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5 Mistakes You’re Making in Your Photography Business

Author: The Printique Team

Creating a thriving photography business can take years and years of tweaking and perfecting – years that many of us can’t endure without a stable income.  Often times, the self-managed nature of a photography business can result in taking on far too much, exhausting every hour of the day, and finding yourself in a mad scramble to pick up as many clients as you possibly can, just to stay afloat. 

If this sounds like you, keep reading! We’ve compiled a detailed list of five common photography business mistakes. Put yourself on the fast-track toward maximizing your business’s efficiency and profits by incorporating our recommended fixes to any of these common missteps! Running a successful photography business means getting to the point where you can regularly say no to prospective clients, be selective about the work you take on, and maximize the money you make for every minute worked.

We’ll note here that none of these tips are meant to over-simplify the difficulty of succeeding in the photography space – and not every tip will apply to every photographer. There’s no secret code or cheat that will transform your photography business overnight.  The mistakes and tips below simply aim to help you get on the right track – so that a year from now your business and life can look entirely different!

Ready to start building your dream work life?

Mistake #1: Not offering printed products to clients.

If you don’t currently offer printed products to your photography clients, start – today!  By fixing this one simple mistake, you can increase the average spend of each client by hundreds of dollars.  What we love about this fix is that it doesn’t rely on convincing your clients to buy something; it relies on fulfilling a need they already have.

A client willing to spend the cost of a private shoot or booking will likely want to do something with the photographs they walk away with.  Don’t let them take their business somewhere else! Make your services the easiest and most premium way for them to print their photos, and they will never have a reason to spend elsewhere.

Printique offers a free digital white label gallery store to each of our Pro Service members.  This gallery allows you to create password protected links that can be shared with clients for direct ordering of custom print products.  The best part? You will have nothing to do with the back end of production.  Simply set your profit margins, send your client the link, and log out.  They will receive incredible quality prints of their favorite photographs, packaged with white labeling; they will never see a Printique logo or label.

This approach embraces two major features that many successful businesses share: the ability to make money while you sleep, and the ability to save time.  Many photography businesses take on an incredibly time-consuming structure – one that anchors profits to the number of hours available in a day.  By maximizing the spend of each client and outsourcing the production and shipping of prints, you have the opportunity to escape this exhaustive cycle.

Mistake #2: Undercharging for your services (or not charging at all).

It can be difficult to establish your value as a photographer, especially if your first few clients are personal acquaintances or friends-of-friends.  But one thing’s for sure: you’re not going to let people-pleasing tendencies stand between you and your dream career!

If you’re looking for specific industry standards, this article from ExpertPhotography does a substantial job of assigning standard pricing to particular services and varying levels of expertise. But keep in mind that you should only use this as a starting point; as you’ve surely heard before, every photography business is different, and your prices will change based on your location, the genre of photography you work in, and the qualities that set your business apart.

What we want to point out in this guide specifically is this: Changing the way you view pricing is critical to your business’s growth.  Consider the fact that setting the price of your services is how you tell your customers what your photography is worth.  Rather than viewing your price as a way to get customers, view your price as the way customers get you. This change in perspective removes you from a chase structure, and places you in the position of authority – the position people want the professionals in their lives to be in!  This is not meant to over-simplify the difficulty of landing those high paying clients, but to emphasize the role your pricing mindset place in attracting them in the first place. 

In short: Don’t chase the client who is looking to pay the lowest possible price.  There will always be someone charging less than you, but that person will also be delivering a lower quality product.  Trying to keep up with low prices will only result in a necessity to reduce the quality of the product you’re delivering. Low prices mean you need to book more gigs to stay afloat, and more gigs means less time to dedicate to each client, less time to rest, and less time to feed your creative fuel tank.

On the other side of this coin, we have not charging at all.  If you constantly find yourself in a position of doing favors for friends or working gigs you should be attending as strictly a guest, it’s time to figure out how to put an end to it.  We won’t say it’s always easy – we know how it goes: one second you’re telling yourself you’re done with free services, and the next second you’re at the tail end of a conversation that somehow cornered you into agreeing to shooting an entire event for free!  How did they check mate you into that?

Here are two things to keep in mind when it comes to those tricky conversations: a verbal agreement in a rapid fire conversation is not the same as a signed contract, and every service costs someone (if it’s not costing the person you’re shooting for, it’s costing you).

If you’re currently in a situation where you’ve agreed verbally to an unpaid shoot you didn’t want to take on, consider this your sign to politely back out.

Unfortunately, there are many people who don’t consider “no” to be a complete sentence.  In those instances, it helps to back your “no” with concise context.  We recommend telling the person attempting to book you for free that doing a free gig is actually the same as you paying to shoot their event, since equipment, travel, and your hourly rate has to be absorbed by somebody.  Here’s an example of a written response that can be used in a nonverbal conversation:

“Thank you for thinking of me, though I won’t be able to offer this service free of charge.

Supplement this concise yet polite statement with any of the following lines, each of which accomplishes a different effect:

Time is money, so shooting a [Insert event name: mini session, wedding, engagement] for free would actually cost me. As a small business owner, I can’t afford any extra costs.  If you decide to change your mind, I would love to work with you for my standard price of [insert price].”

“My schedule is already at capacity with full-paying clients, so to take on any unpaid jobs would keep me from a $[insert price] booking, at the very least. I would love to discuss my availability if you decide to go with a photographer in my price range!”

“You can find the cost of my services on my website at [insert website].  Feel free to loop back around to me via my email address [insert email address] if you’re interested in booking at these prices!”

Whether you want to invoke empathy through a small business narrative, demonstrate value through nodding to your long list of full-paying clients, or establish professional correspondence by referring this person to your business lines, you’ll be able to do so with one of these responses.  It’s not uncommon for these types of inquires to be founded on a person’s lack of experience working with professional photographers.  While these moments can at times be extremely frustrating, never lose sight of the fact that you’re running a business; if this person does more research and comes back ready to book you at your established cost, all the better!

Mistake #3: Specializing in too much.

As we’ve mentioned, it can be easy to fall into a cycle of desperation when you’re first getting your photography business off the ground.  This can often physicalize in the attempt to tackle a broad range of photography genres.  This might look like reaching out to every freelance photography posting regardless of the ask, or saying yes to every prospective client no matter the service they’re looking for.  Afterall, the more genres you can offer, the larger your client pool will be – right?  Wrong!

While the list of potential clients should in theory be longer if you cover more genres, this doesn’t directly translate.  What you’ll really be looking at is the client pool for an inexperienced photographer of any genre.  The more genres you’re working in, the longer it will take you to establish expertise in any of those genres.  This means it will also take you longer to reach a skill level that correlates with higher price points.

Rather than spreading yourself thin across genres, focus on specializing your craft in one area. This will give you the time and experience needed to sharpen your unique style and create an incredible, curated portfolio.  These are the assets that will allow you to maximize your hourly rate.

A highly focused specialization is the foundation you’ll need in order to build the type of brand and service that clients will seek out – and pay top dollar for!  It’s a foundation that will result in engaging content across marketing channels, photographs only you can take, and glowing recommendations. Being highly specialized also opens the door to collaborations, paid features, and high website traffic.  Experts run the world!

Mistake #4: Not having an easy-to-navigate website.

If you don’t have an easy-to-navigate, professional-looking website, it’s time to invest in one.  A quality website is critical for two primary reasons: it allows clients to book or inquire about your services, and it establishes credibility.

If your website is hard to navigate or not optimized for the client experience, it may serve as a barrier between an interested client and you getting booked; in other words, it will do the exact opposite of what a website is meant to do.

If your website is unprofessional, your prospective clients won’t take your business seriously.  This not only means they’ll be less likely to pay a high rate, but they’ll be less likely to book you period.

Below is a list of questions to ask yourself as you browse your website for areas of improvement.

Are there any typos or grammatical errors on my website?
Is it easy to go from my website’s home page to my booking page?
Are my prices and services listed clearly?
Does my website meet accessibility guidelines?
Is it clear how prospective clients should go about contacting me?
Does my website clearly capture my area of expertise and my editing style?
Is my location (or willingness to travel) indicated on my website?
Do each of my drop-down menus function properly?
Are there any misdirected links?
Is my website accessible and maneuverable from a mobile device?

Mistake #5: Not using social media (or using it the wrong way).

If you work in the photography field, chances are you’ve heard a story about an overnight success or viral post that changed a photographer’s life – whether it landed them their dream job or filled their inbox with alleged prospects.  It’s because of these stories that so many people try to recreate viral content. Perhaps you’ve begun styling your photos to reflect the style of photographers with a large following, or maybe you started shooting content purely based on shareability.  Maybe you’ve shifted the tone in your captions with the intention of prompting an easy response [Rate this photo from 1-10!] or perhaps you’ve developed an air of superiority in the hope of establishing value and authority in the space.  Our advice is simple: stop!

In the simplest terms: the effect that going viral on social media will have on your business is overrated.  Now, if you’re reading this with a small number of followers, you might be thinking that we can’t possibly know what a viral post could mean for you.  But consider the goal of your social media efforts: whether it’s to book more clients, get noticed by potential employers, or sell photography products, “going viral” won’t fulfill those goals. Having hundreds of thousands of likes on a post doesn’t mean reaching audiences within your area of service or reaching shoppers willing to pay for your products – especially if your Instagram presence doesn’t reflect your authentic photography style.

Instead of putting time into cheating the algorithm or creating “viral worthy” content that never actually goes viral, focus on fostering a community across platforms.  Learn from your fellow photographers, network with your fellow photographers, and show your followers who you are; this “who you are” element means demonstrating both your personality and your expertise!

Not only will this enable you to master your skills by learning from other professional photographers, but it will establish that you’re an enjoyable person to work with – an invaluable quality in the photography space! Being approachable and likeable while still being professional and highly skilled is where you hit the ultimate sweet spot as a photographer. When members of your online community hear that someone is looking for a photographer in your area or genre, your name is the one that’s going to come to mind!