If you’re reading this, you may be a photographer and you may be considering whether or not to quit your dependable 9-5 job and dive into the photography field. You may have years of experience using a camera, or perhaps you’ve only recently started taking photos, but you have a real knack for it. Whatever the case, deciding to devote yourself to a job in photography can be just as frightening as it is exciting. The following is a list of secrets to a successful photography business.
I don’t think anyone really understands when they’re starting out how long it will likely take to get your business off the ground; I surely didn’t. Certainly the length of time varies, but prepare yourself for the hustle. When I resigned from my reliable, retirement-saving, teaching position, I was told that it would take roughly three years to find solid footing in my new business. Then three years came and went, and as I lamented to friends over the lack of consistent work, I was told, “Oh, it’ll probably take 5-6 years before you feel truly successful.” NO FAIR, right!?! The finish line was moved! Don’t be discouraged, though. The things we value most in life are usually the things we’ve worked the hardest for. You can be successful! Oh, and don’t be fooled-there is no finish line!
Don’t fall into the comparison trap.
It’s easy to do, especially in the beginning of your photography adventure. If you’re anything like me, you can’t get enough photography. I feel like I’ve found more of a balance now, but in the beginning, I was the kid who wore the new shoes right out of the store! I ate, slept, and breathed photography. Okay, fine. I still kinda do, but I absorb far less of everyone else’s creative genius than I used to. It began to weigh me down-the daily dose of amazingly creative, very successful, thousands of followers kind of photographers. It didn’t happen all at once, but gradually, I decided enough was enough. I still look, but if I feel even a twinge of jealousy, I stop myself.
I’m going to tell you probably my favorite secret. I’ve been asked by several people how I connect with my “ideal client”. The answer is simple. I try to present the real me-no hiding my political views or feelings about human rights. No fluff. Transparency is my goal. I was a little concerned in the beginning about how much of myself I should share. I live in Alabama after all. We’re not known for being the most liberal state. But I also live in Birmingham, which is one of the two most progressive cities in Alabama (with Huntsville slightly ahead, according to a couple of online resources).
Over time I learned that the more of my more creative portraits I shared and the more vocal I was about my beliefs, the more I attracted people I wanted to work with. I’ve even had several clients tell me this was one of the reasons they wanted to work with me! (I’ll never know if I’ve lost work because of my outspokenness or slightly “weird” image shares from time-to-time, but I know I can sleep at night because I’m not pretending to be someone I’m not or biting my tongue to create a business persona. It’s a gamble that you have to decide is right for you or not.)
Just like in any relationship, being your authentic self should attract like-minded people a.k.a. your ideal client. Share information about yourself that others can relate to; this helps people form a connection to you before you even meet.
Work creates work.
This is absolutely true! First of all, don’t forget why you chose photography as a career. It’s probably because as cliche as it sounds, you had a calling. Here’s how you kill two birds with one stone. You photograph for fun because only doing it for money is soul crushing. And while you’re creating and sharing work, even if it’s not paid work, it’s still material that’s adding to your portfolio. So while you’re building your business, you’re having a great time! By posting work, the craziest thing happens-you get more work! Post what you enjoy and you will be busy, look busy, and become even busier. Whenever you see someone loving what they do, and doing it well, it makes you want to work with them! Be that person.
I don’t like saying it as much as you don’t like reading it, but I think it’s important; you have to find your brand. There is a balance that we all have to strike. You can still be you and feel good about your work, and create images that feel like they belong together. For example, I produce images with bold colors and contrast. People like to know what they’re paying for. It’s why places like Olive Garden are so successful. Your photography may not be for the masses to that extreme but if you price your work to match its worth, clients need to trust you’ll deliver the same quality, look, and feel of what attracted them to you in the first place. Save trying out a new editing style for your personal shoots, not for your paid clients.
Be willing to evolve.
It’s just as important to be flexible as it is to settle into a style. Those things seem to contradict one another, but gradual changes can be made if needed. (I think I’ve changed my style twice in the last five years.) One of the more detrimental things you can do in life and in your business is dig in your heals. You have to be flexible if you want to grow your business, and you have to grow as a photographer. This involves taking some creative risks. Play when you can; shoot for fun. It’s totally worth every shutter click you add to your camera if you’re developing an even stronger relationship with your camera. Get involved in online workshops (or actually go to them post-pandemic). Don’t be afraid to learn new things. Evolve or die; isn’t that what they say?
Perseverance is key!
So, remember when you started reading this post and the first thing I told you was to prepare for the hustle? The hustle is the fun way of saying, “Prepare to work your ass off.” Don’t say you weren’t warned. In some careers, loving your job isn’t absolutely necessary. Sometimes you’re able to separate yourself from your work-leave it all at work so-to-speak. Photography is usually different. First of all, you’ll be working for yourself and you’ll need to set some boundaries; if not, you’ll find that you’re on call all the time, and that can be exhausting. You also have to be willing to work… a lot. You’ll be at your computer communicating with clients, editing photos, and marketing yourself more than you can imagine; and unfortunately you’ll spend more time at your computer than with a camera in your hands, which I realize seems illogical. It was a surprise to me too!
Just remember, even when you’re tired, even when you feel like you may never be successful, persevere! You can do this if you really want this. Ask yourself, how badly do you want it? If your answer is something like, “I want it so badly it hurts!” photography can be soooooo rewarding!
I hope you’re positively influenced by this post. I poured my heart into it! It’s been a tough road, which still, after five years of business has it’s ups and downs. I mean, c’mon, we’re living through a pandemic, I guess everyone is experiencing some growing pains at work and in work, right? I want you to be successful! I hope this helps a little.
If you enjoyed this post, I think you may also enjoy reading this one, Top 10 Smartest Decisions of an Alabama Photographer.