How I Burned Out Doing Cheap Photography Workshops

How I Burned Out Doing Cheap Photography Workshops

There is a reason people say that your price range usually determines what kind of clients you attract, and this also often holds true for photography workshops, not just for weddings or photoshoots. I found this out in the hard way; I burned out, made hardly any profit, sometimes even loss. So, how did I end up in this situation and why did I keep going instead of learning from my mistakes early on?

1. No Game Plan

When my friend and I started out in doing workshops, we never really had a proper plan for how we wanted this business venture to succeed. We did have structured plans for each workshop, but we failed to apply the same effort to creating a business plan at the very beginning. We wrongly assumed that because we have the knowledge of the topic we are teaching, it will then guarantee the success of our business.

Not focusing on a business plan also meant that our marketing efforts were chaotic. We tried different types of advertisement, from posting in local photography groups to creating a website, but while it always seemed that we are constantly working on improving our posting or our website, there was never an actual end to it because we did not fully know what it should look like in order to attract the right type of clients.

A young woman holding a digital camera.

We managed to get our website to be on the first page of Google through working on our SEO, but there weren't enough clicks because we had created something that wasn't entirely targeted at the right clientele, and we had the wrong fees thus again attracting the wrong kind of clients.

Without a business or marketing plan, we realized that we never knew we were making mistakes until it was too late. We merely went with the flow and tried to pick up knowledge and ideas on the way.

2. Too Cheap

There is no doubt that asking for the wrong fee for our work led us to barely covering our costs, at times even going in deficit. Our reasoning for starting out cheap was to acquire a brand name to attract clients in the future. My friend had been doing workshops for years but had taken a long break so unfortunately that meant he had lost contact with his old clients and we had to start fresh.

Our worst loss was when we organized a workshop in Biarritz, and just a simple mistake of booking the wrong tickets meant we've already lost the majority of our earnings. Furthermore, when we changed trains in Paris, we had a very short period of time to get from one station to another. We didn't have enough time to catch metro so we had to get the first taxi we saw outside the station. This left us with an unplanned €90 taxi fare, which again had to be taken from the little earnings we had left.

The issue of not charging enough is we never had a backup of money in case things went wrong or if we suddenly needed to supplement the workshop with an unexpected purchase. Not just that, we barely had anything left over to pay out to ourselves, which also meant we couldn't afford to invest back in the business, either.

3. No Investment

With no spare money left over and with no investment from our own pocket, we couldn't afford to improve our business. What we had was all we could offer. We could not afford to guarantee specific venues or locations, unless we had a guaranteed booking. However, most cases the first guaranteed booking would only cover the cost, which meant if we had only one client we wouldn't even earn anything but instead spend from one to four days working for nothing. 

We couldn't afford to invest in spare books or new equipment that's solely for the workshop simply because we had no spare funds for it. Everything we could offer was only what we ourselves could create or provide through our own labor, such as creating digital books for our attendees.

A young man holding a digital camera up to his face.

4. Wrong Clients

We knew the type of clients we were after, however our prices didn't match what those types of clients would expect to pay. This meant we attracted people who were looking for a bargain. More often than not, they would disregard our workshop schedule and guidelines, and see it as an opportunity to photograph a model for a lot lower fee than if they simply booked one.

We had set expectations and objectives for each workshop, however we often gave in to our clients who did not want to spend time learning, discussing, and creating the final product, and instead spend all that time shooting a model. 

This sometimes caused friction because we held our clients to a high standard as we did with what we had prepared for them, yet we had no right to do so when their own expectations were low as was the fee that they had paid. Our workshop program always contained a finished products of sorts, be it a digital or print book, or a coherent set of images for a specific theme, yet the people we had attracted weren't too interested in investing their time in learning and saw this as an opportunity to shoot a model for a relatively low rate. 

We failed to create a plan on how to target a specific audience, and for that reason we couldn't acquire quite what we were looking for.

5. Not Learning From Mistakes

Our biggest mistake was not learning from our mistakes early on in the process. Every time we suffered a loss or an unsuccessful workshop, we thought we could improve it the next time. Unfortunately, the changes needed to be done at the very roots, which meant completely rethinking the business plan, which we never had.

We tried to make minor changes and adjust with every workshop, however it didn't produce the results we were aiming for. This meant that we often came away from the workshop drained and heavy-hearted. I could really feel the energy it drew from me and often I wondered whether there's any point to keep going. Unfortunately, we kept trying to prove to ourselves that we can change things around even though we kept flogging a dead horse, so to speak.

When we eventually called a halt to it, I felt it as a personal defeat because I have never liked to give up on things or ideas unless it's absolutely necessary. However, I can say that it was the best decision we could have made.

A digital camera, photography book and a candle placed on a white table.

Among all the energy, time, and money we had wasted, what we had left with were lovely photographs, experiences, memories, and travels. I learned plenty during this time, and I will take all this knowledge with me wherever I go and whenever I have a new venture that seems like a great idea at first. Only this time I will spend more time on research, preparation, and planning.

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20 Comments

Evan Kane's picture

Great read Anete!

You should offer workshops about how to create successful workshops. :-)

Anete Lusina's picture

I'm liking that idea, ha!

thomas Palmer's picture

90 euros for a taxi, this seems weird

Anete Lusina's picture

Tell me about it! It was from one side of Paris to the other and we needed it there and then. We didn't have time to ring up a local taxi service so had to jump in the first one outside the station door.

thomas Palmer's picture

Maybe uber next time :p Still can't understand, they tripled charged english people in distress ... Not cool

Anete Lusina's picture

Yes! I think I didn't have an Uber app then but lesson learned - prepare beforehand and don't just think, "ah, it'll be fine".

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Haha "everything's fine" always me hahaha

it was case of hobsons choice really, the alternative was to wait an extra day in Paris and re-book the train and pay again, pLus a nights hotel accommodation, so 90 euros was the cheapest option, and with only two minutes to spare, the taxi ride or should i say rush across Paris at rush hour was well worth the money for the experience. Plus Uber take advantage at times, its called making the most of a situation, life is an adventure, not a set of rules....

Andy Day's picture

Great article. Thanks for putting this together. I can relate to quite a lot of it!

Anete Lusina's picture

Thank you!

al green - Light Through Glass's picture

From a customer needs perspective it appears they mainly wanted to shoot the models. Maybe you could have met that demand and kept costs down by just doing model shoots in an easily accessible locale - then the wrong customers could become the right customers. Once you established a loyal base you could have offered extra technical workshops for a higher premium. Just a thought.

Bernard Galewski's picture

Good read. Unfortunately, I can relate. But on a bright note, I like your street photography :)

Anete Lusina's picture

Thanks! :)

Thanks Anete for letting us stand on your shoulders. Wise words.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

This is exactly why I haven't started doing larger workshops. Sticking to one on ones for now. Great info and article girl!!

Ian Goss's picture

Sounds like serial dopiness.

sounds like you make dopey comments without knowing the facts,.....

Ian Goss's picture

Better fix your full-stop key. Facts? I DID read the story.

Oh, and I began running photographic workshops over 25 years ago. I have also taught in adult education (WEA South Australia and Hamilton Senior College) and for five years at TAFE SA (vocational education).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning–Kruger_effect

Terry Poe's picture

Excellent article pointing out a common mistake - low markup in combination with wrong targeted customer segment. My motto is "aim high, charge high".