When you start out as a photographer you are filled with excitement and enthusiasm, because you can FINALLY start doing the work you LOVE and make clients HAPPY! Right? Well, that is an aspect of the business that is true. And that’s why I started my own photography business over 10 years ago.
But running a business, let alone a photography business, is about 80% doing business and only 20% taking pictures. The rest is you wearing a lot of different hats, especially in the beginning. You are your own CEO, marketing specialist, social media manager, customer service rep, bookkeeper, location scout, cleaner, studio manager, network manager, only to name a few.
It’s not about taking beautiful pictures or being the best photographer out there, you are a business owner.
So let me give you some tips on some of the biggest mistakes photographers make when they start out on their own.
1. Not having a blog - Building your business on someone else’s algorithm
I see a lot of photographers who don’t have their own website but run all their content on social media. It is out there and people love Facebook and Instagram and what have you, but these platforms are not yours. If you want to build your business you need to be in control of your content, your visitors or leads, and have them perform the desired Calls To Action. This can only be done properly by have your pillar content about your business on your own website and more specifically your own BLOG.
Using a blog can get you FREE leads to your website. Yes, you don't need paid ads. A blog also immensely improves your SEO, and outperforms any combination of social media platforms.
I know that you’re reading this and think: "Hey, I’m a photographer, not a writer! Blogging take up so much time." I get that. But you can watch the video below by branding and marketing specialist Danielle Garber, from Be More You Online about how to write the perfect blog post and have that content on your website as an evergreen. A good blog post will do its job for years and doesn’t require much attention from you once it’s up.
2. Not identifying your Dream Client or genre
When I started out, I offered pretty much any type of photography that I could handle or that someone would ask me to do. I did have loads of practice doing product photography, family photography, business shots, portfolio shots, make-over photoshoots. I worked on locations for all sorts of businesses without enough understanding of lighting, or the right amount of equipment. I shot weddings (one even on jpg by accident! The horror!), pets, engagements, motorcycle racing, and the list goes on.
I never really felt “good” in what I did, because I didn’t choose my niche. I also didn’t really know what my niche was. But you’ve gotta start somewhere, right? Once I got into photographing the babies and children of my friends (and later on my own first baby!) I knew my niche was newborn photography and all photography focussed around the new parent. Why? It made my heart sing, and I was really good at it. I loved working with people, new parents, seeing their responses and emotions and it just clicked. I’ve never looked back since.
Once you know your genre, you can start writing and marketing to your ideal client. Each type of photography requires an entirely separate language and approach. You might even have to adjust your branding. Think about the difference in style between soft and sweet newborn pictures and corporate images for business owners. Make sure your photography niche is reflected in the branding on your website.
Need more Dream Clients to find your studio and book you? Then join the free 5-day video series, “Flip The Script” here!
Choosing your target audience is like baking a cake. You can start out with the basic ingredients and and start baking, but you can’t take ingredients out. Then later on, when you're ready, you can always add on ingredients to perfect your recipe and really make it your own.
I always look for a specialist myself when I need a specific service or business and the same goes for photographers: I need someone who is VERY good at ONE thing. So you probably start out by trying out different types of genres, but at a certain moment you need to pick one style/genre you’re good at and then your can perfect that.
3. Not having a budget
Now apart from having your own website as a a business hub and knowing who you are working for, you also need to know your budget and your rates. One of the main things I teach in my online group program Studio Sessions is making an outline of the costs of running a business and your desired income so you can figure our your pricing.
A lot of photographers suffer from anxiety, insecurities or even the imposter syndrome when it comes to their sessions rates and when things get slow in business (I’ll get to that in a minute) they tend to want to lower their rates. But that's never a good idea.
I know there are loads of photographers our there, but you won’t stand out and have that advance on other photographers if you keep lowering your rates and your standards. That will only attract the bargain hunters that probably won’t value your expertise or your time. One of the things I teach my students is to EXCEL AT YOUR CUSTOMER SERVICE, so that clients have an amazing EXPERIENCE our competition and doing things that they aren't doing.
You’re offering a SERVICE to your clients, where pictures and products are by-products. So you need to go that extra mile when it comes to the customer journey. First and foremost you need to focus on establishing yourself as an expert by offering value, information in print or on your website (how about that blog?) and always be one of more steps ahead of them.
You need to know that with every session you are covering a) your own salary and b) your cost of doing business. So never start out with questioning your rates, lowering them just to have that client feel okay to book you and for you to have someone on your calendar. You can offer free or cheap sessions or keep working on building your portfolio until forever, but it won’t bring you in any money and it won’t build your client base the right way.
All that equipment and other business expenses can add up. So have an overview over the costs, define what YOU need to earn and THEN determine your rates and services, not the other way around.
If you need a budget planner to determine your income, cost of doing business and your session rates (with or without product sales), you can check out the Photographers Coach’s Finance Planner here: https://www.photographers.coach/product/finance-planner/ (It's a tool in English and in Dutch with video training on how to use it).
4. Not Planning your year
One of the regular mistakes I see happen when photographers start out or are stuck in their business growth is not making a planning. They just work IN their business instead of working AT their business.
They take their most valuable asset in the business (which is TIME) not seriously enough and just start each day with a to do list, responding to everything around them (including social media) and not being proactive in any way. Then when the day is over, they take a look at their daily to do list and go: Is that all I was able to do? My to do list only got bigger! And they feel really deflated.
Not having a plan can kill your business. Months, weeks and days just fly by. And when you don’t have a steady stream of leads coming in, you can panic. Not having enough money to keep the business open. Having to look for a part-time job to pay the bills. It happens a lot. What if you are working weddings and are only busy during high season? What do you do in the months that are slower?
Do you have the financial buffer to keep your business going? Do you have a planning for those slower months? Do you offer mini sessions, seasonal sessions or have other money streams coming in to pay the bills? When COVID-19 started out, I saw a lot of photographers pivot and offer workshops (you can host your course on Teachable for example), online print services, album design services, offer stock photography or product shots for small webshop owners. You can do so much to create income for your photography business, but make sure you have a plan.
4. Not having a sales system
Many photographers offer a “shoot and burn” or “shoot and deliver” session when they start out. It’s easy, clients get a session and their digitals on a USB or via WeTransfer and that’s a done deal. You are “safe” not having to deal with customer feedback or having to put in more time and you move on to the next client.
But what about your work when it is delivered in digital format only? What will customers do with their images? When will they pick out an image to hang up? Where do they order their products? Does the usb end up in their desk drawer? Do they go out and order some prints at one of those mainstream DIY stations with awful print quality? Or does your gorgeous newborn picture of their baby end up on a coffee mug or a mouse mat?
Your work is your business card and an all-in-one photography service must offer product sales. You need to make sure that your images are finalized in the best shape and form possible, so you can have your clients fall in love with their images day in day out—and have them coming back for follow up sessions!
Secondly you need to make your images shine and have the products like wall art and albums do the promotion work for you. Guiding your clients in their product choices and offering ordering appointments will up your service level and give your brand an overall look and feel of one that is professional and high-end.
(Psst, you can pin this article to your "Marketing for Photographers" board on Pinterest!)
5. Not having rules and regulations
That can sound quite stern, but when you run a business you need rules so you and your clients can live up to them and avoid any hassle. When things run smoothly you probably feel amazing, but that can change in an instant when something goes wrong and the client had a complaint and, in the end, a bad experience with you as their photographer. You don’t want those bad reviews on Google, now, don’t you?
Each business has complaining clients, but rules and regulations like your Ts and Cs and a good client agreement can save your business and any bad consequences for you and your business. Your reputation as a service provider is on the line without good paper work. So you and your clients both need some sort of agreement to be able to fall back on in times of disagreement or when things just don’t go as planned.
6. Not having a marketing strategy
With all of these systems above set in place you will not start booking your calendar on auto-pilot (yet). You need to have a plan to go out there and market what you are doing. People need to know about your business and be able to find you.
When you start out or are ready to branch out, you need to have a network around you that can help you promote your work. I have shop owners, small businesses, trainers and therapists in my area that I connect with (I’m a newborn photographer, so I choose businesses that work with pregnant women and new parents). Their type of clients are my clients and we each help each other by offering something for free. This type of “cross-pollination” can go a long way. Offer a free photo opportunity for a venue or a small business owner and create a big box of flyers of both your services, so they can promote your photography business in their network. Or print out vouchers for their clients with a discount on a session with you. That way they can give a free gift to their customers who can all come and check out your work and book sessions in with you. Have gorgeous wall art or albums to decorate waiting rooms, sales rooms, etc. And just do that for free. Helping other vendors with upgrading their customer experience can help you get in the right photography clients and that goes a long way!
One of the corner stones of building any business is having a list of emails, so you can always reach your ideal customer. Back in the day, when there was no social media, the only way to book clients was to send out newsletters and offers through email.
Like I said in point 1 of this blog, you can’t build your business on the algorithm of social media channels. You need to be in control of your own list. Start collecting email addresses as soon as you open shop. Have people give you their email address by offering something of value in return (like a free guide or a price list). It’s a win-win: you get their info to grow your list and they get information and their first impression of your professional service to get to know/like/trust you.
You can use services like Mailchimp that are pretty self-explanatory or if you want to take it to the next level, there is ActiveCampaign (you can try it out for free by clicking on the link).
Social Media Marketing
Social media is next on the list (not first!). Platforms like Facebook/Instagram/LinkedIn are free and easy to get your business on the radar. If you are active and engage (yes, you need to put the SOCIAL back in social media!) with your audience each day or week you can update them about your business. Any project you are working on, new offers or promotions, photoshoot results, etc. can be shared on Facebook or Instagram (or any other platform, depending where you ideal clients hang out). All your online content must be designed to collect email addresses from your audience, so you can put them on your mailing list. Now you can start out simple with one platform like Facebook. Once you have perfected your lead generation on that channel, you can branch out and take on other channels. Don’t create overwhelm for yourself, and just take it one platform at a time.
So, that’s my list and my take on things. Starting out can be challenging and you need to be pretty all-round, but don’t forget: you can do this and there is always help from other colleagues and photography friends. Don't go at it alone!
You can join my free Facebook group the Thriving Photographers Crew by clicking here: JOIN THE CREW.
( Pin this article for later reference to you "Marketing for Photographers" board on Pinterest!)