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Photography

6 Practical Ways to Boost Your Photography Business This Year

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This post is part of a series called Freelance Photography.
How to Land Jobs Assisting a Photographer and Keep Them
Will a Robot Steal Your Photography Job?

January gives us all a little extra motivation. If you've been thinking about how to make more money with your photography this year, this post will help.

People get stuck on big money-making ideas, but more often it's a series of small changes that have the most significant positive impact on your bottom line. The following are achievable tips to add a little more flow to your cash flow, whether you have an established business or you're just starting to charge for your work.

Small Steps, Big Returns

Last year, I decided to start doing in person print sales instead of delivering files on disc. Technically, I did offer print sales online, but no one ever bought anything. So instead, to show the pictures during the review session, I bought the biggest and best TV I could afford. I figured the extra income from print sales would at minimum pay for the TV and the space required to do sales.

Now a year later, I have numbers I can share from this experience. The small act of moving from online to in person print sales added over $18,000 in extra revenue over the course of the year. This paid for the TV and the extra space I needed many times over. It was the biggest boost to my business last year even though it was a very small change in how I operated.

Now, I'm not saying "everyone needs to do in person sales," there are as many business models as there are businesses. What worked for me might not suit your situation. There is, however, always something small that all of us know we could do, but just haven't done yet.

1. Print Sales

If you are in one of the many non-commercial photography fields, print sales are an excellent way to boost your business that you might be overlooking. Moving from a deliver-and-forget-it model to doing print sales is scary, but it can be pretty easy:

  1. Find a presentable space you can use
  2. Have samples of what you're selling
  3. Display their photos as big as you can
Mockup displays like this can really help sales. I have a print of this size on display when clients come over.

If you have a suitable living room or home office, a bit of tidying can turn it into a very pleasant place to receive your clients. If home isn't an option, the growth of co-ops and co-working spaces that you can rent on a daily or hourly basis are a good place to start. These places usually also offer coffee and tea, and have good facilities, both of which go a long way to help make the experience a comfortable one for your clients.

Remember, if you can't show it, you can't sell it. Samples are a worthwhile investment. Chances are good that if you show them a 16x24, they will buy a 16x24. If you show off a 30x40, you'll sell a lot less of those 16x24 prints that look tiny by comparison. The key is to have your options worked out: not so few as to restrict choice, and not so many that your clients feel overwhelmed. At this point, the service you are providing is guidance about how to choose print sizes and formats that will satisfy your clients' needs. They might not know what exactly what they need, so you'll help them figure it out.

2. Reward Your Good Clients with Portrait Sessions

The key part of this phrase is paying clients. You don't want to just do free sessions for everyone. Some people will buy nothing after the shoot, and some pay for a ton of prints. If you give those key clients free shoots, it gets them in front of your camera and you have an opportunity to sell prints. You can also use it as a referral tool, so they can give the session to a friend who will most likely, be like them, and order prints from you as well.

This is a good thing to schedule if you have a bit of a slow period It keeps you in contact with your clients and keeps you working. It can also be a chance for your client to get to know a new side of your business. For example, if you usually do editorial work together, but you're starting to do family portraits, offer a free portrait sitting.

3. Plan Mini Portrait Sessions in Bunches

Set a time and place and invite several sets of clients. This way you can gang together clients who are looking for less expensive options. It's a bit tricky logistically, but by doing them all in a row in the same place you cut down on the effort it takes you. That's what I call a win-win.

All it takes is a few minutes to get a short series of great shots like this. Put a few clients in a row and that's a very profitable day.

4. Do Concept Shoots for Paying Clients

It takes a some convincing for most clients, but if you have a good idea for someone and you'd like to try it out, bring it up. Most people are focused on their own business and creative communications is not their first concern, so a well-pitched idea can be exciting.

A concept photo shoot can be a bit scary for both parties. The client is often uncertain about what they are going to get. For this reason, it's best to do this with clients who trust you, who you have a relationship with, and only when you can actually make something work.

Doing concept shoots for paying clients is a great way to build the portfolio you're looking for and get more people talking about you. Be upfront: tell your client you're inspired by their business (because you are), want to make something together, and then negotiate an arrangement that works for both of you. Most of the time, by the time you get going, your client will be pretty excited about a concept shoot even if they didn't think they wanted to do one when you started.

The owner of "Abracadabra Printing" only asked for headshots, but we did this conceptual shoot in addition. He loved it and used it for a marketing promotion.

5. Learn a New Skill

What new skill have you been itching to learn? Now is the perfect time to do it, especially if you know when your slow season is for your business. I went outside my comfort zone on a bridal portrait session last year and created an in-camera double exposure. I had no idea how it would turn out, but this has been my most popular photo at every bridal show since I put it on display. Refining and perfecting this technique is definitely on my to-do list for the year.

In-camera double exposure, not using any photoshop.

In addition to developing specific techniques, I firmly believe there's always new things to learn, no matter how advanced you are. I will be attending a workshop in Iceland to boost my portfolio this year. Tuts Plus has tons of great courses available for you that you can take from the comfort of your computer right now.

6. Develop a Long Term Project

Have you ever started a project only to drop it when you don't get immediate results? Everyone has, and it's Ok. It's important to keep looking for projects that make you excited. Working on projects you care about, even if they take a very long time to complete (and some never do!), is a great way to stay passionate about photography. That passion will rub off on your paid work.

Think about a long term project that you'd be excited about. Don't expect it to be an instant success. The best passion projects are ones that you can schedule on a regular basis, push your comfort zone and creative boundaries a little bit, and bring you in contact with new people. Chances are good that if you share your work with people who share your passion you'll make new relationships and pick up a few new customers along the way.

This year, I am doing a project where I create one highly detailed and super stylized photo every month. I have done a few of these types of photos, and while I'm not getting paid requests yet, this is the work I want in my portfolio. As long as you like what you're doing and where your work is taking you, good things will come from it in time.

What Are You Going To Do This Year?

There are a lot of options for all of us. There isn't one right answer or magic path to success. However, everything here is a great stepping stone that could revitalize your business. What small tweaks or changes do you have planned to boost your practice this year?

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