The 5 biggest mistakes I made when starting my photography business

Believe it or not, I have been in business for 9 years. I definitely cannot believe how fast time has flown by. In that time my business and my craft have definitely changed. A lot. (I will have to share a future post about juuuusst how far my photography has come but seriously that is for another day).Over the years, I have had some really huge successes and some pretty horrific fails. I have definitely made almost every mistake under the sun. I love to share experience and teach other photographers and am always an open book with everyone I meet. I thought it would be fun to share the 5 biggest mistakes I made when starting my photography business. My hope is two-fold:

  1. That if you are new in business, you could take my mistakes and learn from them.

  2. If you are not new in business, you might be able to nod your head “yes” to at least one of these and then we can bond over the #metoo. (Seriously if this is you, drop a comment or shoot me an email so we can reminisce and cringe together)

photography education from Sabrina Gebhardt

photography education from Sabrina Gebhardt

Before I jump into my mistakes, I wanted to share some statistics that I learned my recent trip to Photo Native. In her talk, Caroline Tran shared the following statistics:

Only 40% of photographers make it to their first year in business.

Only 15% make it to their third year.

And only 2% make it past year ten!

Aren’t those numbers insane? I totally agree with the statistics listed above. Why? Because I have persevered through intense business struggle and I can totally see how so many cannot handle this business. Photography is SO much more than just meeting cool people, traveling to cool places and taking photos. In fact, I would venture to say that is only like 10% of the business.I think the only reason I have almost made it to the top 2% is because I recognized and successfully moved past the following mistakes. So, let’s dive in! (And FYI- these mistakes are in no particular order although they are all pretty bad)

1. Under pricing myself / Okay, before you roll your eyes and move down the list, I have been there. I was a brand new photographer once and my family was scraping by to make ends meet. I thought it would be AMAZING if people would pay me $50 to play with their kid and take pictures. I was jumping for joy when I booked 10 of those sessions… $500! “OMG this is amazing”.

That was great for a few months. Then I raised my prices to $125 and that bought me a few more months. And I kept creeping up the line to try and fight burnout. Over the course of 2 years, I never got above $350. Y’all that is insane. I was charging way too little and shooting way too much.

I couldn’t afford any help so my edits were taking forever, my email response time was slow, I was disorganized and EXHAUSTED. I wasn’t charging enough to pay for childcare. I wasn’t charging enough to hire another part time team member to help. I wasn’t charging enough to further my training or skills. I wasn’t charging enough for business insurance or even new equipment. I had literally just made up a number and ran with it.

Before you start charging clients, make sure you consider all the numbers. For me, the average 1 hour session actually ends up being about 6 hours of my time. That is when I consider email correspondence, driving, shooting, culling, editing, gallery uploads, social media, blogging and ordering products. That means that when I started out I was making $8.33 an hour. That is less than I give my 12 year old for her WEEKLY ALLOWANCE. Complete insanity.

When you are setting your prices, even starting out, you need to consider everything that goes into each client and make it well worth your time.

Photography education

Photography education

2.Overbooking myself / This goes hand in hand with what I mentioned in number one. I know how exciting it is to have a calendar full of clients who want to pay you actual money doing the thing you love. But when your calendar is too full, a lot of things begin to happen…

  1. You don’t have time for reschedules. What if the client gets sick or it rains? If you are overbooked, you don’t have any room for moving sessions around and that is a scary position to be in.

    1. You don’t have time for all the backend work that goes into a session. Each client is so much more than the photoshoot. You need to have time built in for email correspondence, driving, shooting, culling, editing, gallery uploads, social media, blogging and order products.

    2. You don’t have room to show up for your audience. Social media and newsletters are really important for a small business. Not only are they a huge way to gain new clients but they are how we interact and engage with our followers. If you are overbooked with shoots then you don’t have time to put into sharing about who you are and what you believe in.

    3. You don’t have time for you and your family. What if you have a child that needs to get to the doctor? Or you have a death in the family and need to leave town? Or what if your husband’s car battery dies and you need to pick him up from work? An overbooked calendar doesn’t allow for these things (much less self care or time with girlfriends)

    4. You lose creativity. The truth is, creativity is bred in the blank spaces in our day. An open day is when our brain has time to wander and get creative. Trust me when I say this, shooting too much will suck the creativity right out of your mind.

3. Waiting too long to invest in education / Man this is a big one. I know exactly what you are thinking here. Education is suuupper expensive. Especially when you are just starting out and don’t have anything in the bank yet. It can be hard to imagine spending $300-$5000 on education opportunities.

If there is one thing I can tell you to do before you officially launch your business, this is it… Scrape together the money to do some serious education first. There are tons of online courses, conferences and intimate workshops out there. From my experience, you get what you pay for so while the more inexpensive offerings definitely have a few good nuggets of information, the more intimate workshops or in person mentoring opportunities give you the real value.

For all of the education I have taken over the years (which is a TON), I can tell you with 100% certainty that I have gotten every single penny of my investment back 10 fold. Yes, you read that right. TEN FOLD.

Let me tell you a story… My 4th year in business is when I finally invested in education. In that year, I attended Click Away, I did a one-day workshop with Yan Palmer and I attended a 3 day intimate workshop with Pinkletoes. Y’all, that is the year that I gained so much clarity that my business completely exploded. I only wish that I would have invested sooner.

If you need suggestions on where to look for educational content specific to what you are looking for, give me a holla. Oh, and don’t forget that I offer mentoring too:)

Photography education

Photography education

4.  Not specializing / I still couldn’t believe that people wanted to pay me to photograph them. Y’all, they were giving me REAL money. It was all such a dream. So, when people were asking me to photograph all the things, I said yes as often as possible. Family? Yes. Babies? Yes. Extended family? Yes. Kids only? Yes. Headshots? Yes. Interiors? Yes. Seniors? Yes. Business team photos? Yes. Events? Yes. Birthday parties? Yes. Smash cakes? Yes. Indoors? Yes. Outdoors? Yes. I literally said yes to all of it. And it sucked. So bad.

Honestly looking back, I was just doing what I thought I had to do. I thought a “real” photographer said “yes” to all inquiries. Boy, was I wrong. Within the first 2 years of business I knew that my heart was with lifestyle photography. Once I officially committed to photographing only lifestyle sessions, something amazing happened, I loved my job again. I no longer dreaded certain shoots. I no longer felt guilty saying “no” to certain inquiries. And I gained a ton of confidence. My work began to shine too since I was focusing on a single genre.

5.Not sharing myself / Now I know this is a hard topic for many of you but take a deep breath and hear me out. When clients are searching for a photographer, they want to know WHO they are hiring. I am not talking about the bio on your website, I am talking about REALLY knowing you.

If all you post on social media is client photos with song lyric quotes attached, that doesn’t tell clients anything about what they get when they hire you.

When I started out, this is exactly what I did too. I had plenty of clients at the time because they were all friends. Literally. Only friends. It took a long time for me to find “strangers” to hire me and I attribute part of that to not getting personal on social media.

Now when you look at any of my social feeds you can learn ALLLLLL the things about me. It might be more than you care about knowing but here is the thing: I have followers and potential clients connecting with me over our common likes and beliefs because I am sharing myself online. It matters. I promise.

So, do yourself a favor and pop on over to your Instagram stories right now and share a funny meme, tell a story about your insane morning or share how helpful this blog post was (okay, just kidding here). The point is, just do it. Sharing about yourself is a habit. It is something that once you start doing it a little bit every day, it will become natural over time. And your future self will thank you for it.

Photography education

Photography education

Well there, I may have only shared 5 tips, but holy cow this is a LONG post. I hope this post was eye opening and helpful to you. If you thought so, I would love to hear from you in the comments or via email. I would also love it if you would share this post with a photographer friend who might need it. If you want more tips and nuggets like this (they won’t always be so long), feel free to sign up for my photographers newsletter.

All images in this post are credited to Amy Hogan.


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