5 Tips To Help Your Photography Business Survive And Thrive In 2014

5 Tips To Help Your Photography Business Survive And Thrive In 2014

So, it’s two weeks into the new year – how are things shaping up? Booked a ton of new work? Setting up to land your dream client? If, like me, you’re still working out the kinks and wondering how you’ll make it all work, this post is for you. I’ve got five tips to help keep you going, keep you motivated and keep you on track for the year ahead.

New year is an interesting time. January 1st inspires all sorts of feelings, emotions and – often - stresses. I’m sure like a lot of you, I’m sat in front of a bunch of goals, aims, ideas and plans for 2014, wondering how I’ll actually put them into practice and get to where I want to be. For those of you already booking jobs hand over fist, please continue to read – and comment – because I’m sure many of us would love to hear your insights. For many of us who are new into the world of either full or part time photography/videography, are freelancing, and don’t have a long, loyal client list, it can be both a very positive time of year - and a very daunting one.

While I know this year is going to be full of fun, adventure and interesting work, it’s still challenging, a few weeks in, trying to make things stack up and get clarity. The landscape ahead is still a little foggy to say the least.

Things looking a little foggy? This still looking a little unclear? Don't worry - apparently it's totally normal


I discovered this week I’m not the only one sat here scratching my head. If you read Joe McNally’s blog, you’ll see about the rip roaring start to his year, when he received his first paycheck for $1.32. Yes, that decimal spot is in the right place.

While I’m pretty sure this isn’t his only income for the month of January, if you read his insightful post, you’ll see that the worries and concerns about how to make your business work isn’t something that gets any easier. When I read what Joe had written – with all of his success, years of experience and knowledge – I knew that this issue of survival, and seeking out success, is pervasive and it’s something I’m sure 99% of us think about.

I’ve set out a few tips that have helped me, hopefully it might help you guys too. If you have any more ideas or thoughts please drop a line in the comments below, this list is by no means definitive or exhaustive and I’d love to hear from you.

1. Have a Plan

I’m talking about a simple plan, not a detailed, 20 page business plan mapping out the next 5 years. Do you know where are you looking to go with your work, which clients are you targeting, and how are you going to reach them? Do you have a “pipeline” of work mapped out, and if not what business development and marketing activity are you undertaking to develop that pipeline?  In my previous life as a project manager and business consultant, this was part of our daily grind. That doesn’t mean it comes any easier to me now. As the (rather annoying but also annoyingly true) saying goes, “those who fail to plan, plan to fail”. If you don’t have a plan in place yet for 2014, fret not – Photoshelter have put together a great little business plan infographic for you to help you pull something together with all salient points for you to think about.



2. Stay Motivated

How do you stay motivated to do everything you need to do? Personally, I write out what I need to do and break work up into chunks to make it manageable. Reward yourself a little once a chunk is completed, especially that work which is “grind” i.e. not inspiring, not fun, but absolutely necessary. There is nothing worse than feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed by the task ahead. Instead of looking at the summit of the mountain in front of you, amble off to the side, and head up over the first ridge. Don’t try and bite off more than you chew, pace yourself.

Small bites of the cherry - don't bite off more than you can chew. Small bites of the cherry - don't bite off more than you can chew.


3. Stay Focused

This is a key goal for this year. Most of my time is not spent shooting. It’s spent editing, emailing, in meetings, planning, marketing, making calls, accounting, managing invoices and following up on all the other tasks that get in the way of the fun of creating. I’m trying to limit time on social media as well as cutting down both length and number of emails sent in the day.  It’s very easy to spend 30 minutes a day getting social media in order, but if I’m not careful, I’ve found I can easily end up on an endless gateway to other interesting nonsense on the internet.

Social media and anywhere email are great tools, but they can also suck the life out of you, and be a total productivity killer. Stay focused, and treat social media like that 4th slice of pizza – sure it’s tasty, but do you really need it? Limit your intake.


Keep your eyes on the prize and stay focused Keep your eyes on the prize - stay focused


4. Accept Uncertainty

As a freelancer, or new business owner, you never know what the next job might be, where it will take you or what you might be getting paid. Some client work can be consistent, but as we build a business from the ground up, it’s always tough and there’s often a degree of uncertainty about the ‘next job’. I’m practicing trying to be present and just focusing on doing the best job I can with the work I’m doing right now. Gregory Heisler had some sage words in the interview he did last year for a little Profoto video on advice for new professionals (skip to 2:13 to hear them but I’d watch this whole thing, it’s gold).

He’s totally right of course – if we just stay focused on doing the best job right now, the uncertainty of the future should just take care of itself.


5. Make Time To Shoot What You Love

The reality for most of us is that we will have to shoot “other” stuff, stuff we don’t really want to shoot but it might pay well (and therefore help keep us in business).

For me, the key is to try not to differentiate well paid, yet less “creative” work, from the work I wish I could shoot all day every day (typically not well paid, but intrinsically rewarding and creative).

If we treat each job as a way to grow our technical, client and/or business skills, then we can’t lose. Stay focused on the overall benefits that come with each and every job because there are always benefits to be reaped. Above all, find balance - if you’re shooting too many weddings, portraits or corporate gigs, make the time to shoot what you love and make time for your own projects. Keep fresh and stimulated. It’s hard to turn down paying work, but with a proper plan in place, once the work is coming in, you’ll be in a position to be more selective about what you take on just to earn money, and instead be better placed to spend time on your own work that keeps the flame alive and burning inside.

Whatever you love - keep it close to your heart and make time for it. Whatever you love - keep it close to your heart and make time for it.


Hope these tips were helpful. As I said, this isn’t a full and complete list by any means, just what comes to mind for me right now. I would love you to share your thoughts in the comments below so we can learn from, and support, one another.

As Joe mentioned in his blog post, this isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. That’s cliché, sure, but clichés are usually clichés for a reason. No matter how bumpy the ride might get, remember, you’re not alone, and if we help each other out, we might actually have a moment to put our heads above the parapet and enjoy the beautiful view.

Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” F. Bueller Make time to enjoy the view and the spoils of your hard work
David Geffin's picture

David is a full time photographer, videographer and video editor based in New York City. Fashion, portraiture and street photography are his areas of focus. He enjoys stills and motion work in equal measure, with a firm belief that a strong photographic eye will continue to help inform and drive the world of motion work.

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Of all the things you could use to illustrate #2, you've opted for something that doesn't actually chew ..with the caption "don't bite off more than you can chew." And a with cherry, no less

Well done.

Are you guys getting paid per word, or something? Next time ..just link out. This was really quite terrible.

Well jeez Alex, tell us how you really feel...

One of the best tools for planning and arranging my thoughts for everything from current work-concepts and ideas-goals-stock shoots-clients to aspire to..even new kit is a Whiteboard from Costco.

It's on my office wall, it's where I place all the stuff I want to do or achieve both short and long term, it keeps the chaos in my head in an ordered template and helps prioritize what I feel is important but still keeps the broad end game visualized.

As stuff gets erased and accomplished new stuff is added as my priorities change.

Half of my office is dedicated to ideapaint.

Chris, i've been meaning to get a white board and marker set for my wall for AGES and never gotten around. As someone who really needs to write stuff down (and gets satisfaction from crossing stuff off a to-do list) i'm going to use your comment as impetus to go to Staples today and pick one up. Thanks for the reminder!

Sage words indeed from Mr. Gregory Heisler!

It is tough out there trying to make it as a photographer. It really can be quite daunting to say the least...it hits me quite often, self doubt. I chew it up and spit it out!

Oh, and what is with that photo of Will Ferrell up there?!?! Is he dead sexy, or what?!?!

Here's my tip: Keep it fresh.

On YouTube, there's a series of videos from DigitalRev TV on "ProTogs and Cheap Camera Challenge". While I don't imagine Kai will be inviting me to Hong Kong to be one of the participants, shooting with a cheap camera is such a great idea!

A little over a week ago I gave myself that challenge. No, I didn't go with either the Lego or Buzz Lightyear cameras, nor did I decide to go video with Barbie. I did go with an inexpensive name brand point-n-shoot with a suggested retail price under US$200. It has no manual operation, doesn't shoot raw, and has no viewfinder. Could I make a good picture with that camera?

Oh man, what fun that's been! It's one thing to take a high end dslr, set up lights, adjust settings, and control virtually every aspect of exposure to make a picture. What if you take a camera that has no manual mode? What if there is no aperture or shutter priority mode? What if you have no way to trigger an external flash, at least without spending a bunch of money? What if you need to shoot in a dark place with this camera? What if it is just up to you and a little point-n-shoot that can fit in your pocket? Is your answer, "I can't do it," or "What a fun challenge this will be!"?

Last weekend I shot a hawk in an urban landscape, protecting its prize (a pigeon it had killed moments before I scared it into flight). This weekend I shot the interior of a Cathedral.

I've made less than Joe McNally so far this year; he's ahead of me. Will shooting with a little point-n-shoot on the side make my business take off? No! But it does keep it fun and fresh.

Good luck to you Dave, to Joe McNally, and to everyone else this year! May the year be prosperous and fun.