How To Start A Photography Business – The Essential Guide
Let’s unpack it together in this photography tutorial.
How To Start A Photography Business
The Essential, No Fluff Guide To Starting A Photography Business
Starting a photography business is easy.
Just buy a camera and start telling people you’re a photographer.
(Or if you’re strapped for cash, just use your smart phone.)
But starting a photography business people actually want to BOOK?
If you’re anything like me, you overcomplicate things.
Simply starting a photography business turns into a 12 month journey.
You spend weeks picking out the perfect business name,
months designing your website and creating the perfect logo,
and thousands of $$ on expensive camera gear, fancy legal contracts and setting up an LLC…
All before booking a single shoot.
It took me well over a month to choose my business name.
I wanted it to be clever & sound high end. I wanted to have the perfect trendy logo to put on all my business cards.
After tossing around hundreds of ideas and hours and hours of research,
I wound up picking the name “Tailored Fit Films” & “Tailored Fit Photography”
Then I hired a designed for $150 to make me a clever trendy logo.
This is what I went with:
… I wish I were kidding.
I do my best to hide this logo from everybody, but for the sake of this guide, I’m bringing it into the light. It was a total waste of time and money.
Eventually I got my head screwed on straight, and I stopped overcomplicating starting a photography business.
I wound up booking 25 weddings in my VERY FIRST YEAR.
It turns out there was a way to start a photography business without wanting to pluck my eye balls out.
Here is the step by step process to start a photography business, without wasting a ton of time
There are really only 5 key ingredients to starting a photography business and getting bookings:
1. Build a portfolio
2. Build a (SIMPLE) website
3. Create a lead pipeline
4. Create a conversion strategy
5. Tweak & Improve steps 1-4 over time.
Notice whats NOT on here:
1. Start 15 different social media accounts
2. Set up a fancy LLC
3. Buy 20K worth of camera gear and lenses
4. Get a 4yr degree in business or photography
The key to starting a photography business FAST is focusing on what matters.
You have a limited amount of time and resources – So you’ve got to spend them on the activities that produce the greatest results.
Maximize your time and resources by eliminating what doesn’t matter and doesn’t produce results.
The number one piece of advice I’d give you if you’re starting a photography business is this:
Don’t overcomplicate it!
Figure out the essentials. Do those FIRST.
Don’t get caught up in social media or business structures.
If you wait until you know EVERYTHING before you start, you’ll never start!
So focus on what matters most. Then once you’ve got the essentials, you can worry about the other stuff.
Want to see it in action?
Good! Here goes…
Photography Business Step 1: Build a portfolio
Having a portfolio of great work is essential, but it can be tough to get started.
Starting a photography business is a lot like the chicken and the egg:
How do you book shoots without any experience? And how do you get experience if no one will book you?
Here’s how I built a portfolio when I had no experience:
(I started out I wanted to do wedding videography, but you can apply this same process with whatever type of photography / video you want)
#1 Went onto google and searched “sydney wedding videographers”
(Replace “Sydney” with your city, and “wedding videographers” with whatever type of photography or video you want to do.) About 200 pages of wedding videographers showed up.
#2 Opened the first page of results, and sent each one of them this message to their email or contact form:
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#3 From the 10 studios I contacted, I heard back from 6 within a couple days.
– Three studios said they were full / not looking for help at the moment.
– One photography studio set up a meeting and a shoot the next month.
– One videographer had a shoot that same weekend and let me join him and film for my portfolio for free, in exchange for carrying his bags / helping where he needed me.
- I wound up shooting for that one videographer almost every week for about 2 months.
- During the process I learned a TON about framing, exposure, posing, gear, lighting, and a million other things.
- I gained the confidence I needed to film a wedding by myself, AND I left with a great portfolio of work.
It wasn’t overnight, but it allowed me to build a 7 wedding portfolio in just a couple of months
WAY faster than most photographers or videographers.
If I were to do it again I would double up or triple up my speed by contacting the first TEN pages on google, instead of just one. Then I would do my best to book 2-3 weddings per week for about a month.
It would be exhausting, but in just a month I’d have a killer portfolio and a boatload of experience.
*note* You don’t need to shoot as many weddings as I did to start booking your own.
Once I was 2-3 weddings in, I built my website, posted my work and started booking my own weddings at the same time as I was building out my portfolio.
If you don’t want to assist for free that’s fine too – You can build a killer engagement / family / lifestyle portfolio just by offering free shoots to your friends, family, and even online classifieds.
But having a reasonable portfolio first is the cornerstone – You’ve got to start there. If you’re currently spending time on a website or business card and don’t have a portfolio yet, put those down and go get some shoots!
You NEED a portfolio before the rest of this stuff is going to work for you
Step 2: Build a (SIMPLE) website
Before we start step 2, repeat after me:
I will not…
under ANY circumstance
Spend more than one day creating my website.
Your website is the cornerstone of your business. Its possibly even more important than your portfolio.
So why limit yourself to just ONE day to finish it?
Reason #1: The key ingredients of a photography website that gets bookings are simple.
The parts that matter shouldn’t take you more than a day to setup.
A flashy fancy website isn’t important.
We don’t need custom code or fancy world changing designs to get bookings. We’re focusing on the essentials that get results.
Reason #2: Chances are 95% likely your first website will be terrible.
Of course, you and your mother will both think its incredible – But trust me, when I look back at my first website that I thought was SOOO awesome, I cringe.
In fact, I deleted every single page to make sure no one ever sees it again!
Best just to get the first draft out of the way without wasting a ton of time, and then you can come back and improve it later on.
To build your website, block out a full day.
Get a good nights sleep and empty your calendar.
Here’s how you create a website fast:
Web Design Pt1 – Signup for a web service.
The fastest & easiest Options are Wix or Squarespace.
You can create a site with no tech skills and a very quick learning process. Start with one of these and then later on you can either spend time learning how to do more complicated web design, or pay someone to make you an awesome site using the $$ you’ve made from your bookings.
Cost for both = $12-16 per month.
(DON’T do the free versions. When people see “Made free with wix” at the bottom of your site, you look like a total amateur. You don’t want this)
Web Design Pt2 – Pick your template and create your key pages.
Do this quickly. Don’t get bogged down in details. Just get it done and move on.
There are 5 key ingredients photo clients are looking for on a website:
One: Photos – Nuff said.
Two: About You – Details in step 3
Three: Pricing / Packages
You don’t need to post ALL your pricing, just having a pricing section that says “photography starts at $______ is fine. If you don’t want to post this you can always just put “inquire for pricing” – BUT from personal experience this drives me crazy! After all, if you went shopping on bestbuy.com and everything said “inquire for pricing” how would you feel?
Four: Contact Info
Phone & Email listed on the page are a must. Having a contact form is nice but optional. Get a website email if possible (email@example.com) – Or at the very least set up a new gmail email as firstname.lastname@example.org.
DON’T use a personal email. email@example.com does not inspire confidence in your business 😉 Plus, you’ll want to keep business and personal emails separate to stay organized.
Five: Testimonials & Reviews
This is THE SECRET SAUCE of your website – And something only 2/10 photographers out there make use of! Testimonials are a form of Social Proof.
Social proof makes people think “if other people are doing it, it must be good!”
Social Proof is often the number one factor in why someone chooses Option A over Option B.
Think about when you shop online. What is the one thing you ALWAYS check? The rating and reviews!
Website testimonials make a WORLD of difference in increasing your credibility and the number of clients who trust you with their special moments.
Don’t have any reviews yet? No worries.
You can use friends & fam who know you to vouch for you!
Here’s what I did to get 20+ reviews in 24hrs:
First, I logged into facebook and posted this status update:
(In case you’re wondering, this post was back when Pokemon GO was still a thing. #rip)
You don’t have to write a ridiculous post on facebook like I did – It could be as simple as just texting 20 of your friends and family asking them to help you out. These people want to see you win and most of them will gladly do so.
I had friends leave reviews on my google business page because it helps with website SEO. If you don’t have a google page you can set one up in about 10 minutes. Don’t fuss over the details – Just create the page and add some quick info and 5-10 photos.
As I received reviews, I thanked every single person who helped me out and delivered on what I promised.
Now take those reviews and testimonials and feature them EVERYWHERE you can on your website and in your business.
Those 5 pages are all you need for a great site.
No need to overcomplicate – Just give people what they’re looking for, and make it quick and easy to find.
Make sure each of these 5 sections are also listed in your menu, and then move on to adding images & text.
Web Design Pt3 – Add your images and text to the design.
This is where you should spend the most time.
The info and images you put on your site matter a lot more than anything else.
Word everything you write as if you’re writing to a friend.
Most photographers make the mistake of writing business-y text that has zero personality and no authenticity.
Don’t try to IMPRESS your clients… This normally produces the opposite of what you’re aiming for!
When you write like a friend, sound like a friend, and feel like a friend to the person reading your work, they’ll feel far more connected and comfortable with you.
So be yourself! Share who you are – Whoever that may be. Wild & crazy, shy and introspective – It doesn’t matter. Share your hopes and dreams, passions and fears.
With so much marketing hype out there, people crave authenticity.
Those who can relate to you will be drawn to you. And they make for WAY better clients because you fit each other!
Web Design Pt4 – Pretty it up a little. (If you have time)
By now you should be 90% of the way to having a website that is 4x as effective as most photography website designs out there.
This is more than good enough for now.
IF you still have time in your day of web design, you can feel free to spend a little of it tweaking things. But once the day of web design is done, DO NOT work on it again until you’ve completed everything else!
Your website is important, but its going to be totally useless if no one is visiting it!
Once you’re done your day of design, walk away and leave it alone until you’ve got some inquiries coming in.
Now you’re ready to get rocking and start filling your cue up with inquiries for shoots.
Step 3 – Create A Lead Funnel
“Lead” is a term for a prospective client.
More leads = more bookings.
If you want to build a photography business fast, you need lots of leads.
Think of lead generation like a big funnel or web
The larger your funnel / web, the more leads you get.
The goal is to have lots of leads from lots of different sources – If one source ever dries up, you have 10 others to cover it.
Never depend on just ONE source of business.
There are a LOT of different strategies to getting leads.
Facebook, Instagram, Paid Ads, Pinterest, Referrals, SEO… the list goes on.
(SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization – which basically means showing up in google when someone types “YOUR CITY photography” or whatever term you’d like to show up for.)
Right now, roughly 90% of my photography bookings come directly from SEO.
So its worth working on long term.
But the thing about SEO is it takes a LONG time to be effective. Most of the time a minimum of 8-10 months to start ranking.
We’ll do a post in the future on how to get your photography website to show up on google and search, but because we’re trying to build a business FAST, we’re going to have to use other strategies.
To grow a photography business fast, you’ve got to find quicker ways to get the word out.
3 quick ways to get leads for FREE:
#1 Online Classifieds
I posted free ads in about 5 different online classifieds – craigslist, kijiji, gumtree etc, advertising a CRAZY deal on photos.
For any couples that booked before X Date, wedding packages were 50% off.
People normally associate low prices with low quality – But by doing 50% off, I could anchor my “normal” pricing with the higher priced, quality photographers, while still being super affordable and attractive to anyone wanting to save. People who booked me felt like they were getting a DEAL. (Which they were!)
Having a limited time discount creates a sense of urgency to “BOOK NOW, before you miss out!”
In marketing there is a term for this “FOMO” – Fear Of Missing Out
I booked about 8 weddings directly from these online classifieds in about 6 months
#2 – Family, Friends & Friends Of Friends (Your Network)
The easiest way to sell anything is to your family or friends, because they already know you, like you and trust you (hopefully!)
If you know someone who just got engaged, congratulate them and let them know you would LOVE to do their engagement photos, free of charge.
Why free? Because you’re their friend! And this removes any expectations / reason for them to say no.
If you do a kick butt job at their engagement photos, odds are very good they’ll want you to shoot the wedding too. Worst case scenario, you helped out a friend, built your portfolio, and can get an epic review out of the process.
Letting my friends and family know I was looking for work led to 4 extra weddings in my first year.
#3 Vendor & Photographer Referrals
This is a gigantic untapped source of leads that few photographers make use of.
Busy photographers are constantly getting inquiries for dates they’re already booked, or in price ranges below what they charge.
Wouldn’t you want them to recommend YOU to all these people?
I bet you would.
Here’s how to make this happen:
Give value first.
Technique 1 – Refer THEM
The number 1 way to get someone to think of you when they’re booked is by giving value to them first. When you’re booked, tell that client about someone awesome who will take great care of them, and then give them the name of a great photographer you know (or know of!) This is the perfect chance to build goodwill and show you’re not just a taker. Make sure to also send that photographer a quick email saying you recommended them to so and so, and give them their email. This ensures the photographer knows WHERE the referral came from, and also gives them your email if they ever want to return the favour.
NEVER, EVER, EVER tell an inquiry “Sorry, we’re booked” without referring them to someone else.
Technique 2 – Write a generous review
Find the photographer you’re hoping to connect with on facebook and google maps, and leave a generous (always honest) 5 star review.
Once you’ve done this, send the a quick message saying hello, letting them know WHY you love their work (be specific), and offer to second shoot if they ever need someone.
DON’T mention your review. DON’T ask for anything in return. Just give.
Sometimes you’ll do this without receiving anything back. That’s alright! If you do this for 10 photographers and only ONE sends referrals your way, you’re still ahead.
Give first, and you’ll receive back more in the long run every time.
Plus, you’ll wind up with a ton of 2nd shooting gigs, learn a lot in the process, and maybe even make a friend or two!
Technique 3 – Nominate them for an award
Nominating someone for an award is builds rapport fast.
Use the same process as technique #2 – Focusing on how you can HELP them in their business.
If you bring value to them, they’ll remember and be grateful for your help.
Find 10 photographers whose work you love and is similar to your own, and do something for each of them.
Just like that, you’ve set up 10 little mini referral streams!
These strategies aren’t just limited to other photographers either. Feel free to reach out to wedding planners, event decorators, venues, florists etc.
Remember: Referrals are all about relationships, and bringing value to others.
People refer people they like, trust, and want to work with again.
Go out of your way to help people and be a blessing to them and you’ll soon find referrals make a significant part of your pipeline.
Vendor Referrals are the one place I WISH I had focused on more when I was starting out.
Instead of SEO which takes FOREVER, having 10-20 people who think of your name whenever they’re unavailable or need someone to refer can fill your schedule very quickly!
Step 4 – Create A Conversion Strategy
At this point you’ve built the fundamental pillars of a successful photography business.
You’ve gathered a kick ass portfolio
You’ve created a professional website to show off your work
You’ve developed a large funnel to produce lots of inquiries & referrals
Step 4 is creating a process for turning all those inquiries into bookings.
Think of every inquiry you get as a window shopper.
They might be REALLY interested in buying something
…Or they might just be killing time, or comparing prices, or any other number of things.
If you’re anything like me, the window shoppers drive you crazy!
But once I’d been in business awhile, I realized something
The window shoppers turned into some of my best clients!
9/10 of your inquiries are fall into the “not ready to buy” category.
There are lots of reasons for this.
-You cost too much
-They don’t know you well enough
-They’re not booking anything for another year
-They’re scared to invest this much $$$ into something they’ve never done before
Don’t confuse “not ready to buy” with “not going to buy”
Here’s the problem: 9/10 of your inquiries aren’t ready to book.
They won’t be ready until you’ve answered their (unspoken) questions & concerns.
That’s why you need a process for taking those “not ready to buy” and sticking with them over time, until whatever is holding them back is resolved.
This is how most photographers (poorly) handle an inquiry:
Inquiry: “Can I have your pricing and availability?”
Photographer: “Sure thing! Our pricing and availability is _______”
The photographer sits expectantly in front of her computer, waiting for the inquiry to respond…
…. cue the crickets.
A week goes by, and the photographer assumes its not happening, so they never contact that inquiry again!
But remember – 9/10 of your inquiries aren’t ready to book right away.
So if you’re just sending pricing and availability and hoping for the best, you’re missing out on 9/10 potential bookings!
There is a marketing saying that goes “The fortune is in the followup”
That’s because most of your clients won’t book the very first time you chat.
According to our Top Performance in Sales Prospecting research, it takes an average of 8 touches to get an initial meeting (or other conversion) with a new prospect.
So why on earth would anyone just send ONE email and hope for a booking?
Instead, we want to create a system that walks the inquiry from window shopper to booking, by answering all of their unspoken questions and resolving their doubts and frustrations.
Once you’ve removed these roadblocks and the timing is right,
You’ll be 10X more likely to book that inquiry.
So how do we build this Conversion System?
This starts with knowing your customer.
Often we forget what its like to be on the OTHER end of the booking process. All the worries, fears, frustrations going through the mind of your potential customer.
Start by getting out a piece of paper and brainstorming.
Write down their struggles, hopes, fears, and concerns.
If you’re not sure what these are, ask 2-3 people you know who have booked something similar in the past.
Ask them these questions:
1 – Why did you choose your specific photographer?
2 – What gave you confidence in their ability?
3 – What frustrated or challenged you about the process of finding / choosing / booking a photographer?
This information is SOLID GOLD.
Once you have identified these frustrations, fears and concerns, come up with an action, resource or email that addresses each area.
Here’s an example for wedding photography:
Who is the typical customer? The bride
What are some of her concerns?
Spending too much $$
Knowing whether she can trust you,
Knowing whether you’re an awkward weirdo or someone who will actually be FUN to work with
What are some of her frustrations?
1500 photography sites to go through!
Having to contact EVERY SINGLE ONE just to get an idea on pricing.
Every photographer has 4 different packages, so comparing them and keeping organized is time consuming and confusing.
Having to book or pay before having a chance to work with you feels risky… no guarantees
Having to print / sign a contract and then find a scanner to upload it
Having to write a check / complicated payment methods.
Overwhelmed with ALL the parts involved with planning a wedding.
No idea where to start and no idea how much things should cost.
We’ll stop there for now – As you can see, there are a LOT of frustrations & concerns on your potential bride’s mind when she first contacts you!
Its no wonder she’s not ready to book – There are SO many things getting in the way.
Your goal as a photographer needs to be to remove those things, help her through the process, and provide value.
Do this upfront, before she pays a dime, and you will separate yourself from 90% of photographers
You’ll build trust, authority and like-ability at the same time.
Here’s A List Of Possible Solutions To These Concerns:
Spending too much $$
Provide free extras in my packages
Knowing whether she can trust me
Include testimonials on my website + at the bottom of my inquiry response
Showing I’m not an awkward weirdo and will be FUN to work with
Add some personal info to my about me page to show I’m a normal person.
1500 photography sites to go through, Having to contact EVERY SINGLE ONE just to get an idea on pricing & packages
Create a pdf listing websites and starting prices of other photogs in the area I’d recommend.
Note: This might seem backwards, but your clients are ALREADY looking at the competition. Why not position yourself as the expert helper who goes above and beyond to help find the best photographer for THEM. This builds huge trust and appreciation.
Having to book or pay before having a chance to work with you feels risky… no guarantees
Offer to do the engagement shoot for free, before booking. This way they get a chance to know me first and there is zero risk to give me a shot.
Hassle to print / sign a contract and then find a scanner to upload it
Use an online contract service like hellosign to make it super quick and easy to sign and submit contracts.
Can’t pay with credit card, complicated or time consuming payment methods.
Setup a free paypal business account for credit card payments for deposits to make booking super easy.
Overwhelmed with ALL the parts involved with planning a wedding.
Create a pdf resource with some helpful wedding planning guides / lists. Include sample wedding timelines & a list of epic local vendors
(BONUS – Chat with the vendors ahead of time to see if they’ll give your brides a discount! If you can save a bride HUNDREDS on other vendors, do you think she’ll be more likely to book?!)
No idea where to start and no idea how much things should cost.
Include a “getting started” list in your pdf resource, or a free planning session with a local planner (Who would probably LOVE to do this in order to book more weddings themself!)
Once you’ve gone through all of the items on your list, highlight the 5 key resources you think would make the BIGGEST impact.
Focus on the top 5 first, and then work on the others as you have time.
Here’s my conversion strategy:
For my wedding photography business, I created 2 different resource guides for inquiries.
The first is a Photography Welcome Guide which shares a little about my personality and style, includes some planning tips and sample timelines, as well as package info and what to expect on the wedding day.
Everywhere throughout the guide I show off happy client testimonials.
The second pdf is an Engagement Style Guide, which contains some info on what to expect, tips for makeup, outfits & location suggestions, and wait for it… MORE TESTIMONIALS!
I’ve also written a 5 part series of wedding photography emails written to take an initial inquiry from window shopper to an in person meeting, facetime or free engagement shoot.
Generally once a client invests time into getting to know you personally in some way, you’re in the “final round” of selection. So I want as many brides to get to this stage as possible, and I give them some sort of invitation to do so with every email.
Here’s a quick summary of these emails:
Email 1 – Attach client guide to this email
Hello, asks some get to know you questions, provides starting at prices, offers a FREE engagement shoot. Some common struggles I hear from brides are ______ so I created this client guide, which includes _______ to help!
Let me know when you’d like to schedule your free engagement shoot!
(I REALLY want to get them to respond to this first email in some way shape or form – If they respond to the first one, they’re much more likely to book)
Email 2 (2 days later) – Attach engagement style guide to this email
Hope planning is going well!
I’d love to set up a free engagement shoot or facetime chat if you’re not local!
Which works best for you?
(Asking them to choose between two positive responses is far more likely to get them to respond than just saying “let me know if you want to chat”)
Email 3 (4 days after initial inquiry – only if they haven’t responded)
Hey _______, is this thing still alive?
If I’ve haven’t heard from them at this point, there are a few possible reasons:
A) Super busy and haven’t had time to read my emails
B) My emails have gotten lost in the emails of the 15 other photographers they’ve contacted
C) Want to be left alone
That’s why I keep this one super short and sweet. It takes 5 seconds to read and the choice of words gets their attention.
Never, ever, ever stop following up unless someone specifically asks you to.
You’d be surprised HOW MANY brides have never responded up until I send this email, and then THANKED me for following up and providing so much help and service!
Email 4 (6 days after inquiry with no response)
Hey bride to be!
I get the feeling something in our packages doesn’t fit since I haven’t heard back from you.
Could you let me know what it is?
At this point its unlikely I’ll actually hear back from this inquiry. Doubtless its because something in my packages, style or info doesn’t fit them, or I’ve failed to address their questions and concerns sufficiently.
Rather than just give up, I take this chance to ask what it is!
Even if they don’t wind up booking with me, this information is super valuable to help me improve my booking process in the future.
This process will be slightly different depending on what kind of photography you do and what the challenges / concerns are for your target customer. The key is that you address these concerns, provide TONS of value upfront, and FOLLOW UP.
Email is the bread and butter for booking clients – Once you have their email, you can continue to followup in the future with special offers and value.
If you have a wedding business for instance, make sure to message your couples on their 6 month and 12 month anniversary giving them a congratulations.
Stay in touch with your clients, and they’ll continue to refer you and book you years in the future.
Implementing this one email sequence more than doubled my bookings!
Once you’ve created a solid booking process that addresses unspoken concerns and provides tons of value, you’ll separate yourself from your competition and find you book WAY more inquiries than you did before.
Step 5 – Tweak & Improve
At this point you’ve built yourself a solid system for starting your photography business.
By focusing on the fundamentals and not getting bogged down in a million insignificant details, you maximize your speed and results.
Once you’ve built out the essential framework of your business – Your portfolio, website, lead funnel and conversion strategy, its time to dial in and refine these areas to maximize their results.
Identify which areas of your business is the weakest link to getting more results.
Most often that’s going to be building up the size of your lead funnel.
Now you can start implementing long term strategies like SEO, blogging, & social media.
You can also start experimenting with paid ads on google or facebook.
Most of all, you can continue to build your relationships with other vendors, venues & photographers.
If you’re curious about tutorials for any of these areas, let us know in the comments below. If people are interested we’re happy to dive in together!
Photography Marketing Guide Conclusion
There you have it – The quick and essential guide to starting a photography business. No nonsense, no time wasters, no frills – Just essential strategies that produce results.
Starting a photography business takes a lot of work. By focusing on the essential activities that produce results fast, you can build a photography business reasonably quickly – But only as long as you’re willing to put in the long hours and hard work required.
As someone on the other side, I can tell you its totally worth it!
Which strategies are you going to apply? Let us know in the comments below!
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