5 Things I Wish I'd Done When I started my Photography Business

From university student to full-time business owner.

I started my photography business waaaaay back in December 2013. I remember going downtown to complete my licensing and the first time I got that blue slip of paper in the mail with official business details. My Mom still has that original copy hanging on the wall at home.

A young university student starting out a freelancing gig I didn’t equip myself for the best success possible. Seriously. There was so much I missed along the way. Yes, I knew enough to get myself set up with a contract, an email and a website, but I was clueless to the value of task management practices.

In this post I’m spilling all the beans on the operational habits I wish I’d done at the start of my business. After reflecting on the past six years, I’ve narrowed down five key things that could have revolutionized my work from the start.

We each have our own processes and operating principles, but these tips have seriously kicked my butt into gear as a successful wedding photographer. My examples consist mostly of my experience as a service provider but I’m sure that many of these tips could translate over to product based businesses as well.

1. Manage your photography clients and paperwork properly from the start.

If you work with clients, manage contracts, quotes and invoices, you need to find yourself a client management system ASAP. And I’m talking about a digital client management system. Not pen and paper. Moving everything over to digital is going to save you so much time.

The Paperwork side of your business

I worked with pen and paper contracts for my first four years of business. Back then, I could still get away with using pen and paper with the excuse that I didn’t have that many clients to manage. What a bad excuse! I can’t grow unless I build a larger client base and start booking more shoots. The day that I changed over to an online client management system I realized that I would be able to better serve my clients. With everything stored in one place, both myself and my clients can easily refer back to contracts, quotes and invoice updates.

Finding a Client Management System That works for you

My favourite part of switching over to a client management system is that I could start my client relationship far earlier than our first in person meeting. Now I can send polished questionnaires to clients. Everything within their client portfolio reflects my brand.Yes, find yourself one. This means looking through all the options out there (and there are a lot) and finding the one that clicks best with your business. I landed on 17Hats because another photographer in my area used the program and introduced me to their questionnaire function. I highly recommend shopping around until you find the best fit for you before going all in. It is a significant financial commitment, but once you make that commitment, you’re going to save yourself time and time is money.

2. Make it easy for clients to find you and hire you.

One day I decided to ask my Mom to click through my website and try to book me as a photographer. If you’ve never done the “Mom Test” before, I highly recommend it. I was astounded by how many hoops I was asking clients to go through before we’d be officially booked. 

Streamline your client experience

First they’d have to find my website. Next, they had to locate my pricing information. If they liked my prices, they would then have to go and click on my contact page. After contacting me, I would then contact them asking for more info. It was a lot of back and forth emails, an in person meeting and then if we liked each other, I would send over a contract and quote. Talk about way too many steps!

There are small ways to limit some of the barriers in your booking or sales process. The first big key thing: make your contact information super obvious and available. Put it at the end of your sales page, heck put it on every page of your website. And let clients know what the best way to book you is. Do you have a contact form built into your website? Give them special instructions on what you need from them to start booking as a client. The more information you provide up front the faster you can book.

Use the Tools Available to You

Another key way that I’ve reduced barriers in my booking process is by sending clients a questionnaire as soon as they contact me. The questionnaire helps me capture all the details needed to create a quote for their needs. We skip the back and forth over email. I let them know that the best way to let me know that they are ready to book, is to accept the quote.

3. Save time (and energy) by having go-to responses for client inquiries.

I used to write out every email from scratch. I cared (and still do care) so much for my clients that I wanted to make every single email special and personal. But that process took hours. It took me a while to learn that I could use canned responses to reduce some of the heavy ground work and then could tweak those canned responses to make them personalized.

Email Templates for Photographers

As a service provider my workhorse canned response is my follow-up after an initial inquiry:

Hi there,

I wanted to follow up with your initial inquiry and make sure you don’t have any burning questions needing to be answered!

My job as a photographer is to ensure that I’m here for you as a client. I want you to feel confident with your decision (whatever it may be!) Don’t hesitate to reach out if I can assist you in any way!

All my best,
Janelle

A strong habit/practice to get into is to make a new canned response each time you’re faced with an unexpected inquiry. Did someone ask if you sell tomatoes when it’s clear that you sell potatoes? Take that as an opportunity to create a canned response ready to go for any future tomato questions.

Hi there,

We got your message about tomatoes! While we love tomatoes that is not our area of expertise. We specialize in potato greatness.

When we purchase tomatoes our favourite supplier is The Old Tomato Farm. You can contact them at hello@oldtomatofarm.com or check out their website www.oldtomatofarm.com Let them know we sent you their way!

If you’re also in the market for potatoes, you can find our full selection of products here. If you have any other vegetable related questions, let us know how we can help.

All our best,
The Young Potato Farm

4. Use automated tools to help run your business and reduce your workload.

I never want my clients to feel like they have to chase me down for information. To stay on top of things, I automate anything that is on a timeline, especially invoice and quote reminders. It shows my clients that I’m serious about business and making things easy for them.

Stay on top of your automated tasks

There is a tricky part to automation, try not to forget what you already have automated to go out… Keeping track of your automated content helps you reduce embarrassing repeat emails. You may also need to go in and update all of your automated content in the event that you need to change content such as a new set of instructions, an updated link or pricing. Sync your automation with your Google calendar (if possible!) This helps you know what is going out when. This is similar to how you would have a content calendar for social media, you need a content calendar for your operations.

5. Don't be afraid to reach out to your creative community.

This is less to do with operations and workflows and more to do with accountability and taking a peek at what others are doing within your industry. When you’re first starting out, having a look at the backend of someone else’s business can give you a huge jumpstart.

Learn from experienced photographers

Although I had attended photography workshops and purchased online courses, I didn’t seek out an actual mentor in the business until 2018. Once I did, I face palmed hard. I could have saved myself so much energy by asking for operational assistance early on. I paid $250.00 CAD for a four-hour Q&A with a well-established photographer in my area. From that experience I learned that I was out of touch with the local photography market and I was missing essential steps in my client workflow.

Before meeting with a mentor come prepared with a list of specific questions. You’ll better utilize your time together (which you’re paying for) if you’ve thought ahead about what you need to grow your business.

The three topics you should discuss with your mentor are:

Whether you’re starting your business today or you started it three years ago there is time to work on a few of these steps! It will never hurt to start building these practices or to go back and review. To help you with that process I created a few checklists to get you started.

JanelleDudzicPhotography-41 (2)(1)

Janelle Dudzic

Janelle Dudzik Photography

Supporting local business makes the world go round. Providing entrepreneurs and creatives with content for their websites, blogs and social media platforms.

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