Find out how to be a professional photographer in France. Create a business, build a website, and get clients with Rachael Laporte, an American in Paris.
An American in Paris: How I run my photography business in France
I’ve made many mistakes along the way, and setting up a business in another country has been far from easy. But all the paperwork, Google translations, and frustrating conversations with accountants were worth it to work my dream job, a professional photographer in Paris, France.
Quitting my day job
It was a beautiful Sunday evening in mid-August, and my French husband and I had just returned from our honeymoon. However, the prospect of returning to a job that I loathed, filled me with dread.
My husband took this opportunity to tell me that something had to change. He figured out a way for us to afford for me to leave my job and finally become a full-time professional photographer in France.
The next day at work, I requested a mutual separation of employment. I couldn’t wait any longer; I had two years to set things up and make my new business a success.
Business before photography
After the euphoria wore off and reality set in, I realized I knew nothing about how to make my business viable. Looking at the numbers made me feel dizzy. How could I have imagined that taking pictures might replace my income?
I fought the temptation to swallow my pride and plead for my former job back. Instead, I found a mentor who could guide me in starting a photography business in France. The first task we took on was to create a formal business plan.
I spent very little time behind the camera during those first several months. Rather, I concentrated on defining my photography business. The business plan’s structure aided me in delving into every facet of what I wanted from this new venture.
SWOT Analysis (Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats)
Most importantly, I needed to know what was out there, how to differentiate myself from the other professional photographers in France, and what precisely they offered.
Analyzing my strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats gave me a better understanding of what I needed to do with my business.
Taking stock of my strengths and weaknesses was a whole new level of introspection for me. I had to draw on what my previous experiences had taught me, what my clients loved about working with me, and where I needed to improve.
Looking into my opportunities and threats made me consider the external factors that would make or break my new business. Researching other photographers in France inspired ways I could grow as a business. I was well aware of the competition and yet still confident in my ability to stand out.
Market research matters
After conducting extensive research into the market of people willing to hire and pay photographers in France, I realized that my ideal clients would not be French people.
I turned my focus to English-speaking tourists in Paris.
Fortunately, there are many excellent online resources that I could use for free. I created a customer avatar to help me better understand how to reach out to a specific audience and get their attention.
I started by defining the demographic I wanted to work with, then researching their favorite brands, spending habits, geographic locations, goals, and values.
The more I learned about my target market, the better a company I could build to meet their needs.
Get your finances straight
For me, one of the most indispensable parts of the business plan was analyzing my financials. It required me to sit down and calculate exactly how I could afford to run this business.
I projected what potential business expenses I would incur and added that to how much I needed to bring in to pay myself a liveable wage.
Then I calculated how many photoshoots and weddings I could photograph in a year, and divided out how much each should cost.
I set lofty goals for myself in my first year of business. I had planned which courses I would take, which conferences I would attend, and what equipment I would purchase.
To get my name out there, I focused on creating a website, a blog, and having multiple editorials featured. I would build my social media up and form solid relationships with other people in the industry.
Get an accountant stat
Even for native speakers, French administration can be daunting. So, to ensure that I was following the law, I decided to hire an accountant to handle my finances.
At our first meeting, we discussed my business plans, potential income, and expenses. We settled on the type of company I should start and the subscription service that would best meet my needs.
Working with experts who could answer all of my questions took a lot of the pressure off.
All the online courses
With the business side of things all mapped out, it was time to turn my focus on becoming the photographer I always wanted to be.
I bought and binged online courses from America’s top wedding and portrait photographers.
Topics ranging from shooting and editing to posing filled my Facebook feed. I wanted to make sure that I highlighted the very best of my clients’ features naturally.
In one of my favorite online courses, the instructor provided us with a list of branding buzzwords. The first word that stood out to me was joy.
I just entered one of the most joyous times of my life, and I wanted to help my clients celebrate their joyful moments, too.
Above all, I wanted to become the go-to photographer in France for Americans celebrating significant moments in their lives.
My business would convey joy in every aspect of my branding. Everything from my colors to my copy would be joyful. When developing my brand, the question “does this express joy?” guided every decision I made.
Book styled shoots
If my Facebook groups told me anything, the next step was to build up a portfolio through styled shoots. Plus, the added benefit was to have plenty of features in other publications.
Instead of signing up for an expensive styled shoot organized by other photographers in France, I planned my own. I contacted both suppliers based in Paris and worldwide to see if we could collaborate on my concepts.
To entice some of the larger suppliers to lend us their products, I created a proposal that featured the mood board, concept, and other details. Also, I pushed the total social media coverage of everyone involved and the possibility to be published.
More important than getting published, I learned an invaluable skill set.
I could highlight each vendor while producing a variety of shots worthy of being published. This gave me the confidence to pursue my business without abandon.
Make a website in 36 hours
As people noticed me, inquiries started to come in, and with them, requests for more examples of my work. I had been delaying building my website because of the importance I put on SEO.
I still had much left to learn, yet I embraced the cliché of “done is better than none.” I dove headfirst into a sea of free Showit templates.
Within 36 hours, I learned the platform and published my very first professional photography website. Although it was far from perfect, I was proud of my site and ready to work as a photographer in France.
Connect on social
Despite the featured publications and the SEO-friendly website, more people found me on social media. Interacting with the person behind the camera was far more appealing than just seeing beautiful pictures from yet another photographer in France.
Hashtags and geotagging helped me find people that loved Paris. My pictures of my past clients would inspire them. Then my videos of everyday Paris fueled their desire to vacation here.
But the behind-the-scenes images truly connected us.
Everything that I learned about personal branding was true.
The most important part of my business was me.
They engaged with my posts, and we would become friends over DMs first, then they would inquire about my services.
Be open to continue learning
With my business growing, outsourcing and automation have become my biggest priority. Setting everything up in a CRM was the first step to streamlining the booking process.
The less time I spend doing the least valuable aspects of my job, the more I’m able to do what I truly love. Above all, getting to create and capture joyful moments in the most incredible city in the world gives my job meaning.
Written by RACHAEL LAPORTE | Photographs by RACHAEL LAPORTE