Running a photography business can be tough – there are so many elements to juggle. You’ve honed your photography skills but have to master marketing, pricing, SEO, client management, bookkeeping and work out to maintain a good work/life balance.
Louise Downham, an award-winning family photographer at louiserosephotography.com, shares some hard-won lessons from her own experience of running a successful photography business.
To connect with your clients, you need to be yourself.
The more you can show clients what you’re like, the more they’ll be able to see what sets you apart from other photographers, and why you’re the right fit for them.
Give some real thought to your USPs. What makes you different from other photographers? Apart from photography, what professional or personal experience do you have that might be of interest to your clients?
There’s absolutely no point mimicking what other photographers have written on their websites.
If you had another career before becoming a photographer, think how the skills from that role could be appealing to your clients. I used to manage a photography gallery, for example – this experience reassures clients that I can really help them with how best to display their photographs.
Calculate your pricing
Lots of photographers start out by setting their prices based on what they feel their work is worth, or what they’d pay for a photographer themselves. This is very limiting, and won’t work for long – you need to calculate your prices based on more than gut feeling, and don’t limit your pricing to what you could afford yourself.
Equally, lots of photographers move on from that “gut feeling” approach to charging a bit less than their competitors are charging. This strategy is also no good! You don’t know whether they work full-time or if they have a second job and aren’t reliant on their photography income; you don’t know how many shoots they do each week, how much they need to earn each year or what their outgoings are.
Instead, the strategy I’ve found works best is to work backwards from how much you need to earn each year to support yourself – how many shoots a week will you need to achieve that, at your current pricing?
This will quickly show you if you need to either book more sessions or charge more for the same number of sessions.
A good rule of thumb is to aim for a conversion rate of around 60% – once 60% of prospective clients book, you can consider putting your prices up. If more than 60% are booking, you can safely put your prices up; if less than 60% are booking, you should have a real think about why that is, and how you can increase the conversion rate. Are clients surprised by your prices, in which case the tone and feel of your branding might need some finessing? If clients are expecting a mid-range price having looked through your website and then you present them with high-end prices, they may not book – the tone and feel of all your branding and marketing need to be consistent.
Another rule of thumb I’ve found useful when it does come to putting up prices is to increase prices by around 15% every year or so. The idea is that you’ll lose 10% of your client base, but you’ll still make the same money as you were before. It’s then time to focus on a marketing boost to draw in more clients.
Ultimately, stay focused on your own pricing and what works well for you.
SEO is a long game
There’s so much advice out there about SEO that it’s easy to become overwhelmed, or to try a strategy for a few months and then move on to something else because it doesn’t seem to be working.
If you don’t see results immediately, don’t give up! Keep going, and your hard work will all pay off in the end.
What’s worked best for me over the years is to keep my website regularly updated.
Be consistent, so Google sees you mean business. Posting a blog each week will be more beneficial than publishing 20 blog posts over a day or two.
Ignore marketing emails listing faults that “experts” have found with your website – SEO specialists who are cold-calling are rarely worth the investment. If you want professional support, ask other photographers for a personal recommendation instead.
Remember that SEO is not just about the keywords and metadata on your website – the algorithms take into account your web traffic too, and your website’s interaction with other sites. Link to other sites (where appropriate) and think about where and how you can drive traffic to your website – not just from your social media but from other sources completely: local directories, photography websites, special offer websites.
If blogging doesn’t come naturally to you, try writing out blog posts in long-hand – or dictating it straight to your computer using the dictation tool. Recording a voice memo onto your phone straight after shooting can also help capture real details from the session to help you write a more engaging blog post.
Develop your business skills
This sounds so obvious, but it’s something that a lot of photographers shy away from. Many photographers have the creative skills when they start out but not necessarily the business skills. The sooner you can bring yourself up to speed on the issues you’re weaker on, the sooner your business will be running successfully.
Be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to running a business, and seek out support with the areas you’re not so strong on.
For me, my areas of weakness were accounting and business planning. I found free 1:1 support provided through the local council for self-employed workers. The sessions were invaluable and really helped me to focus on my goals and on prioritising tasks to help me achieve them. There are lots of agencies set up to support self-employed workers and the creative industry – tap into their knowledge and benefit from their professional expertise.
Think laterally about where else to find this support – friends with the skills you lack might be happy to sit down with you for half an hour to run through how to set up a business plan, for example. I used to live in fear of spreadsheets, but an hour with an Excel-loving friend showed me the light and got me up to speed.
It’s definitely worth setting up good admin and workflow systems early on, as this only gets harder to find time for as you get busier: think accounts, client management, photo editing workflow. Whenever you realise you’re falling behind on any of these, think about what it is specifically that is slowing you down or that feels inefficient. Google tips on improving those issues – there’s almost always a great app, website or YouTube video that can help.
It’s easy to get caught up in the fire-fighting of your immediate workload, but if you can remember to step back and think about improving your business systems every now and then, you’ll do yourself a massive favour. If you’re working more efficiently, you’ll feel more under control – and you’ll free up more time to spend on your photography!
Manage your time
It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the thousands of ideas out there that could help you build your photography business. I used to add every idea I came across to my to-do list, until I realised the list was totally out of hand and I was never going to do everything on it.
I’ve found the idea of bullet journaling really effective. Specifically, I use a Post-it note strategy which works wonders for me: never try to do more in one day that you can fit on a Post-it note. Make sure you tick it all off and enjoy the huge satisfaction of scrunching up that note at the end of the day – a day’s work well done!
Another tip I’ve found really useful with creating some structure and routine in my work life is carving the week into particular blocks of time. Schedule in set time each week to write a blog post, prepare images for posting on social media, editing photographs. Setting time aside regularly for each task gives you a sense of routine, and will help you to keep up to do date with long-term projects as well as meeting the immediate needs of your clients.
Think about the patterns that tend to appear in your week, and plot out how you could use the down-time to get on with your long-term to-do list. I tend not to have shoots on Mondays, for example, so I use those days to edit photographs; I tend to only photograph in the mornings, so I earmark one afternoon each week for writing blog posts and social media, one for processing client product orders, and one for catching up on my accounts. I don’t always stick to my plan, but having a structure in the background reassures me that I’ve got it all more or less under control and that nothing’s slipping through the net.
Seriously! Socialising may not seem like a great lesson for running a successful business, but don’t under-estimate the value of getting to know other photographers – in person, not just online.
For self-employed photographers, the long hours at the computer can become a bit lonely. Connecting with other photographers working in a similar field to you can help boost your morale, as well as providing a great sounding board for new ideas.
If a strategy’s not working for you, another photographer might be able to advise on how they’re using that strategy themselves – or talk you through why they don’t use it at all.
Bouncing ideas around with other photographers will save you from reinventing the wheel, and provide you with support during quiet times.
You might also find you develop an informal referral network, and any new source of leads can only be beneficial.
Over the years, photographers have become some of my closest friends and I really cherish those friendships.
Many lessons are best learnt the hard way, but hopefully these tips and suggestions will help you navigate a little more swiftly through some of the common pitfalls, and maybe even help you on your way to running a successful photography business.
Louise Downham has photographed over 1000 babies and children to date and her photographs have been exhibited internationally and published in national magazines. She runs an award-winning family portrait business, Louise Rose Photography