9 Tips for Building a Sustainable Photography Business

“Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.” ~Andy Warhol

I am so blessed to be doing what I love for a living. I know there are many people out wondering whether this industry is for them…so I put together a quick list of some things that help guide me in my photography business success.


1. I am in the service industry. Being a professional photographer isn’t just about the photographs. It’s about making people happy. If I wasn’t a people person and wasn’t willing to go the extra mile to make sure my clients have an incredible experience with me, I would have a way more difficult time building my business. It is way more cost effective to keep current customers and let them do the work for you through referrals, than always looking for new ones. If you can nail the customer service thing early on…you’ll be laughing! Check out this article “Keep Customers is Better than Finding New Ones”

2. Write a business plan.  If you don’t have a plan – how do you know where you’re going? When I read through my photography business plan when posting it on photoSally – I realized I had reached every one of the goals I had set for myself back in 2005. How crazy/awesome is that? I wouldn’t win any writing awards with it – but it did help me secure a grant that allowed me to officially start my business.

3. Assist. Especially if you’re thinking about shooting weddings. A wedding is a once in a lifetime event for people and is not the place to practice your craft. Find a photographer who will let you carry their gear and take lots of mental notes. Don’t shoot – just observe.  Emerging photographers don’t realize that a lot of the success that comes in a photography business isn’t just about the photographs. It’s about how you work with people and how you make them feel. If you’re unable to get your subject to drop their guard – you’re never going to nail that portrait. These are the types of things you can learn by studying with someone who has been in the business a long time.

4. Value your work. I often hear from new and emerging photographers that they have a hard time talking about money with their clients. There is a simple fix! Once you truly understand all the costs involved in running a photography business – you will feel more comfortable charging for your time & artwork. How do you do this? Well ideally you have a business plan…but if you want to cheat – you can check out this cost of doing business resource where you can calculate your daily cost of doing business.

5. Don’t just sell digital files. It is incredibly difficult to run a sustainable portrait or wedding photography business when you’re only selling files. Bring in a simple line of products and use the files as an add-on sale. Want to learn more? Consider picking up my e-book Pixel Cents where I’ll walk you through how to sustainably sell your digital files.

6. Have a marketing plan. And remember the The Rule of Seven. If you only have a marketing budget of $2000 for the year – don’t spend it all on a full page colour ad in a magazine. People need to see your message approximately 7 times before they’ll think to call you. Sign up for our newsletter and get my [thrive_2step id=’1182′]7 Marketing Ideas for Photographers[/thrive_2step] as a treat!

7. Upgrade your skills. Professional development is so important – especially in an industry as competitive as photography right now. If you’re not taking courses and classes to take things up a notch…know that your competition probably is!

8. Answer your phone. This one kind of seems like a no brainer – but with the low barrier to entry in our industry right now – there is no shortage of photographers to call. But there is a shortage of photographers who answer their phone (and email for that matter) in a professional, timely manner.

9. Join a professional organization. If you want to do this whole photography business thing for real – I can’t stress enough the value of being involved in a professional organization. Meeting like-minded, photographers that are growing their business and craft in a sustainable way has such a positive affect on your business. It is also a great way to qualify who you’re getting business/technique advice from. Now keep in mind – joining an organization is like getting a gym membership – you can’t complain about it not doing anything for you if you don’t use it!


“Wishing for Wind” one of my favourite photographs, was awarded “Best Pictorial” photograph in Canada by the PPOC this year. I attribute so much of my growth as a photographer to my membership with the Professional Photographers of Canada…I hope you will find the same growth in an organization too!

Do you have any awesome tips to share? Please do in the comments below!


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