I began my photography business almost four years ago. My growth has been slow but steady. I don’t have a studio or a crew of helpers. It’s just me, a gear bag, a table in my bedroom, and bunch of print samples.
I make good money with my business, though I didn’t at first. I didn’t do a lot of things at first. If you’re thinking, “Maybe I’ll see if I can make some money with my hobby,” or if you’ve recently starting charging money for photos, then pay attention. Don’t make these same four mistakes that I made.
1. Not doing the math
In the beginning, I was just happy to make money. You’ll pay me $100 for something I enjoy? Great! You get a session and all the digitals for $100!
Just over two years in, I finally did some math and learned that I could’ve made more money working at a grocery store than running my own business.
If you haven’t done the math, then you need to figure out the following:
How much money do you want to make?
How much does it cost to run your business?
There are other questions to answer here, but those are the basics, both of which I didn’t even consider when I created a website and started charging people for money.
If you need to do this step, here are a few other resources to help you think about the math and the money of your business:
2. Starting with low prices
As you can read here in the first article I wrote, you’ll see some terrible advice: Don’t charge much at first, then charge more.
What was I thinking? Your prices don’t reflect your skill or experience. Your prices should reflect the math you did when you began and analyzed your business.
Does a new car company charge less for their car because they haven’t been around as long? No! They charge what it costs to make the vehicle, pay employees, and create profit.
Does a new restaurant change prices as they get more and more skill and experience? No! They, too, charge based on costs and desired income and profit.
A photography business is no different. Your prices should be a matter-of-fact result of the math you’ve done for your business plan.
3. Not printing
For years and years, both personally and professionally, I didn’t print any photos. I loved sharing things on social media and getting all the likes and comments. I loved building a digital portfolio to show off to potential clients.
But then what? What happens to those photos? They get forgotten, that’s what happens. They either die a slow death on a social media feed, or they get lost forever when a hard drive gets corrupted (or a CD becomes unreadable since computers don’t seem to have disc drives anymore).
Ask yourself the question: what would you grab if your home was on fire? You’d grab your kids, your pets, and your print photos (your wedding album, your kids’ baby photos, that one frame of your great-grandparents that’s been passed down…).
Think about this: your family photos will outlast your current car, your TV, perhaps even the home you’re in now. The money you spend on prints is money spent to preserve your life for generations.
There are two amazing moments I profoundly enjoy as a photography business owner.
First, I love opening a new package of prints and seeing what they look like, holding them in my hands, flipping through them, looking at some up close, spreading them on a table. That first moment with a physical print never gets old.
Even better is the moment when a client or a family member holds their prints for the first time. They light up. They can’t contain their praise. They envision where the prints will go, who they’ll share them with, how those prints will impact their daily life.
Those two moments are worth the price of every print.
Also, I’ll say this: I’ve made more money selling prints than selling digitals. I’ll never go back to an all-digital sales model. In-person print sales is too fun and too rewarding to ever leave behind.
Want to learn more about transitioning to print sales? Read this article.
And here’s a blog post I use to help people think a little harder about their personal photos.
4. Assuming Good Photos = Good Business
When I began my business, I figured that having good photos would mean that I would have a good business. My amazing digital imagery would spread online, my clients would profess their love for me from the mountaintops, and I’d have unending business thanks to my skill alone.
Then I learned that a good photography business is about 10% photography and 90% everything else.
I needed to learn business, marketing, sales, workflow, branding, networking, and everything else that helps a business grow.
Do you need good photos to have a good photography business? Yes.
But good photos don’t guarantee good business. Everything else does.
Aaron Taylor is a professional portrait photographer and high school English teacher. Aaron is forever blessed to be in love and married to his best friend and partner in parenthood. Much of his time is spent chasing his three curious, energetic kids. Aaron lives in Columbus, Ohio. Before moving to Columbus in the summer of 2016, Aaron was a high school English and Drama teacher in Montgomery County, Maryland. He spent ten years in the classroom in Maryland and earned National Board Certification in English Language Arts. Give him his family, a good cup of coffee, and a homemade cookie or three, and all is right in Aaron’s world.