When I first started my photography business over twenty years ago, there were so many tips I wish I knew to hit the ground running. I didn’t know how important it was to price my photography or attract the right photography clients, and coming up with a marketing plan for my photography business took a little bit longer than it should have. You might have a similar experience to me. I could learn how to shoot in manual, but I felt like there was no one to mentor me on how to run a photography business. So, I’ve rounded up 18 of my best nuggets of advice for portrait photography business owners. And you’re going to wish you knew all of these photography business tips before you started.
1. Surprise People (In a Good Way)
Don’t just show up, shoot the session and throw the images on a jump drive or gallery. Blow away your clients’ expectations of what a photographer should do. When you go above and beyond, they’ll say you’re worth every penny (and won’t be able to stop talking about how fabulous you are to all their friends and family).
2. Selling is Actually Serving
You aren’t helping your clients by sending them home with a gallery of images to sort through. Your job is not to take photos and dump them in your clients’ laps to print themselves. Part of your job as a photographer is helping them choose images to hang in their home or include in their album. And when you do this, you are serving them. Not adding to their to-do list or letting the images of their kiddos collect digital dust.
3. You Can’t Be Vanilla
Photography is a commodity to many people. We’re competing with FREE because EVERYONE has a camera in their pocket. Push yourself to do things that your clients can’t get from other competitors, whether it be the products you offer or the experience they have with you.
4. Treat Your Best Clients Differently
They deserve to be treated better. Surprise them with creative photography gifts 6 months AFTER their ordering appointment or at the holidays – especially when they aren’t thinking about you. Give them a reason to talk about you way after their session…and keep coming back. This is one of the photography business tips photographers can end up neglecting if they’re in the shoot-and-burn model rather than the boutique business model.
5. Know Your Numbers
Always. If you don’t know what your costs are to produce your photos, then you’ll never understand how to make more money with your photography. For starters, understand your cost of sales, your expenses and your net and gross revenue. Figure out what your time is worth (you can use this formula to get started), instead of just guessing what you “should” get paid.
6. Find A Corporate Client
Offer to shoot their building/office spaces for their website, and keep your ears open for opportunities to photograph the families within that business, like someone who has a senior in high school, or a newborn on the way.
7. Focus On Being High-Touch
You can afford to be very high-touch with your clients because you’re taking on fewer clients than a shoot-and-burn photographer. As a result of building that relationship with your clients and adding tremendous amounts of value into their experience (from selecting clothes to decorating their home and helping them install their artwork), you’re able to charge a lot more for your photography. Because it’s worth more. You’re not just a button pusher. You’re a creator of art.
8. Leave Home
When you leave home, not only are you exposing yourself to potential new clients, you can surround yourself with people that champion you and your vision. Maybe it’s going to a local chamber event. Maybe it’s taking another photography technique class. Maybe it’s building relationships out in the community. Whatever it is, you can’t build your photography business without leaving home.
9. Get Comfortable With Saying “No”
As hard as it is to say no to the clients that aren’t right for us, it’s something you’re going to have to get comfortable with. It sounds like one of the counterintuitive photography business tips, but when you say “no” to the wrong client, you’re actually saying “yes” to all of the other fantastic new “right fit” photography clients out there that can’t wait to have you create art for them. This gives you more time to make genuine connections with potential clients who can’t wait to have your photography art hanging on their walls.
10. Keep Your Eyes Open For “The Slug Bugs”⠀
When my kids were small, we’d play the slug bug game (and now it’s turned into one of my favorite photography business tips). The first one to spot the Volkswagen beetle car, earned a point. Are you playing the slug bug game in your business? Listen for opportunities to solve a potential client’s hard-to-buy-for relative by offering a gift certificate. Look for slug bugs when you’re at PTO meetings, volunteering at your kids’ school, at church or scrolling through social media.
11. Don’t Offer Discounts
Just because you’re a newbie in the space doesn’t mean you have to sell yourself short to get photography clients. And even if you’ve been in the photography business for a while, but the sessions are coming slow, there are ways to attract more clients to your photography business than offering discounts or sales. When you offer discounts, you are telling the rest of the world that your photography isn’t actually worth the full price, and you’re teaching potential clients to wait for a sale from you.
12. Set Goals in Your Business
On my very first day of my MBA program, Dr. Williams, my management professor, asked the class to write on a slip of paper what we wanted our graduating GPA to be. Then, he asked us to share this slip of paper with one person. Whether it be a classmate, spouse, friend or family member it didn’t matter. The important part was to tell someone your goal. Subconsciously that goal becomes more important to you when you share it with others. It makes sense, too. None of us like to be called out for not doing what we said we would. So the simple act of sharing our goals with someone made us more likely to achieve it.
13. Split Your Marketing into a Drip and a Hammer
Not all marketing efforts are created the same. I like to divide them into two categories: the drip, and the hammer. The “drip” is marketing that is constantly going, but it doesn’t have to be extravagant. It is just small little activities that you can do daily to keep it going, like continuing to engage on social media, keeping your ears open for potential clients when you’re at your kid’s sports game, or adding to your client connection database. The “hammer” is a big marketing activity, like having an Open House for Seniors at your studio, sending out a gorgeous dog whistle piece or donating gift certificates to a silent auction fundraiser.
14. Focus on Connection vs. Clearance
What’s more personal? A big discount plastered on social media and blasted to your email list, OR a hand-written note to your acquaintance, Jenny, who’s hosting her entire family for Thanksgiving dinner. In the note you share a creative portrait idea. Voila! You’ve booked a session to photograph her family so she has the perfect gift for her parents. Making intentional, thoughtful connections that focus on solving a problem, not selling, means you don’t need to offer a big discount to get booked by the right client.
15. You Don’t Have to Turn Strangers into Clients
Most photographers focus on turning STRANGERS into clients. Though you need new connections to grow your business, don’t overlook your best source of additional income. This is your existing clients! Look at what can you offer your existing clients that doesn’t require you to shoot another session in your busy season, and can bring in more revenue. Try things like holiday cards, graduation announcements, college announcement sessions, gift certificates, and gift prints for grandparents.
16. You Don’t Need to Have a Black Friday Sale for Your Photography Business
Instead of discounting your photography during the holiday season, offer an incentive. This is something such as a free portrait ornament after a minimum portrait order. Once I figured out a better way to use the emotions of the holiday season, instead of discounted mini-sessions and Black Friday Blowouts, I was able to end my year with cash in the bank to get me through the slower months.
17. Set Your Digital File Policy
Do you want to sell wall art rather than high-resolution digital files? You need to get clear on your digital file policy from the begining. Are you going to offer high-res digitals when they purchase wall art from you? Are you going to include several low-res digitals for social media? Decide how you’re going to offer digital files, if at all, and make your stance known from the get-go.
18. Don’t Be Afraid To Be Exceptional
One of the greatest ways to grow your photography business is to leave your clients gleaming from the inside out. This means you have to WOW your clients from the very beginning. They’ll be dying to share their new favorite photographer with all of their friends (new potential photography clients)! The boutique business model is all about providing an exceptional experience throughout every single client interaction as you create quality heirloom artwork for the walls of your clients’ homes.
A Parting Photography Business Tip
Whether it’s your first day as a professional photographer or you’ve been in the photography business industry for years, I hope these tips will help you build and grow the photography business of your dreams. Take the time to sit down and write out your goals and plans for your photography business. Are you just starting out? Decide which type of photography business model is right for you. Have you been stuck in the same place with your photography business and don’t know what to do next?
Consider investing some of your time in photography business education, because there’s always more to learn. I wish someone had told me that there is no “right time” to start doing any of these things. Because the reality is, no matter how many photography business tips you hear, none of it matters if you don’t take the leap of faith and put it into action.