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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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As a creative professional, it’s hard for a lot of us to think of what we do as both a business and an art. Sometimes photographers only want to acknowledge the art side and just hope that it’s sufficient enough for them to make it by as a business.
But even if they’re super talented, this type of thinking will only take your business so far. The reason artists compartmentalize business and art is because how they might feel about business. Business feels like an isolated venture, centering around profits, greed and no genuine concern for the consumer. As a result, some artists won’t charge enough or market enough, fooling themselves into thinking that it’s all a slimy cause. What’s worse is that a lot of artists say, “Well, if I’m really passionate about what I do, does it matter if I get paid?”
At the core of all of this thinking is excuses. They’re excuses to understand what business actually is. And it’s excuses to do hard work.
There’s a quote by Adam Smith, a Scottish economist and philosopher during the 18th century, that says, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”
What does this mean?
He’s saying that while the butcher, the brewer and baker are making product for others, they’re making it out of self-interest. But Smith goes on to explain how this self-interest actually turns into a relationship that’s collaborative and provides MUTUAL benefit. When you think about starting photography, you’re doing it because you find passion in it. That’s a self-interest, but your passion and skill also happens to be something that benefits others.
The byproduct of this collaborative and mutually benefitting service or product is profitability.
Without profitability, you can’t care for yourself, you can’t care for your business and you can’t care for the very client that seeks your services. Profits help pay for the costs of doing business so you keep running. Profits help pay YOU so you can focus on what you do well AND focus on what clients love about what you do. Profits will also help you continually make products that improve the lives that use your services.
Essentially, you can’t have a profitable and meaningful business without genuinely caring about the specified needs of the consumer and yourself.
So, how do you have a meaningful and profitable photography business?
For you as a photographer, this means that in order to create a business that’s meaningful for you and your clients, you have to understand their needs really well.
When we think about why people think sales are gross. We think about telemarketers, door-to-door salesmen and car salesmen. They either come unannounced or they’re selling something we never asked for or need. What’s worse, they’re usually pushy, can’t take no for an answer and just won’t leave.
Part of the problem with this type of sales is that they fail to understand the genuine needs of the client, and are only concerned about the sale and profits. To create a business that’s meaningful, you want to understand your clients well. This means understanding what they’re looking for and what their concerns are.
You’re not going to force photography on people that don’t ask for it.
A profitable and meaningful business is something that is collaborative and mutually beneficial at the core. It’s not one-sided and only driven by profits. Instead, it’s people-centered.
This goes back to what artists like to say about “passion”, which is, “If you’re really passionate about what you do, you wouldn’t care about being paid.”
But no one says this to doctors or lawyers or car mechanics or office managers or Walmart or whatever. This is because, deep down, artists are insecure about being paid because they don’t know if others recognize the same value as they do.
The truth is that there is value in art, including photography. So, recognize that your meaningful work should also mean getting paid.
Artists often feel guilty about sharing their work with others because they don’t want to come across as pushy, but remember the example I gave about telemarketers and door-to-door sales people? Those folks arrive unannounced, sharing products we never asked for.
Communicating your value should not be the same way. You’re not going door-to-door and you’re not going to cold call random people. If you did – then, yes – you’re absolutely being pushy and annoying. But you’re not going to do that.
Instead, smart and meaningful marketing is about sharing the value of your services to people that genuinely want it.
When you identify your ideal client, understand them well and communicate your value and purpose well – you will have a business that is not only meaningful but profitable as well.