By Darryl Stringer

I see a lot of photographers who think they have a business that is strong and stable, and yet a lot of their work is coming from a very small number of great clients. That’s awesome, but only while it lasts.  

Let’s see how vulnerable your business is with a few questions:

Q. Does 20% or more of your annual revenue come from a single business?

If the answer is ‘yes’ then you are vulnerable to losing a lot of business.

A photographer friend of mine was getting 50% of their work from a single real estate agent, but one day that agent switched to another photographer and my friend’s business crashed. Another photographer friend was also getting over 50% of their work from a single agency, and fortunately they held on to the client, but things were looking shaky for a while. They are now working on adding more diversity so that they are not so reliant on that single company for the success of their business.

If you don’t yet know the breakdown of your revenue then I would suggest you look at your income for the year, and calculate the exact numbers and percentages for your individual clients. Hopefully you are generating your revenue from a broad source, but if you find that one business is giving you 20% or more of your annual revenue then you urgently need to make some changes so that your business is far more secure.

Q. Do you primarily work with one industry?

If the answer is ‘yes’ then your reliance on that industry leaves you at risk should that industry stumble.

I know a lot of photographers who exclusively shoot for the real estate market. In many ways that’s a good thing because it means they know what clients in that market need, and they can focus on providing a range of services to the real estate industry. That’s great!

However, what do you do when real estate inventory is down and fresh listings aren’t coming on the market in sufficient numbers? There’s not a lot you can do about that if your main income is predicated on an active real estate market.

But remember, if you can shoot great interior shots then you can also be working with other industries associated with architecture and construction, such as builders, designers, and the accommodation and hospitality industries. If you have the skills then look to diversify so that you are bringing in income from a mix of industries, and that will make you far less susceptible to changes to one industry.

Q. Are your fees too low?

You will know if you are charging enough if your fees can cover your expenses, wages, taxes, and still be making a minimum of 10% profit on every photo shoot that you do.

Is that what you’re doing? If so then a change in the economy or a client moving on and no longer giving you work will not be the big disaster it could otherwise be. You’ll have money in the bank, and with good financial management your business would be able to survive for a couple of months even if no future jobs come in. Hopefully you don’t experience anything like that, but if you do then you’ll be prepared for a rainy day and you’re able to survive and rebuild once things improve.

However, if you’re not charging enough, and you’re relying on high volume to get you through, then you are in a difficult situation. If we approach an election period and jobs dry up because there is a lot of unpredictability in the market, or if the weather goes bad and clients are cancelling jobs all over the place, or if a big new company moves into your market, then your photo shoot bookings could slow to a trickle and you’re left scrambling to pay your bills.

Did you answer ‘yes’ to any of those questions?

If you did answer in the affirmative then my suggestion is that you develop a plan for making changes in your business so that:

– You have a broad mix of clients.

– You work with various industries.

– You charge enough to cover expenses, wages and profit.

Maybe that looks a bit scary for you right now, and you’re not sure if you can manage it.

Here are the two most common excuses I’ve seen for not implementing these steps:

I live in a cheap area – agents around here would never pay more for their photos!”

Doing nothing is not an option for you. You either need to:

1. Start charging more from today … or at least increase your fees next month.

2. Have a clear plan for substantially increasing your prices over a defined period of time.

3. Move on to another field of photography or another career.

That might sound tough, but the fact is you are running a business, not a charity organisation. If you need to be charging higher prices then make sure your entire business is built to enable higher prices. I know some photographers could not reasonably charge more for what they do because the quality of their photography does not justify higher fees, or their website and business material screams ‘amateur’, not that they are a professional, or they have positioned themselves as just another $150 photographer instead of being positioned as a $350 photographer. If you are doing any of those things then you may find it difficult to increase your fees. And so what you need to think about is the big picture, and what is needed for you to charge a sustainable rate.

I don’t know how to get more clients.”

You probably started your own photography business because you love being creative. However, you might need to spend more time working on the business and marketing side of being a photographer.

How do you do that? You could start by actively reading books on marketing and business growth, listen to podcasts on business instead of just ones on photography, and start looking at your business as an outsider that’s trying to increase revenue. Being a business owner is hard work, and some of the things we do are not things we love, but they are necessary parts of this journey we have embarked on. We cannot simply close our eyes and hope it will go away, but rather we need to confront it head-on and do the things that are needed to create strong businesses for us and our families.

I’m not good enough to shoot for hotels, builders and others.”

You are only limited by yourself and your lack of training. Sure, maybe you aren’t yet good enough to be working with the top construction and hospitality companies in your area, but I think you could if you were shown how. You’ll find some great tips on YouTube and here on this site, but you might also need to do some photography courses to develop the skills you need.

When I first got started in real estate photography I was self-taught, and although it took a while I eventually acknowledged that my own lack of education was holding me back. So I put myself through a photography college program, and within a year of completing the course my business sales had doubled.

So if you do need to pay for college or some private coaching then don’t look at those fees to improve your photo skills as an expense, but rather see it as an investment in your education that I guarantee will help your business make more sales in the years ahead.

Need some help?

If you’re not sure how to manage any of this then get someone in to help you. There are plenty of business coaches and marketing companies that can guide you through that process, and I’m sure you will find some great options near you. If you’d like to work with me then I specialize in helping real estate and architectural photographers build their business and their photography skills, whether they are established or brand new, and I’d be happy to chat with you about what you could do so feel free to get in touch.