'Working Responsibly' may be the most valuable trick you read - it's so, so important. Working responsibly should be at the core of everything you do as a small business owner - you owe it to yourself and you owe it to your clients. It can be the difference between your business thriving and never being able to work in this sector again (and, unfortunately, you do hear horror stories about some people who have really let people down and things have spiralled out of control..). By working responsibly you protect yourself, your clients' images, you avoid some of the worry and anxiety that comes with being completely responsible for a business, you insure yourself and your work and you can rest easier knowing that you're doing everything in your power to work to the best of your ability. Everything you'll read below is important, even in the early days of starting to bring in bookings - get your own responsible working practises in place as quickly as possible.
GENERAL INSURANCE, PUBLIC LIABILITY INSURANCE, PUBLIC INDEMNITY INSURANCE + PERSONAL INSURANCE
Hopefully you have business insurance and public liability insurance already, if not, you need it. It's affordable, you can pay monthly.. there's no excuse not to have it. You'll then be covered for your kit and your office equipment; and also through public indemnity and public liability insurance you'll be covered for claims made against your and your business and will support and cover you should you be taken to court. Read your policy wording carefully and understand the procedures if you need to claim (some need to you act within 48 hours if you're claiming for stolen or damaged kit, or ask for advice before responding to an unhappy client, for example). Certain venues may ask for your public liability certificate to be sent over before the day you work there, and some may ask that it has a minimum cover of £1m/£2m etc.
It's also worth looking into serious illness cover for yourself in the event that you may have an accident or you become ill and therefore can't work/earn during that time - being self-employed there is no decent sick pay, and you need to cover yourself as an individual in case something stops you from being able to run your business.
BACK-UP CAMERA KIT
You need back up kit. Having appropriately-backed up kit with you for a shoot or wedding, even if you need to hire certain items before you can afford a comprehensive set of kit, is so important. What would you do if your camera body failed and you didn't have another on you? What would you do if you have a lens stopped focusing and you're stuck with only one for the rest of the day? Could you cope well? Would your coverage be seamless? If you're unsure about the answer to any of these then chances are your kit is not appropriately backed up.
I once had a lens fail just as a bride walked down the aisle. I was shooting with a two camera set up (two cameras on me with two different lenses) and was able to cover myself by the kit I had on me. As soon as a hymn began I switched the failed lens for a substitute and carried on. I was covered because I had the appropriate back up kit on me, and it meant that my coverage was seamless. My contract would have covered me for any issue the couple may have had, had they noticed; but by preparing myself too I never had to let it get to that stage. My clients never found out that I had kit failure and I never had to tell them.
For a wedding day you'll need at least two camera bodies, and I would say a minimum of three lenses, just in case of kit failure. It does happen and you can never expect it - this is what you can do to insure yourself and cover how you deal with it. You'll also need more charged batteries and empty memory cards than you expect to need; I like to bring enough that I could shoot a wedding twice over - there is no reason not to be over-prepared. It will also take the edge off any nerves you may have, knowing that you're covered for any eventuality.
I talk about this in greater depth in trick 'KIT + EQUIPMENT'.
BACKING UP FILES
Once you've shot a wedding you will have memory cards full of RAW files - they all need backing up before you even think about opening them to edit. I use twinned portable hard-drives for backing up, meaning that they identical in content, and once they are full I move on to the next set of twinned hard-drives. I then keep these hard-drives separate so if one were to be stolen/damaged/interfered with, I have another kept in a different location. For RAW files, due to them being so huge, it's difficult to store them on any sort of cloud software. I keep my processed files in my client galleries (which act like cloud storage), in their largest resolution, but it's not currently practical to store all RAW files anywhere other than physical hard-drives.
I once had a hard-drive fail, it can happen at any point, luckily everything on it was able to be recovered but it's much easier (and less expensive) to keep everything backed up at least twice over. If a hard-drive fails, don't keep trying to plug it in and out or take it apart; unplug it and ring for advice.
There are often photographers sharing that they've had a hard-drive or a memory card fail, but data recovery is very often successful so don't panic just yet. If you've been following professional practices and working as responsibly as you can then you've done everything you can to avoid disrupting how you cover the wedding and/or which images you can deliver from the day. Unfortunately sometimes things beyond your control do still go wrong. This leads on to a different topic, and I look at how to communicate with clients when it's not all good news in 'MANAGING YOUR CLIENTS'.
SHOOTING WITH MULTIPLE MEMORY CARDS / TWO MEMORY CARD SET UPS
I once had a memory card fail once when I returned from a wedding - I plugged it in and all the files were 'unrecognised' and corrupted. When I plugged it back into the camera it also said 'memory card not recognised'. It sounds like a worst-case scenario, doesn't it? Unintentionally, and due to factors beyond my control, I lost images from someone's wedding.
The corrupted card was from the time between the ceremony and the sit-down meal. It contained some couple portraits and guest mingling shots from a wedding. It didn't contain images from the pre-wedding preparations, the ceremony or the group shots because I had been shooting across multiple memory cards. This card was an 8GB, rather than a 32GB/64GB/128GB.. I lost 150 or so images, if I was shooting on a 128GB card I could have lost 1,000 - 2,000 including all of the important moments preceding the 'mingling time' that day. It would have been devastating for the couple and also for me and potentially my business. But, because I was shooting and changing smaller memory cards all day I lost very few photos from their day in reality. Yes, I would have rather had those images to choose from and edit for the couple too, but the couple never found out, noticed a difference in their coverage and I didn't have to tell them that I'd had memory card failure. Luckily too, (and responsibly, I might add - check me out), I had been shooting with a two camera set up so I had plenty of variety of more couple portraits and mingling shots from that portion of the day too. What could have been a 'worst case scenario' turned into a small and unnoticeable blip in coverage.
NETWORK OF COVER
One of the most valuable things you can have for your business is a supportive network. Reaching out and speaking to other photographers is the only way to build this network. Ideally you should be in contact with local photographers as well as your 'online' friends and acquaintances - making these connections online and ideally in real life too is the best way to create your own support system and create some friendships with people who are in the same boat as you. If you end up going full time self-employed, you'll realise that in ways it can be quite lonely. Yes, you can go for lunch mid-week and work flexibly, but most people seem to work stricter 9-5 hours, and often your main conversations each day if you work from home can be online.
But obviously it's not just about chatting online and wasting time through the day.. Building and being part of a network can be invaluable if you need to rely on someone at some point. Maybe you have a difficult client that you need advice on, or you want to compare contracts with someone, perhaps you don't know how to price a commercial shoot.. most people are happy to share information and advice within these circles and being part of general photography-related discussions like this can be so valuable for every aspect of your business.
If you were ill, injured, suddenly couldn't make a wedding for other reasons such as train strikes, car failure, the weather or even personal circumstances; you also need this network to ensure that your clients have cover for their wedding and you don't let anyone down. These sorts of circumstances, unfortunately, aren't uncommon; but if you can call on support if you need it then you're saving yourself and your business as well as acting as responsibly as possible for your clients. I've heard of people missing the beginnings of weddings because of the weather or being stuck in traffic on the way, and they've suddenly had to 'shout out' for anyone local to the wedding to cover the first hour.. I've helped my friend when she was shooting despite being quite unwell in the early stages of pregnancy, and she in turn helped me when I shot my first wedding after having my daughter. I've covered an entire wedding for a photographer who was suddenly ill, then passed the files I shot over to her to edit..
If something suddenly goes wrong and you're worried about covering a wedding, don't panic - reach out to your network. Communicating on the internet is so instant and so quick. People within their own varied networks are all linked and there are also groups for 'Emergency Photography Cover' on Facebook; photographers tend to be members of multiple groups and shouts for help spread from group to group so quickly - I've seen cover found on the morning of someone's wedding..
In short, all is not lost. But find your network.
A simple thing but an important one. Swap numbers with your clients ahead of the wedding day. I ask my clients for their contact details on their timings form (more on this next), and I also give them mine. Occasionally couples will also provide me with a best man/sister/co-ordinator's number too, as brides and grooms don't tend to monitor their phones much on their wedding days with everything else going on. It adds an extra point of communication, quicker than emailing, and is reassuring for couples that you're accessible if they need you on the day.
ITINERIES FOR THE DAY
Before a wedding I send out a timings form - it helps the day run smoothly. I double-check details like postcodes, ceremony times, meal times, anything in particular they have planned and any extra formal/group shots they would like to request. I email and confirm the time I'll be arriving with them on the morning and at which address, and confirm when I'll be leaving at the end of the day. The timings form serves two main purposes - it managed my clients' expectations ahead of the day, and it gives me another chance to really check exactly what the plan is so I can plan my own logistics around their wedding day.
Responsibilities and questions surrounding a timings form will change depending on the wedding; but, for example, could be similar to:
HOW FAR AWAY IS THE WEDDING?
If it's more than 2 hours' drive you should consider accommodation nearby rather than drive or travel on the morning.
IS IT EASY TO PARK AT THE PRE-WEDDING ADDRESS / CEREMONY / RECEPTION VENUE?
If not, plan your travel ahead of time and discuss it with your couple if you need to - you need to make sure you know your plan for travel ahead of the day. For city centre weddings it's often easiest leave your car somewhere reasonably close to where the reception is, then either stick with the couple all day or even taxi your way around as the wedding moves from location to location. Rushing around cities with traffic and finding-change-for-the-parking-machine is time consuming and irresponsible. Weddings don't stop if you're not there - if you stick with the couple or at least the wedding party then you know it's unlikely you're missing anything because you're with the people the day works around.
I USUALLY GET TO PRE-WEDDING PREPARATIONS 1.5 HOURS BEFORE BUT THE CEREMONY IS 45 MINUTES AWAY..
You might have to get up an hour earlier and take one for the team. Always check the distances between locations and plan accordingly. If the ceremony is at 2pm but is 45 minutes away by car, you'd want to be setting off from prep at around 1pm at the latest, so you may want to arrive half an hour earlier and make sure you're covering everything you need to.
I talk a lot about timings and managing expectations in trick 'MANAGING YOUR CLIENTS'
Your contract is one of the most important ways that you can work responsibly. You need a solid contract that covers all bases so that you set your own standards for your working environment, your clients know what to expect from you, so that you're informing them of how you're going to work responsibly and to limit your liability in case something goes wrong. Before any money changes hands and before you work in any way, you need a contract in place.
I talk more about how to put your own contract together and what to include in trick ' CONTRACTS'.
TRAVELLING FOR WORK
So, either you're travelling far from home for a wedding or you've been booked to head abroad for work. Either way, you need to prepare and ensure you're working responsibly.
Book your accommodation in advance, and if you're travelling a very long journey, say 4 hours+, that you're breaking it up and driving safely. You don't want to travel too far on the morning of a wedding, and you want to allow for traffic along the way. When I'm also staying over after a wedding, I bring my laptop to ensure I can create at least one set of back ups while I'm away from home - this should be your standard practice if you're shooting two weddings in two consecutive days too, and you should also pack and bring all your charging equipment.
Finding cover for a wedding abroad is much trickier than sourcing someone in the UK to step in and help. I would advise that you travel with a day to spare before the wedding, or at the very least the morning of the day before to allow for any flight delays or complications. I always add comprehensive travel insurance too if I'm travelling abroad for work, just for another layer of protection. I also travel with my laptop and maybe a hard-drive so I can back up responsibly even if I'm not home.
As I discussed in 'Network of Cover' above, you need a plan for what you'd do and who you'd call on for help in an emergency. Your network is your best best for finding quick and complete cover and spreading the word, but there are other things you can do too to back you up for a wedding.
You may not need full emergency cover - you may be recovering from an injury, be pregnant or have just given birth, may be worried about shooting 2-3 weddings in as many days.. Sometimes someone else taking over completely might not be the approach you need, in which case you could employ a second shooter for the day so that you have support but you're still in control of how the coverage of the wedding goes. Finding a local second shooter if you're working far from home can help if you're worried about travelling to the wedding, and provide a layer of back up in case something happened and you couldn't quite get there in time. You can expect to pay a second shooter anything between £100 and £200 for a full day wedding, and you can usually find them through networks and Facebook groups - often they are full time professional photographers who happen to be free that day. You will need to provide a second shooter loose contract / agreement so you both know what to expect from each other on the day.
TAKE AWAY PRINTABLES - EMERGENCY PLAN OF ACTION. NETWORK CONTACTS. GENERAL CHECKLIST
OTHER TRICKS YOU MAY BE INTERESTED IN
KIT + EQUIPMENT
FINDING YOUR STYLE + CURATING YOUR PORTFOLIO
EMAILS + COMMUNICATION
GENERAL WORKFLOW + TIME MANAGEMENT
MANAGING YOUR CLIENTS
SOCIAL MEDIA FOR BUSINESS
WRITING + BLOGGING FOR SEO
BUILDING CONFIDENCE + OVERCOMING FEARS