How I Doubled My Business In Six Months

How I Doubled My Business In Six Months

Running a photography business is hard work. As many of you know, it's usually more pencil pushing and email writing than standing behind a camera taking photos. With it being among the art community, it's incredibly easy to find excuses on why your business isn't reaching its full potential. But is it your business thats lacking, or your motivation?

A little over a year ago, I moved from the cold tundra known as Michigan to the dry desert known as Albuquerque. I didn't know a single person prior to moving here, and did absolutely no market research on whether or not this area needed, or could even afford another photographer in its presence. I called it my early mid life crisis, and like most of those, involved a lost girl, stubbornness, and a need for something new. But really, it was my sink or swim moment in photography.

Prior to moving here, and even the first few months of living here, business was okay. I wasn't making a ton of connections, wasn't marketing myself as well as I should have, and was only making enough to pay rent and expenses, but not much more. In the last six months, I've seen a huge influx of new business coming my way. Had I reached a tipping point? Had the gods finally looked down and accepted me? No. I changed my strategy of business, and it succeeded and helped push me to new heights.

This moment of change came on one very precise moment. I was out on a Friday night, having a couple of cold beers with a few friends of mine. Eventually, the conversation derailed from its usual antics and came focused on me. To my surprise, my friends were expressing envy of my lifestyle. Being able to work from home, coffee shops or wherever else I wanted to, and only work as hard enough as I need to survive. Thinking my job was nothing more than walking around some fields a few times a week taking photos of clients, and then spending the rest of the time joking around on Facebook. I know they meant well with their assessment and were largely ignorant on what a photographer really does, but I was still a little offended. I thought I worked hard, just as hard as them, and so I decided to test that theory the only way I really knew how.

I Bought a Time Clock.



Yes, one of those little obnoxious things that you get the luxury of not having when working for yourself. I sat one right on my desk, and I made sure I used it. When I was editing a set of photos, on location, or answering emails, I was punched into the “system”. When I was scrolling through Facebook, browsing reddit, or reading about hockey news, I was punched out. I am and was very neurotic about this, and had to be in order to get an accurate reading of how much work I was actually doing. What did I find? I was only working 2.5 hours a day! My friends were right, I was living a luxury, and the worst part was is that I had no idea.

So I changed that. I made sure I was working a 40 hour week just like everyone else. I mean, if I wanted to be taken seriously in the business world, I should atleast be working as often as they are, right? I began developing concept boards for clients, instead of just sending them the smorgasbord of photos via email. I had posters printed, and on weeks that I had trouble filling my allocated 40 hours, I'd ride around town posting them up. Finding less time for Netflix throughout the day, and replacing it with tutorial videos on retouching, business practices, and shooting techniques. When all else failed, and I found that I had nothing else to do for the day, I'd sit down and blog on my website (Which of course is incredibly valuable to your websites SEO, which will help your future business grow). Not only was I seeing that my skillsets in photography and retouching were improving, but others were seeing it too. I was creating work that others wanted to show off. Because of all this invested time I was putting on my business, I also found I was taking advantage of one principle that I believed but never truly followed ---

Treat Your Clients Like They're Your Only Clients.

The concept has always been simple to me. Be nice to others, and you'll eventually be rewarded. I found that by sending more than just a “Here is your pass gallery, let me know what you think!” to my clients emails, and instead, interacting with them, I was leaving a lasting impression. I was getting more referrals, and more responses because I was showing that I cared beyond the two hours it took to take their photo. I was taking more pride in my work, and as a result, they wanted others to have the same luxury they got from it.

I get a lot of actor headshot work through two different actor agents here in Albuquerque. So one day, I sent them flowers. It was a gesture that they certainly earned, sending me over 50 clients in the first year of living here and upon receiving those flowers, what did they do? They took a picture of them and posted it up on Facebook & Instagram. Now I wasn't expecting it to be some viral marketing campaign, and I genuinely wanted to show my appreciation for them and the business they provided for me. But upon them publicly thanking me, I got 6 new clients from it. People saw that I was showing appreciation for others, and wanted to be apart of that. The $100 spent at ProFlowers was a small price to pay for all the additional work I got from the gesture. Perhaps the best part of all, is that it's all tax deductible.


Now since then, I returned the time clock, and replaced it with an app on my phone. I eventually got to the point where there was no sense in wasting paper, and the phone option provided a better system for shoots on location (No client wants to be reminded of work upon seeing me punch in prior to their family photo session). Please don't mistaken that and assume I've no longer find a need for the time clock, I still use it every day to track my work progress; after all, it is what I attribute the last 6 months of success to. Now am I rich? Absolutely not. Am I financially wealthy? That might be pushing it. But have I seen a huge growth in business, despite only living here a year? Yes, I have.

So my point is this. Find a reason for your motivation. Prior to having a ticking clock staring at me all day, my only motivation to improve was to pay my bills, and have money to be able to hang out with friends on the weekend. Certainly I wanted to make more money, but there wasn't anything to help me take that first step. So I guess I'm saying, my motivator is a clock, what is yours?

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Andrew Griswold's picture

Beautiful my friend, the exact push I needed to get started in making my little hobby into something just a little more solid and purposeful. Great article and glad you tagged the tax info in there for future reference. Thanks man!

Now make more money and fly me out to shoot with you!!!

Zach Sutton's picture

To quote the article....

"Now am I rich? Absolutely not."

Looks like you'll have to wait a little longer for that free flight out to New Mexico :-p

Andrew Griswold's picture

Make more money...then fly me out! Obviously you don't listen very well! Maybe I don't want to work with you. Haha

Yasar Arafath's picture

Self motivation is the best motivation..!

Noam Galai's picture

Great post Zach. You touched some great points...

I love this. Well done.

Zach, I like reading your articles! You are doing a great job!

Trevor Dayley's picture

This is an awesome post Zach. Great reminder for all of us.

Zach Sutton's picture

Thanks man. Nice post yourself. I will be forwarding it to my second shooters :-)

The truth about how much time people spend doing nothing at work is so scary and expensive that very few want to really do something about it. Props for doing it.

Maarten de Boer's picture

Wow, thank you for this inspirational article! I'm about to start my own business and will certainly consider your idea of keeping time for motivation.

You doubled your business by working four times as hard? Solid article and reinforces what I already know I need but I was hoping for a magic carpet.

But as someone who has a full time job that wants to leave, its hard to find that motivation sometimes. Maybe its cause I don't have an exit stratgey.

Zach Sutton's picture

Doubled my business maybe...but I've increased my brand recognition an undeterminable amount. More people know about me and what I do than ever before. Doors have opened that would have never in the past. That change isn't really measurable. However, seeing my filled up schedule and looking at my bank accounts are very easy to measure the changes of.

I fully agree, my post was kinda tongue in cheek but I didn't express that very well :-)

good ole hard work is always the remedy!

What app are you using on your phone?

Zach Sutton's picture

I'm Android, and using an app called SlackMeter. Basically I just have two stop watched on named "Work" and one named "Play". I just click on the one I'm doing and it logs my time until I click it again to turn it off, or if I click the play timer.

My friend Aden recommended a program called 30/30 for the largely the same way

Thank you

Hans Klett's picture

This was a surprisingly inspirational read! Thank you! I'm sending it to all the entrepreneurs I know.

I like the application "Klok" for computer use - it tracks what the main window is open down to the second. Checking out that "one quick article" that you don't want to stop your timer for? It'll do it for you!

Interesting. Any idea if it'll work on a multi-monitor setup?

Yup! Works just fine. If you are running the desktop app "Paymo Plus" it just records the active program and the title of the active window. So it might say "Google Chrome: 2hrs" and under that "fstoppers: How i doubled... 5min" or whatever.

Amazing. Even via the free version? (I'd try it myself, but I'm away from my workstation).

If so, this is phenomenally cool.

Yup. It's set up to do billing by project as the idea, so for free you get 1 employee and maybe only 1 client? If you are using it for more, then by all means pay the $10/mo or whatever for the full meal deal.

I just tried this paymo plus thing... for some reason, I get a lot more done when I know there is a clock ticking, with my tasks organized. I think I'll be using it every day from now on!
Thanks, Kyle! :D

The tittle made me go "errrkkk, another 10 point recipe to get rich with pictures" then you suprised. ALOT.

Good read and good job!

Ale Vidal's picture

I totally agree with you. I am losing too much time in facebook and co. - I gotta start again with my business...

I use harvest, works the same

As a part time photographer with a full time job the thought of buying one of these makes me shudder! :-)

Ryan Moore's picture

So does reading this article count toward "work" time? Great idea and execution, Zach!

I just shared this on my Miche page because I think this applies to any company that you have to manage your own time. I'm in direct sales and I'm awful about being on Facebook thinking "I'm working" when I know I'm just playing around. Thank you so much for sharing. I would appreciate more articles that are as insightful as this one!

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