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  • Writer's pictureNick Cody

Mistakes I Made When Starting My Photography Business

Updated: May 22

And How You Can Avoid Them

Photographer working at desk thinking about mistakes

What mistakes can you avoid making when starting your photography business? Well, I can't give you advice for avoiding every mistake in your business, but I can tell you exactly what went wrong for me and how you can avoid making the same mistakes I did.

My name is Nick Cody, I work in marketing, I am a photographer, and my wife would say I have entirely too many interests and hobbies. My goal is to simplify business strategy and give practical advice, so photography business owners can spend time focused on what it is they want to be doing.

Whether you want to spend more time behind the camera or working on other parts of your business, it can be done in a relatively short amount of time if your core business actions are taken care of. Let's dive in.

Mistakes Were Made

These are the main four mistakes I made and struggled with the most when I first started my photography business.

#1: Lack of Clients and Leads

#2: Not Clearly Identifying My Ideal Client

#3: Spending Too Much Time on Minor Details

#4: Missing Out on Local Marketing


Lack of Clients and Leads

If you stick around long enough, you'll find out I try to keep plans simple. I don't like unnecessary work and wasting my time or other people's. Plans that are simple or straightforward have more flexibility when things inevitably change and you need to make adjustments or pivot. That being said, one of the main goals I had for my photography business was to generate enough revenue to replace the income from the full-time job I had left. Sort of a no-brainer type of goal, but easier said than done.

When I first started my photography business, I greatly underestimated the work it would take to have a consistent flow of clients. I thought one client would lead to two, then 10, then onward and upward. Not so much.

I love taking the reverse engineer approach to solve problems, so let's look at this issue from that angle. Start with a happy loyal customer who comes to you for every photo shoot or photography service they ever need. They're happy with the quality of work you do and are willing to pay the current price your charging, You follow up with them and maybe send them a card for their wedding anniversary, and they tell everyone they know you're the best photographer and send you additional business. Before any of this happens, they're a first time client. Before then, they're a lead who either contacted you or you contacted them. Prior to that, they're an in-market customer considering their options when it comes to photographers.

Understand this. You‘re percentage of leads that become customers or clients will be low, especially if you're doing outreach in the beginning trying to get new clients. I thought my well-crafted cold emails would generate business. In reality, it produced very little. This doesn't mean don't use email or reach out to people. In the beginning, you need to build as many relationships as you can and provide as much value as you can. As you become more established and more clients come in, you should see your conversion rate (number of leads converting to paying customers) go up as more people want to work with you.

You need to continually build on your lead generation. It's constant. If you schedule family portraits out a month or more in advance, and have very little leads in the current month, you can likely expect the following month to be slow and for your revenue to disappoint. (Another shocking insight, right?) Keep the leads coming in. Finding yourself overwhelmed with leads and clients? Hire help or raise your prices. If leads are low, put an emphasis on marketing and networking to drive more to you. If you do it right, the clients you have will send you more business all through word of mouth.

Have a consistent flow of leads and keep your photography clients happy when they do convert into paying customers.

Not Clearly Identifying My Ideal Client

People often talk about niches in the photography industry. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of different categories and types of photography and photographers out there. If there is demand or a community of people within a specialized niche you're passionate about, I believe you can make money in it.

The problem I continued to have in the beginning of my photography career, was not having clear definitions. My focus and my photography portfolio was spread too thin across different niches. I ended up pivoting more than once and while that helped me become a better photographer in the long-run, it certainly didn't help my business. You can absolutely be successful shooting multiple types of photography, but when I was getting started, this was a hinderance because I wasn't fully established in any one particular photography group. I had not clearly identified my ideal client.

Who do you want to work with? Do you love capturing those once in a lifetime moments at a wedding? Do you love working with families or newborns? Are you passionate about cars, beautiful architecture, street photography, or concerts? My challenge to you would be to look past the surface level of these and find out who the paying clients are in these niches and decide for yourself if they match your ideal client profile. Once you do this, you can clearly focus on generating value directly to those people. If you don't know who you're client is, you can't help them and you will not have a successful business.

Spending Too Much Time on Minor Details

When I was getting started on my photography business, I would spend hours researching all sorts of things. Some of it was necessary, much of it was not. Knowing how to create an LLC and when to pay taxes? Important. Spending time researching and getting quotes on business insurance rates before I was even making money? Might be necessary depending on your industry, but it was a complete waste of time for me.

You might have heard of the Pareto principle or more commonly known as the 80/20 rule. It has been observed across multiple industries for years. Its general summary is that 80% of results come from 20% of actions.

How much time do you spend on researching new camera gear? How much time do you spend crafting the perfect social media caption?

Especially in the beginning, you want to spend time on activities that are going to provide a quick return so you aren't drowning trying to stay in business. Is it important to have a website? Absolutely, but you do not need to pay a website designer $5k for a website that only needs to showcase your portfolio and contact info. I use Wix personally because I like their additional features and it's fairly easy to use, but there are plenty of other options out there for just getting started.

Hone in on the few most important tasks you should be doing that will generate the most results. I cannot overstate the importance of this.

Missing Out on Local Marketing

To be honest, I thought I had a decent understanding of marketing when I was starting my photography business. I didn’t realize how much I was lacking, especially with local marketing efforts. If you have more sense than me, which doesn’t take a whole lot, you probably already have some clients and have started to establish yourself within the local market as a photographer. If you’re struggling to find local clients, take a step back and look at how you’re reaching your local customers.

While it's exciting to think about reaching a global audience, it's essential to first establish a strong local presence. Many entrepreneurs underestimate the power within their immediate community, but local customers not only provide initial revenue but also word-of-mouth advertising, which is one of the best forms of promotion and relationship building you can get.

If you're starting with a limited budget, there are still effective ways to market locally. First and foremost, on your website and across active social media accounts, be sure to list the local areas you serve. Yes, you need a website. If you are concerned about setting your site up and looking for help, fill out my contact form and I can help you get started.

Make a Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business) account. Ensure you’re consistent with your business name, phone number, and address if you have one, across the web. Adding your business to online directories is a great way to establish online authority and help your rankings when people search for your photography services.

Don't overlook local marketing.

Photographer sitting down in photo studio with lighting

Photography Business Mistakes: Forget them

It’s important to note that starting a photography business, much like any venture, involves consistent action and being unafraid to make mistakes. When I started my own business, I thought I knew how to run a business, but I still made many mistakes. That being said, each mistake I made was an opportunity for growth. The key to success lies not in avoiding mistakes but in facing them head-on and using them as stepping stones towards achieving our goals. Perfection is not the goal; growth is. Take action, step out of your comfort zone, and embrace the journey with all its ups and downs. Your path will be unique, and the lessons you learn will be your own. Embrace the challenge of starting your photography business and remember why you decided to do this. Focus on your why, not the mistakes you’ve made.

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