growing a photography business

How I Grew a Successful Photography Business in a New State

In August 2017, my boyfriend and I moved from a small town in Missouri to Los Angeles, California.
— We had no jobs waiting for us or even a place to live (thank God for the only other two people we knew in CA who let us sleep on their floor for a week lol).
— Our living expenses tripled - once we found an apartment, it certainly wasn’t the 2 story, 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom, washer/dryer included, $600/month apartment I had in Missouri.
— My business was not established yet and I didn't have any kind of client base. For 2.5 years photography was just a hobby for me and a way to be creative so I never really tried to get “clients” and of course, once I moved it meant everyone I knew was a couple thousand miles away now.

SINCE THEN:
— I officially started and legalized my business. Licenses, taxes, insurance, etc.
— I’ve supported myself completely off my photography and never even had to get a part time job after moving (praise Jesus)
— I upgraded my camera + gear + incorporated a better client management system into my business.
— Invested thousands of dollars into photography education (specifically about pricing, marketing, posing, and finances) and I’ll be attending my first workshop in January!
— I currently have 12 weddings booked for 2019, which is about 50% of what I plan to take on for the year. (To put things in perspective, I had zero 2018 weddings booked this time in 2017.)

I shared this story on Instagram last month and received an amazing response from so many people who were interested in hearing more about what I did in order to make this possible. SO I typed out my top tips for any photographers who might be making a move to a new area or just getting their business up and going!

TELL PEOPLE YOU’RE A PHOTOGRAPHER
This seems obvious, but you’d be surprised about how many people say they love something, or they do a certain thing, and like, you’ve never heard them talk about it ever. It’s one thing if it’s a side hobby or whatever, but if you want to build a photography business, people have to know about it. Word of mouth and referrals are huge in this industry. You want people to think of YOU when photography gets brought up and if you never talk about it that’s not gonna happen. Even if you’re just getting started, share! Ease people into it if you want. You don’t have to post every day that you’re “trying to get your photography business going”, but you can share photos you take, post about how much you’re learning and enjoying it, and once you do start getting clients and your business is more established, keep sharing, and people will see for themselves what you’re doing!

NETWORK
This was my first priority when I moved. I didn’t know anyone in California, I didn’t know what the photography market was like, what setting up a business here would involve, or if I’d even have a chance at being a photographer in a place where it seems like everyone and their mom was trying to do the same thing. I searched through posts under #losangelesphotographer and reached out to a few different people and asked if I could meet up with them to talk about photography and possibly make a new friend in the area. This is how I met my now bff Nicole! The first day we met, we planned on getting together and taking a few photos of each other and ended up hanging out for like 6 hours. I learned a lot from Nicole and it was really fun and encouraging to have a friend who was just as passionate about photography as I was!

Outside of reaching out to people individually, I’d say going to meet-ups and events is the best thing you can do for networking. At photography meet-ups you get to meet lots of other photographers and shoot with models — this really helped me with learning posing and directing, making people comfortable in front of the camera, and I got a lot of great content to share. Once I started sharing more on social media, people started to reach out to ME and that’s when I started booking my first paid shoots. I also went to a few photography events - showcases and parties (where we were just “socializing” and not shooting or anything) - and I think these are great for meeting people, but make sure you don’t leave the relationship there. If you connected with someone you really liked, send them a message afterward and let them know you loved meeting them and suggest getting together again at another time for coffee, a shoot, or whatever.

FACEBOOK
I have a photography page where I share my work and although my audience is mostly from the midwest, they still like to see what I do (at least my mom does, okay) and as I mentioned before, I want people to think of me when it comes to photography so I try to post regularly. I’ve booked shoots in Missouri while home for a visit, I’ve had Missouri friends refer their California friends to me, and I’ve actually been flown to Missouri to shoot a wedding. So while Missouri isn't my main focus, I have some amazing connections there!

One helpful thing I did after moving was search for local Facebook groups to join. For example, I’m in a few groups for Los Angeles creatives as well as community pages for lots of the surrounding smaller towns. Using these I’ve found couples to work with, vendors to participate in my styled shoots, and booked a couple sessions from people who posted looking for photographer recommendations.

I’m also in quite a few photography specific Facebook groups! Build and bloom by Jessica Whitaker and LOOKSLIKEFILM LEARN are two of my favorites and I learn so much just from reading other people’s posts. It’s also fun to share some of my own photos in there, get inspired by others, and since the groups are so big, they’re a great place to reach out if you need models or are looking to connect with people in certain areas. I’ve actually met up with people from build and bloom and became IG friends with even more people through those groups.

STYLED SHOOTS
From my very first styled shoot, I booked 2 weddings because the venue who hosted us put me on their preferred vendor list! I also made valuable connections with other vendors in my area. By providing them with the photos I took, they got content to share and I got free advertising because they credited me. WIN/WIN. I love doing styled shoots when I’m feeling in a creative rut, need a little extra content, or want to start booking sessions in a specific location I’ve never been to. They can be as elaborate as you want - models, dress, jewelry, hair/makeup, calligraphy, cakes, signs, etc., or as simple as getting a couple to put their wedding digs back on for an afternoon to go take photos at a cool location.

FREE SHOOTS
I actually did a lot of free shoots when I decided to focus my photography on couples and weddings because I needed to strengthen that area of my portfolio. I found a few local LA pages on Facebook, made a model call, and set up shoots with different couples in different locations near me. These gave me content to post, practice posing/directing couples, and helped me figure out what style I wanted to incorporate into my business. The more I posted photos from these sessions, the more I started to get inquiries from them and my business continued to grow. I don’t do free shoots very often anymore because I have been blessed with a lot of clients, but when I have a specific shoot idea in mind or want to try something new, I do a model call for a free couples session. Just make sure when you do free shoots that they align with where you want your business to go. If your goal is to do more epic adventure sessions but the couple who answered your model call wants to shoot at their favorite coffee shop downtown, then they might not be the best fit (not that coffee shop shoots aren’t cute, but you get the point).

THUMBTACK
If you don’t know - Thumbtack is basically a site that helps people find photographers (or people who provide various other services). A bride or groom makes a post saying they need a photographer on this day, this location, this many hours, etc. and as a photographer you can reply to them with a quote. For thumbtack, it’s important to have at least something to show portfolio-wise so they can see your work or else no one will respond to your quote. You do have to pay a small fee when someone replies to you through the site, but if they end up booking a wedding with you for example, the fee is small compared to what you profit. I used thumbtack for a couple months during the summer to fill my calendar a bit and I was able to work with some really awesome people because of it, but it’s not something I would recommend relying on. I deleted my thumbtack account once I started getting more inquiries without it and I prefer it much better because instead of competing with other photographers quoting the same person, I have people reaching out to me because they like MY work. Now, almost all of my inquiries come from Instagram (according to responses on my contact form).

INSTAGRAM
Okay, so Instagram is like my baby. I spend 90% of my social media time on here. As I mentioned, I get the majority of my bookings from here now, but it took me a little bit to figure out how to really benefit from this app. One thing I’ve learned is that you gotta give if you wanna take. First of all, you have to have content to share with people (duh) and it needs to be good quality! And if you want engagement, you have to engage with others. My biggest IG pet peeve is when people always say to “go like and comment on my post” but they never reply back or take the time to comment on anyone else’s photos. We allll know about the Instagram algorithm and how important engagement is. The more people who engage with you, the more people see your post, which leads to more potential clients, aka business. So I guarantee if you set aside like 15-20 minutes a day to just engage with other people, you’ll see it returned.

ANYWAY here’s a list of my top IG tips:
1. Post, post, post!! The more I started posting, the more inquiries I got. If you need content, set up free shoots, attend a workshop, or make your sister/brother/boyfriend etc. model for you.
2. Hashtag locally! Multiple clients of mine have told me they looked up a specific hashtag and found me by scrolling through those photos (examples: #losangelesweddingphotographer #palmspringsphotographer). Think about what words you would search for if you were a normal person (aka non-photog) and you were looking for a photographer. #radlovestories and #loveandwildhearts might get you more likes and possibly a feature, but are your potential clients looking those up? I try to do 2/3 local hashtags and 1/3 feature account hashtags (to help a little with the engagement ya feel). You can do up to 30 tags and there are people who will tell you to do less or only 11 or whatever but I’ve experimented and my posts do best when I use 28-30 tags.
3. Have a consistent feed!! Some people don’t care about this, but I do. If your editing is all over the place, people will have no idea what their photos will look like if they hire you and idk about you, but I like to know what I’m getting if I’m spending hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on something.

I could actually go on and on about all the tips and tricks of Instagram that I’ve learned (I’m a student at heart and trust me, I’ve done a lot of research on this subject) but this blog is already long enough SO if you’d be interested in a separate post about that, comment on here and let me know!

NEVER STOP LEARNING
Overall, more than any of these other things, I think what propelled me the most is the fact that I truly love learning. I was a chemistry major and I graduated with a 4.0 if that tells you anything - I KNOW how to study. I basically turned all the studying I did in school into studying anything and everything photography related. I read tons of photography articles from the business side of things, to marketing, to all things social media, technical stuff, etc. etc. etc. I watched Youtube videos about editing and paid attention to all the tips my favorite photographers posted on their stories. I research locations and everything I need to know about shooting there. I really just want to learn as much as I can and continue growing no matter how “experienced” I get!

OKAYYYY. So I know that was a ton of information and if you read all the way through, THANK YOU! I hope this was at least a little bit helpful to someone. If you have any questions about anything or would like me to elaborate on something I mentioned, let me know with a comment or DM me on IG. :)