So many things have to be considered when you’re just starting out, and deciding on a name that suits your business comes right at the very beginning. Here’s a guide to your first steps.

WORDS TERRY HOPE

SO, YOU’RE STANDING on the threshold of your new career in the creative arts and you’re blinking in the light and are slightly bewildered by the thought of what’s involved in creating a brand new business from scratch. Where should you start and what should you be doing before you even begin to think about getting out there and advertising your services?

While it might sound a little like jumping the gun, choosing a strong company name could be a good first place to start since this can help to focus the mind and encourage you to think a little more about the services you’ll be looking to offer.

Of course, you could – and a huge number of photographic businesses do – choose your own name for the business, ie John/Jane Smith Photography, or even the name of the couple if you’re a team – the Smiths (not the band!) – and that implies personal service and identifies your name as a brand. People like the fact they’re dealing with an individual and it’s intimate and friendly.

However, there could be drawbacks. For a start, unless you have a very original name there’s a good chance someone else might also be trading under that name and have registered it with Companies House. At the very least it could be confusing for the customer. There’s also the case that, if you’re working in a genre that isn’t weddings or portraiture, that it could sound a little too personal, especially if you’ve grown the business and you’re now working regularly with other photographers.

Finally, there is also the future to think about. If you build up the business over the years and then want to sell it when retirement is calling it will be a lot less attractive to a buyer if the business that everyone has known for years has your name attached to it. If it’s a more generic name then the new owner has the option to continue trading with it while retaining the reputation and authority that you might have built up over the years.

What’s in a name?

What’s the impression you’re looking to give? There are buzzy and exciting words that create an upbeat reaction and others that do the exact opposite and, while it might not sound like a big deal, that response could have an influence on who uses your services.

You might be looking to attract an audience that’s looking for a low priced, budget service, for example, and these kinds of businesses can work if you can generate the necessary volume of work. Big up the quality of the service using words such as ‘Value’ or ‘Affordable’ in your title, which suggest a keen price without making the service sound like it could be less than highly professional. Likewise, if your style is modern and dynamic you might want the word ‘Contemporary’ in there or ‘Traditional’ or ‘Natural’ if that’s your thing. Resist the urge to come up with a name that’s corny or has the ring of a tabloid headline about it. They can raise a smile, but if someone is looking for an upmarket service you can bet that they won’t be coming your way.

ABOVE and BELOW: Websites such as The National Business Register or 123-Reg will tell you instantly whether someone has beaten you to a company name or already owns the URL you’re after.

Put together a list of names and try them out amongst your friends and associates. People love a challenge such as this and you never know what might come out of the process. Someone could suddenly come up with a suggestion out of the blue that just totally sounds right, and you’ll know it in an instant if you hear something that’s a perfect fit.

Your job’s not done yet, however. If you’ve come up with a dynamic name for your company there’s a good chance that someone else could have got there first. It’s really important to check this out before you waste time and money spreading the word about who you are or getting any stationary printed up. A free search on the government’s Companies House website or The National Business Register will tell you very quickly how original you’ve been and will save you further wasted time.

However, even if your firstchoice name is gone there’s still hope. You can still think laterally to come up with an alternative that could work just as well and it could even be better than your first thought.

When I was looking for a name for my publishing house, for example, I thought about the name ‘Smart Media’ for a number of reasons, not least the incorporation of a positive buzzword such as ‘Smart’ but also because of the photographic connection of the Smart Media memory card, albeit one that’s now no longer regularly used. I also liked the word ‘media,’ since it implied something more than simple magazine production and it brought along a certain amount of future proofing should I want to make videos and run a website down the line.

Not surprisingly I had been beaten to this name by a selection of companies, which was a little disappointing. But I still thought it was a strong name and I wanted to use it, so a little extra thinking came up with ‘Smarter Media’ (also taken) and eventually ‘So Smart Media’ (all mine!) It’s close enough to still have all the same connections but slightly different so as not to conflict with other businesses.

Seal the Deal

Once you’re sure about your name you can then think further and your next step will be to buy the URL for your business. Here again you could be in for a disappointment but once more there could be ways around the issue. The more unusual your company name, of course, the better chance you’re going to have of claiming the cherished ‘.com’ name, but even if this has already gone there are lots of alternatives that will get you out of a hole.

Domain names are available from a variety of sources and it’s up to the individual to pick the partner they want to work with, but you can go to

any of them if you just want to check what’s available. The likes of Go Daddy or 123-reg will give you the option to type in your company name and to see very quickly whether it’s for sale. If the ‘.com’ is no longer available then you might be able to buy ‘co.uk’ or ‘.org’ or ‘.net,’ while there are also variations available if you’re happy to have a URL that’s close to your name but not identical. For ‘So Smart Media,’ for example, there is ‘sosmartmedia.london,’ sosmart-media.com’ or ‘sosmartmedia.com.’

Once you’ve got your URL sorted you can then create personalised email addresses, which sound so much more professional than a ‘johnsmith465@gmail.com.’ No client is ever going to remember that, let alone be impressed by it, whereas something like ‘john@sosmartmedia.com’ has a much better ring to it. Then you get the variations: sales@, info@, queries@ and so on.

The email addresses are free to create once you have the URL, but you will need a little technical nous – not a huge amount fortunately – to set up a system where those email addresses will be automatically gathered in under the umbrella of your host email address, which could, for example, be ‘btinternet.com.’

One further consideration is that should you be tempted to work with your given email address then you’re tied into it should you ever want to move to a different provider. Far better to have a company email address and to stick with it and this can then travel with you throughout your entire career.

Companies House: www.gov.uk/get-information-about-a-company
The National Business Register: www.start.biz
Checking a URL: www.123-reg.co.uk/domain-search

DURING THE DECADE that I’ve worked as a professional landscape and travel photographer my day job has changed significantly. When I first started out I was primarily submitting articles to magazines and doing a little stock photography here and there alongside. But a lot has changed since those halcyon days. The emergence of social media in particular has added to the melting pot and it’s created yet another piece of the pie that I need to consider as a working professional.

The dawn light Currently I’m finding myself out in the field three whole days a week plus a couple of half days. Family life and working around the school run accounts for the half days out as I need to ensure my kids get to school when my other half can’t make it. But when I do have the freedom to get out then I’ll need to be moving by around 4am to 5am depending on the distance that I need to drive.

ABOVE: The beautiful scenery close to Julian’s home base in France gives him plenty of scope for subjects and he’ll often be the only one there taking pictures.

The dawn light to me is very much the time of day I prefer. At this hour people tend to still be waking up and so I’m often very much alone and at one with the landscape that’s in front of me. There is nothing better than the first rays of light kissing the leading lines of a vineyard or a mist-filled valley surrounding a hilltop town. Those first rays of golden light illuminating the scene are, for me, one of the most beautiful moments of the day as the world starts the process of waking up.

What’s worth mentioning here is that the landscape and travel photography scene in France, where I’m lucky enough to be based, seems to be very different to that in my native UK. Whereas in this country you might find that there’s a line of tripod holes overlooking somewhere like Corfe Castle in Dorset, over here you’d be lucky to see anyone, let alone another photographer.

The kit I take out with me is exclusively Canon and consists of a 5D Mark IV, a 6D plus 16-35mm f/2.8 L Mark III, 24-70mm f/2.8 L Mark II, 70-200mm f/4 L, 100-400mm Mark II L f/.5-5.6, 17mm TS-E L f/1.4, 24mm TS-E Mark II L f/3.5 L, 1.4 Extender Mark III and a Benro TMA38CL Carbon Fibre Tripod with a GD3WH Head. I also have Lee ND and polarising filters and carry everything in my Think Tank bag.

Back at the desk

Once back home I’ll download the work that I’ve created during my morning shoot and the number of images I come back with will depend on where I’ve been. I go through and mark the keepers whilst permanently deleting the images that don’t make the grade. This is a good habit to get into as shots I won’t use will otherwise take up precious hard drive space that’s better reserved for future shoots.

Any images that need working on, such as exposure blending or stitching of panoramas, are completed before the final editing. Once I’m happy with everything I’ll then change the file names from the camera default to the one that I’ll be using in my image library before making sure that they’re properly indexed on my spreadsheet. Finally, the all-important metadata needs to be added in the form of descriptions and keywords.

Email catchups

My next job of the day is to catch up with the emails in my In Box. Some of these will take just seconds to sort out but others can take a good half an hour or so. This might sound extreme perhaps, but I’m a photographer currently dealing with a number of copyright infringements and, at times, I’m having to write back to lawyers either in the UK or the USA where the perpetrators reside.

Currently I seem to come across an infringement of my work around every four days or so and it’s a fact that the digital age has brought with it both positives and negatives. The unfortunate reality is that the general populous’ knowledge of copyright is lacking to the extreme and people have come to believe that just because an image is on the internet that it’s free for them to use.

Because of this I’ve had to familiarise myself with things such as the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 as well as having to send any new work to the US Copyright Office to ensure that’s it’s protected when the inevitable happens.

In Britain there is no mechanism for us photographers to register the copyright of our work since it’s an automatic right. However, if your work gets used in the USA without your authorisation then a copyright certificate is necessary for you to receive statutory damages, which can be significant depending on the usage.

Location planning

When the frustrations of the legal world are dusted off, I motivate and inspire myself again by planning where I’m going to head to shoot next. As I’m currently not able to undertake my usual journeys due to the world situation, I’ve had to work out a sensible driving distance on my full days.

To plan this out I use a variety of sources, such as existing imagery as well as Google Street View. Once I have my spots worked out, I use Google My Maps to plot each location I want to go to, breaking it up into dawn, daytime and dusk shots.

Social media

As mentioned earlier, the emergence of social media has added in more work. Instagram, Facebook and YouTube have created a hungry world that needs to be fed on a regular basis.

Personally, I upload to each one but to varying degrees, due to time commitments. I’ve recently committed to showing people a taste of my shoots out in the French countryside twice a week on YouTube, where they can see places that they very possibly were never aware even existed. YouTube is the one that takes up the most time as it requires editing together a vlog which, depending on how much I waffled to camera, might take around three hours to put together.

Dusk to Zoom

The day’s end currently presents two options to me. The lockdown has created an opportunity for me to break geographical barriers and to present my work to people over Zoom conferencing software. But if I’m free then I’ll head out to within an hour or so of where I live to photograph the setting sun over the countryside. It’s these moments I love as I’m away from the desk and out in the clean fresh air of the landscape.

More information: www.julianelliottphotography.com

MPB Used Kit List

If you’re looking to take up a career as a commercial photographer here are some suggestions and pricings for suitable kit from MPB’s resident pricing expert Marc Reid.

Panasonic Lumix DC-GX9

– £399, Excellent Condition + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 ASPH Power OIS (£434, Good Condition) + Panasonic Lumix G Vario 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH Power OIS (£264, Good Condition). The Panasonic Lumix DC-GX9 is a MFT mirrorless camera that is characterised by its rangefinder-inspired body design and sleek form factor. Featuring a 20.3 MP Digital Live MOS sensor, along with a Venus Engine image processor, the GX9 is able to record UHD 4K movies at 30 or 24 fps and record fullresolution stills at up to 9 fps with AF-S.

Sony Alpha a7 – £499

Excellent Condition + Sony FE 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS (£549, Excellent Condition) + Sony E 10-18mm f/4 OSS (£489, Excellent Condition) With its impressive full-frame sensor in a compact body, the Sony a7 delivers fantastic results without the weight. It’s the perfect tool for the professional who might be looking to lighten their kit without compromising on quality. The added feature of 1080p video means that this model is the perfect all-rounder.

Nikon Z6 – £1189

Like New Condition + Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S (£419, Excellent Condition) + Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 EX DG, Nikon Fit (£244, Good Condition) The Z 6 is perhaps the most adaptable camera Nikon has ever created. It’s at the sweet spot of speed, resolution and low-light performance, all combined with the advantages of a lightweight mirrorless design, a revolutionary new full-frame lens mount with matched lenses and seamless integration with Nikon’s DSLR system.

YOU’VE DONE THE hard work and managed to get a potential client to give you their email address. Maybe you met them at an event, maybe they actually filled out the form on your website about newsletters [hint – no one wants another newsletter!] or they maybe they requested some information from you on pricing or were looking to receive some top photo tips from you. Whatever, you’ve now managed to get a prized piece of contact information that it’s crucial you use wisely and well, so what comes next?

When a potential client gives you their email address, what they’re doing is making a statement. They’re saying that they’re trusting you and your brand. They are also giving you permission to contact them, and so the last thing you want to do at this important juncture is to ignore them. This could be the time when they’re evaluating a few different photographers and could be open to persuasion or they may not yet be ready to make a decision. But when they do you want to be at the top of that decision-making pile that’s for sure.

Instead of letting them forget about you until your next quarterly newsletter rolls around, why not set up a template for a welcome but not overwhelming series of emails for new subscribers? Almost 75% of those who sign up to a service will expect at least one email at the point of subscription. By using a series of tailored content to welcome new users you can avail yourself of all kinds of benefits.

Caroline Sumners is an experienced marketing consultant with 20 years of experience in marketing services. Caroline was formally European marketing director for G-Technology and a digital growth strategist and coach helping business owners to build profitable businesses.

Building Trust with your Client

With so many photographers competing for their attention, any brand awareness you build with website visitors can fade quickly. A suitably-paced welcome series will help to maintain awareness of you and your services and the style of photos that you take. It also subtly reinforces the values that help you align with what matters to the customer. Not only do you remind them of who you are but you also show why you’re fully worthy of their attention, time, money and consideration.

A welcome series of emails sent at carefully pre-planned intervals helps to remind prospective customers that you haven’t forgotten about them. It also allows you to share success stories, keep them abreast of new developments and products and it even allows you to share the testimonies of other happy customers that you’re currently catering for.

You can create a tailored stream of content that’s designed to build trust in you and your services. By following up on their interest straight away, you stand more chance of making the kind of impression that leads to prolonged and meaningful engagement and, ultimately, a booking. Share useful information freely, tell your customers what they want to know and they’ll likely also follow you on social channels and visit your website more often as well.

Every prospective customer is sure to raise objections in their heads while initially perusing your website. Bargain conscious customers in particular will be wanting to know that they’re getting the best value before they commit to buy. Your welcome series can give them the assurances they’re looking for by pre-empting and answering their objections and re-asserting faith in your brand.

If you want to know how to build your welcome series, check out my website at www.carolinesumners.com

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