1. Get skills- Creative live is an excellent resource to learn from the experts on any kind of photo knowledge (and it's free!) Understanding Exposure, 3rd Edition: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera was my favorite resource for understanding the fundamentals of manual exposure and The Hot Shoe Diaries: Big Light from Small Flashes walked me through working with speedlights and strobes. Master your camera and understand all the ins and out of exposure, shutter speed and ISO.
Pursue local internships and workshops, ask questions of anybody and everybody. Learn the rudiments of Quick books, Photoshop, and Lightroom software. For some this means going to school (with the added benefit of graduating with a great network) and others it means independent learning. Personally, I studied in NY with Rodney Smith and locally with a photographer who took me under his wing.
2. Practice on friends & family - It's your responsibility to practice, practice, practice. Try posting on Craigslist for free models or trades.
3. Find your niche- Figure out what you love and your default style. I call this my signature look- what 3 words describe your photography? This is primarily about understanding yourself- If you are a quiet, reserved person you will take quiet peaceful photographs, and your clients will be attracted to exactly that. Your photos are ALWAYS a direct reflection of your personality. Don't get stuck mimicing one of your photo heroes, trying to be them- own who YOU are. As photographers, we are Always attracting and repelling clients simultaneously, that's good news. You want the client who wants your unique signature. For me, it's all about the connection. It took me a long time to realize I'm not a "happy-go-lucky" or "editorial" type of photographer. I use: Dramatic. Vogue. Fresh. These words don't just describe my brand, they describe ME.
4. Build your brand. No French names, nothing hard to pronounce and make it easy to remember. Here's a few resources I would highly recommend:
Photo Delivery/Gallery: Pass, it synergizes with Showit and gives you the added bonus of customizable website sites and galleries for each client to view and select their images.
I would encourage a new photographer to hire ($1000) one of the Showit designers to design/ build your logo and website and launch from there. They will walk you through the process of defining your brand and clearly communicating your online personality.
5. Network- build relationships with locals vendors and photographers. Offer to 2nd or 3rd shoot for the experience. Collaborate on styled shoots. Offer to photograph a makeup/hair stylist and her family and collaborate on trades. Try joining local networking or entrepreneur groups in your area (i.e. Crave Portland for me). Reach out to any retailers in your local demographic (jewelers, bridal stores etc) that can cross-pollinate.
6. Blog- keep it real. Share your journey, share tips and techniques anything you're learning or inspired by. I see my blog as a "behind the scenes" story mainly oriented towards other photographers. If new clients visit the blog, I want them to get a feel of what their experience would be like, just enough to spike their curiosity.
My blogging strategy was learned from Sue Bryce: Something old- something you learned at the beginning, it may seem old to you, but it's new to someone just a little behind you.
Something new- a innovative technique or skill you recently acquired.
Something Borrowed- linking and reposting from photographers or vendors you love. Great for cross-networking and SEO
Something Blue- your personal journey (Advents of Husby and wifey and my own life struggles)
7. Study marketing and Business- a few good recommends: Conversational Capital: How to Create Stuff People Love to Talk About and Love Is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends. Both excellent resources on marketing and differentiating yourself from competitors.
If you imagine that being a photographer is simply about taking pictures, get out now. If anything you have to be a better business person than photographer. Understand profit/loss and do the hard work of studying sales strategies of other successful photographers.
8. Consider attending WPPI- the largest photographers convention with incredible workshops and how-to-be-successful speakers. I attended for the first time this year and wish I had gone 2 years prior, would have save me a lot of mistakes.
9. Rent vs. buying at the beginning. What do I need? 50mm, 85mm, and pro-sumer camera body. By "pro-sumer" I mean it's a step above what they sell at Costco, but not fully pro. Rent the rest per wedding. Adequate is good enough, don't buy into the lie that you need professional gear to be legit. Your gear does not validate your skills as a photographer.
10. Finally, develop your clients EXPERIENCE. When your clients love the process, from first email to final delivery- they will talk about you. And if they don't, the fault is yours. Creating this experience is what makes your word of mouth referrals spread like wildfire leading to booking yourself solid.