Starting my photography business was a hustle. I invested a lot of money in equipment. I took hours and hours out of my day to work on my website and portfolio. Admittedly, early on in my hustle, my blind optimism got the best of me, and I thought inquiries would be flooding in.
Man, was I wrong.
Truthfully, I was banking on luck. I thought, “If I build it they will come.” And maybe you were like me. When things don’t go our way, we’re tempted to rationalize why we may not be getting inquiries and booking clients. But over time, I realized that my lack of strategies and progress were a result of believing some of these myths that I – and other photographers – mistakenly believe.
The costs of doing business are real. On the other hand, thinking that we might need to lower our prices to help our business is not a real strategy. Instead, it’s an insecurity and we rationalize it as something that’s necessary.
If your prices are sky high and you don’t have the sufficient demand to support the prices, then yes, the prices might need to be lowered. But if your prices have been calculated by real numbers, including all your costs and needs, then there shouldn’t be a reason for you to lower your costs just purely based on lack of inquiries or bookings.
Instead of going straight to price, you might need to ask yourself other questions like, “Could I be improving my marketing strategies?” or “Is there something I can tweek in the copy of my website to encourage more inquiries?” Experiment and test before you immediately jump to price adjustments.
Instead of looking internally at our decision making, we’re tempted to place blame on why we’re where we’re at. There’s not enough people here. The budgets are too small. Photography isn’t valued in my town. Whatever.
But photographers ARE needed in small towns too. Weddings still happen in your town. Babies are being born. There are parties to capture. There’s real estate being sold. There are opportunities. Instead of fixating on what an issue could be, focus on the opportunity and strategize a way to be seen by those looking.
On the other hand, folks in cities both big and small might feel like there’s WAY too much competition. Too many cheap photographers, popular photographers, and photographers in general. While there IS a lot of competition that exists in certain cities, this shows that there’s market demand for photography. This is actually good for YOU.
What this means for you is that you need to be smarter with how you brand yourself and position yourself within the market to stand out. You can’t just be a vanilla photographer that exists for everyone. Instead, you need to be strategic with identifying a specific market that you’d cater to and create a specific product for that market.
This could be true, but it also may not be true. But this is why I track all my efforts. Take note of how many inquiries you’re getting and take note of how may actually respond – whether it’s a yes or a no. If you’re noticing that more than 70% of your inquiries are giving you radio silence, then you need to re-evaluate how you’re responding.
You actually don’t need a huge portfolio to showcase a mood or a brand. Typically portfolio galleries have about 10-15 images to scroll through. And other images are presented in your blog section. You can easily create a portfolio of 10-15 images from just 3-4 shoots.
Yeah, I definitely thought this, too. “People aren’t seeing me because I only have a few followers. And I don’t want to use hashtags because they’re gross.” But newsflash: this is garbage. Hashtags are actually how you get discovered in the app, even when you have little followers. In fact, after my first year of starting out I had less than 400 followers, but still managed to have a
The first year I started my business, I had 6 weddings booked and 15 second shooting opportunities. Those 6 weddings were a mixed bag of friends, family and a few friendly referrals from photographers I worked with. And I did this all my first year with little social media marketing and no big wedding blog publications.
In that first year, I also juggled a full-time job while pursuing a masters. And somehow in all that craziness, I managed to fit marketing into the mix. I’m mentioning this because regardless of what your schedule is, whether it looks like mine or if you’re a full-time mama, effectively marketing your photography business – while balancing life – is possible.
In the following points, I’ll be sharing my top 7 tips on how I booked my first 22 photography clients after my very first year in business. The good news is that you don’t need a fat ad budget to market your business, especially starting out.
However, to build any business, you need two key qualities: first, the passion to pursue and persevere through the struggles that come with building a business; and second, the willingness to dedicate hard work even with a full schedule.
With that being said, ready for some tough love? 😉
Your website isn’t just about your portfolio, an investment page, and links to your social. Your website functions as a 24/7 storefront that works as you’re sleeping. And who’s usually at a storefront? Someone that sells the product. So you NEED to be present on that website with an “about me” page or section. It needs to be clear. To top it off, it needs to be different. It can’t just be “I remember when I picked up my first camera. I knew instantly that I was passionate about capturing memories. And now, I hope to capture memories from toasts to dancing to family to blah blah blah.”
No one cares. And this is boring. Why?
Because it’s just a boring job description and so many people have this exact “about me” story. Obviously you started with a camera and started capturing memories. That’s what I hope you do with a camera. Your about me should be specifically about you, what you love, your special qualities and what makes you – you. This is how you can genuinely connect with people that visit your page.
Now, think back to the example I just shared and compare it to this example: “I love binge watching Netflix, curling up with my dog, and Pumpkin Spice Latte season. While I love fitness and staying healthy, Taco Bell is my guilty pleasure.” One of those about me’s sounds more like a real person and easier to connect with. And I hope you think it’s the Taco Bell person. You might resist at first because it’s not about photography. But that’s what the other pages of your website are for. Your about me page is one of your unique selling points that helps you stand out.
When I started out, I had no idea what SEO was until I wanted to find out how to get on the “number one page of Google.” And then I discovered SEO, which stands for search engine optimization.
If you want people to find you without needing to pay for advertising, you’ll need to learn how to optimize your blog. Organic (non-paid) traffic is one of the most cost effective ways to get clients to find you. I got started with understanding things like keyword tails, alt tags, image compression, content creation, backlinks, Google Search Console, etcetera.
When you start e-mailing local photographers, it’s not enough to say, “I want to second shoot with you” and then leave it at that. It’s lazy and disrespectful to the photographer’s work and time. There are tons of photographers wanting to build their portfolio, so you’re not the only one sending these messages.
When you connect with photographers, treat them like respected peers and future friends. These connections are opportunities to learn, grow and support each other. So, maybe instead of saying, “I love your work, I want to second shoot with you” invite the photographer out for coffee and get to know them.
You want to establish trust and credibility in the industry, so start connecting with local vendors. In the beginning this was really challenging for me because I had such a small portfolio and no one really knew me.
I learned two things in this process of networking with vendors. First, I networked with vendors that were at the same playing field as me. Then, we’d collaborate in efforts to build our portfolio. Second, I’d send messages to other vendors until I’d eventually get a yes. The reality is that you’ll get a lot of no’s or you may get no response at all. Networking is a real hustle, so instead of feeling defeated by these challenges, recognize them and overcome them to the best of your ability. You WILL eventually get a yes. Best of all, your work will pay off and you’ll develop some amazing friendships that also help each other’s businesses.
When I started out, I asked as many of my friends that were getting married if I could photograph their wedding. Many of them were generous enough to let me do it without any experience. Was this scary? Heck yeah it was. You want to be completely open and transparent about where you are with your business and skills. But you also want to make sure you put your best foot forward by practicing and learning as much as you can before the big day.
After I photographed their special day, I made it a point to ask for reviews. These were crucial when it came to establishing trust with future couples that were curious about my work but didn’t know much about me. Because many of them were friends or family, I felt no hesitation following up. So, make sure to follow-up to get those reviews in. You can make it easier for them by providing them the link and instructions on how to do it.
(Note: I started with about 4-6 family/friend reviews that I actually photographed. These first reviews are what helped me get new clients, which also led me to get the rest of my reviews.)
The best place I found second shooting gigs was Facebook. There were a few local private groups that I connected with so I can increase my options. And with a ton of those posts, I’d message as many people as possible to get gigs. Sometimes, it felt like fishing in a giant barren sea, hoping for a bite, because SO many people were hoping to get second shooting gigs also. But don’t give up – and be persistent.
For me, in a few short months, I helped second shoot 15 weddings in 5 months and I was well on my way to a solid portfolio. With a solid portfolio and reviews from previous friends and clients, my website game was stepping up!
When I wasn’t second shooting, I’d photograph as many couples as I could. Starting out, I called my first year my “intern year” because I was learning the ropes and not getting paid a whole lot.
But the experience I had that year was invaluable to my growing business. Before I was able to photograph bigger weddings, I’d message friends and family to practice posing and experiment with different lighting conditions (i.e. not just golden hour). This helped me prepare for challenges and feel more confident in my ability.
So, find ways to photograph as much as possible to not only practice, but build a portfolio. Here are a few more ideas on how you can continue to do that.
There are other crucial marketing strategies I’ve implemented along the way that include branding, identifying an ideal client, blogging, and social media. Some of these (like branding) were the foundational pieces to my business, while others were necessary tediousness (like frequently posting on social). But all of it in some way contributed to growing my six-figure business.
Now, if you’re looking for more solutions to help you get from side-hustle to full-time gig, sign up for my free online workshop below!