Listen, there are about a thousand books out there telling you how to start a photography business. If you’re planning to start a photography business in 2023, chances are you’ve read the books, watched all the Youtube videos, and have a pretty good idea of where to start. But today, I want to share the thing that took me too long to figure out. All those How To Start a Business books that go over pricing structures, insurance, and taxes? They’re missing three crucial things–things that, once I started paying attention, helped me grow my business more than anything else. Let’s get to it, and at the end, be sure to snag your Starting a Photography Business Checklist–designed to go beyond the basics.
General Advice for Starting a Photography Business
The typical advice goes something like this:
- business plan
- legal, taxes, and insurance
But I think this approach glosses over some of the MOST important things I’ve ever done to grow my photography business. This industry is a curious mix of art, business, and personal connection, and the typical business advice doesn’t touch on two of those things.
To truly be successful in family photography, you need to work on improving and having a plan to succeed in ALL THREE of those areas. Let’s look at the three things I did to start a photography business that skyrocketed my growth.
1. Learn About and Implement SEO | Business
It’s true that SEO, or search engine optimization, can sound overwhelming, especially if you’re not technically inclined. Often people rely on social media as their online “home” for their business, but that’s not the best move. Why? Social media is constantly changing, and you’re not the one in control. Instagram decides to shut down your account? Your Facebook gets hacked? Your online presence (and your link to all those people interested in what you’re doing) is GONE.
That’s why having a website is so important for any business. You get control over what people see when they land on your site and you have the opportunity to connect with them further via an email newsletter or contact form.
But just having a website that EXISTS isn’t enough. You want it to be seen, right? When someone searches Google for a topic relevant to what you do, you want your beautiful website to show up, right? That’s where SEO comes in.
SEO is simply the process of making sure that your website clearly tells Google what you do, where you do it, and who you do it for. This happens by the keywords you choose (those search terms someone puts into Google), how you outline your pages to support those keywords, and who else supports your work by linking to it.
There is SO much that goes into solid SEO, and it’s an ongoing project for any business owner. But my best advice for someone starting a photography business is to start early, because it takes time for SEO to start working its magic. Learn as much as you can about it, even if you plan to hire out later down the road. Here’s an excellent place to start if you’re just beginning to learn about SEO for photographers.
2. Have Routine Creative Reviews | Art
Even if you’re the most successful photography business in the world, you’re likely still working on improving and refining your art. There are new approaches to try, new things you want to say with your work, and new types of subjects you’d like to photograph. It can be easy to get stuck in the grind of your photography business, doing things the same with each client and only focusing on the business side of things. But to really see growth, you’ll need to work to improve your art. The easiest way I’ve found to approach this is by scheduling routine creative reviews.
Every six months to a year, I round up both the images I’m most proud of as well as the ones that didn’t quite work. I put them into two separate folders, and then go through them, one by one, and take notes.
Here are some questions I ask myself of each image:
- What is the first thing I notice when I look at this picture?
- Are these things intentional and adding to the image? If not, how could they be improved? (for lighting, composition, lens choice, posing, color tones, expressions, emotions, background, my location in relation to the subjects, etc)
- Does this image reflect the “promise” of my business? For example, if I promise “adventurous photography for couples in love,” is this an adventurous image, or is the emotion or spirit lacking?
- If I were this client, are there any parts of the image or experience photographing this image that I’d be critical of? How might I do it differently next time?
- Did I have a specific image or goal in mind when I took this photo? Did I succeed? How could I do it differently?
After I’ve reviewed each photo (the good and the not-so-great), I look for any themes that keep popping up. Is there a particular lighting mistake I keep making? Something I’m doing as I compose the photos that I could be doing differently? Then I set a few goals of things to try at my next sessions or just the next time I have a camera in my hands. To keep it from being overwhelming, try just choosing one goal per session.
PS, I keep a running word document of all of these reviews, and just start a new page with that day’s date: it’s fun to look back through the document to see what I was thinking about my work over the years.
Set up Styled Shoots to Work on Artistic Goals
To push this idea even further, I like to set up personal styled shoots to work on these goals in a lower-stakes environment. Grab a friend and test out that new lighting technique or prompt you wanted to try. I’ve ended up with some of my favorite images ever doing this, and the great thing is that once you’ve done it in that low-stakes styled shoot environment, you can replicate that technique with your next paying client. That’s how you grow the artistic side of your business!
3. Attend Regular Meetups | Personal Connection
It can be so easy to run your business from behind the computer screen. You’re there for all of your post-production activities like editing and uploading images, and likely for a lot of your consultation and advertising activities too. But your business won’t truly grow from just dropping your website link into a comment thread on Facebook of someone looking for a photographer. You know how it will grow? From personal connections. There are three ways you could approach this.
Get out there and do things!
This might mean growing your client list through word of mouth. Don’t approach every meeting with a new person as a potential client, but just make sure you’re getting out there and you know…doing things! Meet new people and focus on growing a real connection with them.
Collaborate with Vendors
This might also mean collaborating with other vendors who also serve your clients. If you’re a wedding photographer, are you networking with venues, florists, etc and coming up with ways you can serve them? If you’re a family photographer, what about makeup artists or local boutiques? Create genuine connections with and serve these vendors well, and you’re well on your way to building a great foundation for potential collaborations or referrals down the road.
Connect with other Photographers
Lastly, don’t forget about connecting with other photographers. Building relationships with other photographers will encourage, inspire, and motivate you both–all such important things for growth that can be lacking when you’re a solopreneur working from home. Look for professional photographer associations in your area or just reach out to your favorites on Instagram.
Starting a Photography Business Checklist Bonus
If you’ve snagged the checklist below and you’re well on your way to growing your photography business, you might wonder what my favorite tools are for running my business. Head over here to check out the most impactful books I read to grow my business, the tools that keep it all running smoothly, and my top photography business blog posts.
Starting a Photography Business Checklist
Here for the Starting a Photography Business Checklist? Grab it here:
PS, for this week’s installment of my favorite photography posts from around the world, I’m sharing a post from my friend Donna, who does family photography in central Florida. She’s sharing some great tips about photography for anyone hoping for a beach session in Florida that is inspiring me to research a trip out that way!
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