I like my blog to be a positive place, where I talk about my kids, my life, my business, and try to serve people through being helpful or entertaining. But recently I’ve made massive changes to my business, and I think this is a really good place to address what I want to do from now on. I’ve learnt so much about how I can serve my clients properly, in a way that pleases all of us, and why I’m never going back to what I used to do.
I started out as a photographer three years ago. Of course, I promptly fell pregnant as soon as I got my first booking, and I didn’t have the headspace to consider how I wanted to work. I took no time to plan my workload, what I needed to earn, and how I would serve my clients. I had no clue what I was actually doing. I just wanted to take photos that made people happy.
Before a session I’d have a brief chat with my clients to find out who and what I was taking photos of. I’d do little or no preparation, wing it through the session and send them a CD with 80 photos on. This would cost them a maximum of £100. I didn’t know how to edit a photo, so I just used presets and hoped for the best. I didn’t know how to sell prints or wall art, so I didn’t bother. Clients generally liked the photos I sent them. Eventually I scrapped the CD and just put all their photos in an online gallery, with the option to buy prints as well as download their digital files.
At the time I thought “wow, £100 for 4 hours work!” and justify it to myself that I could do 4 a week and make a respectable income that way. But I didn’t get 4 clients a week. I loved each and every photography session I did, but I felt so flat afterwards. I steadily decreased the number of photos they were getting because I realised I’d taken “serving clients well” with “giving them everything they want as cheaply as possible.”
Hustling hard, and getting nowhere fast
In February 2017 I watched a webinar about this very subject. My daughter was 1 and I’d been back at work for a few months. Having time away from it had giving me lots of time to think about what I wanted, and what was going wrong. This webinar was like throwing a grenade into my business. I was practically giving my work away, devaluing the work of photographers everywhere, and I was failing to make a living myself. I was part of the problem, not the solution. I knew that if I didn’t change my business I wouldn’t have a business left.
I had only basic kit and no training. I was paying for insurance, fuel, marketing, and a website, but I hadn’t factored them into my business plan. It’s safe to say that at this point I didn’t even have a business plan. And then I went through the maths, and realised that after costs I was selling photos for just 64p each – only slightly more than a pint of milk.
I was embarrassed and a bit disgusted with myself. In making things easy for myself I had failed to do the job properly. I wasn’t proud of what I was achieving. I did practically no preparation or after care. I knew I wanted to change this aspect of my business most of all.
Running a photography business doesn’t come with a map. It’s up to us to find our own way of working that we enjoy, that pushes us, that makes us proud to serve our clients. I’m not saying that photographers who charge so little are doing anything wrong. Everyone has different values, different costs, and different ways of working. Once I’d realised I’d put so little value on my own work, I knew I had to look hard at where I wanted to be to work out how to get there.
Above: Photos from a training session that changed my perspective on outdoor children’s photography.
I’ve spent the past 9 months training, and working on my business. I have worked with some of the best photographers in the UK to develop. I’ve upgraded my kit completely. I subscribed to a programme of ongoing business training. And best of all? I took the time to work out how I want to serve my clients.
Improving My Service
I’ve worked out how much time I want to spend working for clients. I now have lots of touch points with them, from enquiry to delivering their products, I spend about 12 hours on each client. I speak to them before they book to make sure I’m the photographer they’re really looking for. We chat about everything they want, what might hold them back or cause them to worry, and I plan the session around this chat. I budget for things to take longer than they probably will, so that we don’t feel rushed or harassed at any point. I edit every photo by hand, and when I’m done I see clients again and go through their photos in person. They pick what they want to buy, and I help them with their decision. If they’re nearby and it’s convenient for them, I’ll even hand deliver their order.
I value my clients, and I want to show them that, but I’ve realised that valuing them and giving them everything for very little aren’t the same thing. I’ve also realised that just plonking their entire photoset into an online gallery isn’t good customer service, and therefore not good for my photography business. Photography is a luxury business, not a basic human right, and photographers need to earn a living just like everyone else.