The 5 Biggest Photo-Business Mistakes by Brent Mail

The 5 Biggest Photo-Business Mistakes I Made When Starting Out

by Brent Mail.

When I first started in my photography business, I made a number of big mistakes. And they cost me a lot of time and money.

I’ve written this for you – so that you do not make the same mistakes I made, and waste all that time and money too.

1. Focusing too much on photography skills

Probably the biggest mistake I made by far, just by how much it cost me.

When I was first starting out in my photography business I was still focused on my photography skills. How could I create the most amazing images that people would be blown away by – and then they would naturally call me up and pay me money to photograph them.

Wrong!!!

It doesn’t work that way. People will not call you up just because you posted an amazing image, they will call you up because they have a problem that you can solve, but only if your marketing is right in front of them at the time they realize they have a problem that needs solving.

I focused on my photography techniques, my lighting techniques, my posing techniques and I got really good at photography. I started creating some amazing images – I even won awards for my work. And yet, my phone did not ring with enquiries. My email inbox was empty. My business was dead. My bank account was empty! I was wasting valuable energy and resources focusing on the wrong stuff.

What should I have focused on instead?

Business!

The business of photography, which is basically small-business. I should have focused most of my energy on acquiring business and marketing skills. I should have been reading business books and going to business seminars and workshops. I should have gone to the library and checked-out all the small business, marketing and sales books I could get my hands on. I should have got a business coach. Someone who had the experience to guide me.

Once I realised this and started to change my focus from photography skills to business skills I started to see a massive change in my business. My phone started ringing with enquiries and my email inbox was full. I started to get really busy with photo shoots, and the money started to roll in. The more I focused on business skills, the more my business grew.

Don’t make the same mistake I made – make sure you focus on your business more than you focus on your photography skills. Unless you would prefer to be a starving artist, trust me, it’s more fun being an artist with money!

2. Investing too much money in photo equipment

This mistake goes hand-in-hand with mistake no.1. I was too focused on creating amazing images, and therefore I made the mistake of investing all my earnings in the best pro-photo equipment I could get. My reasoning was that a pro photographer needed pro equipment, otherwise clients would not have the confidence to hire me.

Ever heard this saying “You have a very expensive camera – you must be a good photographer”? That is an amateur talking – and they probably have photo-gear envy. Purchasing the best photo-gear had little to no impact on my business, it did however make me feel like a pro. In fact, if I had taken that hard-earned money and invested it in marketing and business education I would have made a major positive impact on my business. That knowledge would have helped me to create a successful business, make real money and then have extra profit to buy equipment if I wanted to.

Also, equipment eventually wears out and dies – but business knowledge is for life. The basics of business does not change, it’s only the technology that changes. It’s not the equipment that makes a successful photo business, it’s the knowledge to create the right systems in that business that makes it successful or not. So, don’t go wasting your money on equipment, rather invest in your education and in your business.

3. Having no systems for anything

When I was first starting out – and working part time to fund my photography business, I had no systems. When I spoke to a potential client, I had no framework or system for what to do next:

  • No standard questions I asked.
  • No follow-up email and phone calls.
  • No confirmation call to confirm the photo shoot the day before.
  • No system for how I photographed that client.
  • No system for how I downloaded and backed-up the images.
  • No system for post processing the images to make them look even better.
  • No system for booking the ordering appointment.
  • No system for showing my client their images.
  • No system for closing the sale and getting paid.
  • No system for producing the images they had ordered.
  • No system for product pickup.
  • No referral system to incentivise them to refer their friends to me.

I did all of these things differently every single time and guess what… I got different results every single time, and it totally sucked my energy having to re-invent the wheel every time I did something new. My business was very unpredictable and unreliable.

Then I read a book by Michael Gerber – “The E-Myth Revisited”, and it changed everything. I realised that a business is simply a bunch of systems that all worked together. And I had none! So I started creating them and it changed my business around.

  • I created systems for client attraction: Getting clients to call me.
  • Systems for client conversion: Taking them from phone call to photo shoot.
  • Ordering presentation system: Showing them the images and making it really easy to choose their prints and pay me.
  • Production system: Tracking and producing their canvas, acrylic or framed prints.
  • Pickup and referral system: Making sure they were totally excited with their final products and they tell all their friends about me.

Wow, what a difference it made in my business! After I got my systems in place, and refined them, I had a predictable, reliable business that worked. My business worked even without me.

You see I trained other people to take over various systems in my business, which gave me back my life. What systems are you missing in your business?

4. Going at it alone with no help

I love this saying “if it’s meant to be, it’s up to me!” and it’s true, but…

You are allowed to ask for help.

In fact, you must ask for help – but from the right person.

When I was starting out, I tried to do it on my own and it was a struggle. I tried things, failed, tried other things and half the time they didn’t work. It was taking me ages to see any real progress, but at the time I had another job and this photography business was just a part time thing. I did this for about 2 years – working another job while I was getting my photography business up and running.

Once I stopped working my high-paying job, I realised that my photography business was not in a good state. In fact, I was losing money every month in my photo-business. The harder I worked, the more money I would lose. That is when I decided to get some help.

If I was going to make this photo business thing work, I needed help from someone who had been there and done it. I travelled back and forth to Sydney (over 2 hours each way) and learned from those who were actually making a financial success of their photography businesses. I explained my situation, and got the right answers.

You see, everyone is in a different stage in their business, and sometimes just a simple answer at the right time can save you a bunch of money and frustration. I took what I had learned from my business mentors, and applied it to my business and at that point amazing things started to happen.

I went from losing money in my business to making a very healthy profit by only changing a handful of things. Most of the things I was doing in my business were right, but by tweaking a few key systems I managed to turn a failure into a success. Without those mentors, I would have had to shut down my business and work for someone else. How sad!!

Do you have a mentor or coach who is there to help you succeed? Someone who has been where you want to go?

This is probably the biggest benefit of joining my photoprofit 8 week course. I’m in there to help students get results.

I’m there to coach you – give you the right answers at the right time in your business. I’m also there to get you on-track and to help you setup your business right, from the beginning. I’m there to encourage you through the tough times, and to help you to keep taking action when it seems like things have stalled in your business.

5. Not being clear on who my client was

I see this all the time with photographers. Trying to target everyone. Everyone needs their photography services right? And they then attract no-one and spend a lot of money on advertising that does not work.

Wasted money and resources!

I’ve been there too. I once spent over $8000 in newspaper advertising and made nothing from it. I did a deal with my local paper, and supplied them with $8k worth of canvas landscape prints for their offices, to make them look beautiful and in return I could use that money as a credit towards advertising in their paper.

I tried to advertise my landscape prints for sale. Double page spreads in the local paper. No sales!

I tried mother’s day specials, and other portrait photography ads. No bookings!

People noticed and would comment to me that they had seen my ad, but I made no sales. It was a total waste of money and time.

Why?

Because I did not have a clear idea of who my ideal client was, and what their big problem was – the one that my photography would solve.

What kept them up at night with worry? What did they want most in life? How could I be that person they came to, to solve that problem?

If I had known these things, and I could speak to them in a language they understood, then my marketing and advertising would have worked. Today it’s even more important to know who your ideal client is, because targeting online is so much easier and effective. Facebook is amazing when it comes to targeting your advertising.

Let’s say my ideal client is a single mum, 35-45yrs old, 2 kids in private school, likes yoga, travels overseas every year, drives a SUV. She lives for her kids and is worried that she will forget how beautiful and full-of-life her kids are at this stage in their lives.

Here is someone I can help with my photography.

I can capture her kids in a way that shows how beautiful and fun-loving they are. We can play games at the beach and I can capture those un-posed, natural moments and not that cheesy grin. I can capture the love they have for their mum too. Guess what, when she sees those images on the big screen 2 weeks later – she will fall in love with them.

Why?

Because they mean so much to her – they remind her of the love she has for her kids, and how much they love her in return. See how I have solved her problem – this time? In another 2 years, she will come back for some more images as the kids grow up and go into a different stage of their lives and she will show her friends the large framed-images on her wall, and guess what?

Her friends are my ideal clients too – they tend to all hang out together.

Now, if I have a referral system in place, then her friends will be calling me for photo shoots too. That’s how I got my business to really take off. Knowing who your ideal client is – makes targeting them with the right kind of marketing easier, cheaper and more effective.

Do you know who your ideal client is? Do you know what she fears the most? What are her desires – and how can you photography help her? If you don’t, it’s time you start finding it out.

About the Author

Brent MailHi, my name in Brent Mail and I’m a full time professional photographer, which means that I make my living from photographing people. I am a lover of great photography, the outdoors – especially the ocean – a good Thai curry and of course a custom hand-crafted espresso latte (which goes down better with friends). Oh, did I mention that I love sports too, especially the kind that gets the adrenalin pumping!!!.

Check out my website at brentmailphotography.com and my PhotoProfit podcast, where you will also find out my free photography courses.

Comments 5

  1. Hmmm…definitely sounds like the mistakes I would make! Admittedly, I have no plans to set up a photography business, but when it comes to photography I spend too much time on honing my pictures, whether that’s painstakingly editing them or simply just dithering over taking them! So these are useful tips for sure 🙂

  2. Lol, creating art feels good, but so does being able to afford the things you like! I have a mentor of sorts, but not a free one. Just someone to do the things that would take me too much time and offer too little benefit.

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