26 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting My Photography Business // Part 1

26Things

We started our photography business in 2006. That’s almost 12 years ago, but it feels like a lifetime, especially when we look back on all that’s happened.

And when we think about all the mistakes we’ve made, well, it feels more like two lifetimes!

Want to learn from our experience (and mistakes)?
Click here to watch the FREE video taken from our course, Essential Photography Business Lessons!

 

But mistakes are just wonderful little learning opportunities in disguise. And while we’ve had our fair share of screw-ups, we’ve been able to learn and improve as a result.

So we’re going to pull the curtains back, share a ton of our mistakes, and the things we wish we had known when we were just getting started.

We learned these lessons the hard way.

Hopefully by sharing them with you, you’ll be able to avoid these mistakes, and have a smoother ride to success!

Note: This is a two-part post. You can find 14-26 on the second post here: 26 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting My Photography Business // Part 2

 

1. Learn To Shoot In Manual Mode Right Away

We shot our first year of weddings in Aperture Priority Mode. At the time, it seemed like the easier option. But we’ve since realized that it was actually making things harder on ourselves!

See, the importance of learning to shoot in manual mode isn’t because modes like Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority are useless. They can be a solid choices in certain situations.

The real value of manual mode shooting is in how it forces you to understand what’s going on with your camera, and the light around you.

Learning this early on will help you get more control over your images, and improve your shooting skills quickly.

Another bonus is that manual mode also lets you be more consistent in your exposures, which helps you save time with your editing!

So this isn’t some photography snobbery here. Learning how to shoot in manual mode is going to help you in a ton of ways, and the sooner you can learn how to do it, the more benefit you’ll see!

(If you need some help learning how to shoot in manual, check out our Extremely Essential Camera Skills tutorial!)

2. You Are Not Just A Photographer

When we got started we thought that if we had great photography skills, we’d have a successful business.

But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

If you’re starting and running your own business, you need to wear a baker’s dozen of hats.

You are a photographer/customer service expert/book keeper/marketing director/social media whiz/branding dude/website creation person/secretary/treasurer/CEO/CFO/ and pretty much any other title you can think of.

The sooner you realize that you’re going to need to become good at a LOT of different things, the sooner you can start improving at them all.

Great photography skills are important, don’t get me wrong. But you need to have a LOT of other ones if you’re going to make a business out of it!

3. Be Patient

This is a lesson we still have to remind ourselves of constantly.

When we first got started, we figured we’d have a wildly successful business rolling within a year.

Fast forward 6 years, and we still didn’t feel we quite got there.

It takes time to get good at photography. It takes time to get good at marketing. It takes time to get good at customer service. It takes time to get good at business organization…

Basically, it takes time to get good at the dozens of things you need to be good at to run a wildly successful photography business.

So don’t beat yourself up if things aren’t happening as fast as you expected.

If you stick with it, and keep improving, you’ll get there.

4. People Skills Are The Most Important Skills

Photography is a people business.

Even if you’re a landscape shooter, your clients are people. And the better you can work with, and take care of, the people you do business with, the more success you’ll see.

We didn’t understand just how important this was until we read the book How To Win Friends & Influence People.

From that point on, we saw that the more effort we put into being great with people, the more success we had.

That book changed our business, and our lives. I know that sounds like an exaggeration, but I promise it’s not.

(To learn more about the book, and how you can apply it to your photography business, check out our Book Report on it!)

5. Unnecessary Gear and Business Purchases Can Be Crippling

It’s very easy to get caught in the never-ending cycle of buying things to “help your business”.

With photography, it’s even more dangerous because the purchases are fun and exciting!

It’s not hard to convince yourself that if you just had that better lens, you’d take better photos, and your business would be more successful.

I don’t even want to think about how much money we’ve wasted by buying gear that we didn’t really need.

It all ended up collecting dust in our closet until we sold it for a serious loss.

After a few years of that nonsense, we got wise and started being very, very, very thoughtful about purchasing anything.

Our gear might not get many jealous stares from other photographers, but as long as it’s creating the images we want, that’s all that matters.

It’s the same deal for business purchases. Think carefully before pulling out that credit card. It’s hard enough to make a solid profit with photography without huge expenses to deal with.

(Need some help deciding which gear to actually invest in? Check out our Gear Guide for all our articles designed to help you figure it out!)

Want to learn from our experience (and mistakes)?
Click here to watch the FREE video taken from our course, Essential Photography Business Lessons!

6. Branding Is Important, But Stationary Is Not

Along with our collection of rarely used equipment is a BIG collection of outdated print materials. Brochures, packaging, and thousands (yes, thousands) of business cards. All of them are totally useless, and a big waste of money and paper.

When it comes to your branding, creating something personal, unique and consistent is super valuable. It helps you stand out from other photographers, and communicates who you are.

But when it comes to ordering branded printed products, be careful. Don’t think that the huge order will save you money, because chances are you won’t ever use it all.

This is especially true near the start of your career, when you’ll potentially change your branding a couple times before finding the right fit.

Try to find ways to print smaller runs, or print on demand.

We’ve gone from ordering thousands of business cards, to printing out a couple dozen at a time on our home printer. If you run out, then you know you’re actually using them, and can order a slightly larger batch.

7. Get Outside Inspiration

When we first got into professional photography, we were wedding shooters. We spent countless hours looking at the websites and blogs of other wedding photographers.

We spent tons of time on forums with other wedding photographers. We read wedding magazines, and watched shows about weddings. We basically immersed ourselves completely in that world.

Don’t get me wrong, you can definitely learn a ton from the people who share the same profession as you. But if you don’t look for inspiration outside of that realm, you will find yourself just doing the same as everyone else.

Great businesses and photographers don’t just do the same. They find ways to stand out!

As a photographer, the sources of inspiration are nearly endless, so don’t limit yourself to looking at photographers who do the same work as you.

Study the work of the great photographers of history, check out the new work being made in different genres, read about painters, watch movies, flip through comic books — artistic inspiration is everywhere, so open yourself up to it!

The same goes for business inspiration. You can learn tons from internet marketers, copywriters, and pretty much anyone in business. After all, it’s all about helping your customers get value out of what you do. The end results differ, but the fundamental concepts are more similar than you might realize!

8. Referrals Are Essential

Word of mouth referrals are the most powerful sources of bookings for photographers. People are way more likely to trust the recommendation of a friend than an ad in a magazine. You need to be working hard to get referrals.

At first, we didn’t realize that we actually had to encourage referrals. Sure, you’ll get some just because folks like to talk about great companies. But many clients probably have no idea just how valuable their referrals are to you!

There are lots of ways to encourage referrals. You can set up a formal referral program that rewards clients for sending new business your way. Or you can simply give them a stack of business cards along with their photos, and let them know just how much you appreciate them telling their friends about you. Or do both!!

However you do it, just don’t neglect those referrals. They will be the backbone of your business!

(For more help with getting referrals, and some tips on setting up a referral program, check out our article Referral Programs: An Easy, Affordable & Effective Marketing Plan)

9. Market Or Die

Does this sound familiar? You start something up. A blog. A website. A business. You’re sure you have a brilliant idea, and that it will be wildly successful. You make a gorgeous logo. You create a stunning online presence, filled with witty writing and enticing images. You press publish, sit back, and wait for the inquiries and comments to pour in.

And then nothing happens.

It took us a loooong time to realize that, in general, no one cares about what you’re doing. Unless you make them care about it.

And that, quite simply is what marketing is all about.

Showing people that what you’re doing is interesting and valuable. You could have the most amazing photography in the world, but unless people know about it, you will not see any success.

So look at this way.

Getting your business all set up with a website and name and logo and all that stuff — that’s what gets you to the starting point. Then the real work begins. You need to get out there and tell people about it, and market yourself!

(Need some ideas for marketing your photography business? Check out our totally free eBook, 7 Simple Ways To Market Your Wedding Photography Business. The ideas are written for wedding photographers, but can apply to any sort of photo business!)

10. Your List Is Crazy Valuable

One of the most valuable marketing assets you can create is a newsletter list. These days it’s really ridiculously easy to send out updates with emails, giving you a direct link to your best customers!

We never put enough effort into building a newsletter list for our photography business, and have always regretted it. We just didn’t realize how important it was.

A great list can help you get more out of your marketing promotions, book sessions when you’re going out of town, get feedback on how to improve your business, and more.

The sooner you start building your list, the more it will grow, and the more power it will have for your business. Here’s an article with more tips on creating a list for your business!

11. Develop Off-Season Income

For many years we struggled with this one.

We’d have a great summer, shoot tons of weddings, portraits, and the money would be flowing. Then, come fall, things would slow down, and by winter it was silent. There were months with no income coming in, and things would be super tight by the time spring rolled around.

If you live in a place where the shooting is seasonal, try to figure out a way to develop income year round. There are no simple answers here, and it will really depend on the type of photography you do, and what other skills you have. But if you can get even a small stream of cash flow in the off-season, it will make things far more comfortable.

For the record, this is exactly how Photography Concentrate was born!! :)

12. Go Outside The Box

It’s easy to do things the same way everyone else does. It feels safe and proven. But it can actually make things harder for you, because you don’t stand out, or offer anything unique to clients!

At first we offered the same products, the same packages, and had our business organized the same way as most wedding and portrait photographers worldwide.

And it was boring. It didn’t reflect how we felt about photography, and how we wanted to work with our clients.

So we stopped being so afraid, and started offering different products. We started shooting in different ways. And we were way happier, and so were our clients!

Try something new. Be creative. Be bold. Get outside that box, and you’ll see just how much fun it is out there!

13. Think Big

If you’re going to start a business, don’t be afraid to think and dream big.

When we first got into wedding photography, we were talking about how our first season would go. I was hoping that we booked at least 5 weddings.

Rob was expecting more around 15 – 20. I thought he was crazy, and just thinking about those numbers made me scared.

Well, we ended up shooting nearly 30 weddings that year. But if we stopped trying after 5, because we figured that was enough, we would have never been able to go full-time right off the bat.

So go ahead and think big. With some patience and creativity, and a lot of hard work, chances are you’ll surpass even your wildest dreams!

 

Whew! Is your mind spinning??

I know mine is.

So I think that’s a good place to leave it for today. We’ll finish up the list soon, but take some time to meditate on those ideas.

Write down your ideas and thoughts. And start planning to take advantage of our mistakes, and make your own business stronger!

 

Get Started Now!

If you’re ready to start a photography business, check out our full video tutorial, Essential Photography Business Lessons to get even more insights and guidance!

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Your Turn!

What do you wish you knew before starting your photography journey? Share with us in the comments now!

 

Ready for more? Click here to read Part 2, where I share 13 more things I wish I knew before I started my photography business!

Lauren Lim

Hey friend, I’m Lauren! I’m a photography ninja here at Photography Concentrate. I’m downright obsessed with photography, and love sharing it with super cool folks like yourself. When I’m not shooting, or writing, you can find me cooking (and eating!), traveling, and hanging out with wonderful people.

Simple Wedding Photography

Simple Wedding Photography

A complete guide to photographing every step of a wedding, beautifully. PLUS learn how to build a successful business and make more money, with less effort!

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Comments

189 Comments // Leave a comment

  1. Thank you!

    • Lauren Lim says:

      You are very welcome Erica, hope it was helpful!

      • Thank you Mrs. Lim. So often I spend the time to read a piece and it is a total waste of time. Not only was it helpful, I also enjoyed reading and thinking about what I needed to do for each step.

  2. Great reminders in there.

    • Lauren Lim says:

      Agreed! Just writing this post reminded me of tons and tons of stuff I need to work on for our own businesses! :)

  3. “…You are a photographer/customer service expert/book keeper/marketing director/social media whiz/branding dude/website creation person/secretary/treasurer/CEO/CFO/.”

    I’ve read a blog a while ago in which a person wrote: ” I would never, ever hire a photographer who also build websites. He/She is a photographer or web developer”.
    Maybe a writer meant a photographer who also promote himself about ability to build website next to photography. I don’t know, but I know pros who do design, make magazines and so on.

    • Lauren Lim says:

      Hey Adam, thanks for the comment! Now I certainly didn’t mean that professional photographers were also going to need to be professional web designers! But there is a lot of work involved when creating your own website for your photography business!

      You will need to figure out what your web presence is going to be (site, blog, blogsite, etc.), work on the design, either by tweaking a customizable theme, or communicating with a hired web designer, creating copy and content, and then keeping the website updated!

      That’s what I meant by “website creation person”. Hope that clears things up! :)

      • Hello,

        Can I share my opinion here? I just start my Photography business and I know I will wait for a long time without any work. However, I am right now working full time in a Web Design Company as a Senior Web Developer. What is wrong with that! First, my company now doing Photography and they are selling it with the Web (They even do not know photography but they are selling it – They hiring a photographer when they got the work and they do). I built my site by myself, why to go and spend Thousands of $$ for something I am professional on it.

        I have been learning photography almost for 4 years now and I am feeling I can do it. I like to have my own business instead working for other companies and I deiced to be Photography NOT Web. I worked 7 years as a web developer and I am not going to through it out without taking benefits from it. I am now involving it with a new ideas: I am offering with the Wedding Photography (OR others) to built a website for free (ONLY 1 page with the gallery for one year). What is wrong on it?! It is FREE. I need to offer more to win a clients. I do not even charge the Website Work with the wedding price.

        I believe in this: More skills you have that you can improve your business … More success in your business …

        At the End “I would never, ever hire a photographer who also build websites. He/She is a photographer or web developer” IS NOT CORRECT.

        I know a lot of famous ACTORS that they are in fact Engineering or Doctors !!! AND they Succeed as an Actor!

        Imagine this: I just came to USA 5 years a go, I have no Relative, No Friends, No Support People, No Referrals, Even I came with 0 English as a language … BUT I am exciting to Success in my Photography business. I met a doctor when I first came to USA and he asked me this “Would you like to be success in your work?” I said “Of course” He said “If you would like BE … then you will BE”

        Thanks Lauren Lim

        • .I completely agree with Raid. There is nothing wrong with photographers developing their own website. I am not an experienced Photographer, just an amatuer and looking forward to make it as a fulltime business soon.
          As a beginner its impossible to pay the web developers to pay a huge amount , i found its more personilesed when you do it by yourself. My website i can say its not a perfect one but i am happy with it. I paid £100 all together for hosting and subscription.

  4. Oh boy, can I relate to your story about stationary…I ordered 250 business cards and promptly stopped doing web design for other people, which is predominantly listed on my card. Since then, I use my new design cards (which I printed, cut, and cleaned myself) for times I want to wow people, and my old design for everyday stuff. It works fine for me.

    Regarding building a fan base and mailing list…what do you actually send to your subscribers?

    • Lauren Lim says:

      Thanks for sharing Tyler! Man, do I wish we only had 250 useless cards in our basement ;)

      Figuring out what to send your list subscribers comes down to one question: How can you be useful to them? So brainstorm some ways you could help them! Maybe some tips on what to wear during photo sessions, or the best times of year to book. You can also give them information about your business, like upcoming promotions, travel days, etc. Get into the mind of your fan base, and try to figure out how to help them!

      • Thanks! What’s your opinion on a mailing list versus a blog? Some of the same content on both? Different content? Is one of these enough?

        Currently I don’t even have a blog, since I’m in my first year of business and don’t have the content (read: clients) to make one worthwhile. That and I’m working part-time outside my business, starting college in the fall, and already write a transit blog, so I’m not quite ready to commit to another thing I have to keep up to date.

        • Lauren Lim says:

          I feel like the goal of a blog is quite different than the goal of a mailing list. A blog functions really well to improve your search engine rankings, and help potential clients find you. A newsletter list is more about connecting with your highest quality leads, and past/current clients. In that sense, just having one doesn’t quite do the trick! And the content will likely be different, since they are fairly different audiences!

          We started off blogging from the beginning, and while it is definitely a considerable time investment, it meant we showed up in Google rankings from the get-go. We now rank in the top 3 for most photography related search terms in our city, without doing anything fancy, other than consistent blogging! Even when we didn’t have any real clients, we would blog recent photos, and that helps so much in getting your business noticed. So when you’re just getting started, I’d personally say that a blog is top priority. You can collect emails from any clients you have, and begin a newsletter later when things get rolling, and you have more time. That’s just my own thoughts though, it really comes down to what works best for your own situation!

          Hope that helps!

          • Thanks for all your advice! I’m putting together a mailing list now (to be sent out with the announcement of my new client referral program) and will be reconsidering a blog once I start college and discover how much time I actually have to write one.

            Keep up the wonderful work!

      • Hi! My name is Mary Conrady and I own Conrady’s Creative Eye Photography. I got in the habit of making my own business cards specific to each wedding or event that I photographed…i.e. reminder cards to place on the reception tables that gave my info and directions to my website for ordering those specific photos. ..At first I was proud of myself for this “bright idea”..As it did help with sales and referrals. ..but then after the event I was left with 100 to 200 excess cards that were useless for future events. ..I’m now sticking with traditional business cards in groups of 100…till I make more…which I do myself on my home printer.

  5. I’m not a photographer; I’m just obsessed with them and the business of creating. I’ve definitely hired a professional photographer a time or two (or 20) and I couldn’t agree more with #4: People Skills. Just recently I hired an out of town wedding photographer to help with a family member’s to do list – they had a winning website, stunning portfolio and perfect online sense of humour, but when it came time to actually meeting them face-to-face and standing in front of their lens… disaster! Personality paired with professionalism is SOOOOO important (especially for repeat business and referrals). I ahh-dore your website – ridiculously addicting.

    • Lauren Lim says:

      Thank you so much Sara! People skills is really what it all comes down to, doesn’t it? I think you described it perfectly: personality AND professionalism! Critical stuff! Thanks for sharing :)

  6. I found myself laughing when I read this post because I feel like I have experienced so many similar things. My business has been going for a year and a half and I have realized that Marketing is so much harder than I imagined. Recently I moved to a new city and am trying to meet new people. I guess it is a great opportunity to tell them about my photography. I love the way you write your posts–they are so down to earth and they keep me motivated.
    Also, good to hear that printed material is not the only answer. I have a box of business cards that are now obsolete. I think I will try just printing a few at a time:)
    Thanks!

    • Lauren Lim says:

      I hear you Marcelle! Marketing is such an essential part of any successful business, but you don’t really realize it until you’re in the middle of it! Then you think “Hmm, I guess I need to do something to get people to notice me!”. And then the real work begins :) Thank you so much for the comment, and your kind words! So glad you’re enjoying the site!

  7. so great! thanks for sharing! keep ’em coming!

  8. You guys are AWESOMENESS. Thanks! :)

  9. Another great post!!!

    Every time when i was reading your post, i have a feeling like this is exactly my life now. You guys are great!

    Just that i cant agree with point 1. Shooting Raw. Although I’m capable of shooting raw, but i still set it to A mode most of the time, especially when i have hot shoe flash on. The only time i will use flash is in daylight and the wedding table is under the shelter where the rest of the area is exposed under the sunny sun, A mode will work if you point-metering the couple but troublesome. So i will use M mode in this situation to avoid back light.

    Anyway, really really good post!