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So, you wanna know how to start a photography business! When budding photographers start out, they’re surprised by the amount of business savvy is involved. They want to take photos, and they want to make a living out of it.

Couldn’t it be just that simple?

Unfortunately, it’s not. Becoming a photographer means that you’re signing up for building a business, which means you’re going to wear a boatload of hats. This could include bookkeeping, editing, customer service, marketing, events coordinator, product design, administration, graphic designer, website maintenance (aka being your own IT, which for some of us could be a disaster), self-trainer (like learning new gear), and more.

It’s endless. 

But that’s why it’s important to prioritize and stretch your organizational muscles. If you don’t feel like you have any, prepare to give them some extra love and burn as you enter into this new adventure.

Becoming a full-time photographer doesn’t just mean an organization of all these different tasks. In fact, one of the ways to become a successful, profitable photographer is by being methodical and strategic. It means being wise with your time by delegating and maximizing your strengths.

When I grew my business from hardly booking to a six-figure one, I organized everything I did and summarized them into 7 strategies you can’t be without to become a full-time photographer.

Let’s get started. 

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Strategy 1. Define your market.

Creatives love to dream big. I’ve seen a lot of photographers that want to serve all over the world because they dream about traveling. They also think that they could be the one photographer for everyone

But here’s a reality check.

There are billions of people in the world with a variety of different tastes and backgrounds. Think about it. There are different ways to make a burger, and people have their preferences on burger joints. You’re not offering a product like gasoline, where people buy it no matter what you are and how much you cost.

You’re a special product, which means you likely serve a special type of client. Understand what your gifts and weaknesses are. Then, pinpoint the type of client that would appreciate you. Be very specific about who that is, define them, and market to them.

Strategy 2. Learn how to market. 

A lot of artists hate marketing. They didn’t go into photography to sell things. They went into photographer because they wanted to be create things. Unfortunately, this is a very difficult skill to delegate and buy. I’ve seen hundreds of photographers waste money on advertising spend, garnering no inquiries or bookings.

Honestly, marketing isn’t as gross as you think. In a nutshell, marketing is how you communicate with your value to your ideal client. My quick tip advice is to let go of what you think marketing is and start exploring from a fresh point of view to understand what marketing actually is.

Strategy 3. Understand what you bring to the table.

One of the ways businesses do this is by way of SWOT analysis. It’s a fancy acronym that stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. 

SWOT analysis helps you understand your strengths and weaknesses. Knowing what you bring to the table of your business will help you highlight what you do, but improve where there’s opportunity. The “opportunities and threats” gives you a clearer understanding of the different things that might challenge or hinder your ability to generate profits.

Don’t worry – threats isn’t as scary as it sounds. Threats just means things or circumstances (unrelated to your business’ capacity and performance) that might hinder your ability to generate profits or improve your business. For example, there is a rise in the number of photographers that are coming into the area. You can’t control that growing number, but being aware of it helps you prepare for it.

In my bomb.com business plan, there’s a brief section where you can jumpstart your SWOT analysis by observing your strengths and weaknesses. 

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Strategy 4. Know your industry and who’s in it. 

You won’t be able to make it as business if you don’t get connected with people. As an introvert, it’d be a dream to just sit in my room all day and edit, while binge watching The Office. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help me build word of mouth, improve my craft, make meaningful friendships, or learn from others.

Sure, there’s YouTube and social media, but nothing can truly replace the significance of face-to-face interaction. Getting to know people within your industry allows people to trust you and get to know you. Not only that, there’s always opportunity to learn from others.

Strategy 5. Always make room to practice your craft and get better.

When we start out, we might take photos of random stuff and play with settings. But make it a point to learn from other photographers. Enroll in a course – at a college or online. This way you gain a more versatile understanding of your camera and craft. 

What I see a lot of beginner photographers do is make excuses for why they don’t shoot certain ways. And the excuses they make for themselves are more like false justification for why they don’t know how to do something. For example, they might say, “Well I’m a natural light photographer because that’s my style.” But for a lot of a photographers, deep down, they just hate flash or aren’t willing to be better at it. 

If you’re a wedding photographer, there will be a litany of different lighting circumstances you’ll need to photograph in, and understanding how to make the best out of every lighting situation is really important. So, instead of making excuses for yourself – challenge yourself and learn. Make it a point to practice, get better, learn and improve your craft. Don’t just chock it up to “style”.

Strategy 6. Invest in your education. 

Invest in learning about marketing and how to build your business. Trying to be a self-employed full-time photographer means learning what it means to be a business owner. As much as many photographers try, you can’t avoid the business part of your photography endeavors.

So, make it a point to carve out time to learn about marketing and good business practices. This includes online courses, books, being mentored and being part of local creative groups like Rising Tide. Being part of an online and in-person community can be encouraging place, especially when business gets tough. And trust me, it definitely will. 

Strategy 7. Learn how to outsource.

Like I mentioned earlier, we wear a ton of hats as a self-employed photographer. The reality is that we’re not perfect and we definitely carry our own list of strengths and weaknesses. Trying to balance everything, including the things that suck the life out of us, can really damage how we carry out our business.

We might love to photograph, but really hate bookkeeping. And that bookkeeping can seriously keep us away from what we love to do. As a result, we get burnt out and no longer enjoy what it means to be a self-employed full-time photographer. The solution isn’t to quit photography. Instead, you might want to consider all the life-sucking things in your business and think about what it looks like to outsource. This might be raising your prices so you could accommodate this. This way, you’re able to hone in on your craft and focus on what you love the most, and provide the best possible work for your clients. It’s a win-win-win.

Possible next steps for you…

Create a business plan! If you’re not full-time yet, create a plan to become one. If you’re not sure where to start, you’re in luck! I have a 10+ page business plan freebie that helps you get started. 

In the business plan, you identify where you’re at and where you want to go. It’ll also provide questions to help you workshop through how to get there by examining your strengths and weaknesses. And my favorite part? I include a mini marketing plan so you can jumpstart your efforts right away.

Grab your free bomb.com business plan below!

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According to Nielsen Soundscan and Hubspot, over 70% of purchasing decisions are made BASED on either a review or a word of mouth referral. For photography, this is no different. Today, I want to share how it’s skyrocketed my business and 4 strategies to increase your word of mouth.

Whenever I get an inquiry, I log it in a comprehensive Excel document that includes the name, inquiry date, venue, wedding date, and where they found me. On another page, I include conversion data. In other words, how many of those inquiries from a specific channel turned into a client?

This information is all crucial, but particularly the conversions. Why? Because it tells me where my most quality leads are coming from. This way, I could concentrate my best marketing efforts on so I can get even more of those potential clients.

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In all my data, I found that word of mouth converted WAY more than any other marketing strategy. This included marketing strategies like Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, wedding blogs and The Knot.

So, why is word of mouth so powerful for photographers?

Well, when potential clients search for a photographer, they’re not sure what to look for. They might have a general idea for budget and maybe even style. But, for the most part, it’s a mystery. And for a lot of them, this is the first time they’re looking for professional photography.

So, when a referral is given to them by a friend or vendor, they’re more likely to book. This is because it gives them more confidence about something they know little about.

Think about something that you recently researched that you had little information about. Maybe a specialty doctor? Or a new restaurant to check out? Or a new gym? If you’re starting out with little information, you’re likely to turn to a friend or reviews to help with your decision making.

For me, my word of mouth conversion was 37%, whereas inquiries from the Knot had a 13% conversion. And when I didn’t book a client through word of mouth, it was usually because I was already booked.

As I mentioned earlier, over 70% of people make purchasing decisions based on a review or a word of mouth referral. On the other hand, about 30% of people say they purchased something based on something they saw on Instagram.

This feels really high. But when you think about your own following list, only 30% of the folks on your following list will actually see your work. That means an even smaller fraction of those folks will even make a purchasing decision. And…. that’s assuming that remaining fraction of followers isn’t just your mom and friends. 😉

This just shows that Instagram and social only play a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to raking in paying clients. On the other hand, word of mouth and reviews still play the strongest role in raking in new, paying clients.

So, how do you build word of mouth as a photographer? And how do you build it when you’re just starting out? Below are 4 simple ways you can start.

1.) Assist and/or second shoot with other photographers.

Not only does this help you build your portfolio, but this allows you to network and spend time with photographers within your industry. Working with other photographers is your opportunity to build trust, learn from them and maybe be added to their referral list.

In fact, for some of photographers I photographed with, I was able to invite them into a master Google calendar. In the calendar, we shared our booked dates. This way, when we needed to refer a client, we can refer to the calendar and know exactly who to refer based on availability. It was a great way to not only build portfolios, but also support each others’ businesses.

2.) Networking with related vendors within your industry.

You don’t have to just network with photographers! You can network with related vendors within your industry. Keep building your pool of possibilities. You may even want to do a collaborative project where you bring all your different talents together and build a shoot. Not only can you build your portfolio, but your gifting images to vendors for their own portfolio. All of this brings opportunity for more word of mouth.

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3.) Create an excellent client experience.

Think of how you can enhance your client experience. As a wedding photographer, you can offer guides for your couples. You could share how to prepare for their engagement session or how to plan out a timeline. Some photographers will take the client out for coffee before the engagement session to get to know the couple. This also helps the couple feel more at ease with you and their session. Maybe at the end of the wedding is over, you might give a surprise gift to thank them for booking you. The better the experience the more they’re inclined to share your work others.

Plus, positive experiences will lead to positive reviews and reviews are a powerful way to generate word of mouth! Think about when you’re looking to watch a movie or go to a restaurant. You might google upcoming movies or new restaurants. For movies, you might refer to Rotten Tomatoes and for restaurants, you might go on Yelp. From both platforms, even without reading in full detail, the first thing people glance to see are the positive ratings. So, create excellent client experiences to generate reviews to truly stand out from the crowd.

4.) Create a contest gives a taste of what you do, but juicy enough that other people have to share it.

Create a contest on social where you invite followers to tag their friends and family as a way to participate in the contest. So what’s a taste, but juicy enough to share? Well – what you offer! So, one example is a mini session with prints. For some photographers, they’ll give away items like git cards to expand their reach. Just make sure whatever you give away is relevant to your target market. Then, encourage people to participate by tagging friends and family to the contest. This way your followers are drawing more traffic to you by tagging their connections.

Want more ideas? Check out my free online workshop! You can sign up below.

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For a lot of photographers starting out, we’re balancing a million things: whether that’s a full time job, a full-time school load, being a full-time mama, or whatever full-time obligation. We’ve got a lot of things going on in our lives that make it harder to go to networking events, workshops, and meeting up with photographers.

I still encourage connecting with people, because that’s super important for growing your business and community! But our time is limited, so we may not be able do it ALL the time.

Fortunately, the internet allows us to connect with tons of people with a post or a blog and we don’t have to be physically present. This is super time-efficient and can be really powerful for our business.

So here are 4 powerful ways to boost your inquiries online without paid advertising.

Hashtags on Instagram

I get it. They look gross. They look tacky. But the truth is that hashtags are really powerful. Tons of people use hashtags as a way to research, get inspiration or get more information on a brand or service. It’s almost like a search engine.

This means hashtags are a huge opportunity for you to gain exposure, especially within your local community. Over a quarter of my inquiries come from Instagram and I attribute it to hashtags. In fact, when I was stuck at less than 400 followers, I had NO idea how to book with such a tiny following. So, I started adding more (and relevant) hashtags to my posts, and the inquiries started pouring in.

Local SEO

SEO stands for search engine optimization. In a nutshell SEO is about optimizing your website so that it’s crawlable and is pulled up in search engines. When you optimize your website for certain longtail keywords (in others words, search keywords that are at least longer than two words), you have the potential to get discovered by your ideal clients.

Optimizing your website can feel overwhelming, especially if you’re not tech inclined. But no worries – I’ve got a free resource for you that can help you optimize your website and get discovered. You can grab it here.

Pinterest

Pinterest is argued to be a visual search engine, rather than a social media platform. When you think about it, there really isn’t much socializing going on. It’s a place where people find inspiration and search for information. When you look at feeds, you COULD see your friends pins, but you’re not seeing them. You’re also not really engaging with them.

Instead, Pinterest is a place to search for content and consume content. This means this is an opportunity to be found, just like in search engines and hashtags. The trick is to create boards that cater to your local community and think about things that your ideal client would look for as it relates to your service.  

Calls to action

Encourage your visitors to take action – whether that’s on social or on your website. CTAs (calls to action) are usually text or buttons that encourage visitors to take a certain action. For example, “Book Now” or “Learn More” are call to actions.

These are really important because people are typically scanning information really quickly. And because photographers are usually a new thing for most people to book (like for newborns, senior portraits, weddings, etcetera), they need help understanding the next steps.

By making those next steps easier to do, you’ll increase the likelihood of you seeing more inquiries. So to increase your online inquiries you want to TASTEFULLY sprinkle around buttons that encourage the visitor to send an inquiry. Some example CTAs include, “Learn More”, “Send a Message”, “Connect Now”, “Book Now”, “Find Out Pricing”, “Get Availability” etcetera.

If you’re interested in learning more on how to get more inquiries and get booked, make sure to grab my freebie, 4 powerful ways to boost your inquiries online without paid advertising

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So, you’ve got your website up online. You’ve got your account active. You’re pulling all the strings to bring in the traffic. And then bam.

An inquiry.

When I started out, I looked at every single inquiry as a potential shoot. I was always SO excited to finally have gotten the attention of one potential client. Every e-mail got me full with excitement.

Unfortunately, my excitement was only followed up with disappointing silence.

Yup, ghosted. And devastation. Confusion. All kind of feels. After a few ghosted inquiries, I was determined to figure out how to get people to respond back.

After a ton of tests, research and playing around with responses of different kinds, I systematized a few key strategies to get people to respond to inquiries.

How to Get a Response to Your Photography Inquiries

Don’t turn your response into a mini-consultation.

Eagerness gets the best of us, and we overshare. We want to share how much we love photography, how excited we are to hear from them, and then we share boat loads of information in our first response.

Couples are inundated with new information from different directions when they’re planning their wedding. We don’t want to be lost in the weeds of this, by making a long e-mail they skip over. The same thing applies to folks inquiring about family photos or portraits, they’ve got busy lives.

So, what does this mean for our response?

A recent Litmus Email Analytic revealed that the average time spent reading an e-mail was 11.1 seconds. Granted, your e-mail is something they WANT to read because they’re expecting a response. But this study still reveals that attention is a currency this day and age, and we want to value every second we have by making the first few words and seconds count.

In other words, keep your first inquiry response short, yet engaging. I’ve found that a 5-7 sentence response has been the sweet spot for me.

Make lots of paragraph breaks.

In the previous point, I mentioned that 5-7 sentences seem to be sweet spot. And separating 5-7 sentences into multiple paragraphs feel ridiculous. But this helps people maintain their attention and continue reading.

Copywriters suggest that short blocks of text are easily skimmed, so breaking some paragraphs into one to two sentences helps the speed reader actually read through your e-mail.

For example, I have one section that congratulates and says thanks. The next section is my availability. The next section is my pricing, then my final paragraph is an invitation to a consultation.

Share *just enough* information to connect personally, attracts interest and opens curiosity.

Whatever 5-7 sentences you write out should earn its place and attention in the e-mail. Anything extra should be saved in the consultation. Of course you want to share about your experience, the special features you offer and learn more about them. But doing this ALL in an e-mail is overwhelming.

So, cover the basics. You want to write an e-mail that is personal so you can connect with the potential client. Next, you want to share something that attracts interest, whether that’s your limited spots, a base price (and not yet listing the rest of the prices), a special that’s going on, or your availability.

Finally, you want to open curiosity. This is SUPER important because you want them to stay engaged with you and ask for more. How do you do that? That’s the next point.

Give a call to action.

Typically, clients may have an inbox of inquiry responses or may be awaiting responses. Not only should you be the quickest to respond, but you should have next steps ready.

Some folks are afraid to add a call to action because they don’t want to put any pressure on anyone. But calls to action are more like invitations. They either respond or they don’t. Having the call to action helps guide the potential client to the next, logical course of action.

I’ve tried three different ways to do calls to action and found one that worked best. I tried the passive approach: “If you’re available, let’s schedule a coffee date.” I also tried the very direct approach, “Just hit reply and let me know a date works best for you.” But I’ve found the best results by simply asking, “Would you like to schedule a consultation to chat more about how my services may fit what you’re looking for?”

The open-ended question isn’t pushy, and it’s not indirect. It’s an invitation to continue the conversation.

Respond within 24-48 hours!

We live in an accelerated culture, thanks to laptops, mobile devices, smart watches and all kinds of ways to connect with the world. There have been several surveys asking customers how quickly they expect a response from customer service. Some studies have said 2 minutes, some say within 4 hours, some say within 10 hours. Whatever the survey, it’s clear that a response is expected within 24 hours.

For some people, especially folks that don’t do photography as a full-time job, this might feel ridiculous. So, if you can’t respond within 24 hours, have an auto-reply acknowledging the e-mail saying you’ll respond within a certain time. Then, fulfill that response! Auto-responses and quick e-mails earn SO much trust with potential clients.

So, what are some action steps you can take?

  • First, re-evaluate the length of your response. Is it too long? Too short?
  • Next, check if you make it a point to connect personally, attract interest and build curiosity.
  • Create a call to action and place it at the very end of the e-mail.

Want extra credit?

How to Get a Response to Your Photography Inquiries

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