I recently asked a group of photographers what their biggest struggles were in the business. The most common responses?
Finding Clients, Marketing, Gaining Returning Clients
Balancing Home and Work Life
Dealing with Burnout
Let’s break these down!
Finding Your People
This is by far the biggest obstacle to conquer in the photography business. You need clients to pay your bills, because let’s face it, living out the “Starving Artist” stereotype is cliché. So how do you snag clients?
It’s simple and complex all at once. It all begins with deciding who and what you want to photograph.
Think of the most amazing client and session you’ve photographed. If you are just starting, think about what type of session and client would completely geek you out.
What was your favorite session, and what made it so great?
– Was it the lighting? Aim to shoot at that time of day for all sessions.
– Was it the style? Encourage clients with a wardrobe guide. Ask to see snapshots of their outfits before the session, and suggest changes if needed to best suit their session.
– Was it the genre? Maternity, Weddings, Families? I see a lot of photographers rocking the “I shoot everything” business model. While there is nothing wrong with that, it can easily lead to burnout (we will cover that in a bit). Try to aim your focus somewhere, even if you do it all, and aim to book more of that type of session.
– Was it the location? Do you prefer natural or urban environments? Maybe you love sneaking into coffee shops and bookstores. You don’t have to limit yourself but knowing what you like will help with marketing!
Now that you know what you want to shoot, let’s move on and talk about your client.
The “It Client”
The person you’d want to photograph in the session above.
– What is their style? (Do they rock boho, simple tee’s, or maybe they exclusively wear black)
– What is their vibe? (Are they a bit geeky, outgoing, maybe family oriented)
– What are their interests/Where do they hang out? (coffee shops, hiking trails, the gym)
Knowing who your client is will help tremendously in marketing.
You want your “It Client” to see your “It Session” and book it, but ad campaigns are pointless if you don’t have those types of shoots in your portfolio. I strongly recommend setting up a styled shoot. While I never encourage devaluing your time, you can use it to your advantage. Place out a model call, and be specific for the type of session and person you are looking for. You have complete control over the session and model, to create the vibe you want all your sessions to have. You’ll have the work in your portfolio, and some material for marketing.
The best part? Everyone who had interest in the model call will be looking for this session to be posted, to see what they missed. Right there you already have a group of potential “It Clients” gathered. You can also tag the vendors (if any) that assist with the shoot, gaining rep with them for future work and spreading your images to their clients (who likely share traits as your “It Client”).
Side note: a way to make money from model calls is to offer X amount of images for modeling, and use IPS and the option to buy more images from the set. Just make sure the models know before the session, what they will be receiving and what will be an additional cost. Deception isn’t cool, don’t be that person.
If you build it, they will come.
Look back to the answers you gave for your “It Client”. Based on their interests, where are they most likely to see your work? Millennials love Instagram (hello, it’s me!). If you are targeting 20-somethings, follow the stereotype and hop on that platform right now. Maybe your ideal client is a DIY bride, she would probably be scouring Pinterest for tutorials and inspiration for her wedding. Maybe it’s an expecting mother who wants a home birth, she might see your business card/promotional material at her Doula’s office. Get your images where your ideal client will see it.
Once you book your “It Client”, slay your “It Session”. Under promise and over deliver. You want to impress them, not only with your work but with the overall experience. Send a hand written thank you note, a small gift, or even just keeping a solid line of personable communication. Be helpful and encouraging from the moment they inquire – indefinitely. Stay involved with their lives. I personally vibe great with my couples and love keeping in touch with them (even though I don’t photograph family sessions, so I rarely have returning clients). However this can be a strong marketing tool. For example, if you are photographing families, you will likely find out all about them and their kiddos. Reach out around birthdays or anniversaries to send a “thinking of you” message. It’s a gentle reminder that you exist. If they loved their images, and loved the experience, they will be back.
People often form connections with like minded people. Impress your “It Client” and they will blast your name to all of their friends. Word of mouth is the BEST form of advertising, and it’s completely free. Gently encourage your clients to leave a review after their shoot. Having a rep of happy ideal clients will go a long way!
It can be a snail slow journey, but if you put in the effort it will pick up into a steady cycle.
The struggle is real. Even more so if you have a family. So here is what is comes down to: set work hours, and have the discipline to enforce them. I know it’s easy to get in the mindset, thinking you will just work a little past work hours tonight, and be back on track tomorrow.
It’s a lie.
You’ll be up all night and the next thing you know, you’ll have done the same thing every night for the past month. Over working will lead to burnout. You can’t do it all.
Make a realistic schedule.
– How long does it take you to edit 1 session?
– How long is a typical session?
– How many hours can you dedicate a day to work?
– When can you work uninterrupted with your home schedule?
Let’s base this in a typical 9am-5pm mindset, 40 hours a week. Feel free to cut down hours or days as best meets your personal business model.
Set 2 days off, as a weekend. Any day of the week! If you shoot weddings, it’s likely your day off will not be a Saturday.
That gives 5 days of working. Feel free to cut this down and work 10 hour days to add a 3rd day off. All personal preference!
So we have 40 hours to work.
Plan out how much time you want to dedicate to each of your business tasks, based on how many sessions you shoot a week and turn-around times.
On the first day of your “work week” make a to-do list of the things you need to finish before your days off. I like to be very OCD about this and break it down again, into what needs to be completed each day to meet the week goal. Why did we go through the hassle of figuring out how much time to dedicate to each task? So you can make this REALISTIC. Seeing it all out on paper will give insight on how many sessions you can comfortably book a week and how long you should set as a turn-around time without overworking into “free time”. Aim to once again under promise and over deliver. This will give you some “oh sh*t life happened” time without missing deadlines. It’s all based on your business model, the great thing about self-employment is setting your own schedule!
January + February – Winter Break
March + April – 20 hour weeks
May-August – 40 hour weeks
September – November – 60 hour weeks
December – 20 hour weeks
– Set aside 25% Social Media, Emails, Client Meetings
– 50% editing, album designs
– 25% shooting
I personally shoot Friday Evenings, all Saturday, and Sunday evenings.
The remaining time is typically 8-3pm, then 7-11pm Wed-Friday.
This gives me a solid 4 hour family window, starting when my husband gets home from work and the kids come home from the babysitter to when the kiddos go to bed (still littles!). With all day Monday and Tuesday to relax from photographing all weekend, play with my children, enjoy a hobby, or plan an outing.
Find a schedule, and stick to it. You’ll be able to see how many sessions you can work on a week, and keep it in mind when scheduling. DO NOT OVER SCHEDULE. Price your time accordingly to keep that from happening. Overworking means burnout, stress, and time away from the things and people who are important to you. You are an artist, but you can be other things too.
We covered all the key components of this above!
1. Find your people. Spend time photographing the things and people that get you excited. If a shoot feels like work, you’ll feel run down dealing with it from inquiry to delivery.
2. Set a schedule. Make time to work and time to play. It’s easy to get in the mindset that you have to constantly be working to make money (self-employed workaholic over here). It will hurt you in the long run, because it’s not an effective long term business model. You have to leave time for self-care, socializing, family, and hobbies. If you worked at a desk job, would you not quit after the first week if it kept you from all of those things? #burnout
3. Stay Inspired. Following #2, leaving time for rest gives time for your brain to rest. It’s hard to be creative under stress, and when we aren’t being creative our work becomes bland, and bland work is boring, and when you are bored at work – work feels like work. Spend some of that free time exploring things that inspire you. Go out in nature, read a book, start painting.
4. Surround yourself with other creatives. We are all going through the same struggles. Venting and having a strong support system will do immense things to help you stay afloat.
5. Raise your pricing. A huge trend I’ve noticed for photographers struggling with burnout is over-scheduling. Supply and demand, my friends. If you have too many sessions, it’s time to raise the price. There are people out there who value your art and time.
The good vibes are flowing, my friends! Owning a business is tough, even when it is your passion.
Keep an eye out for a post on Facebook marketing and keeping the inspiration alive!