Yesterday, we talked about five common mistakes beginner photographers make. Now, let's talk about five common mistakes professional photographers make.
Ok, so you've got the technique. You've got the creative vision. Your business is doing well. You are a certified professional photographer. Good on you for making it in a tough industry. Let's talk about some common mistakes professionals fall into.
Caring What Other Photographers Think Too Much
Let's be honest. Photographers like to talk. They like to critique each other whether it has been asked for or not. And I am not saying what they say can't be valuable. But if you are an established professional, you are already doing something right. Sure, fellow photographers can offer you valuable feedback on your work, especially if you're looking to improve. But never forget that fellow photographers aren't the ones buying your work. Your clients are.
If you are making money, attracting a steady stream of new customers, and your current clients are satisfied, think twice before making radical changes because of what some photographer you don't know said on the internet. The internet can be loud. But loud doesn't mean right, especially since what clients look for is not always in line with what other photographers think you should do. I generally think that photographers should find a friend or two whose opinion they trust and bounce their work off of them instead of just posting in Facebook groups and the like. These people are likely to better understand you and what you do and be able to offer useful feedback and advice. Not only is this good for keeping perspective on your own work, I think it can simply make you a happier person by shielding you from the unsolicited vitriol of internet commenters.
Not Maintaining a Proper Presence
More and more, people turn online to find a photographer, whether that is through Google, Instagram, Facebook, or the like, and very often, it is a matter of hiring someone from the first five results or so. Think about when you are looking for a place to order pizza from for dinner or you are looking for a good plumber in your area. I bet you follow a very similar arc. We are very much conditioned to the speed and ease of the internet, and as a result, getting clients is not just a game of being the best, it is also a game of simply being obvious.
Yes, it is annoying posting consistently to Instagram and keeping your website portfolio up to date and writing blog entires for SEO and... But these things undoubtedly matter. In addition to keeping things up to date, make sure your website is simple, fast, easy to navigate, and elegant. I see lots of photographers who place the flashiness of their website over its usability. It is often something like a resource-intensive animation on the home page that takes 15 seconds to load and do its thing before I can even click something on the page, and by that point, I've lost interest. Clients are hiring you for your photos. Put them front and center in a simple but elegant interface (and don't forget to make sure it's mobile-friendly) and that will be all you need in a website.
Maintaining a proper presence can also mean more than your online presence. A lot of genres of photography depend heavily on networking and word of mouth. For example, successful wedding photographers do a lot of work networking with other vendors. A lot of my work establishing myself came from networking in the music industry. Of course, maintaining your offline presence is a bit difficult given the pandemic situation, but don't overlook its importance.
Not Continually Improving
We are absolutely inundated by great imagery nowadays. More affordable professional-level cameras and lenses and the proliferation of widely available education has meant that even advanced amateurs can easily compete with experienced professionals. All the best photographers I know are constantly working to improve their craft, both from a technical and creative standpoint. They have an insatiable hunger for exploration of their craft. Of course, this does not mean you should be wildly experimenting on paid shoots, but if you have a week off from client commitments or a weekend to yourself, take an hour or two one afternoon to learn a new post-processing technique or try out a different lighting setup from what you usually use. Doing so will also help you to stay up to date with industry trends. Plus, it is simply fun. After all, isn't that why we chose this field? Don't forget to explore your creativity like you did when you were first falling in love with photography.
Poor Business Management
This is probably the most egregious mistake, and it manifests in all sorts of ways. It can be not keeping up with marketing. It can be not managing finances properly. It can be poor planning for the long-term. It can be not protecting yourself with proper contracts and insurance. It could be failing to understand your local market and overpricing or underpricing your services.
Proper business management is too vast a topic to get into here, but suffice to say that the sad truth is that there are numerous talented photographers out there who fail because they don't know how to run a small business properly. If you feel overwhelmed by that aspect of things, take time to educate yourself, ask a fellow photographer, or consider hiring a professional CPA to help with your finances or a lawyer to look over your contracts.
Not Responding to Clients in a Timely Manner
This is such a simple thing, but it can make a big difference. I am not saying you need to be tethered to your computer or phone 24/7, but in general, people do expect fairly timely responses these days, usually within a day or less. Try to set aside 15 minutes in the morning and another 15 minutes in the evening to respond to emails, direct messages, voicemails, etc. Clients can be very fickle, especially when it is their first time working with you, but on the other hand, working with a good communicator can make a client feel valued and like they made the correct decision in choosing to hire you.