Going Pro? - What You Need is a Plan - Carla Coulson
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Going Pro? – What You Need is a Plan

Copyright Carla Coulson

This post is for all the new photographers that have written to me over the years and continue to write to me asking me how I managed to get started as a photographer and how you can too..

Getting started is definately the most challenging part but if you have clear ideas about what photos you want to take, where you want to go and who is your future client the path will become clearer. Nothing worse than wading through chest deep mud not knowing where you are going!

My advice is to write yourself a business plan. Now for a creative that word business can grate on ones nerves a little but I think of it as a ‘get where you want to go plan’!! This is the most basic of all but it got me started.

I thought it might help by using myself when I was starting out as an example.

Here’s what I knew at the time way back in 2001:

I loved taking travel photos.

I wanted to work with magazines (and as I had already spent a patrimony on magazines all my life I knew exactly the ones I liked).

I wanted to live in Italy.

I had created my first travel story on Naples.

I knew how much it cost to survive on a shoestring in Italy.

I knew my strengths (living in Italy and having access to incredible material)  and weaknesses (not having clients in Italy)..

Here’s how my plan looked:

Definition of my work:

Travel/Lifestyle photographer working with travel magazines in Australia and Internationally. To evenutally work with publishers of travel books about places I love.

Exhibit my photos in group and solo exhibitions.

Partake in a photo library and find a syndication agency for my eventual travel stories.

Prospective Clients:

The list was long but included Vogue E + T, Gourmet Traveller, Marie Claire Australia, Harpers Bazaar. Also included all the Australian newspaper magazines, travel supplements. English magazines .. I remember in the space of an afternoon I had 40 prospective clients on my list.

I also wrote on my list the names of reputable photo libraries and sydnication agencies and the top Australian advertising agencies that I thought would be interested in lifestyle shots of Italyfor advertising brands.


Create Website

Design and print Business cards

Design and print comp cards

Start blog in the future

Use published work to create a name and presence through ‘by line’.

Tell everyone I know that I am now a photographer and find out if any one has any contacts in the industry

Create targeted list of clients and contact them personally for portfolio/body of work presentations. The telephone has always been the most powerful marketing tool I know!

Budget and Equipment Needed.

I made a list of what I would need equipment wise and by the time I had finished photography school I had enough equipment to get me started.

I made a budget for the next couple of years based on my expenditure of rent, electricity, travel costs, office and the simplest lifestyle possible (lots of bread and water that year but hey I wasn’t going home)! This allowed me to understand how much I needed to earn to break even or make a profit.

I didn’t break even in the first year but I had some money aside to give me time to create work. It’s tough to make any business work in one year. In the second year I had almost 8 different stories published (that I had created and pitched to magazines) and fell across the break even line. In the third year everything became easier I received magazine commissions and in my fourth year was lucky enough to get a book deal..Who would have ever imagined???

A real business plan is far more indepth than my example above but it’s nothing to fear. It will give you an idea how you can focus your energies to move forward in the right direction. My plan has changed over the years as life and my mood has changed but I have always re-adjusted my business plan to suit.

I hope this helps..

  • Parisienne Farmgirl

    This is a wonderful post!!! You simply gotta have a plan! I had so much fun doing one for our mag… This is so kind of you to give this kind of advice. Plan your work, work your plan – go girl.
    Bonne Semaine!

    (Thanks for the Tweet mention! 'Means the world to me!)
    the Parisienne Farmgirl
    Parisienne Farmgirl Magazine

    January 30, 2012 at 3:05 am
  • Sarah Klassen

    How informative this is! If I come across a new photographer, I would definitely send them over for informative reading… on behalf of everyone who reads and learns from this, "thank you!"

    Hope you've had a lovely weekend!


    January 30, 2012 at 3:33 am
  • Janelle McCulloch

    Great post Carla! Janelle McCulloch

    January 30, 2012 at 4:06 am
  • Melissa G

    You are positively clairvoyant. You have touched upon a topic that I have been throwing around in my mind for a while. I've put those books down on my wish list [as well as your publications].
    Thank you for your insight. 🙂

    January 30, 2012 at 6:31 am
  • Hannah, Lost in wishful thinking

    Thanky Carla, this is so inspiring 🙂

    January 30, 2012 at 9:30 am
  • Trudy Florence

    Thank you so much! This is perfect timing. As I was walking around London on the weekend I actually allowed myself to realise that being a travel/lifestyle photographer is actually my dream job and I want to do everything I can to make it happen. I am going to sit down and make a business plan and actually have the guts to go and approach Aussie mags that I love. Thank you for sharing your experiences!

    January 30, 2012 at 9:32 am
  • simplethingstolove

    I am loving this setup information, all your advice is so pertinent for any design/business planning not just photography. Thank you also for taking the time to stop by. It is always appreciated.

    January 30, 2012 at 11:06 am
  • MMAndamon

    Another inspirational post, Carla! I have been following your blog for sometime now and your posts are just awe-inspiring and informative. I particularly love the photography tips you share. Thanks!

    January 30, 2012 at 11:40 am
  • Will @ Bright.Bazaar

    Your photography is just breathtaking, Carla. I would love to hang a print of those boats on my wall. Stunning. The colours inspire me so much! xx

    January 30, 2012 at 6:36 pm
  • peggy braswell

    Love this post! How generous you are. xxpeggybraswelldesign.com

    January 30, 2012 at 6:59 pm
  • Desiree Mostad

    thank you so much for this. It is EXACTLY what I needed today. I'm going to be flying to Europe for a quick visit tomorrow and I'll be in Paris the 10th-12th. 🙂 THANK YOU

    January 30, 2012 at 7:05 pm
  • Katie Rose

    Thank you so much! Travelling and photography are the two things I feel I HAVE to do and this advice has helped show me how to plan for that. Thank you Carla you wild woman!

    January 30, 2012 at 8:24 pm
  • Peter

    It's obvious that not only a plan is needed, but also a lot of courage … and of course talent! Obviously you have it all! 🙂

    January 30, 2012 at 9:13 pm
  • Francesca Muir

    Such good advice Carla – as always – "you gotta have a plan and make lots of lists!" Francesca x

    January 30, 2012 at 9:28 pm
  • Lauren (stillpluslife)

    Carla, you always have the best advice and your generosity never fails to amaze me. It shouldn't. Generosity should be amazing, should it? But I'm thankful nonetheless. You are a walking (typing) encyclopedia for people like me, and it means the world. xo

    January 30, 2012 at 10:25 pm
  • P

    Great post, thank you Carla.

    January 30, 2012 at 11:44 pm
  • Mary Jo at TrustYourStyle

    I love how you broke this down so simply and made it move organically from what you like to do, to making a living with it. Such excellent advice!

    xo Mary Jo

    January 31, 2012 at 6:34 pm