Photographers can be some of the best business people around or some of the worst. But realistically, if you’re building a photography business, you probably didn’t get into it because you enjoyed business and marketing. This is why some photographers struggle at being successful. They got into it for the passion, and then wake up one day to the reality that it is a business like any other.
However, fear not. The business and marketing aspect of photography can actually be rewarding and interesting. It’s necessary to learn it to be able to succeed, but once you start to see it work, it becomes empowering. It’s a way to guarantee your success as a photographer so you can continue to do what you love.
But you can’t do that if you make too many mistakes. Here are the biggest mistakes that I see photographers make (and which I have also made myself).
Mistake #1 – Not charging enough
How much you charge is going to be the backbone of your entire business. You cannot let clients lowball you over and over again. By doing that you are lowering the perceived value of the work for the entire industry, and you are not even giving yourself a chance to succeed. By not charging enough, you will inevitably go out of business. Even if you feel desperate for a job, know that it will take up time that would be better spent on marketing yourself to get jobs that pay what you need to survive and thrive.
Many young photographers are afraid of losing jobs, but that’s a regular part of the business. You should not feel bad about it if the client cannot afford you. If they can’t afford you, then it was never a real job in the first place. How can you do good work or create a portfolio worthy piece if you’re not being paid enough to have your heart in it? In addition, these cheap jobs always end up to be the biggest headaches anyway. Every photographer has a story from when they were starting out about that client who just wouldn’t go away.
Even worse than a client lowballing you, are situations when you do not charge enough! Sometimes you will have no idea that a client has budgeted much more than you quoted them. A simple and fantastic question to ask to help you handle confusing pricing situations is, “What is your budget?” This question is sometimes not appropriate, but there are many ways to say it, such as telling them that you offer multiple levels of service based on the cost and asking what their budget is for the project. Or if they say they are tight on budget, you can offer to help them and simultaneously ask what they can pay. When introduced in the right way, this can get your client to lay all their cards on the table.
Mistake #2 – Not responding to inquiries quickly enough
Every ounce of business development and every second of time spend on the tedious aspects of building a business serves the specific purpose of getting someone to contact you with a job. Well then answer them! I get nervous if it takes me 24 hours to respond to an inquiry, and the clients usually come back thanking me for responding so quickly. If you answer your emails and calls efficiently, then you immediately put yourself ahead of the majority of photographers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that we were able to have a whole back and forth and book a job before a competitor even replied.
In addition, responding regularly and efficiently will add to their comfort in working with you. Showing that you are responsible enough to do this also shows them that you are probably responsible in all aspects of your business. It is a great way to set the tone for what working with you will be like and can be excellent for gaining referrals in the future.
Mistake #3 – Not having a focused business plan
You need to know how you are going to make money. Having a focused plan with an income target, price per job needed to reach that target, and a strategy to reach clients will become the basis for your entire business. The more focused that plan is, the more focused you will be. Figure out the strategy with the most potential to help you make a living and start with that. Focus on that before you waist your time on anything else. You do not want to fragment yourself too early in the building process.
Mistake #4 – Not setting aside enough time for personal work
Personal work is what you do to renew your passion for photography. Without that, it will be very difficult to succeed in the photography business. However, it is also the way that you get jobs and build your portfolio. It’s where you test out new strategies and ways of photographing, and it is a way to improve overall at your craft. If there is a type of job that you want to start booking, then build a portfolio of work that will help sell you as a photographer to those clients. They don’t have to know that this portfolio wasn’t made of paid jobs, and in many cases they will enjoy knowing how passionate you are in pursuing your personal work.
Mistake #5 – Not researching colleagues/competitors
As a business owner, you need to know what’s out there. Learning from your competition and even your friends is incredibly important. Go through their work and figure out what you like and what you dislike. Try to figure out the different ways that they market themselves and where their jobs come from. See how they use social media and where they get press from. Learn their pricing and test out their website.
All of this information is so important to helping you find your way. Take the best aspects of everyone you research, and put them together into your own plan. All of the information is out there for you to be successful, it’s just up to you to find it.
Mistake #6 – Not having a plan for editing and delivering
One of the biggest problems that I see newer photographers have is that they take way too much time editing. They end up missing deadlines, wasting their time, and worrying too much. This is not a good situation for anybody and is one of the quickest ways to hold your entire business back. Learn to cull your images from a job quickly. Right away, knock 800 images into the top 200 or 150 as fast as possible and work from there. Organizing and attacking a job’s editing in an efficient matter will make your life so much better, and it will make your clients very happy.
Always tell a client that you will deliver a job to them a couple days after you plan to (under promise over deliver). That way you will look very good when you deliver the work early, and if you have some unfortunate setback or issue in your life, you will still have extra time to complete the job.
Mistake #7 – Not doing enough local networking
Friends, family, and colleagues are your first line of people who can help you gain work. The second line is your local area. Figure out the businesses and people in your community that might need your services, and figure about the best way to reach them. Find business meet-up groups, local meet-ups, and trade shows that occur in your community and become a part of them. And this tip doesn’t mean that you should only show up once and never again. Become a regular part of them. Spend more time socializing within your community and that will come back to you business-wise.
Mistake #8 – Not using a mailing list
Social networks come and go. They all change constantly and hold you at their whim. While they are necessary to be a part of, social networks are in it for themselves, not for you. Diversify your marketing and build up a mailing list of all your contacts, clients, and friends. This way there is nothing between you and reaching them with important news. Mailing lists have a significantly higher open and click-through rate than social networks, and won’t charge you (per email) to reach your list.
Mistake #9 – Trying to do too much all at once
There are so many strategies to market yourself in photography. Every situation is unique, and every marketing plan should be different. It is important to learn as much as you can about marketing, but at the same time you need to prioritize. Five strategies done with a small amount of your attention on each will be much less effective than one strategy with all of your attention focused on it. Spend some time to figure out which strategies will have the most potential for your situation and rank them. Then start with the first one and over time move down the list.
Mistake #10 – Not putting yourself out there
Nobody is going to give you an opportunity if you don’t ask. The biggest difference between the people who make it and the people who fail is that the ones who succeed will wake up tomorrow and take these steps. None of this is rocket science – it just takes dedication, organization, and follow-through.
Many people won’t give you an opportunity the first time you ask. Learn to take rejection because rejection isn’t that bad. It means you’re pushing yourself and it’s inevitable along the way. Keep a thick skin and pride yourself on trying. Marketing is a grind at first. The photographers who can dive right in despite every frightened feeling their brain gives them will be the most successful.