12 Steps to Growing A Successful Photography Business

Starting a photography business can be so daunting. Trust me, I’ve been there. In fact, the thought of actually starting a business was so overwhelming that it stopped me from actually starting one for so long.

But, now that I'm on the other side of it, I'm here to tell you that you should not let that stop you.

Yes, there’s a lot of things to consider when owning your own photography business, but you can do all the things.

To help you out, I put together a little guide on all of the essential materials that you need to know and consider when starting and maintaining your business. I’ve learned a lot over the years, and I want to give all the nuggets of info that I’ve learned over to you. Without further ado, here are some things you need to consider if you want to grow a successful photography business.



1. Establishing a brand

The first thing you need to consider when starting a photography business is: what is your brand?

Instead of focusing on owning a business, you need to focus on owning a brand. People become invested in you, not a business. They will fall in love with your voice, you, and your work—they will not fall in love with just a business. This is because a brand is a personality, and a business is just something that offers a service. You need to give your services (photography) a personality, because that’s what sells.

Yes, of course talent is part of it, but no one will book you if they don’t connect with who you are as a person. If they know who you and your brand are, they will trust you.


Instead of focusing on owning a business, you need to focus on owning a brand.


Ban.do


An example of someone with a strong brand is the creative company Ban.do. Their playful voice resonates throughout their presence online, their color scheme, the products they sell, and even in their logo. We’re going to take a look at all of these things and break them down so you know how to make them work for you and your brand. 

Fine-Tune Your Niche

In regards to fine-tuning your brand, you need to make sure that you hone in on one specific niche. The tighter your niche is, the more you will be recognized for your work and it will help you stand out in the photography industry.

Don’t just be a wedding photographer. Be a moody wedding photographer. Or better yet, a moody destination adventure wedding photographer! This will make you stand out immediately and allow your ideal clients to easily find you. The more honed in and precise your niche is, the stronger your identity is as a photographer.

Define Your Mission

Now that you’ve found a niche, you need to decide: what is it that you want to do with your brand?

It’s important to have clear goals for yourself so you can implement them into your everyday work. Make sure everything you share and talk about, in regards to your brand and photography, aligns with your mission statement.

When you’re looking for inspiration, you will find most photographer’s mission statements on their about pages. Although it may not be labeled clearly as their mission, it is clear as to why they create the work they create—there is a clear purpose.

For example, on photographer Joe Greer’s website, he explains what influences his work and what his focus is:

“He has a sincere passion for cultivating community, making intentional memories, and capturing moments that normally go unseen. For Joe, it has become a way to communicate, to tell a story, and to create beautiful timeless photographs.”

This mentality is Joe’s mission statement and can be seen throughout all of his work.


Joe Greer

Use Your Voice

Wedding photographer, Alysa Rene, is passionate about the importance of building a strong brand from the very beginning.

“Find out what your ‘secret sauce’ is and make that the driving force behind your brand,” Alysa suggested.

What makes you the most unique and what can set you apart from others can be found in creating an effective voice for your brand. Your voice can be shared in a variety of ways --social media, your website, and through a blog.


Alysa Rene


“Find out what your ‘secret sauce’ is and make that the driving force behind your brand,” Alysa suggested.

However, one of the most important ways to showcase your voice is through your photography, specifically through your editing style. Try to be as consistent as possible in your editing. Make sure that if you put all of your photos together, they look like they’re coming from the same person. If you’re a moody photographer, you shouldn’t be also posting overexposed photos. It won’t match the rest of your work.

If you can use 1-2 presets for all of your photos, your brand will look so clean.

The more cohesive your editing is, the more people will recognize your work as yours.

Stay Connected

Another way you can use your voice is just that--talk to people. Make sure you’re connected with and interacting with people who are interested in your work. This could either be online or in real life. How you talk to them will be a part of your brand as well.

Find a voice for your brand that fits who you are.

One way that you can really solidify your voice with others is by telling stories.

Ask yourself: “What Am I Most Passionate About?”

What stories surround the reason why you’re passionate about that thing? What have you experienced in your life that makes you passionate about this?

Tell these stories. Share these stories. It will help others connect and relate to you.

“Be real, authentic, and let the heart of your business shine every step of the way,” Alysa said.

Logo

A logo is a super important thing to consider when you’re creating a brand—as it will literally be the symbol for your business. If you’re not the most savvy with graphic design, this would be a wise thing to outsource to a graphic designer to make sure that it is perfect for you and your brand. Some things to consider when creating a logo for your photography business are:

  • Make sure your logo represents you and your brand. Have it either represent photography, your style, or your voice in some way.
  • Try to keep it simple. The most effective logos are ones that say a lot in a small amount of space. If you make it over-complicated with too many elements, it can quickly become overwhelming and make your brand less welcoming.
  • There should be a story behind your logo and a reason for every part. This goes back to making sure that your logo represents you and your brand.
  • Color is important! Colors will help convey your message and the voice of your brand

If you’re not able to hire a professional graphic designer to create your logo, there are other options. There are a number of graphic design apps that make it relatively easy to create your own logo. Check out: Canva, Procreate, and 99designs.

Color Scheme



Like I said, color can help bring across the voice of your brand. Psychologically speaking, different colors and color combinations can have a huge impact on your clients and how they view you. Due to this, you should be aware of the thoughts and feelings associated with each color:

  • Yellow is associated with happiness and joy. It also can capture a viewer’s attention more than other colors.
  • Blue is associated with the feelings of peacefulness and trustworthiness. Many companies use blue to also promote the idea of cleanliness.
  • Green is associated with the ideas of growth and balance. Green tends to have a calming effect on audiences.
  • Purple is associated with luxury and fantasy.
  • Red is associated with energy, passion, and adventure. It can be a disarming color, but it is also psychologically proven to promote feelings of hunger. Hence why so many fast food places have red in their logos.
  • Orange is associated with energy and warmth, but can be disarming just like red. However, orange can also promote creativity.
  • Pink is associated with innocence and playfulness. In business, it can be seen as welcoming and light-hearted.
  • Brown is associated with the earth and roughness. A lot of times in business, it’s associated with nature or things that are hand-built.

  • Black is associated with power and intelligence. It’s a color that evokes the strongest emotions in people.

On top of all of this, it’s important to consider the tones of the colors that you’re using as well. Lighter tones tend to be more peaceful and less energetic, while darker tones tend to be taken as more serious and comforting.

Color scheme is interesting, once you start paying attention, you can see that many photographers are very intentional about the colors they use in their branding. For example, creative blogger Design Love Fest’s website sports white, grey, pink, and yellow throughout. The pink and yellow help promote a playfulness and welcoming vibe, while the white and grey help make it look strong and clean.


Design Love Fest

2. Effective pricing strategy -- how to build a good price list

Pricing can be one of the most overwhelming things to figure out as a photographer, because so many other photographers are secretive about their pricing process.

The best part about pricing though is that you have options. There are many different ways that you can set up pricing, depending on what works best for you and your specific photography niche.

Here are some ways that you can set up your prices and why they may be the best or not the best choice for you:

Packages

One way to set up your pricing is to create packages. This way, you will have a set price for different bundles that involve different levels of your services. You can give your clients a variety of different options depending on what they’re looking for.

This strategy works specifically well for an event or wedding photographer because your clients are able to get exactly what they want and don’t get anything they don’t want. It may be the easiest way to increase your prices and get more clients.

You want to be careful that you don’t give your clients too many options for it might overwhelm them. In that same idea, you need to make sure that you set up all of your packages so it’s easy for your clients to understand what they’re getting in each option.

Charge Per Hour

Another option for you is to charge per hour. In this option, you would make a set price that you would charge your clients for the amount of hours you work.

It’s pretty straight-forward and your clients know that they’re paying for your time so it’s easier for them and for you to calculate a price for a project.

However, you may want to be careful with this option. If the project takes longer than your original quote, you may not get paid for the actual time that you worked. It also may devalue your skills. It can tell your clients that you’re only there to do an allotted job or service, but it doesn’t really account for your creativity, inspiration, etc.

Charge Per Photo

Your last option is to charge per photo. This option only works for specific niches such as stock photography, photojournalism, real estate photography, or if a brand wants to buy the rights to a specific photo. Your price is going to vary based on your experience and what the photo will be used for.

This is a nice option because it can allow you to make a lot of money quickly. You also need to remember to clearly define the end use of the photo with your clients. When, where, and for how long your photo can be used for?

3. Social Media



Social Media one of the most important places for you to be as you’re building your photography business. It’s a way to get your work and brand out there for free. It also allows you to connect with other photographers and your dream clients. When it’s used correctly, social media can help connect you to friends and clients from around the world—it’s completely free networking and it’s effective.

There are many different platforms you can use, but the most common platforms for photographers are Instagram (this is the biggest), Facebook, and Pinterest.

Many photographers have grown their business and have become successful based on their social media presence. Photographers such as Jasmine Star have built their Instagram following to almost 300K, giving them endless business opportunities.


Jasmine Star
Lightfolio


Here are some ways you can make all three of these social media platforms really work for you in order to help start and grow your business.

Your Profile

To optimize your social media profiles, you should consider a few things as a photographer. Firstly, the name on your profile as well as your profile handle, should be the name of your business. This will make you easier to find by people who will be interested in your services.

Another thing to make sure you have is a link to your website directly on your profile so people can see your work and then book you. If you don’t give your followers a way to contact you, they won’t.

Creating Content

When you’re posting content on social media, it’s important for you to stay true to your brand (this is why branding was the most important thing to nail right away). I mean, let’s be real, there are a lot of similar social media posts out there. How are you going to stand out from the crowd?

The answer is in your brand. Use your brand to tell stories. These stories are going to set you apart from the rest.

Obviously, your photography is important and unique, but that’s not always what grabs the viewer’s attention and keeps them there. What keeps them there is you. The more you build a personal connection with your followers, the more people will care about you and therefore your content.

You also need to make sure that you have a consistent presence on social media. The more times you post, the more times your work will be seen, it’s that simple.

Hashtags

Another way to increase your visibility on social media is to use hashtags. This is a powerful resource, but some people are afraid to use it. Don’t be. Hashtags are basically search engine terms that will help your work get seen and increase your SEO.

I used to be hesitant about using hashtags because I was worried that people would find them annoying. Here’s the truth: your followers don’t notice. HOWEVER, people on Instagram who aren’t your followers yet, will notice. And that is what is important.



In order to use hashtags effectively, you need to make sure that they correspond to the type of content you’re posting. If you’re posting a baby photo, don’t hashtag it with #destinationwedding. Hashtag it with #newbornphotography.

It also helps to increase your visibility if you incorporate your location in your hashtags. Instead of saying just #weddingphotographer, also use the hashtag #WisconsinWeddingPhotographer. That way, engaged couples in Wisconsin will be able to find you and book you.

Networking

One of the best features of social media is its ability to help you network with other photographers, people in your industry, and potential clients. Therefore, it’s important to focus on building relationships on your social media platforms. You need to make sure that you’re interacting with other people’s content. ‘Like’ and ‘comment’ on other people’s posts, but go beyond just telling them that it’s “nice.” Generic comments aren’t going to make you stand out. Challenge yourself to post an authentic comment on every post that you’re liking. This little step will go a long way.

It’s also important to support others who are in your industry. Strengthen your relationships by giving others shout-outs, support their work, and show that you care about them.

One way that you can and should do this is to tag your clients in your posts, tag your venues, and tag anyone you may have collaborated with. This will not only get your work seen by more people, but it will help you create positive relationships in your industry and with your clients.

4. Blogging (and SEO)

Express your personality. Be different, have an opinion.

As stated earlier, one of the ways to really express the voice of your brand and your photography is through blogging.

When you’re writing a blog post, you should make it the most “you” as possible. Think about some of your favorite blogs. Chances are, you love the ones that make you feel like you’re sitting down with a good friend and talking about life.

If you have trouble writing, try recording your voice and speak your blog post instead. It may sound silly and it may be awkward at first, but when you transcribe it into a blog post, it will sound natural. And your readers will feel like your best friend.

Your blog post should also be well-organized and skimmable. Most people may not have ten minutes to read the entirety of your blog post, so make it easy for them. Break it up into understandable sections.

Blogging can also help your work get noticed by more people. Through blogging, you can increase your SEO.

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which is basically how you get search engines to fall in love with your content. Instead of being on page ten of a search, you could be on page one!



There are different strategies to fool search engines into falling in love with you that you can utilize in all of your blog posts. It may take a little longer to write each blog post, but using these strategies will increase your visibility.

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which is basically how you get search engines to fall in love with your content.

Here are some easy things you can do to increase your SEO:

  • Links-Including links to other blogs, other websites, etc attract inbound links and more people to your page. This will help your blog get the front of the search engine pack. Whenever possible, place a hyperlink to other blogs.
  • Keywords-Keywords are words that people will search, then they will stumble upon your blog. They should be your main focuses.

      Make a list of keywords for every post. Think of them as main ideas. Perhaps your blog post is about a fall wedding. That could be your keyword: “Fall Wedding”.

       a) You should include “Fall Wedding” a part of your title. That way it will also  show up in the URL of your post.

       b) Your primary keywords should also show up in the first sentence of your content. That’s because this first sentence will become the page description metatag by default.

      c) Next, you should add your keywords to your tag box.

  • Images-Whenever you add images to your blog posts, use tags, captions, and descriptions for each image. This is probably the most time consuming. In these, you should try to include your keywords.
  • Headings: Headlines and subheads should be used to help readers stay organized and it can also help readers who are just skimming (which, let’s be real, is most of us). When it’s possible, use your keywords in your headings.
  • Post Frequently- The more you post, the higher your chances you will have of increasing your SEO.
  • Internal Links- Help yourself while you’re at it! Provide links inside your blog posts to your old blog posts, especially if they’re related.

Going back to keywords, because they play such an important role in SEO, let’s go over how to pick effective keywords for each of your posts:

  • If you’ve been blogging for a little while, find your posts that have had the most traffic. Make a list of common words you have used in those posts.
  • Brainstorm possible words that you think your target audience might search. If you’re stuck, ask your followers!
  • If you’re still stuck, try going to Google and entering a search word you already have. Then click on the “Related Searches” button. This shows you what other people searching for that word have also searched for.
  • Try not to use just one word. Unless you’re blogging about a specific brand or product, you should stay away from using one-word keywords. There’s too much competition there. Google will pull up thousands of pages for “recipes”. Instead, have your keywords be “Best Pot Pie Recipe”. Be as specific as possible.

With all of this talk about keywords, it’s also important to keep in mind that you don’t want to overstuff your blog post with the same three words. That gets repetitive and boring. Use your keywords, wisely.

One more thing to remember, especially if you’re doing a wedding post or a styled shoot, is to give credit to all of the vendors involved. Make sure to hyperlink to their pages and tag them as well. Not only is it great for networking, but it will boost your SEO.

5. Ads



Although there are a lot of options out there for free marketing opportunities (social media, word-of-mouth, testimonials) it’s also important to consider purchasing ads to build your brand.

Some of your options for platforms to purchase ads are through social media promotions, wedding directories (if you’re in that industry) and places like Craigslist. Depending on what your goal is for the ad will help determine what platform you should use.

If you’re looking to build your brand, consider paying for spots in online directories (especially for the wedding industry) and social media promotions.

6. Building Vendor Relationships

If you are looking to build a successful wedding photography business, establishing relationships with vendors is extremely important. This includes building relationships with event spaces, wedding planners, florists, bakeries, etc.

For Ren Lenhof, photographer at Studio 29 Photography, building relationships with vendors and others in the wedding industry has been a huge focus for the growth of her business:

“The biggest thing to remember is that relationships with other businesses need to be a two-way-street, both parties need and want to benefit from the relationship,” Ren said.


Ren Lenhof


...spectacular word-of-mouth referrals are solid gold. -Ren Lenhof

The more you foster relationships within your industry, the more referrals people will give you. Nothing is more valuable than a referral from someone within the wedding industry itself. Some ways to begin building those relationships with vendors is to give sample albums to them, provide them with prints of their work, collaborate with them on styled shoots, etc. Ren recommends giving vendors permission to use your photos from the day of the event or wedding, and getting a list of all of the vendors from your couples. This way, you can tag each vendor in all of your social media and blog posts.

“By initializing a strong rapport with other vendors from the start, you are going to set yourself up for success because spectacular word-of-mouth referrals are solid gold,” Ren said.

The more you can work with these vendors and serve these vendors, the more they will end up serving you.

7. Always Be Professional

As a photographer, you need to always dress professionally. Depending on the job that you’re working, the level of dress may change. If you’re working on a product shoot, portrait shoot, or family shoot, you should dress business casual. If you’re working an event or wedding, you need to make sure that you’re dressing formally.

Whenever you are working a different gig (especially weddings), you should basically treat it as if you’re at a job interview and dress accordingly. At these events, friends of your current clients will notice you and judge you based on the level of care you bring to your appearance and the level of professionalism you’re representing. You want to make a good impression and show how you’re an expert in your field.

The same things goes with your attitude while you’re working. You must remain professional at all times. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do if you were at a job interview. Remain positive, open, have friendly interactions, and use appropriate language.

8. Client Gallery Delivery System

Along with being professional, you need to make sure that you not only do your work in a professional manner, but also present your product in a professional manner as well.

It’s so important to “wow” your clients with your work and one way to do so is by sending them their photos through a client gallery delivery system. This will present your work in the highest resolution and will create an online gallery that allows your client to admire your work as a whole.


Lightfolio


Lightfolio is an online client gallery delivery system that allows you to send your work to your clients and customize your gallery in a way that showcases your work in its best light. On top of that, Lightfolio allows your clients to easily download and share your work via social media, which can help you grow your brand and land more dream clients.

You can also sell prints to your clients right through Lightfolio. This allows the process of selling prints to be streamlined and hassle free.

9. Encourage Clients to Leave Online Reviews

One way to increase credibility and trust of your brand is to showcase client reviews on your website and social media. Testimonials are a powerful tool to validate and grow your business. After each project you work on, encourage or incentive your clients to leave online reviews for you regarding your work.

There are a few ways to do this. You can have them fill out an online form, talk to them in person, or give them a space to leave comments and thoughts. Through it all, you want to make sure that you have their permission to share their review with others.

The most powerful marketing tool is word-of-mouth. Once people see that they can read about other’s positive experiences working with you, the more likely you will be hired for future work.

10. Free Promotional Materials

Another way that you can increase your brand visibility is by giving your clients free promotional materials. These materials could be anything from your business card, a fridge magnet, pencils, etc. Any little thing that your clients could potentially hand out to their friends and family that has your logo and information on it is free and effective advertising.

Also, consider going above and beyond. Instead of just giving them a free fridge magnet with your logo on it, give them a magnet that features a portrait from their wedding, along with your logo on it. This makes the product more special, and makes the client feel appreciated, which won’t go unnoticed.

11. Networking At Meetups

Although networking online can be extremely effective, that effectiveness increases once you meet people in person.

A great way to connect with other photographers or other people in your industry is through photographer meetups. Depending on your location, there may be photographer meetups regularly in your area. If you live in a more rural location, consider making trips to larger cities to connect to other photographers.

In order to find meetups in your location, get connected to feature accounts in your community. Many feature accounts that feature photography from your area also host meetups.

There are also several groups for photographers and small business owners at a national level that have local chapters. Check out The Rising Tide Society and TheHub chapters in your area and connect with them in order to find out about meetup opportunities that will allow you to connect with other creatives.

12. Never Stop Learning

Continuing education is so incredibly important when you’re a photographer: especially a photographer who is building their own business.

Wedding photographer, Alora Rachelle, recognized early-on in her business that education was key: “When I first started in photography, I thought I just had to learn how to be a photographer, but I was wrong,” Alora said. “I never want to stop learning...I feel like if you stop learning, you become complacent and you’re going to lose your passion for it...you’re not going forward, you’re actually probably going backwards.”


Alora Rachelle


The great thing is that there are a ton of amazing workshops, conferences, and educational opportunities out there to help you and your business grow. Here are some great resources for you that professionals in the industry have created with YOU in mind:

  • House Fur-The blog of the photography couple of Studio 29 Photography is filled with nuggets of information about how to build your photography business. They also have their own podcast, Happy Hour House Fur that focuses on a specific topic each week that you can implement into your business. On top of that, Ren also has one-on-one mentoring sessions for small business owners.
  • Alora Rachelle Photography-Speaking of mentoring sessions, Alora Rachelle Photography, a wedding photographer in Detroit, also offers one-on-one mentoring sessions for photographers and small business owners. Mentoring sessions can be invaluable because you are receiving advice directly from people who have been in your shoes.
  • Photography Concentrate- This photography education website provides many different kinds of resources for photographers ranging from blog posts, YouTube videos, e-books, and even full-on courses to help photographers start their own businesses.
  • Julie Solomon- If you’re looking for information that is geared more towards growing your business and all of the behind-the-scenes information, Julie Solomon provides a bunch of resources including a podcast, e-books, and online courses.

Good Business Books to Check Out

As you’re growing your photography business, it’s never a bad idea to consume content that will inspire you and help you grow. Here are some great business books for you to read to help you be inspired:

Freelance and Business and Stuff by Amy Hood and Jennifer Hood

Written by the team at Hoodzpah Design, this book is an essential manual for all the basics you need to know to get started either freelancing or starting a business. Although Hoodzpah Design specializes in graphic design, many of the skills and resources can be utilized in photography.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Although this isn’t technically a business book, this is a book to help you embrace and utilize your creativity. As photographers, especially professional photographers, it can be especially hard to stay inspired. This book helps.

Crushing It! by Gary Vaynerchuk

Vaynerchuk keeps it real in his book about how to build your business and influence. He provides examples from his own life and others on how to utilize social media to grow your business, which, like we talked about earlier, is so important in the photography world.

Conclusion

Starting your own photography business can be overwhelming. And honestly, there is always more information to learn and new strategies to implement into your business. Utilize the information above to either get your business off the ground or to expand on your already existing photography business. It may seem impossible to take the leap and and get started, but with these strategies, you will not only be able to do it, but you will be successful at it as well.


Do you have any questions or advice for photographers? Share them with us in the comments below or on our Facebook or Twitter pages.

Contributors:

Our Awesome writer: Kaitlyn Luckow
Photographer: Alysa Rene
Photographer: Alora Rachelle
Photographer: Ren Lenhof


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