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Five Essential Ingredients for a Photography Business

Intro by Skip Cohen

Robert Nowell, together with Bryan Caporicci and I have been friends for a long time. Our friendship was born out of respect for the way they both work to help the imaging community and the attention given to their own clients.

There’s a new norm the pandemic has created in photography, but the old rules still apply. Customer Service, good communication, attention to detail and quality, and exceeding client expectations haven’t changed one bit. True, physical distancing and health safety have changed your level of interaction with your clients, but at the same time, social media has given you the ability to stay in touch even more.

In this article from the Sprouting Photographer archives, Robert shares five must-do components for a successful business. And while it’s targeting the new business owner more than the seasoned veteran, so many of you are needing to rebuild your business.

The pandemic and the need to hunker-down is about personal health and safety – NOT about the importance of listening to your clients and helping them capture new and important memories.

By Robert Nowell


That’s an important bit of advice for anyone with a photography business.

One way we can put the cart before the horse is by marketing for business before we have actually built a strong foundation for success. Obviously, we want to attract customers, but what would be the use of getting a customer that received a less than ideal customer experience? That client would not likely become a repeat client nor would they likely refer our business to others.

I feel there are at least five things we must have in place before we begin to attract leads to our business:

  1. Products and services– Many photographers just pull the trigger and open the doors for business by popping up a website of images and then trying everything possible to get visits to that site. They haven’t given serious thought to what products they want to offer. You need to answer questions such as: Do I sell digital files or prints, or both? What about albums? How many album choices? How many spreads will my base album have? How many photos will an average spread have? Cover options? Print finishes? What about sizes? What resolution do I sell digital images at? How long do I keep galleries live? How do I present the final images? Should I do in personal sales or sell online? There are many decisions to be made and many of them can actually have a big impact on your business. Having policies in place, having a carefully curated product menu means guiding your clients in their purchasing journey. What do I want to photograph and what jobs would I refer away to others? Making up your mind in advance to focus on certain genres makes it easier to turn away work that isn’t part of your plan.
  2. Pricing – After we have established what products and services we are offering, we must also determine how to price them. Just charging what the studio across town charges is not the way to price your work and yet many photographers start out by doing just that. They find out what their competitors charge and copy those prices (or undercut them) without any thought to costs or profit margins. Bryan and I have written a book on how to price your photography called Pricing for Profitthat can help you get your prices where they need to be in order for you to be profitable.
    You need to know what you charge for all your services and products and be able to communicate pricing with confidence.
  3. Turnaround times– In order to set proper expectations for clients, you must have figured out how long they can expect to wait after placing an order with you. You need to research how long each product takes from the time you order it from your lab or album company. Add a few days for possible shipping from you to the client. Take an average time for editing a wedding and then add a few extra days for safety and begin to create a repeatable workflow for your business. If you shoot a wedding or portrait session, build a workflow for downloading the images, culling, editing, creating a proof gallery or setting up a viewing. Create a systemized way of showing your clients what to expect.
  4. Response policy and system– Communication can make or break first impressions. When we get a lead from our website or phone calls to our studio phone line, how long do we take to respond to a lead?  Do we follow up promptly? How do we handle problems or mistakes? Do we have a system in place to make repeated questions answered easily, faster and more efficiently? How often do we check for messages on the business Facebook page or Instagram account?
  5. Hours of business schedule–Too many photographers have not given thought to what their business hours are and answer direct inquiries at any hour, seven days a week. While that might seem like great service, it doesn’t allow much for a personal life with time away from work. Having set hours also helps with creating a repeatable work schedule. Block off regular time for editing and prepping orders each week. Appoint certain times in the week when you will book sessions, sales appointments and consultations. Having all these factors properly considered and implemented before the inquiries come in will help to create a better client experience. It is also incredibly important that you as the photographer, educate all prospects and incoming clients on all the relevant information that’s applicable to their reason for coming to you.

Having all our packages already built and priced and delivering a known repeatable workflow to a prospective client can easily build trust and credibility. Your role in the process is to be their guide and to effortlessly lead them from step to step, all the while educating and showing value.

When you have built the foundation for the five steps described above you can then confidently market for business knowing that anyone who comes calling will enter into a consistent and repeatable customer journey. A journey where you can anticipate their needs and questions and deliver the appropriate answers and steps at just the right time.