Photography is an art and a wonderful hobby to get yourself involved in. There comes a point where many hobbyists decide to turn that passion into a full-time career, and when that happens, it is imperative to have a solid strategy in place to be financially stable. Photography can be a volatile career, more so than most businesses, so here are three strategies I use to make sure I stay profitable.
I have not always been a photographer but I have been self-employed for most of my working years. I started off serving the retail automotive industry and later moved on to real estate investment. For the last five years I have carved a fairly successful photography business for myself and I owe it all to the same business strategies I used in all my other ventures.
Though photography is most certainly a unique industry, at the end of the day, running a business is a universal language that translates perfectly across all industries. In order to turn a hobby into a profitable career you need to start thinking like a real business person. Here are three strategies that have served me well over the years and continue to grow my business to this day.
Work Smart, Not Hard
Passive income is the idea of making money while pursuing other activities. The idea of sitting on a beach, sipping on a mixed drink, and soaking in the sun all while making money might seem like something that only happens on TV. The reality however is that as a photographer there are quite a few opportunities available for you to set up a strategy for making some passive income.
One of the most common ways to make passive income is through issuing licenses. Whenever you do a commercial shoot you should be issuing a license with usage rights that define the scope of the usage as well as the length. If those needs should change or if the license expires and the client wishes to keep it active, you can extend the terms and collect payment. Furthermore, you can often license images to multiple clients, so one image could potentially generate a fair amount of income simply through licensing.
On that note, another popular alternative is to shoot stock images. Perhaps not as profitable as it used to be, it can still be a viable part of your portfolio to generate some extra income. Curating a stock portfolio can be done bit by bit over time, and the images you create can generate small amounts of profit over many years.
Similarly, selling prints through an online gallery can be a fantastic source of passive income. There are a number of services that allow you to quickly set up a gallery and they even have printing and shipping services built right into their offer. In essence they take care of all the grunt work while you sell images you have already shot.
Another way to make passive income is through releasing educational material. You'll need to put in the effort to release quality material to a listening and wanting audience, but if you have a decent following and something to share, monetizing that knowledge can be a good way to make some extra income while you work away on other projects.
Last but not least, some photographers invest in owning a studio for their business, but the reality is that they don't shoot every day. Owning a studio is a massive overhead, but if you play your cards right, you can take that studio and offer it to other photographers in your down time. You can actually turn an overhead into an income generating property that can help keep you financially afloat.
These are not the only ways to make passive income as a photographer, there are many more in fact, but these are some ideas to get you started. Incorporating these into your business practices can ensure you are financially stable and have a good work life balance.
Quit the Never-Ending Pursuit of Clients
In order for any business to make money it needs a client base. It needs enough interest from the market it intends to serve so that it can crack a profit and grow.
As a photographer you are most likely going to be operating as a single entity for quite a while. This means you are responsible for every aspect of your business. From answering emails, to doing taxes, to holding sales meetings, and eventually shooting. The burden of running an entire business is on your shoulders.
Finding clients among all that can seem like a daunting task. Client acquisition is one of the hardest and most expensive parts of running a business. Companies can spend millions of dollars on marketing campaigns to acquire new clientele and just as much on keeping existing clientele happy.
So, while acquiring clients is necessary for your business, it can also be quite an overwhelming task and a massive resource hog. Many small business owners get bogged down in the process and spend far more time then they should on selling their services. There has to be a better way right?
Structuring your business in a way that facilitates recurring business is an alternative approach that can free up your time and resources. When you acquire a recurring client you only have to spend your time and resources only once in order to acquire them. You won't be stuck in a perpetual cycle of looking for new clients. You build up your network once and then you work within it on projects that come up on a consistent basis.
Striking up recurring business relationships can be done in just about any genre. As a food photographer you can partner up with local restaurants to shoot seasonal menus. As a corporate headshot photographer you can shoot headshots for all new hires at a variety of large corporations that see regular employee turn around. As a fashion photographer you can shoot for a variety of designers who need their lookbooks updated with every season.
The idea here is to strike up business relationships that have some long-term value. Instead of focusing on shooting individuals or one-off projects look for clients who have return potential.
Customize the Experience
Many photographers make the mistake of not diversifying their sales offerings. They look at their photography as a singular service, which they charge a rate for, and simply complete the task. A clever business person however sees an opportunity in every service to offer staggered pricing and a variety of packages as well as add-on services. This creates the opportunity for extra income and often times it can be more profitable than performing the original service.
Having extra options for your clients is a good idea because not every client is the same. It's hard to take a one-size-fits-all approach, and oftentimes when you do, you leave money on the table because you didn't let your client customize their experience. Many times a client may have a budget in mind, but when presented with options (especially ones they may not have thought about), they will opt to add those extra services. Oftentimes these extra services appear to offer more value to the client or more convenience.
Never be afraid to offer extra services, even if the client may not have asked for them directly, because you never know what their answer will be if you don't ask.
Great read Peter!
Not sure about the customize experience. I don't think anyone and everyone should have a one size fits all business model. I think finding your target audiences and working hard (and smart) to get their business should be the business's goal than being and developing a one size fits all services/products, etc.. Granted if I was making a product outside of artistic type of industry then yea, my goal should be (if at all possible) to have mass appeal and mass marketed, especially if I got the funding for that. At least I learned that part while watching Shark Tank all the time lol.