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.
Look at you. All ambitious and wanting to conquer SEO. Well, you’re in for a treat, because in this blog post I cover 10 SEO basics you should know as a photographer.
Understanding this will provide you clarity on what’s needed to optimize your page, but it also help you become familiar with important terminology.
There are SO many benefits to optimizing your page. This includes organic discovery, attracting the right clients, and building your exposure. Below are some of the ways to help you get started with the process.
Unfortunately, your 1.2 GB image shouldn’t be uploaded into your online portfolio, no matter how beautiful you think every corner of your image is. What this does is slow down the load time of your website and search engines penalize this.
Optimized images are typically less than 2-4 MB. Fortunately, can reduce the filesize of your image without losing the quality of the photo. You could do this by using services like Optimizilla (https://imagecompressor.com/) or with the WordPress Plug-in WP Smush if you have WordPress.
Alt text is how search engines read your images. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and search engines want to know which words, because pictures can potentially fall into a number of different categories.
Alt text is how you help search engines understand the image your posting. When you create alt text, you want the alt text to be related to whatever keyword it is that you’re trying to rank for.
For example, if you’re making a post about “Bohemian inspired wedding photos in Los Angeles” the alt text should be “bohemian inspired wedding photos in Los Angeles”. You can place alt text when you’re editing the image within your blog site, where ever it says “alt text”.
If you’re feeling super techy, find the image html and add alt=”text here”. So example would look like this:
<img src=”IMGURL.jpg” alt=”bohemian inspired wedding photos in Los Angeles”>
File names are another way to let search engines what your image is about. Like the alt text, you want the file name to be the same as the keyword you’re trying to rank your page for.
So, going back to the previous example, if you want to rank for “bohemian inspired wedding photos in Los Angeles” your file name should be something like this:
Make sure to put dashes (and not underscores) to separate the words.
Keywords are essentially the words and phrases in your content that help users find you. Typically, they’re words or phrases that they use to search for content. For example, “bohemian inspired wedding photos in Los Angeles” is a long tail keyword that users may specifically type in to search for to get inspiration.
Short tail keywords are phrases that are less than 2 words and are VERY competitive and challenging to rank for. For example, “photographer” would be very challenging to rank for. And if you pay ads to try and rank for it, it can also be very expensive.
Long tail keywords are usually easier to rank for, but are also more profitable because it helps you reach your ideal client more effectively. If you’re hoping to shoot more boho-like weddings, trying to rank for “bohemian inspired wedding photos in Los Angeles” is not only relevant, but efficient and effective.
The Flesch Kinkaid readability test measures the difficulty of a piece of writing by ranking it from very easy to read (like elementary) up to college level. Generally, search engines rank content that has a readability that’s no higher than 9th grade, but also has proper grammar.
Search engines tend to favor content at this reading level because they want to encourage content that is easy to understand and quick to consume.
A responsive layout is just another way of saying “mobile-friendly” layout. But a responsive layout doesn’t necessarily mean that your mobile layout is exactly what you see on a desktop.
Instead a responsive layout is something that is able to translate for mobile devices, and it could look pretty different from your desktop website. Search engines favor layouts that are responsive, because they recognize that over 50% of people that consume content online are mobile users.
So you want to make sure that your content is something that is easy to access via mobile, but is also something that loads quickly on mobile.
In addition to your blog’s title, blog’s images (with the proper file names and alt tags, and keywords (within your blog post), you want your link to also contain your keyword.
A permalink is a static hyperlink that leads to a specific blog page. Blogs will have a number of different ways to automatically create links for your website. Sometimes this is a randomly generated number. Sometimes, it’s based on the year and month you’ve created the post. But the option you want to look for is the one that’s created based on your blog’s headline, which will also happen to be your keyword.
So, going back to the example I’ve been using with boho weddings, an appropriately optimized permalink would be:
By definition, an internal link is a link on a blog page that leads to another blog page within your website. Hence, internal link. Having internal links also help optimize your page for search engines.
Search engines reward websites that have visitors that stay and consume content. This shows that the website has valuable content that people actually enjoy. Internal links help visitors navigate from related topics, but also stay within the website longer.
Backlinks are links that link from a website to your own. For example, on your Instagram page, you have the option of including your website in your biography. This link that you create on Instagram is considered a backlink.
The more backlinks from quality websites you have, the more Google recognizes you as a website with value, because you’re a website worth referring to.
However, it’s not enough to just have your link on your social platforms. You want to try to get your links on other websites with a lot of traffic. For example, if you’re a wedding photographer, you want to try to get your work featured and have your website backlinked.
An XML sitemap is a XML file that includes a map of your site, like a list of your links. By creating a sitemap, you’re helping search engines crawl through your website easier.
You could create a sitemap on WordPress by downloading plug-ins like Google XML Sitemap or Yoast. If you have Squarespace, one is automatically created.
If you have neither of those platforms, you’ll want to search, “How to create a xml sitemap on (website platform here)”
If you’re not sure where to start, make sure to check out the 3 common mistakes photographers make when they try to optimize their page and how to fix them!
From there, you can go through each SEO basic to make sure you’re implementing them on your blog pages.
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!