How To Make Money With Photography
Before we go much further, there’s a big mindset element we need to address.
You might think this goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, because too many people gloss over it without realizing they’ve failed to give it the importance it deserves:
You are not a photographer.
Not any more.
You’re now a business-owner who markets and sells photography to people who need what you have to offer and are prepared to pay you for it.
This distinction is more subtle than it looks at first glance.
But understanding it at the deepest level will make all the difference in the world between success or failure at making money with photography.
If you want to plant your feet in the mud and stick with the “I’m a photographer” approach, that’s fine, but you run the risk of being trapped in what Michael E. Gerber calls the “technician” role in your business (see his indispensable book The E-Myth Revisited for a lot more about this).
Technicians have their noses so close to the grindstone they can’t strategize the future of their business because they can’t see the wood for the trees.
Often, they have neither the time nor the perspective to manage the day-to-day operations, and they might even fear the sales process.
“But there’s ONLY me!” I hear you say.
Yes, I know most professional photographers work alone, but the key lies in knowing when to wear the right hat for the job, and to then focus on that exclusively until it’s time to switch hats.
For example, need to work out a long-term strategy for business growth? Try putting on your CEO hat and focus only on that—forget about the technicalities of what you’ll need or how to achieve the goal because that comes later.
Aside from this advice, I’ve got 6 other tips for you — all in areas where I’ve seen photographers make huge mistakes that threaten to topple their businesses…
#1: Know Who You Are And Develop Consistent Branding
This should be the first thing you do when starting out because your business has a personality, just like you, together with a set of values it prefers to stick to.
These qualities are what marketers commonly call a brand.
A brand is not just a set of colors, fonts and logos.
It’s been said that your brand is how people talk about you or your business when you’re not in the room.
In a real sense, unless you run a large business with multiple photographers, YOU are the brand behind the business—it’s an extension of who you are and it shares many of your personality traits and values.
Rather than jumping in blind, take some time to think about who you really are as a photographer.
- How do you see the world through your camera?
- What qualities separate images you love from those you’re not so happy about?
- How do others view you and your photography?
- What is it about a photograph of yours that makes someone say, “I know who created that!”?
- What won’t you do as a photographer or a business person?
- What do you love most about your favorite photographic subjects?
- What defines your signature style?
If you don’t yet have a style of your own, try to identify the qualities you love in the work of other photographers you admire, but be careful not to turn yourself into a clone!
#2: Get In Touch With WHY You Do What You Do
One of the best books I’ve ever read on business was Start With Why by Simon Sinek—my own outlook on business was changed forever as a result.
In this day and age, we no longer want to buy from faceless or unapproachable businesses with no commercial personality.
Instead, we prefer to align ourselves to companies and brands that show more of their humanity and a clear reason for being.
For professional photographers this is even more important!
I agree wholeheartedly with Simon that people are far more likely to buy from someone who resonate with their own core values. In other words, they don’t care what you sell or how you do what you do until they know why you do it.
If a prospect understands and connects deeply with your “why” something magical happens, and all the nasty awkwardness about price or “what they get for their money” more or less evaporate because they literally fall in love with you and what you stand for as a photographer.
In short, you should never underestimate the power of knowing your “why” because you risk settling for “good enough” too often and falling into obscurity through being mediocre!
#3: Forget The “Amateur Photographer” Mentality
You’re no longer a photographer, remember?
It’s all well and good accepting that you’re now a business owner, but there are some deeper factors to consider.
The “amateur mentality” (and I don’t use the phrase in any derogatory sense) has a profound impact on the way professional photographers represent themselves and their photographic work, both online and in the real world.
For example, there’s the persistent and hard to shake idea that you need to showcase your photography with fancy slideshows. Those are great for showing off the photography itself but are really terrible at communicating value and making a deep human connection with the viewer.
Slideshows are the perfect vehicle for a hobbyist photographer to show off their photography, but a slideshow is far from being an effective marketing tool unless it’s accompanied by words to create an emotional foundation upon which the photography can build.
And then there’s your choice of words.
The vocabulary you use to describe what you do, or your products and services, can have a dramatic impact on how you’re perceived in the mind of the prospect—even if they’re consciously unaware of what’s creating that perception.
Referring to a portrait session as a “shoot”, for instance, may lower the “value” bar in the mind of the prospect to a level below the expectation set by your fees.
Talking of investment, if you want to charge premium fees for your photography services, you should avoid common words such as “price” or “cost” and stick with “fees” or “investment”.
In the end, you’ll need to replace amateur habits and practices with their professional counterparts, in accordance with how you want to position yourself and your business in the marketplace.
#4: Personal And Business Spending Are NOT The Same
Phone bills, studio rent, new or updated equipment, computer software, website hosting, office supplies, business education, utilities, lab costs, legal and accounting fees…
These are just a few of the many obligations that can drain a company’s financial resources.
How did that list make you feel?
A little anxious?
What thoughts race through your mind when the need arises to invest money in your business?
Do you immediately think about the emotional cost of “spending the money”, accompanied by fear over where that money might come from, or how you’ll ever earn it back?
Worse still, are you financing your business with your own personal money?
Doing so not only creates accounting headaches you’ll later regret, it also generates confusion because it’s easy to mistakenly look at “business investment” as a “personal expenditure” that you believe you can’t really afford.
I encounter the end results of this all the time in my marketing consulting practice.
A photographer will approach me with a request for help—often when they’ve already struggled on their own for far too long.
I give what help I can to get them moving again, but such things usually need more than a band-aid or a quick fix, so I suggest they join the Prime Focus Lab to get some intense help.
Either way, I can immediately tell when they’ve confused personal spending and business investment, because they respond with “I can’t afford that! I don’t have the money!”
Now I make no apologies for what I’m about to say and, at this point, I need to put my Gordon Ramsay hat on!
Sorry, there’s really no other way to put it, but claiming not to have the money is BS and an excuse to cover up a deeper reason for not investing, which they don’t want to voice.
Now, maybe I haven’t done a good enough job of explaining the benefits, or perhaps they haven’t been around me long enough to trust what I do, both of which are fully understandable and could be easily addressed.
Seriously, if the help that could alter the course of your business forever is completely unaffordable, then you have far worse problems to contend with than marketing, and it may already be too late.
Okay, I’ll take my “Studio Nightmares” hat off now, but you should be able to see from this just how important it can be to view “expenses” like business education as a valuable long-term investment instead.
#5: Create Systems For As Many Tasks As Possible
You might be amazed at how many times you reinvent the wheel every single day in your business—wasting valuable time that could be better spent doing something more productive.
For example, many of the email enquiries you receive from prospects ask similar questions (usually, “how much do you charge?”), yet do you have a system in place to handle replies to those emails so that you don’t have to waste time to write each one from scratch?
Do you use social media management systems (such as Buffer) to spread the load of posting to all your social media networks without you having to interrupt your day to post something on Facebook or Twitter?
How about systems to automate the production of sales-ready images for client presentations?
Accounting systems you can use reliably every day to keep track of where you are, financially?
There are lots more, and almost anything you do repeatedly in your business can be turned into a system to save time, make sure things get done in a consistent fashion, and help reduce the chance of errors that could end up costing you money.
#6: Master Time Management
Related to the topic of systems is time management, because most systems will save you time over the course of a day.
However, time has a nasty knack of being stolen away, right under our noses.
If you reach the end of the day feeling like you’ve been busy but haven’t really achieved anything significant, chances are something (or someone) made off with a wad of your valuable time without you realizing it.
Guess who the usual suspect is?
Sadly, we regularly “steal” time from ourselves in all kinds of creative ways that make us “feel” busy when we’re just wasting time.
We’re so good at it, we rarely notice!
Part of the problem comes from trying to multitask your way through the day, which has been shown to be far less effective than focusing exclusively on one thing at a time.
- Checking email frequently throughout the day…
- Feeling pressured to reply to every email as soon as it arrives…
- Having too many browser tabs open at once (I’m guilty of this one!)…
- Responding to every “alert” or “notification” from social media…
- Defaulting to “busy work” whenever we feel stuck or the task we’re working on just gets tedious…
Many of these things are like the bells in Pavlov’s famous dog experiments—a signal of some kind causes us to respond on autopilot in the mistaken belief that it’s urgent (not everything is, right?).
Some quick tips to fix this problem:
- Turn off the phone (or silence it) when working on something important. Voicemail exists for a reason!
- Close your email inbox when focusing on other projects, and set specific times for reading and answering emails.
- Limit the time you
spendwaste on social media.
- Turn off those intrusive alerts and notifications.
- When you notice you’re caught up in a cycle of “busy work”, get up and go do something else, like take a walk, play with the dog, sit outside, or take a brief break.
And remember, there’s only so much time in a day.
Once it’s used up, that’s it.
Don’t waste it, or allow others to use it as though it belongs to them.