I’ve never met a photographer who has an MBA. There, I said it. On the other hand, I’ve met tons of business-savvy photographers with killer experience and sales tactics and some who are creatives, through-and through, barely keeping their businesses about water. If you’re somewhere in between, read on. I’m going to cover how you can start selling smarter, not harder, so that you can truly enjoy running your photography business—not running your sanity into the ground.

How to run your photography business

Know your audience

Everybody loves personality tests! And if you don’t, bear with me. Most customers you come across will fit into one or some combination of these four personality/communication types: drivers, analysts, amiable and expressive (Merrill & Reid). Drivers want to take charge, they want solutions. Analysts are most interested in the details. Expressives are just here to have fun, and it usually shows. And Amiables are the peacekeepers, they’re friendly and get along well with most people.  These four types have been talked about endlessly and there’s a ton of info out there on how to sell to them.  This is also known as the BOLT Sales System, with Bulls, Owls, Lambs and Tigers, or, if you want to go with birds: Eagles, Owls, Doves and Peacocks

So why is it important to gauge your customers’ personalities? So you know how to communicate with them. It’s also important to recognize your own personality and communication style, so you can address your bias when communicating with others. For example, if you’re an Expressive/Driver, you need to be aware that you could be coming off as callous or intense to someone who is an Analyst or Amiable. I won’t tell you to tone down who you are, but I will tell you to pay attention to how you’re being received by customers, then adjust your communication style from there. Every customer is different.

Price yourself fairly

How to run your photography business

Be honest with yourself. Do your market research—what are other photographers in the area charging? Are you comfortable falling within that range? If not, how much do you need to price your packages in order to be profitable? You’re running a business—your own business, to be exact. So, if you skimp on your pricing, you’re only going to be hurting yourself. Pricing yourself fairly will not only benefit you, but it will attract clients who can interpret your confidence and expertise with prices that match. 

Anyone you share referrals with should have pricing that is aligned with yours - sit down once a year and everyone decide on where the market lands so that you are making sure your community is strong and that you aren't undercutting each other.

Outdoor adventure photography
  • If you’re just starting out and your goal is to saturate your local market, price yourself on the lower end of the spectrum. Then, once you’ve built up your name and clientele, you can adjust your prices accordingly. If you have no experience shooting weddings, you shouldn't be charging the same as someone with 10 years of experience.  When I started out, I started my rates at $125/hr. Every 5 weddings booked, I raised my prices by $25/hr.  Today, I only raise them according to the market to align myself with those who I share referrals with in my area with the same amount of experience as myself (10 years).
  • If you list your packages on your portfolio or send out a price sheet when customers inquire, use oddball numbers. Instead of listing a package for $3,000, list it for $2,995. Why? If a customer’s budget for photography is $3,000 and they see that number right off the bat, they’re going to expect perfection. If you come slightly under their budget (even if only by a few bucks), it’ll appear like they’re getting a great deal, well within their budget.
How to run your photography business

Work smarter not harder

We hear it all the time, but what does it look like in practice? For photographers, this means underpromising and overdelivering. Set expectations early on for what your customers can absolutely count on, knowing you’ll likely be delivering more. Answer their questions and have a well-written contract. This is also how you create satisfied repeat customers. Sign up for a studio software system like Honeybook so that your emails, brochures, contracts and follow up emails are automated through workflows according to job type. 

How to run your photography business
How to run your photography business

Diversify your revenue streams

Burnout in photography is real.  It's hard to create boundaries when your office is in your living room. Track the amount of time you spend on tasks behind your computer for work in Tggle.  This will give you a clear understanding of how long it takes you to do things.  When tasks are taking taking significantly longer than normal, it's a sign of burnout and that you need a day off.

You can spend all of your time at hundreds of mini sessions and back-to-back weddings, OR you can diversify your revenue streams (in a way that doesn’t require your physical presence). For example, selling albums and prints, and offering mentorship courses are all common ways photographers can easily expand their businesses and increase revenue streams without spreading themselves too thin. Be sure to show off these products and services in your marketing, and offer them as add-ons when clients are inquiring about other services.

Now that you're one step closer to learning how to run your photography business like a pro, you should check out my other tips for creatives because this opinionated loud mouth is full of them.