Photography has long been a hobby for me, and I’ve always treasured old family photographs and the rich stories they carry with them, but it wasn’t until I became a mother that I became obsessed with the need to preserve and remember each phase and detail of my family life.
A Journey of Building a Sustainable Family Photography Business
Do you make a solid living wage as an artist without constantly burning the midnight oil? I do, finally, and I hope you do too, but I wanted to write this blog post because I was recently at a photography workshop and talking with some newer-in-business photographers who were looking at my work and business as something to aspire to and feeling somewhat discouraged about their current businesses. I shared with them that I actually almost gave up on my family photography business after running it for 3 years. The first two years in business I operated at a net loss (which the IRS allows for a few years btw because it is quite common). The third year I was finally getting booked regularly and felt so busy so I felt like, yes! I’ve made it! Yet when I ran my end-of-year numbers, I earned barely 15k that year after taxes and expenses. I was truly ready to toss in the towel on this making a living as an artist idea, but with some encouragement from friends and family, I decided I would stick it out for one more year and try to make it truly profitable. I made some shifts and big investments but I ultimately turned it into a the multiple six-figure venture that I run today. So if you are feeling discouraged about the slow growth of your client base or the meager profitability of your photography business, this blog post is for you! I am going to share the strategies I implemented that were critical in creating a sustainable + profitable family photography business.
My first tip is to outsource and build a support system. Many solo entrepreneurs or small businesses take pride in handling everything themselves, but this approach often leads to burnout. It can be intimidating at first, but identifying your strengths and investing in people who can handle other aspects of your business is crucial. Small business owners wear multiple hats, so hiring the right people to support you is essential. It may take time to find the right team, but investing in people always yields a return on investment. A lot of photographers outsource editing. I love to edit so I opted to outsource business management. I have a Virtual Assistant (VA) that supports in my client communication, creating streamlined processes, calendaring, invoicing, and other organizational tasks that I don’t love but she does. A win-win for sure. I hired a company to help me create a cohesive brand and website designer who created a website I love that speaks to my ideal clients. Lastly, I also have support with accounting and bookkeeping. All of these folks, while they cost money, the return on investment (ROI) is undoubtedly greater. Get support where you can and know that these strategic investments will return to you in greater income.
After running my taxes that 3rd year and realizing I only profited $15,000, I was determined to turn things around or return to my previous career of teaching. I gave myself one more year to achieve a living wage. I made several strategic moves that proved pivotal in growing a strong and sustainable photography business. Firstly, I sought guidance from a seasoned photography mentor with 17 years of experience. Together, we developed a plan and identified high-leverage strategies to make my business more sustainable. She was the one who recommended that I invest in branding work and a professional website, which to be honest I was really skeptical that it would be the best use of my money. But I trusted my photography mentor and that process of re-branding and professional web-design elevated my business and justified charging higher prices. Additionally, I enrolled in a business course and conducted a comprehensive cost-of-doing-business analysis, allowing me to adjust my prices accordingly to ensure profitability..
While investing in artistry is crucial, many artists make the mistake of solely focusing on their craft. However, at 3.5 years into my journey, I already knew I was creating beautiful work for my clients and they were happy with it. Yet, I struggled to make enough money to sustain my business. This realization led me to understand that running a profitable business was essential for continuing to be able to create for my clients. Comparisons on social media can be disheartening, but it’s important to remember that building a successful photography business takes time. My own business, Ashley Kaplan Photography, took years to develop into a well-oiled machine. Returning clients now book me almost every year, and my clients themselves act as my marketing by referring me to others. I provide a high-quality product, but I also have the necessary business structures to support it.
My ultimate hope is that you can cultivate both your artistry and business savvy, as they are both crucial for making a living as an artist. I learned that business skills was the missing link to creating a profitable business I love but once I shifted to a business mindset, I was able to build the booked-out multiple six figure business I have today. I hope these recommendations support you on your way to increasing revenue as a photographer and building profitable and sustainable business strategies. I am a deep believer in Community Over Competition and that creative artists can be successful business owners.
If you’re interested in honing your business strategies and artistry, please feel free to explore my one-on-one mentorship program or join me and my friend Iris Hu at our Finding heART Workshop in Portland, Oregon on September 1st-4th 2023 where we will be delving into the heart of our artwork and how to run a sustainable business in alignment with your creative craft.