profits up.
Because pet photography is such a unique service, it is often difficult to find benchmark pricing structures within the community. Many communities do not have a pet photography business to compare your prices with (which is ideal if you are considering starting one). Therefore, you will have to rely on associating your pricing structure with prices charged by other types of portrait photographers in the area, because that is ultimately who your customers will compare you with. This is somewhat unfair, because your work as a pet photographer will in many ways be exceedingly more difficult than other types of portrait photography, so it is important that you differentiate your company as much as possible through means of advertising. The more people understand the differences between human and pet photography, the more they will be willing to see your company as a completely new offering and have an open mind towards the products and services you provide.
Services to Offer:
Pet photography is a great service niche because it offers such a variety of activities you can do to increase your bottom line (and have fun doing it!). Obviously formal pet portraits are one option, but you can also attend pet parades, dog jogs, adoption events, do “Santa Claws” pictures, attend agility trials or formal dog shows, and more.
Something I have found to be rewarding in both a personal and business sense is to work with the local animal welfare organizations. Most of them hold large annual events that you can participate in as a sponsor. This is a great way to donate your time and money to the community as well as strengthen (in my case) a personal cause and gain exposure to potential customers. You do have to be careful in how you participate with these events though. Since you are exposed to such a wide consumer market through non-profit events, you have to make sure your philanthropic efforts do not conflict with your niche-marketing efforts. For example, you do not want to get in a habit of offering cheap pictures at events and then expect your portrait customers to be willing to pay fine art prices for private sessions. This will cause confusion about the type of quality you offer, and you will have difficulty securing business beyond the event photos.
Equipment to Purchase:
To get started as a pet portrait photographer, you do not need a large amount of equipment. Unfortunately, the equipment you do need is rather expensive (as is the case with any type of photography business), so it is best to anticipate your startup costs being several thousand dollars at minimum. You will need a high quality digital camera, and should have at least two cameras so you have a backup available at all times. You will also need a good set of portable studio lights. Alien Bees are a great option for studio lights – they are reliable, easy to carry, and relatively inexpensive. The company also has an excellent return policy and customer support. I also HIGHLY recommend that you purchase a wireless remote system for your studio lights. You will need to move around a lot while taking formal portraits, and you do not want yourself, your customers, or the animals to trip over the wires connecting your equipment. If you purchase the Alien Bee studio lights, you can get a wireless kit for approximately $80 which is a tremendous investment.
You will also need at least one strobe for your camera for times when you need extra light but are not using a full studio setup. In addition, you will need a backdrop stand and backdrop material. Photek offers a great starter set called the Peoplepopper which is inexpensive but gets the job done. Cheap flat sheets from Walmart make excellent backdrops – they might not look wonderful on the backdrop stand, but the photos will turn out well and you can easily throw them away if a dog decides to make a mess on them (and I guarantee that will happen!).
Don’t forget in addition to your major equipment expenses, you will also have plenty of smaller things to purchase such as dog treats, squeaky toys, office supplies, order forms, receipt books, advertisements, etc. These little purchases can add up to big dollars so it is best to budget your needs well before you dive into your business so you know exactly what is in store for you.
I hope some of these tips are useful for those of you planning to embark on developing and operating a pet photography company. Each business owner must find his/her own keys to success; it all depends on the amount of time you are willing to put into the business, the area your business will serve, and the customer base you feel most comfortable working with.