Just a few years ago, you were learning how to become a freelance photographer.
Photography was mostly a hobby, but you’d make a few bucks off the occasional sporting event, sweet sixteen, or birthday party photoshoot.
Oh, how things have changed!
You’ve turned that profitable hobby into a business and established yourself as a professional photographer. You’re ready to start stretching your boundaries, booking more sessions, and pulling in more revenue.
It’s time to begin scaling your freelance photography business.
But “scaling” is a concept that small business owners often misunderstand.
It doesn’t always mean sending out 150 mailers instead of 100, buying more expensive photography equipment, or tripling the rates on your most popular packages.
It simply means creating a business strategy that allows you to increase your revenue and expand your borders while keeping expenditures low.
1. Build Partnerships With Nearby Businesses and Organizations
We have two questions for you:
- How many clients do you see in the average week?
- How much time do you dedicate to the painstaking task of lead generation?
“Not enough” and “too much,” right?
Building partnerships with local businesses and organizations can provide you a steady stream of referral business and ramp up your weekly bookings.
Here’s what you need to know:
Best Partnerships to Build
When you’re looking for a business to partner with, think about the industries that see hundreds of customers a week or need a go-to photographer on speed dial.
- Local high schools (for sporting events, yearbook photos, fundraisers, etc.)
- Sports leagues
- Event venues (for weddings, family reunions, etc.)
- Salons, spas, and boutiques (product photography)
- Real estate agents
- Local businesses
The next time the nearby high school hosts a lacrosse game or the wedding boutique downtown launches a new product, you’ll be the first one they call!
How to Lock Down These Partnerships (3 Easy Steps)
There are more than 119,000 photographers from coast to coast.
What do your partners get from choosing you as opposed to your competitor across town?
Here are three steps to securing partnerships:
- Start snapping photos for free (temporarily) to give them a sense of your talents.
- Introduce yourself in-person and follow-up via text, phone call, or email every few weeks.
- Propose an enticing referral framework (i.e., cross-posting on social media, adding them as a sponsor on your materials, etc.).
Establishing your first partnership will always be the most challenging. But once the local caterer sees that you’ve partnered with the hottest wedding venue in town, they’ll want to work with you based on reputation alone.
2. Submit Photos to Magazines, Newspapers, and Websites
Google your name right now. What do you see?
The first few listings are likely your business’s Facebook page, online portfolio, and maybe a Google My Business listing.
Translation: It’s all advertising.
Now, let’s say you submit photos into an online photography competition.
Anyone searching you on the internet will now see that you placed third in the National Geographic Traveler Photography Competition, for example.
Sure, positive Yelp reviews are great. But if a local customer narrowed her choices down to you and another photographer, your awards could be the tipping point in your favor.
Where to Submit Your Photos
Of course, submitting your photos to national competitions isn’t the only way to generate organic traffic and build name recognition.
So, where do you submit samples of your digital photography?
Local Newspapers and Magazines
The best place to start is the local newspaper or magazine.
Local papers are always looking to stay on top of the goings-on in the community. So, if you snapped photos of the annual 5K or town luncheon, they might want to buy your photos from you.
Even if the local paper won’t spend money on your pictures, a credit line under the published photos could be good for your brand. Just ensure that they’ll give you credit for snapping the photo they publish!
Stock Photography Websites
Los Angeles or New York might be too far to book an in-person session. But that doesn’t mean you can’t profit from your photography at a distance.
Stock photography sites are a must!
3. Attend Conventions and Networking Events
In the battle between virtual and in-person connections, face-to-face meet-ups always seem to be more memorable and make a much larger impact.
So, push your business aside temporarily.
Instead, put yourself front and center by attending networking events at:
The Local Chamber of Commerce
Unless you’re a financial or political savant, you probably think of the local chamber of commerce as just another lavish building downtown.
But now it’s your primary networking hub!
Chambers of commerce host occasional networking events throughout the year to bring local business people together in one room.
We’re talking about real estate agents, restaurant owners, and accountants.
Register for the next event, bring a hefty stack of business cards, introduce yourself confidently, and work on laying the foundations of long-lasting partnerships.
Events Within Your Niche
If you have a thriving photography business, there’s a good chance you’ve already solidified a photography niche (i.e., events, sports, portraits, etc.).
Now it’s time to find professional events where your skills are needed.
For example, if you’re a wedding photographer, it might be worth your time to attend a wedding show.
Or, depending on your niche, you might attend:
- Home shows
- Boat shows
- Pet shows
- Educational conferences
So, immediately register for any convention or conference where you can set up your own booth and hand out marketing collateral like brochures.
Of course, attending photographer-only events like Imaging USA can also help you build a referral sphere across the country and other niches.
4. Post and Tag Photos on Social Media
Social media is a goldmine when you’re looking to scale your photography business.
But if you’re planning to upload an album or two to Facebook and hope your talent alone helps them go viral, you’re in for a rude awakening!
Here are some top-notch social media tips to help you grow your operation and bring in more freelance photography jobs:
Create Accounts Across the Board
Facebook has 2.7 billion users. Twitter has another 330 million. And Instagram recently passed the 1 billion user threshold.
You want to establish the broadest reach, and preferably by creating accounts on social media platforms where photo-sharing thrives.
- YouTube (especially if you also do videography/video production)
Make sure you use the same handle on all platforms so those on Instagram can find your Twitter, and vice versa.
Use Location Tags
Tagging the venue on your posts can drive mutual publicity. Anyone searching the venue will find your photos, and those viewing your photos see the venue.
Don’t Be Too Salesy
You’re looking to scale for financial reasons, but you don’t want your clients to know that. Stick to a 90/10 ratio on posts—90% sharing content and 10% marketing.
Put Your Skills on Display!
The worst way to scale your business is by falling into the typecasting track. Lavish sweet sixteens might be your forte, but post images that show a variety of different types of photography.
Add Creative Captions
Nothing will get a follower to unsubscribe quicker than turning every post into a “Call me to book” post. Add a creative or witty caption with appropriate hashtags.
Show Them Who You Are
Your photos speak for themselves, but building a bond with your followers can catapult ROI. So if you run a tight ship or take a light-hearted approach, show that.
Post Regularly (or Risk the Unfollow)
5. Hire Assistants to Handle Manual Tasks
The good news:
You’ve nurtured your freelance photography business enough to where you’re ready to hand off those tedious administrative tasks.
The bad news:
This is one of those “spend money to make money” types of deals.
Approach carefully … here’s what you need to know:
Why Subcontracting Makes Sense
There are only 168 hours in a week, and you need to sleep sometime.
In other words, these extra things don’t earn you any money.
So, if you price your services at $150/hour, you could be “losing” hundreds of dollars a week on these behind-the-scenes tasks.
Or, you can hire someone else to do it for $50/hour.
And hiring subcontractors will help you work more efficiently and give your clients an even better experience!
The Top Tasks to Hand Off
No matter which tasks you’re ready to let go of immediately, you want to make sure that you’re hiring professionals.
But not so fast!
First, make sure you have money in the budget to hire these experts.
That might mean keeping your new assistants part-time for now, only bringing them along for bigger jobs. Or, it might mean raising your rates (overhead costs).
6. Create More Specific Package Options
Now that you’ve broadened your client base and proven yourself to be a skilled freelancer, there’s an unexpected bonus:
You no longer have to settle for a 5th birthday party or yet another Halloween bash.
You’re now gifted with the freedom of choosing who you want to work with and what services you wish to provide.
Sticking to Your Top-Selling Packages
You once offered a la carte services and dozens of packages. And while you may dabble in all event photography, your past clients seem to love your wedding photos.
So, stick to your greatest money-makers!
Choosing Packages Worth Your Time
Let’s say you set your pricing at $250/hour for the shoot itself.
But all the editing you’re doing after the fact eats up another ten hours, and your clients never see that on their project estimate.
Prioritize packages that meet or exceed your ideal hourly rate!
Branding Yourself via Your Packages
A 100-photo session might be enticing to clients who don’t know what they’re looking for just yet.
And that’s precisely why being strategic with your packages can ensure the right people give you a call and book your services.
7. Build Visibility on the Web
Long gone are the days where the only way to “get the word out there” was to encourage your family and friends to tell people about your business.
Now, the internet is your best (and most reliable) friend.
Build visibility on the web by:
Creating an Online Portfolio
Whether it’s an Instagram page, WordPress site, or the portfolio feature on your CRM, you need to make sure that clients see samples of your best work.
Variety is vital, but only to an extent.
So, instead of posting every possible angle from that portrait photography session last weekend, curate a selection from different shoots with different muses.
And don’t forget to publish blog posts, content, and package information on your portfolio or website to generate even more organic interest!
Verifying All Information Is Accurate
Do you want to know what your worst nightmare is as a business owner?
Looking at your professional photographer website or Yelp listing and realizing your phone number or email address wasn’t correct!
You can’t help but wonder, “How long has it been that way? And how many people tried to email or call me?”
Check to see that you have the right phone number, address, and location (city and state) on all of your online profiles!
Broadening Your Reach
Since you’re a freelancer, you want to put your business on every possible job platform that’ll earn you views from potential clients. This includes sites like:
It might seem like a lot to handle, especially when you already have five or so social media profiles to manage. But the more visibility you build, the more clients you’ll get.
8. Start an Email List
Does any business owner actually enjoy reaching out to dozens of possible clients to convince them to book sessions?
Building an email list to maintain regular, automated contact with past, current, and future clients can make your life a heck of a lot easier.
Here’s what you need to know about this commonly forgotten aspect of marketing:
How to Collect Email Addresses
It’s easy to gather client email addresses when you meet somebody in person and ask them directly.
But you can also capture emails through strategies like:
- Creating gated content like whitepapers or eBooks that are only available if a client submits their email address.
- Offering website visitors a discount or special package in exchange for their email.
- Collecting them at every event you attend (i.e., fundraisers, chamber of commerce meetings, etc.)
Be careful, though. While more is better, don’t allow this mindset to let you get lazy.
Buying email address lists and sending unsolicited emails violates the CAN-SPAM Act and can put future email marketing efforts in jeopardy.
Organic is always best.
What to Send in Your Marketing Emails
Sending a daily marketing email will undoubtedly get the attention of your ideal clients. Unfortunately, it may get their attention in an “Again? I’m unsubscribing!” type of way.
The goal is to send marketing emails every 2-4 weeks and only if you have something worth sharing. Otherwise, you risk increasing your bounce rate and decreasing your clickthrough rate.
So, your marketing emails should include topics like:
- Recommend a friend now and get _____ !
- Book now and get _____ % off your next session!
- I’ll be hosting _____ next weekend. Come visit for a free photo!
Keep track of how your email marketing efforts perform and stick to the strategies that seem to get the most action or feedback.
Bloom can help you automate your email marketing process!
9. Host Mini Sessions Throughout the Year
You might see ten clients in the average week. Yet, have you ever considered working with 8-16 clients on a beautiful autumn Saturday?
Well, why not?
We’re talking about holiday mini sessions, and they very well may be the best way to scale your business at lightning speed while also padding your bank account.
If you want to make money with mini sessions, here’s what you need to know:
Turning Mini Sessions into Quick Money Grabs
Mini sessions allow you to work with more than a dozen new clients in a single afternoon. Depending on your rate, you could rake in a few grand in one day while meeting a bunch of new prospects.
So what are mini sessions?
Well, mini sessions are affordable, 15-30-minute photoshoots at a set venue (like a farm or park) with a particular theme.
They make the most sense during the holiday seasons when the rest of your business seems to be slowing down.
- New Year’s Eve
- Valentine’s Day
Snap 10-15 shots with props and a beautiful backdrop to give potential clients a taste of what you can do with a camera in-hand.
Follow-up with email campaigns, and you may be able to convert those mini-session attendees into clients purchasing regular packages.
You learned how to become a photographer years ago. Now, it’s your chance to push your boundaries and assume the role of business owner.
But here’s the thing:
Scaling your freelancing business won’t drive extraordinary profits overnight. It could take a few years to get into the groove of things.
In other words, patience is key.
As you begin picking up new clients and booking more packages, you’ll see the fruits of your labor paying off.
Congratulations! You’re on your way to a more lucrative photography business than you ever could’ve imagined!
You might also be interested in: How to Transition from Part-Time Freelance to Full-Time Freelance