How Do I Grow a Photography Business From Nothing in 2020?
It's not as simple as just creating a website and watching people book your service.
It takes a lot of time and effort to create another source of income that will last in the long run. That is why I am going to break down my business plan for you all to follow!
Luckily for you (and for me), I know this business plan works.
The reason I know this is because I used this same plan to build my photography business to $40k/year in California before I moved to New Mexico.
Was it easy?
Are you realistically going to build your photography business to $40k/year in six months?
Most likely not.
6 Steps to Growing Your Business
1. Free Work
2. Get On More Platforms
3. Get Reviews
1. Free Work
So many people are opposed to this but it was the key to my success.
For about a year and a half, I did near free work in the city of San Francisco. I put my work out there and took every job that was given to me. From newborn photos to engagement to real estate, this gave me the opportunity to see what niche I wanted to go into.
I was able to build up a very large portfolio by doing free work.
Would I have liked to have been paid for it?
Of course but that’s not the point.
Even if you have a portfolio, I’d still suggest getting out there and doing some free work. It not only gives you tons of experience, but you will also make tons of priceless connections.
I started out by putting my name out there on Facebook. A few family friends responded saying they would love some photos taken!
At the time I was about 17 years old.
Then I started to do some free work for Airbnb.
Are you familiar with the experience side of the platform?
If not, the experience side is where locals create fun activities for tourists to do. The activities are intended to be unique and not a typical business just trying to advertise their tour guide.
For me, I created an experience where I walked with the tourists down famous streets taking photos of them in the process.
I looked up cool facts about the locations so it was also informational.
Being that I grew up in the area, it gave me an advantage over competition. I also gave them a few gifts to remind them of the city.
At first, my rate was very cheap and I was breaking even after paying for gas, parking (because good luck finding free parking in San Francisco), drinks and snacks, and the gifts that reminded them of the city.
After about 10 amazing reviews down, I bumped my prices up $20.
Every few reviews, I would raise my prices just a little until I was happy with the price.
In all honesty, I love hanging out with new people and showing them around. I also love photography so I’d much rather charge less and have more people come to my experience than charge a lot and only have a few tourists per month.
I built up a gigantic portfolio by doing this work. Plus I was able to hang with some awesome people from all over the world!!!
2. Get On More Platforms
Getting on more platforms is a great way of funneling clients to your landing page.
Your landing page is where you convert them from random people just checking out your work to paying clients.
For me, the landing page was my website.
This doesn’t mean you have to go spend a bunch of money to build your own website.
For the longest time, my landing page was actually my Instagram!
In the description, I would write “DM TO BOOK!!!”
Some platforms — such as Yelp — will create a landing page for you.
It’s important to get on as many websites as you can handle.
By handle, I mean as many as you can keep track of. It’s very easy to forget about a portfolio you created. If someone doesn’t get a response from you, they might leave a bad review. This is not what we want!!!
Here is a list of 10 platforms you should be on :
- Yellow Pages
- Airbnb Experiences
All of these are great to advertise on. Utilize them and really figure out how to maximize each one of these. They all operate differently.
3. Get Reviews
Your goal should be to get as many reviews as possible.
One tactic that I used was telling the client I would throw in 10 extra photos if they left me a review.
Most people don’t turn this offer down.
They are happy with more photos and you just increased your sales by having great reviews!
Another way to get reviews is by asking your family and friends to review your photography. It may not be the most honest if someone is leaving a fake review but it will definitely help get you started especially if you’re struggling to get reviews.
A good review isn’t just given, it’s earned. You must treat your clients like they are your dear old grandma. Respect them and always put in more work than you originally advertised.
Say you are taking a couple to a photo spot where there are 10 unique photo locations within that area. Then tell them they will receive 8 unique photos and deliver them 10. People are always so happy to receive more than they paid for.
How would you feel if you went into a coffee shop and received a free croissant with your coffee? What you don’t know is that the coffee shop adjusted the price to fit the “free” croissant into their budget. To you, it is an amazing gesture and comes across as good business! You will most likely be stopping by that shop if you're ever in the mood for coffee!
Your network is your net worth.
I believe 100% that I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in today if I hadn’t built up my network.
By getting out and talking to people, I have made connections with huge companies and made tons of friends that turned into clients.
Networking also is best if done with companies within your specific photography niche.
Since I’m in the wedding and engagement niche, I reached out to tons of bridal shops and bakeries. A simple message like this will get great responses:
It’s important to word your message in this way. Your message should be about how you can help them and not about how your business will benefit off it. As you meet in person, then you can discuss how you both will benefit from it.
I would also recommend creating a strategy for both of you to advertise each other.
Don’t just go into the meeting hoping they have ideas. People like confidence. Act like you’ve done this before and have other partnerships like this.
I created 5"x7" cards with samples of my work on them. I designed them to look beautiful and catch the eye of a bride looking for a dress at a cute bridal shop. On the card in bold, I put “20% OFF PHOTO + VIDEO”.
Most weddings are so expensive as is so saving money is always important.
I then adjust my rates to fit this discount in.
It’s a great way of advertising and will definitely increase your sales.
Plus, you will have more leads with the different shops recommending your service!
It’s also very important to network with other photographers in your area. Start sending DM’s or even do some cold calling.
I went on yelp and contacted the first 10 photographers. I introduced myself and told them I’d love to help them out if they need it.
I’ve done second shooting for some weddings and met with other photographers for coffee.
And get this.
One photographer couldn’t make the wedding he booked so he recommended me and gave me the job!!!
That was a $2,750 job!
It’s connections like this that will benefit you greatly.
This will take you from an under $10k/year business to over $100k/year company.
By this time, you should be booking a few jobs a week. Maybe you’re at one job a week and that is totally fine!
It’s not a race.
It’s best to start out slow and build the foundation!
You will most likely still have a full-time job or maybe just a part-time job. Either way now is the time to start advertising.
Here is the gold.
Where everything comes together and the money starts rolling in.
Well, money goes out at first but then starts to roll in!
There are so many platforms to advertise on.
The funny thing is they all work! The catch is they all work in a different way. One successful ad on Facebook may not work at all on Yelp or Instagram.
The key to success is to test the waters.
Now this will cost about $200 dollars but will be more than worth it.
For example, based on my experience each lead on yelp will cost about 2–5 dollars. I charge $150 for a standard one-hour photoshoot.
Once you get this part down, spending $5 to get a new client is totally worth it.
Now is it worth investing a few hundred dollars to really get this advertising down?
Will you get it on your first round of advertising?
Most likely not.
That is why it’s important to take 100–200 dollars and just test out the waters.
What I don’t want you to do is go to Facebook and set your budget to $100/day and blow all your money right away.
I usually set my limits to $10/day and throw out a few ads with different photos and captions.
Leave it out there for three or four days and then check the analytics to see what happened.
Did one do better than the other?
Did they all work the same?
Did they all fail?
It’s pretty easy to adjust the ad copy and create a different ad if they all failed.
I’ll dive deeper into how I create my ads in another post.
Now is the perfect time to reinvest into yourself.
You should already be doing this but I’ll make a clear point of it now.
Don’t go spend your money on dumb stuff or use it to go out on the weekends. Use it to buy better equipment and upgrade your business.
People want the best. If you’re always blowing your money then you’re falling behind your competition.
Buy a new lens, a new tripod, or even a camera body.
Need a recommendation on what gear to get?
Send me a message or leave a comment and I’ll be happy to give you my opinion!
That wraps up how I grew my photography company. These are the exact steps in the same order too.
I am also growing more and more each month.
The growth never stops. When I run out of time because I’m overbooked, I’ll simply contract the work and pay the photographer hourly.
Never stop growing people!