Business

3 Keys to Build Your Dream Photography Business

April 16, 2021

Here’s what I know about you. You didn’t get into photography to feel chained to your desk, editing thousands of photos for hours upon hours every week. You didn’t start your business to wonder if you’d ever be profitable. I’m guessing you got into this work because you wanted to create a career out of […]

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I'm a photographer, educator and soon to be podcaster. I left teaching in the classroom to build a thriving photography business. and inspire and teach other like-minded women how to build, scale, and create a photo business.

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Here’s what I know about you. You didn’t get into photography to feel chained to your desk, editing thousands of photos for hours upon hours every week. You didn’t start your business to wonder if you’d ever be profitable. I’m guessing you got into this work because you wanted to create a career out of your creativity and passion, so what’s holding you back from building your dream photography business?

I’m so not sitting in the judge chair over here. Pinky promise. I have BEEN there, wishing I could take my photography business full time. Hoping I could get enough clients (that I actually enjoyed working with) to make ends meet.

It seems like the common struggle of early-stage photographers everywhere. We so desperately want to create the dream photography business. We have the drive, ambition, and the love of our craft. But going from desiring more to actually achieving more—and booking our ideal clients, charging what we want to charge, and building a business that lights us up AND makes us feel free?

How in the world do you actually get there?

Hey, friend, I hear you. I was once wondering the same things about 10 years ago. I was a teacher at the time, just starting to build my family and side-hustling my photography business with late nights and editing ultra-marathons. I adored teaching, but I also desired being home with my babies and creating my own hours with a career that was all mine. I wanted creativity, freedom, and also the confidence that I could make a reliable income with my craft.

I slowly, slowly got there. I built my clientele. I learned how to charge the right rates. I began getting my name out there locally. And over time with TONS of mistakes and lessons in between, I eventually retired myself from teaching and created a sustainable, DREAM photography business that I still can’t believe is real today.

Here are 3 things you need to know to build your dream photography business:

When I tell you I get it and I know what it’s like to grind long hours with a baby or two on my hip, trying to reach that next level, it’s the darn truth. I want to help YOU skip some of the years and mistakes I’ve had to traverse so you can reach your own dream photography business with less time, less burnout, and less stress.

Key 1: Get to know your dream client & don’t settle for anything (or anyone) less.

I feel like with creative careers like photography, people always say, “Just get your foot in the door and work with WHOEVER you can work with to get started and build your portfolio.”

To which I say: NO! Don’t do that, mama. Sure, you might take on some projects that aren’t ultimately your top choice in the beginning, but if you don’t know who you want to serve, then you won’t make any progress finding them and attracting them to work with you.

So if you haven’t ever done so, get really specific with the types of clientele you want to work with. What are they like personality-wise? What kinds of things do they value? Where do they hang out? What do they like to eat? What kinds of brands do they shop? Who do they admire? What is their general age range? What are their goals and favorite activities?

Digging into a hyper-specific vision of your dream client will help you say no when the wrong types of clients come a-knocking. Which is important, because saying no to the WRONG clients leaves room for you to find and say yes to the right ones (for you).

Now, in the beginning, once you have an idea of your ideal client, you may need to make yourself available to them since they won’t know yet where to find you. Here’s what I love to do: Find a few people or brands (influencers and hair/makeup artists are best!) in your area whose ideal clients are the same as yours. Offer to work with those influencers or HMU artists and provide a photo shoot in exchange for them posting an image or two on their social channels and tagging you.

Boom! There’s your free advertisement straight into the feeds of your dream clients, and it doesn’t involve working with people you don’t want to work with!

Key 2: Don’t discount yourself—or your rates.

It is HARD work to figure out what to charge. Especially in the beginning, when imposter syndrome is probably telling you you’re not worth as much as someone with 5 years of experience or a huge portfolio.

I know it’s tempting to slash what you want to charge in order to lure more clients in the door. But guess what? Once they’re in, they’re always going to expect those same (cheap) rates from you. And it’s way harder to raise your rates than it is to just charge what you’re worth from the beginning. Trust me.

So, figure out what you should be charging, and stand firm with those prices. As a business owner, you have to also make sure to figure in all kinds of extra expenses that you might not consider in the beginning: taxes, health benefits, retirement savings or investment accounts, equipment, time (not just at the shoot, but editing, marketing, and admin hours, too), transportation, and then ya know, actually turning a profit you’re worthy of. Which is likely more than you even realize.

Rule of thumb: Take what you think you’re worth, and add 50%. So if you think one of your packages should be $200, it should likely really be closer to $300. 

And if people start trying to haggle and bring your prices down? Honey, they are NOT your dream client. Stand firm with your rates, and if they decide not to work with you, just remember there are literally hundreds (even thousands) of folks out there willing to pay your prices, and they value your worth! And now you have the capacity to find them.

Key 3: Build margin into your business.

As someone who has been a proud hustler her whole life, I’ve learned the hard way that the constant grind usually leads you to burnout sooner or later. The most beautiful thing you can do for yourself early on in building your dream photography business is to give yourself the gift of some margin.

Allow yourself days off. Give yourself limits to your working hours. Set up automations so that you’re not constantly answering the same questions in emails to clients and prospects. Let yourself have a proper vacation—where you aren’t working the whole time. Be present when you’re working, and then present when you’re not (instead of feeling guilty for not doing something else when you’re working or vice versa).

Pursuing your art and connecting with dream clients and making the money you deserve is a beautiful, beautiful thing. But, at what cost if you have zero life outside of work and feel on edge and exhausted 24/7?

You deserve to have both: a thriving, fulfilling business AND a thriving, fulfilling life outside of your business. The tricky (and amazing) thing is that only you can choose to create space for both.

I hope this is helpful as you continue to build your dream photography business. You are so deserving of a career that lights you up and that grows with you, and I know these tips will only help you get closer to that vision of success you dream of! 

Wait, did you know I’m hosting a free training soon ALL about more ways to step up your photo business?

Make sure to grab your seat NOW before they run out to learn how to create a profitable, dreamy, unbelievable photography business!

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I’m Jillian Goulding, a photographer and educator raising babies and building my life in Sacramento, CA.

Over the years, I’ve transformed my side hustle into a thriving photography business that has taken me and my camera to the beaches of San Francisco Bay, the pages of People Magazine, and the screens of Extra TV.

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