When I first started out in photography, I knew very little about what it took to run a photography business. I had a “build it and they will come philosophy!” But I quickly learned my passion for the business would never drive profitability. So that first year of business, I earned a “street MBA” through books and experience. I had to learn, and fast!, what it takes to create a profitable photography business. And over the past 20 years, I’ve never taken my focus off this goal.
1. Become your most efficient self.
Running an efficient business will save your sanity, allow time for rest, and provide a great experience for your guests. Most importantly though, the more efficient you are, the more time is left to do what drives revenue: shooting! Here are my favorite efficiencies:
- Automate most of the communication: It’s important to help your clients prepare, but do you find yourself repeating the same thing over and over? Anything that puts you on repeat should be automated! Your confirmation email (whether you use a scheduler or not), should include a lot of the same information from how to style to directions to a little bit of pre-selling products.
- Online booking: Nothing will you make your life run smoother than online booking. I literally can’t imagine running our studio any other way. Plus, many of our sessions book in the middle of the night when mom actually has a moment to herself! The other bonus to online scheduling is you get to stay in charge. Our studio is open 5 days a week, so that’s easy to set up online. For my outdoor schedule though, I discuss with my husband which dates will work best for our family. We mark those dates on the family calendar, I choose where I want to shoot and set up my scheduler with my available dates. Before I even publicly release these dates, our clients start booking them! We use Acuity Scheduling in the studio, but there are many other options to consider.
- A simple post-processing workflow: Time is money! Maybe you think, “I edit my images at night, so it’s not like I’d be taking away from portrait session time.” But wouldn’t you rather be resting, reading, hanging with your favorite people, taking a bath…anything OTHER than working? Never underestimate the power of rest. Without rest, I fear you don’t have a sustainable business. When we’re rested, we’re more likely to accept more work and do a better job at the work we have. Keep your post-processing simple by knowing your camera inside and out. Define your photography style and then figure out how to get that style consistently right out of camera. This way you spend way less time retouching and correcting your images into the wee hours of the night.
2. Limit your package and product offering.
Nothing stops a buyer in their tracks like too many choices. Our brains don’t know how to narrow down quickly from 10 to 1. But figuring out the best of three options? No problem! Limit your product offering to just a few options so your clients don’t suffer from analysis-paralysis.
3. Track your cash flow report.
Never rely on your bank account to tell you where you stand financially. Bank accounts don’t tell you about future bills, big ticket expenses coming up, or tax liabilities. A profit and loss statement gives you an idea of how much came in and where some of the money went out, but it doesn’t account for all the money going out. So get to know your cash flow report and make more informed decisions.
How does this help with profit? People have a tendency to earn once and spend twice. Tracking all of your money, not just for today but for months in advance, will guard you against overspending which in turn adds more to your bottom line.
4. Price yourself to make a profit.
The number one reason photographers shut their doors is due to undervaluing their work and time. A sustainable business has the right price tag that covers all the expenses and then some. The “and then some” part is key. That’s the profit part. Without a profit (which is AFTER you pay yourself a reasonable salary), there is no real way to grow or scale.
Too many photographers look around at what others are charging without any knowledge of that photographer’s business expenses. Maybe that photographer doesn’t need a paycheck! Or wants one, but is struggling to make that happen. Maybe that photographer didn’t plan for the upcoming tax liability. Ouch!
Your business is unique! Price your product based on your business needs and be sure to include your salary, year end taxes, all direct and indirect expenses, plus a little extra for profit.
5. Establish a niche.
Maybe you’ve heard: The riches are in the niches. This doesn’t mean you turn away good paying work! It means you show up online and in your dialogue with potential clients as the “expert newborn photographer” or “resident child photographer”. Can you do headshots for that accounting office down the street? Yes! Can you photograph your clients baby shower? Of course! But you keep your brand consistent by not necessarily showing every different type of job you take.
The goal is to become the go-to for whatever style or type of photography you like best and that will work well in your market.
6. Working capital.
It takes time to build a business and you’ll need funding to get you through that time. Working capital helps business owners focus on growing the business without concern for how to pay the rent (or any bills you might have). My suggestion when starting out is establishing a nest egg to keep you afloat while you get your business off the ground. Then launch the business just before bookings will likely be at their highest. For instance, are you photographing families? Get your business up and running just before the fall season of holiday portraits!