Creating a photography business is exciting, rewarding and a ton of work. And in the beginning I feel like there are blind spots around every corner that we don’t notice until we have a little more know how.
We have misconceptions about how things should be done in our new business and only through experience or making some mistakes do we learn how or a better way.
Here are 7 mistakes I believe many new photographers make (not necessarily all but a combo of a few for sure!)
[PS the reason I can put this together so easily, without notes, from memory is because I have had many of the same misconceptions or made these mistakes!]
Here we go:
#1 Having a strong social media presence – thousands and thousands of devoted instagram followers is paramount to your success.
This has never been a priority for me. Do I have a presence on social media, absolutely – it would be foolish not to. Instagram is a gorgeous platform where you can showcase your work for free and get your work in front of lots of potential clients.
But Instagram isn’t my marketing strategy. Instagram isn’t how I continue to grow my business. It contributes to growth, no question. But what propels the growth is what happens after you secure a client. After they are booked. That’s when the marketing continues.
Instagram may deliver potential clients to you, but your work, your work ethic, how you show up, what you deliver and when you deliver it – that is what leads to a long term successful business. Everyone you work with becomes a potential mouthpiece for your business, singing your praises, referring you to friends and family. While I’m sure no one can disagree the far reaching power of instagram nothing can be more impactful than a loyal fan as a referral source .
Yes, someone can give you a shout out and share a session and you may get some bookings, but I’ll say it again, instagram can’t make raving fans out of your clients until they have a good interaction with you. Instagram can deliver potential clients to your doorstep, but if you aren’t ready to serve them, then the relationship can end right there.
Place as much emphasis on your client experience and your relationships with your clients as you do worrying about posts, stories, likes and comments. You control this part of your marketing strategy – make sure your clients have such a great experience with you that they can’t help but rave about you to anyone and everyone.
#2 That you need to jump right in and do as many free shoots and say yes to as many people as possible to build your portfolio and client base.
First let me say that offering a session for free to build your portfolio is an excellent idea to create a varied body of work for your niche but only if you – as well as the client share in the reward.
This is not a one sided proposition, if you offer your time at no charge, then there has to be a benefit to both parties. I think a more than generous offer is to photograph the session at no charge and include one file or one print. It is after all your idea to do the shoot – so you in essence have to ‘pay’ them for their time as well. But I would create a gallery with the images from the shoot – and share the gallery with them – with the full intention of having them order more than just the ‘free’ print.
This ‘free’ client doesn’t owe you anything – so please don’t feel bad if they just accept the free file or print and say thank you. Remember, you are going to use these photos to promote your business on social media and on your website and book clients and make money. So in some ways this is a small price to pay on your end – trading your time for a portfolio.
[side note: a couple of photographers that I coach have been upset, even angry or feeling used – as if they are being taken advantage of by offering free sessions. But please as I just made note above, you are using these clients for images, they are using you for a session – it is a mutually beneficial relationship, well maybe more beneficial to the photographer IMHO. Stop being angry. If you don’t want free portfolio photos for your website, then don’t participate. Figure out another way! The negative, been used energy is felt by the clients so, please don’t do anything unless it aligns with your beliefs and makes you and your business happy!]
PLEASE DO NOT DO UNDERPRICED, HALF PRICED, DISCOUNTED, MADE UP LOW PRICE SESSIONS TO BUILD YOUR PORTFOLIO. EITHER FREE OR FULL PRICE – this HAS BEEN OUR MOTTO FOR YEARS. MORE ON THAT IN ANOTHER EPISODE AS WELL!]
Just because you are in portfolio building season does not mean that you have to say yes to free shoots.
Please don’t confuse what I’m saying, I do not believe that doing a handful of portfolio building shoots should open the kennel doors to offering free photography for anyone who asks. And even when a charitable organization contacts you or you are asked to photograph something that means a lot to you and you are willing to donate your time – do not and I repeat do not do it without compensation [recognition] in some shape or form.
And what I mean by compensation is all over the place. It does not need to be an exchange for money but it could be an exchange to be put on the preferred vendors list or mentioned in the newsletter. Or in the case of a non profit, let them know that what they do aligns with your values and you are grateful to be included in the cause and you will further promote this through your channels.
I promise what comes around goes around. A little good will goes a long way. So even though you aren’t technically being paid for this work, you will be one day. Again, this goes to the same thing I mentioned in a previous episode…when you show up on your shoot happy to be there and deliver good images on time and you are a pleasure to work with – everyone from these ‘free’ shoots will be referring you.
I however am not a big fan of working for free with a big name. I will not donate our time to organizations or famous brands that are just looking for free photos in exchange for them mentioning our name. Nope, not ever going to do it. We turn those jobs down left and right because the person contacting you sees you as a commodity, you could be anyone. There is no connection, no reason for me to give up time with my family to do something for an influencer or NFL player or some big event that just doesn’t value photography enough to pay for it (but has the budget).
Working with grifters is much different than working with a charity you love or gifting a free session to someone.
Please value your time enough to say NO. There is a difference between doing free shoots because you align with someone or some thing but value yourself enough to say no to things that don’t light you up!
You will get asked all the time as a photographer to donate – so set clear boundaries from the outset.
#3 You need to spend beaucoup money and have tons of gear, the best lenses, camera bodies.
Gear is not what makes you a great photographer. Don’t overspend. And always have a plan for your money. More on this down the road!
#4 You prioritize your branding not your brand.
What is your why? Your brand is why you do this. Why are you a photographer? Why is being a photographer so important to you? Dig in deep and talk about your why. On your website, in your blog posts, when you speak with potential clients. This goes along way.
There are LOTS and I mean LOTS of photographers that take great photos. What makes someone select you has a lot to do with who you are and how you resonate with them.
Your brand may be beautiful, lovely logo, great fonts and colors, your website is stunning – but there needs to be more, something needs to click.
Clients need to know who you are, what makes you uniquely you which will in turn give them what they want, great photos. A connection.
Funny though – this is more about them than you. They need to connect with you – to be inspired by the experience of working with you – to see themselves (or their client, their kids or their family) in your photos. They want what you offer.
I will have a whole podcast coming up in the next few weeks on your Why. This is really important to the overall success of your business.
#5 The perfect price list, with every possible combination of packages for every type of client covering everything you think they might potentially want.
Please, please don’t try to ‘figure out’ what your clients want to pay. Start by figuring out what you want to be paid. What you should be paid. What your value is.
As I mentioned in a previous episode, determining your value will clearly tell you what your pricing structure should be.
But please don’t let this hold you up or hold you back from getting your business going. Don’t try to be everything to every one, you never will be.
#6 That you will figure out the business stuff later.
Well you should know by now that the business side of photography is very near and dear to me. In fact feeding my children and saving for retirement and moving to France, we have relied solely on photography for 2 decades.
Figuring out the business stuff later is just not the way to start this journey.
Set your business up right from the outset, please do yourself this favor.
Everything else will be so much easier.
I can’t stress this enough. Having systems and procedures in place is the foundation for your photography business to prosper and for you to create the life you want.
Don’t let your business constantly be reacting, that is not a great place be – being prepared is much better, trust me!
[stop the small business / small money mindset and start acting like the CEO of your own business]
#7 You put all different types of work on your website or instagram hoping to attract all the clients – trying to serve everyone because you want to start building your client base.
Guys this is kind of like pricing mentioned above. You can’t please everyone so stop trying.
One of the first things I teach my clients is to niche down. Specialize. You just can’t be all things to all people and the sooner you accept that the sooner you will start attracting clients, the right clients.
If a potential client is looking for something specific, say a wedding photographer. And you are featuring your food photography, event photos, portraits, travel, every single thing you shoot because you are hoping a wide net catches a fish, you will probably have an empty net.
A confused mind says no.
I understand – you want to show people you are diversified, that you can do a bunch of different things…showing you have range, experience, you are the right person for the job because you can do everything.
Tread carefully because that can back fire. The client just can’t see themselves in this sea of images on your website.
We didn’t figure this out until a few years in.
Finally, we had a business coach that told us to choose our niche – and within that niche – niche it down even further.
Seemed counterintuitive to me at the time. Don’t people want to see that you can photograph everything??? That we are good AT IT ALL?
No they don’t.
You will attract more clients when you are a specialist.
Now does that mean you can’t do other things? HECK No. You just don’t show it on that wedding site.
We have multiple six figure businesses because we were good at several types of photography. After hiring this business coach, he helped us realize they all of our photography strength didn’t work under one umbrella.
While working with him, he helped us develop an incredibly strong message for our nichy niche.
But we also created multiple websites to feature each of our other niches, independently.
Each niche had its own website. That way when someone was looking for a documentary style wedding photographer, they weren’t confused by Keith’s street photography or my real estate photography or our vanity fair style portraits.
We wanted to speak directly to the person who landed on each of our sites, not confuse them.
The reason I know about these mistakes and misconceptions is because I have made them all.
I have had blind spots that I fought against for too long. It is because I have been through this and came out on the other side stronger that I want to share it with you. To save you some time, to catapult you over some of these pitfalls – to show you how it can be done easier.
I’m here to help you transform your photography business. Stick with me – all of this will sink in and help you create the results you want!
Have a great week!