12 ways to make 2012 the year your business takes off

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on January 1, 2012

in This is Art,This is Business,This is Life

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I’ve never been a fan of New Year’s resolutions – I always figured, if I saw a change I needed to make in my self or my life, why not make it then? Why wait?

Well, for the same reason we eat too much around the holidays, put off going to the doctor too long when we’re sick, and spend more time trying to learn photography in front of a computer instead of behind the lens – we are imperfect creatures.

We need a catalyst to make change so immediate and important that we get off our butts and do what’s right instead of what’s easy.

So here we sit together, on the brink of 2012 – let’s look at 12 ways we can make this year the best in our lives as part time professional photographers.

1. You are your own worst enemy – Procrastination

I’d bet good money your first gut reaction to seeing this subhead was to put off reading it. Odds are you felt that uncomfortable twist inside that says, “Meeeeh, I’ll come back to that later.”

I’ll tell you honestly and up front, Procrastination and its conjoined twin Inaction are by far the biggest reasons your business is not where you dream it to be.

You know the dreams – when you read something inspirational, or you start to get something done to better your business, or you get a big compliment on your art, or in that twilight time between laying down and falling asleep – that time when your heart’s desires manifest themselves in wonderful half-moment visions of what your business and your life could be like, “If only…”

Your ego’s defense mechanism is of course the excuse – “If only I had time,” “If only I had more money,” “If only I had a better camera…”


But you didn’t need me to tell you that, you already know it. Sometimes our egos sound like 4-year-olds – they whine and make up excuses with absolutely no connection to reality. But just like little kids, often we let our egos get away with it.

2012 is the year to give your ego a swift kick in the arse.

(Complete aside: While covering a local school board meeting here in Texas for the newspaper, my coworker overhead a few members of the board of trustees talking about spanking kids – one said spanking was ineffective and barbaric, another said such punishment was an act of teaching and love, and the third said, “Well then my daddy suuuure must have loved me!”)

The first step to beating procrastination’s butt is to recognize it and call it out to its face. When you should be taking action of any kind – walking out the door to practice your art, reading your camera manual and practicing to better understand shutter speed and F-stops, updating photos on your Facebook page or blog – and then you don’t, you need to stop everything and at the least acknowledge what you are doing, that you are putting off something that would benefit your business or life because it scares you in some small way.

Just the act of consciously acknowledging an act of procrastination can begin to empower you against it.

The next step is to do “just five minutes” or “just 15 minutes” of work. The hardest part of any act, any project, is to start doing it. Reading, studying, learning, thinking, absorbing – that’s the easy part, of course, because it requires no real effort, and there’s no risk involved. Taking action imparts the risk of failure, which we all have an absolutely disproportionate fear of. Start with baby steps.

And of course the final step is to follow through. You’ve packed your clubs, you’ve driven to the golf course, you’re on the first tee and you’ve drawn back to hit the ball down the fairway – let loose. You’ve got 18 holes to go, and you’ll never score until you finish them all.

Projects, goals of any kind, take focused effort to complete – and don’t fool yourself into thinking that becoming a better photographer is a passive act. Certainly, making any photo is better than making none, but real progress as a professional artist comes as you take on specific challenges – bettering your grasp of manual camera controls, improving how you pose subjects in relation to your light source to make their eyes dazzle, practicing and adding one specific new scene to your must-shoot list.

Honestly, you can skip the next 11 suggestions if you’re going to ignore this one. If you don’t overcome procrastination, you’ll never get around to them anyway.

As the goddess of victory commands, “Just Do It.”

2. Imitate your way to the top

Pick a photographer whose art you really love. Not some over-the-top weird artsy type whose work belongs in a turtleneck-magnet gallery, but someone who is obviously doing very well in the industry of professional portrait photography.

Now do whatever it takes to shoot just like them.

Don’t copycat their work of course, but make them your subject of study as you learn to improve your art and make it more attractive, more salable to your market.

“But, but, but, I’m an artist! I’m a unique and precious snowflake and I must carve my own path lest I stifle my creative spirit!”

Well Princess, you learn to walk before you dance – you have to learn to make serviceable, salable photography before you set out to revolutionize the industry.

As marketing guru Seth Godin so precisely puts it, you don’t have to be the best in the world – just the best in their world, in the world of your target market.

You limit your growth as a photographer when you invest all your focus into creating “new” art instead of learning the nuts and bolts of how other successful professionals earn a living. I could trim my entire portfolio down to about six shots and do those same six shots every shoot from now until retirement and make an honest living doing it. That wouldn’t be very fun or exciting, but it’s the truth – you’ve got to consistently nail the basics, your foundational salable shots, before you can begin to successfully play and create from imagination and vision.

It will come, and it’s a great place to be as a photographer, when you can quickly knock out your basics during a shoot and then just play and flow throughout the rest of your time with a subject. As an artist, as a creative type, it’s both fun and satisfying.

Until then, choose a photographer to study and imitate, and work toward equaling both their technical and artistic abilities. Study each image, each scene, each setup – study the lighting, the catchlights in the subjects’ eyes, the posing, the background, the colors and textures – learn what makes each image tick, then practice those parts until you can consistently recreate the whole.

This kind of specific, purposeful, guided learning will help you make much better photos much faster than the typical scattershot, passive practice most photographers employ.

Once you’ve mastered one photographer’s repertoire, choose another, better photographer, and learn their work. It can take months, years if your practice time is limited, but just being on equal artistic footing with a successful professional opens so many doors to your own financial success – and the resultant time and artistic freedoms that come with it.

3. Get your web site right

Bless your heart, but you don’t know what you’re doing.

I say this with all the southern gentility I can muster. It’s nothing personal, it’s no affront to you as an artist, but photographers are no more web designers than your dentist is an optometrist.

If your business is off the ground and you’re turning a profit, one of the first places you should invest those profits is into an inexpensive but professional web site. Just like in the start-up end of the photography market, there are plentiful talented-if-inexperienced web designers ready to do good work for honest pay. Their grasp of code and layout and search engine optimization at their worst is better than yours at your best – you neither can nor should “do it all.”

There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but far more often than not I see budding professional photographers with perfectly salable art wrapped in a broken, ugly, Do It Yourself mess of a web site. Or a WordPress blog straight off the default template.

The profits from just 2-3 photo shoots will afford you a far better web site. Keep in mind, your web site does work for you 24 hours a day, seven days a week – give it the investment it deserves to do the best job it can for you. You don’t need to spend a thousand dollars on a custom site far beyond the scope of your present work – all you need is a home page, a portfolio gallery, an About page, a blog, and a contact page.

If you’ve yet to turn a profit or charge for your work (see No. 12 on this list), draw on the talents and advice of anyone you know with web design experience. A six-pack of beer or a bottle of wine is often enough compensation to have a friend over to help you go over your site and make improvements. Start with a simple WordPress blog site where you can post fresh photos every week and develop from there. Even the least technical among us can change the logo out, set up pages and make posts to a WordPress site – if you have trouble with it, just visit the Google or watch the YouTubes.

Along with your business card and e-mail newsletter, your web site is an equal part of the core of your business marketing – if you’re more interested in what new lens or flash you’ll buy next instead of having your web site given a professional’s touch, your priorities are misplaced.

4. Set a Facebook and blog posting schedule

All of my business comes from Facebook and word of mouth – which, here in the digital age, are pretty much the same thing.

Around 2005 is when MySpace became my biggest source of clients. When Facebook took over, so went my clientele.

Facebook is all about being where your market is. Easily three out of every four times a client contacts me to set up a shoot, it’s through Facebook. Surprisingly often, I’ll never even talk with a client by phone or e-mail before or after our shoot – Facebook is instant, convenient, and a daily (if not hourly) stop for most folks.

Would I rather enjoy a chat on the phone or, better, a face-to-face visit with a client? Of course, but as the service provider it is not my place to force a consultation on a client who obviously prefers a digital medium – hence why they contacted me on Facebook in the first place.

My personal Facebook also serves as my professional presence – most folks prefer to keep the two separate, and Facebook even has different profile setups to provide specific accommodations for each.

Once you’ve set up your Facebook page for your business, you need to maintain it, alongside your blog on your business web site.

I like to post something to Facebook daily, and update my blog with a recent photo shoot weekly.

Facebook being a casual place, you don’t have to always post your latest professional work or only talk about your photography business – share links to local news, post a photo of your cat and tell a funny story – but just be sure that what you post is something of interest and appropriate to your target market. Be creative, have fun, add value.

On my blog I stick to highlights and commentary about recent photo shoots, and photo stories of fun or interesting life events. I try to pack each post with good keyphrases, writing conversationally but with purpose while including terms potential clients may use on Google when searching for a local photographer. I try to include the names of all the locations my client and I shot at, where they went to school if they did so locally, etc.

Make posting to Facebook a daily part of your routine, and pick a day of the week (I’m partial to Sunday evenings) to update your blog with fresh photos. It only takes a few minutes, but the free exposure you get with your target market is unmatched by any other venue.

5. Be Wise – Advertise

Getting your name and art out there for potential clients to see is one of the biggest challenges photographers face as they make the transition to paid professionals.

Early on, the problem is not that your art is bad, it’s that your marketing is nonexistent. It’s not that everyone thinks you suck, they just don’t think about you at all.

Advertising to me is the paid arm of marketing – print ads in your local newspaper, postcards in the mail, a billboard out on the highway, your Google AdSense campaign, that sort of thing. You trade your hard-earned dollars for access to the eyeballs of thousands of potential clients.

Despite the fact that my day job for the past 13 years has been with a newspaper, I am a very frugal and measured supporter of paid advertising. “Any advertising” does not equal “good advertising.” Any act of marketing you undertake should have an intended result from a specific, targeted set of people. If you want to book more newborn baby shoots, don’t advertise in your local paper’s automotive section, unless there’s an article on car seats. Make sense?

Advertising is the quick and easy way to get in front of a market, but it’s also scattershot – it’s often inexpensive because it’s mass marketing. The more targeted the advertising venue, the more expensive it is.

Advertising is also a process of placement, measurement, and adjustment – it is not something you just do and hope you book more shoots. Advertising has to be done over time, the results must be measured, and adjustments should be made to make your advertising dollars more effective.

For example, at my newspaper you can run a one-column by one-inch display ad for $8 a week. The cost isn’t exorbitant, and the ad will reach around 8,000 people each week. Odds are, 400 (five percent) of those people invest in professional portrait photography at all. Maybe 20 (five percent) of those people are in the market for portraits right now. I’ll do well if one (five percent) of those people sees my ad and calls me to book a shoot. But assuming I make more than $8 on that shoot, my money was well-invested.

Unfortunately, while advertising salespeople like to suggest there’s a formula to guarantee a certain amount of business from an ad, people are infinitely unpredictable creatures. You may run an ad for a month and never get a bite from it. You may stop advertising and six months down the road have someone call you and say they saw your ad in the paper months before and finally got around to calling you. It’s almost random.


Over weeks and months and years, you can run consistent advertising and get fairly consistent results from those ads. You’ll learn through your measurements what months are better than others, and what promotions to advertise when to get the best results. Every market is different, and unless another locally advertising photographer wants to clue you in, you’ll have to go through the learning process yourself.

It’s not an inexpensive education, but it’s fun, and almost always if you stay frugal, the return on your investment will have been worth the cost. Keep in mind that every new client is a potential repeat client – every subject with whom you shoot is worth far more than the first sale you make with them, both in repeat business and word of mouth.

That said, my newspaper also sells full-page color ads for over a thousand dollars for a single week’s placement – just because an advertising option exists doesn’t make it a smart choice for your business. Should the local liquor store take out a half-page color ad in the paper the week before New Year’s? Of course. Should you bump the size of your family portraiture ad in November while promoting Christmas card photos? Of course.

Spend as little as possible on advertising, and only spend more when there’s a clear and profitable purpose for doing so.

Salespeople will give you a million reasons why you should spend more money – that’s their job. Holt tight to your pursestrings, and only invest within your means.

6. Volunteer your talents

Volunteering with a worthwhile charity has long been one of my first suggestions to newly-minted professional photographers. It gives you great face time with potential clients, it gives you an established venue where your art can be seen, and it’s just a good thing to do for your community. Do right by folks and they’ll do right by you.

Charitable organizations often have many needs for professional photography:

  • Portraits of founders
  • Annual individual and group portraits of board members
  • Photos to accompany news and press releases
  • Photos of fundraising events
  • Photos and photo stories of the beneficiaries of the charity’s work

Explore your community for a charity with a cause you support and that has some connection to your target market.

For example, we have several local non-profits that help high schoolers earn scholarships in a wide variety of fields. High school seniors being my specialty, I attend their events to provide photos for the newspaper, I set up a mobile studio and do stylish portraits at their annual prom fashion show, I donate gift certificates for photo shoots to their silent auctions, etc.

There’s always a way to help, and the rewards both social and financial are more than worthwhile.

7. Set up a photo event

Most folks don’t need professional photos, they need a reason.

This is true of almost all sales and marketing – you don’t sell the steak, you sell the sizzle. Hardly anyone who buys a new car needs a new car. They need transportation; good marketing makes them desperately want a specific car.

A photo event can give potential clients just the reason they need to invest in fresh portraits for themselves or their families.

Bunnies and baby chicks at Easter, Halloween costume contests, sitting on Santa’s knee at Christmas – yeah, I hear you, it’s cliche and done to death, but there’s a reason. It pays.

Three weeks ago my wife and I took the kids to the Bass Pro Shop in San Antonio, and there were so many families in line to pay to be photographed with Santa that the store had to use a ticketing system and offered everything from a remote control truck arena to an in-store merry-go-round to ease the misery of waiting parents.

Touching on the next tip in this list, you want to be the photographer hosting these events in your own community. Whether it’s for your apartment complex, your neighborhood, your city, your zip code, your potential clients would likely much rather spend their money with you and receive timely and personal service.

When I set up a photo event, I try to do the sales session directly after the shoot. For my Easter mini-shoot, we keep it super simple – we buy a bunch of stuffed animal bunnies in sizes from small to massive, make a big pile of them, and then photograph the kids hugging and playing with the toy bunnies. We spend 15 minutes shooting, five minutes culling, and 10 minutes selling. We book one shoot every 45 minutes for one or two days, depending on the number of bookings. If my wife and I double team, her doing photos while I do sales, we can pack twice as many shoots in a day without anyone feeling rushed.

Donate a portion of proceeds to a local non-profit, and you’ve got an instant press release for your local newspaper and radio station, both pre-event and post-event. We also do a drawing from our list of clients to give away the biggest, most expensive bunnies from the shoot, and donate the remaining stuffed animals to charity – local toy drives, the thrift store that benefits our local non-profit medical clinic, emergency services which gift stuffed animals to young children caught in stressful situations, and so on.

Photo events only grow in popularity with each event you host. I’m partial to frequent (weekly to monthly) promotions and quarterly photo events – more often of the latter if I’m targeting different markets. Even if a client doesn’t bite on your Easter promotion, they may at Christmastime.

Photo events give clients a motivational reason to finally get the photos taken they’ve been putting off for too long.

8. Own Your Zip Code

You can be somebody to someone or nobody to everyone – never cast your net too wide.

The more narrowly you can focus your efforts as an artist and business owner, the easier and more deeply you will reach within your target market.

It’s far easier to become the best baby photographer in your community when you’re not trying to be the best family-senior-industrial-corporate-fashion-commercial photographer at the same time – you dilute your artistic development and your marketing message in equal amounts.

Have you done your first paid shoot yet? If not, the entirety of your artistic and marketing efforts should be focused on that goal, that first paying client. Once you’ve shot one, focus everything on your next client, then the next, then the next. So many photographers prepare their business for shooting dozens of clients before they’ve landed their first, and they market to everyone when they have yet to make an impression on any one.

Define the kind of art you want to make (re-read item No. 2 on this list), choose a specific clientele you most enjoy working with (I love working with the energy and personalities of high school seniors), and direct your efforts toward earning the business of that clientele on the smallest reasonable scale – earn the business of friends and family first, then neighbors, then of the folks who attend your church, then the folks who shop at the same businesses you do (hair stylists, for example), and onward.

Your market can always be broken down into small, manageable, reachable sets of people. When you do so, the daunting task of “marketing your business” becomes much easier, an application of creativity to common sense in how to reach and impress those people. Own Your Zip Code – be the best in their world.

9. Get photographed

By way of arrogance or ignorance, photographers rarely have their portrait taken. Indeed, the cobbler’s children have no shoes.

Photographers will pay a thousand dollars for a “guru” to tell them how to perform a photo shoot and sale, but they won’t pay $50 to $150 to just go to a successful photographer and have their portrait taken. If you’re astute, pay attention, and write down notes after the experience, the resultant gold nuggets of wisdom will be very similar.

Soak up the experience from initial exposure through booking, shooting, selling, and delivery.

Here’s my process:

  • Pick a nearby community that you don’t particularly serve.
  • Go online and search for a photographer in that community. Where does their web site place in the Google results? Why? What keyphrase did you search for, and how does their web site capture that keyphrase? In the title? The domain? In the body copy? In a blog post?
  • Visit their web site and note your first impressions – does it load fast? Is their art attractive? Is their site easy to navigate? Does it answer all your questions? If not, such as if the photographer doesn’t list prices online, does the site provide easy ways to contact the photographer?
  • E-mail the photographer and ask any questions the site didn’t answer – pricing, current promotions, booking, etc. Study their response – how long did it take them to get back to you? Was their response friendly and professional? Did their e-mail include a call to action – did they ask for your business, or ask you to take some other action? Was their e-mail signature professional and complete?
  • Call the photographer and follow-up on the e-mail. Ask a couple more questions, then if you feel good about them as a consumer (as you would with any service provider), book a shoot with them. How did they answer the phone? Did they answer at all, or go to voicemail? If they went to voicemail, was the greeting professional and helpful? Did they guarantee a call back within a certain amount of time? How long before they called back? When you did speak to them, how was their phone etiquette? Were they aggressive, impatient, or friendly and helpful? Was the booking process easy? Were they booked solid, or did they have accommodating hours and options for different days of the week?
  • Between booking and your shoot, did the photographer e-mail you after the phone call to thank you for booking and provide more information? Did the photographer send a reminder e-mail before your shoot?
  • During the shoot, pay attention less to the photographer’s artistic specifics and more to how they treat you and make you feel, how they elicit comfortable and natural expressions from you and your family. Watch more for methods they use when working with you as a subject than what their specific artistic choices are – the latter you can appreciate during the proofing and sales session. At the end of your shoot, did you feel the photographer did a good job? Did they tell you when your proofs would be available for viewing, and how? Did they set up a date and time for the sales session?
  • Some photographers proof online, some in person. Either way, measure how you feel about the process and experience. Were their online proofs easy to view and make selections from to purchase? Did the online process leave you with any unanswered questions? Did the photographer make suggestions as to which images might be best used for what purposes (wall hanging versus wallets, for example)? If you proofed in person, was the process comfortable? Did you feel pressured to buy more than you wanted? Did the photographer explain your buying options clearly? Did they photographer ask questions so they understood what it was you were looking to buy in the first place? Did they provide guidance or did they try to sell you what you didn’t want? Did they give you a solid date for delivery? Did their sales tactics and policies leave you feeling empowered, confused, taken advantage of, uncomfortable, or well taken care of?
  • When the photographer delivered your purchase, is the presentation professional? Were you invited to join an e-mail list for future sales and promotions? Were you invited to like their Facebook page? Did the photographer ask to go ahead and pencil in your next photo shoot (for Christmas, or next year, for example)? Do you feel like what you were handed was worth what you paid? Would you work with this photographer again? Would you recommend him or her to your friends?

With all of these questions, try to write down notes from your experience, how you felt about each aspect, and what you wish they had done differently. From just one photo shoot as a consumer, whether the experience was good or bad, you can write a book of policies and procedures for your own business that will shape the experience your own clients will have with you, from start to art.

10. Break out of your comfort zone

Your comfort zone can single-handedly kill your business.

Everyone gets stuck in a rut sometimes, and the longer you’re in that rut, the harder it is to dig out. Even when staying in that rut has painful consequences, or is a miserable experience in itself, it’s what you know – it’s what you’re familiar with, and familiarity breeds comfort, which leads to complacency.

Human beings can learn to put up with a lot of unnecessary crap. Most corporate cultures are built on this reality.

It doesn’t take much introspection to see where our bad habits lie – procrastination, eating too much, reading too much and practicing too little – but we’re too good at giving ourselves a free pass. “I’ll do better tomorrow,” is right there with Joe’s Crab Shack and their “Free crabs tomorrow” deal – there’s always a tomorrow.

Breaking out of your comfort zone is like jumping out of an airplane – throw caution to the wind and Just Do It.

Should I starting charging for my work? Just Do It.

Should I call up my friend and set up a shoot with her so I can practicing my location lighting and poses? Just Do It.

Should I call myself a professional photographer if I’m not sure if I’m ready? Just Do It.

Should I leave the house and go photograph some Little League games today? Just Do It.

Should I go by the newspaper and see if they need any events photographed this week, in exchange for a byline? Just Do It.

Should I go to that children’s resale shop downtown and ask to set up a co-op marketing campaign with them? Just Do It.

Should I set up my Facebook page and tell my friends and family about it today? Just Do It.

Should I walk up to that attractive man or woman and tell him I’d love to photograph them for my portfolio? Just Do It.

Should I go by one of the local daycares and offer to do their annual portraits of the kids? Just Do It.

I think you get it – you’re just a shade better off in your comfort zone than you are with outright procrastination and inaction; in fact, like a trio of thugs, they are often seen hanging out together, sippin’ on forty’s and scheming how to steal your success from you today.

Don’t let them. You sure as hell wouldn’t have read this far if you didn’t truly want to make your photography business a success, to make your artistic and business vision a reality. If you feel fear or hesitation, you’re probably on the right track.

11. Relax

With all this talk of what you should do, here’s something you should not do: stress out.

The grognards will tell you you have to do this, do that, and then worry yourself into paralysis.

Never forget: you’re the boss. You’re in charge. You make the decisions, and you can change your mind any time you want, for any reason. You don’t have to follow the rules – you are the rulemaker.

Often we start our businesses with a take-charge sense of ownership, but by the time we’re done getting shot down, critiqued and “warned” of the many pitfalls ahead by the grognards, all of a sudden we’re submissive and feel we have to do what Soandso said or else we’ll surely fail and embarrass ourselves in front of the whole community.

When you feel overwhelmed, with how far you have to go as an artist or as a business owner, just relax. You’ll do no good for anyone if you burn out before you even get started.

This is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be profitable. It’s supposed to let loose the creative spirit within us. It’s supposed to be a joy – that’s why we’re doing this, right?

We are consistently our own worst enemy, our worst critic, our greatest challenge to overcome on our path to success. You can choose to worry, or you can choose to act.

My father’s advice always was, “Do something, even if it’s the wrong damn thing.”

As you make this mantra a part of your professional life, you learn that all the decisions we think are so huge at the time, in the end have so little influence on the outcome. Whether you charge this or charge that, offer this product or that, go with this logo and web site design or the other one, name your business this way or another, it’s all minutiae in the long run.

What counts is what you do.

If all else fails, remember what Bob Parsons, founder of GoDaddy.com, was told by his father: “Son, they can’t eat you.”

12. Get paid

It’s time.

I’ve been telling you for over two years now, it’s time to get paid. You’re reading this web site because you want to get paid – some of you need to get paid, and you’re still resisting. You’re letting the mortgage slide and credit card payments go late while giving away more “portfolio building” shoots.

If your friends and family have been telling you a while now that your work is good enough to charge for, or you’ve been asked, “Wow, you make great photos – how much would you charge to do my family photos?,” then it’s time for you to get paid.

I am all for portfolio-building shots. I am all about trading free shoots for subjects’ time so you can practice bettering specific aspects of your art.

But you’re good enough to charge. You have been for a while. Your art has value, it is not worthless – in fact, it’s a blessing to anyone with the opportunity to shoot with you. You will never stop getting better at this, so the time is nigh to get paid for your talents.

It’s time to hang your shingle, call yourself a professional (or pro-am), and do work. This is what you’ve been working toward, and 2012 is the time to do it.

No excuses.

No fear.

No procrastination.

No inaction.

No comfort zone.

I don’t care what you charge – but get paid for your time. Scribble some notes on a napkin, figure out what you reasonably want to earn for your time, and from now on that’s what a photo shoot with you will cost. You don’t have to charge a session fee or have a minimum order to get there, but start somewhere, anywhere, and you can grow from there. My bet is that you’ll earn more money than you think you will. As you grow, as an artist and business owner, so will your prices, and your profits.

You’ve been blessed with a talent, creative spirit, vision – you are imbued with the skills of a painter with light, a photographer. You are not reading these words by accident, you haven’t come as far as you have on a whim. I write these words for you, for your eyes, to address your fears and inspirations. I can say with complete surety, as you read this, you are ready to break free from your fears and grow toward infinity.

There are no limits. No one is stopping you.

Let go.

Then grab hold tight, because 2012 is going to be one hell of a sweet ride.

Next Steps

  • Pen and paper time, mates. Quickly go over this article one more time, and for each section, write down your thoughts on how you’re going to do things differently in 2012. Keep your list to one sheet, and make your plan clear and specific to address each issue. Tack this to your wall or somewhere where you can read it every single day for the rest of this year. I am not kidding – make the study of this list a part of your morning routine. You will not believe the difference in attitude and progress you will see from this simple act.
  • There is a lot to commit to in this article. Start here, and just work your way down the list: Vow to recognize procrastination every time it rears its head, to stop and acknowledge it, then to power through it.
  • Head forth to the Flickr and find an artist whose portraiture you really enjoy. Find someone who makes beautiful photos, but obviously something your typical family would hang on their wall – practical, but absolutely lovely. This person is your new artistic muse – study their work and learn to imitate what makes them successful. In time, you’ll grow beyond this, but for now, lay your artistic foundation.
  • Look at your web site. Be honest. Start over. Begin with simple, a blog if nothing else, and let your art be the centerpiece.
  • Set up your Facebook page, set a day each week to blog on your site. Stick with it. If you miss one, don’t let it knock you off track – just get back on schedule as soon as possible.
  • Seek out inexpensive but effective local advertising opportunities. Start with your local community newspaper.
  • Pick a non-profit, and volunteer your photography services. If they can’t come up with an immediate use for you, move on to another non-profit.
  • Pick a photo-friendly holiday coming up in the next few months (Easter a good option), and plan a photo event around it. Prepare the promotion, do a couple example shoots, pick a charity to donate a portion of proceeds to, ask a friend to set aside the date to give you a hand, collect any props you may need, visit with your community newspaper about a story or press release, arrange to update your advertising in advance of the event, post preview details to your Facebook and blog, and make it happen.
  • Introspect about the kind of art you want to make, and the kinds of people you want to photograph. Exclude supermodels (or any models) from the results. Adopt the mindset that your business exists to serve this specific set of people, and let that guide you in all of your decisions of how to spend your time and money this year.
  • Use the step-by-step instructions above to get photographed and use the resulting knowledge to nail down how you want to run your business.
  • Step out of your comfort zone every day in a small way, every week in a medium way, every month in a big way. Eventually you will move through life with complete freedom of will.
  • Relax. Learn some breathing techniques. Exercise and take up yoga or meditation. You’ve got to slow down if you want to get ahead.
  • Set your prices. Know that you can change them at any time. When anyone asks, state your prices clearly, simply, and with confidence. It is what it is – if you don’t make a big deal of your prices, neither will your clients.
  • Brainstorm session: Enough of my advice – what do you want to change about your business or your life in 2012? Write it down, and file this in your Brainstorms folder.
  • My writing at PartTimePhoto.com exists to serve your needs as an amateur photographer making the transition to paid professional. I appreciate and welcome your readership, and invite you to subscribe to my e-mail newsletter at the top of any page of this site.
  • If anything in this post has spoken to and inspired you, please comment below, drop me an e-mail, or call or text me at 830-688-1564 and let me know. Iā€™d love to hear how you use the ideas here to better your part time photography business!

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Debi Obwaka Terry January 2, 2012 at 5:28 am

This is definitely the kick-in-the-butt I needed :-). Thank you.


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor January 3, 2012 at 8:18 pm

Awesome Debi! One step at a time, just always stay in a state of progress, don’t let your talents or your motivation stagnate. The rewards are well worth the focused effort. Thank you for your readership! Keep me posted on your progress!


Rachel Bullington January 2, 2012 at 11:07 pm

After reading your “Your First Customer Series”, I decided to go for it. Your words gave me the confidence that I needed to call myself a Photographer. Business is really picking up and I am loving it!

My next big and exciting move is the website. I even found a friend of a friend who is just graduating from a local art school as a graphic designer who wants to do my site for FREE to add to her portfolio.

I love how every post is packed with practical advice and encouragement. Thank you!


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor January 3, 2012 at 8:15 pm

Thank you so much Rachel! I am so glad to hear you’ve made the leap to paid professional, and that it’s been a positive experience for you – both as an artist and as a businesswoman! Those baby photos on your Facebook page are just precious, you have a wonderful eye and obvious talent. You’ll do nothing but good as a professional photographer!

Great job working your network to find someone to work on your web site – just like our work on our worst day is almost always better than Uncle Joe Camera on his best, the same goes for us trying to pretend we are web designers. Even a college student studying web design (heck, most high schoolers!) can probably do a far better job than we – our time is better spent bettering our artistic and business skills, besides.

Can’t wait to see your new web site! Please do keep me posted on its progress!


Lawrence Watson January 2, 2012 at 11:08 pm

Thanks you for the inspiring words. I was at the procrastination before the holidays but used my time off to do some reading on photography, camera and purchased equipment for a home studio. Now it’s time for me to make the move and use the my new camera.


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor January 3, 2012 at 8:08 pm

That sounds great Lawrence! Tempering education with practice is how you make the best progress, and then when you can produce salable art on a consistent basis, you’re more than ready to start charging and earning on the time and money investments you’ve made. Please do keep me posted on your adventures!


Kevin Stacey January 3, 2012 at 7:08 pm

James as always you don’t pull any punches. Thanks for the kick in the arse! I have done some of the items on the list but I need to do more. I really need to do as you say and figure out my target audience. I’m leaning towards high school seniors but I really enjoy photographing children and families as well. You sure gave us a lot to think about (and yes to DO)

Thanks again for your work and time,



Outlaw Photographer James Taylor January 3, 2012 at 8:47 pm

My pleasure Kevin! If seniors are your primary target, just gear your marketing in that direction – make decisions that appeal to that market. Be digital friendly, be social media friendly, lean toward a commercial/fashion style, train yourself how to really work well with teenagers and elicit natural, fun poses and expressions full of personality. Study great senior photography. Advertise and market yourself in their circles, F8 and Be There – be where your potential clients are.

Certainly, if you also really like doing children’s and family photography, include some of that in your portfolio – but know that often, owning a specific niche in your market will draw in a lot of collateral work. Buzz in any niche leads to work in others – those seniors have little brothers and sisters, their parents know other parents with small children, and of course once a parent sees how amazing your senior photography is, and they’ve so enjoyed working with you and see how different and more customer-oriented you are than anyone else they’ve worked with, you will have their business for life, and the business of their children when they get married and have babies, and the business of their friends and extended family.

Be the best in their world – Own Your Zip Code!

Please do keep me posted on your adventures! Your art is beautiful, I can’t wait to see how your business will grow this year – you’re going to do great things, and be a great blessing to your clientele.


Shawn Beverly January 12, 2012 at 12:36 am

If we ever make it back to Killeen,Texas, I am coming to Bandera to shake your hand.!!! Thank you,Thank you for the wonderful insight.


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor January 12, 2012 at 12:42 am

You are most welcome Shawn, thank you for your kind words and readership! I really enjoyed looking at your web site today, such lovely art, and such a great location. If I ever make it out to Hawaii, I will look you up! I’ve been to Killeen several times, great country, and I’ve photographed several great military families out there. Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!


Shawn January 12, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Thank you for checking out my site and for my ego boost. šŸ™‚ I love Hawaii so much I never want to leave. If you make it out to Oahu you will be most welcomed!! I will be sure you get to all the non tourist spots on the Island. I still have wonderful friends in Killeen it is a great place.


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor January 24, 2012 at 11:14 pm

Sounds awesome, first time I visit Hawaii, I will surely look you up! I’ll need an awesome photographer to hire when I get there for a portrait, so I’m glad I already know the right artist. šŸ™‚


Brett Fox January 24, 2012 at 11:02 am

Really great post. And challenging. Lots of ideas now buzzing around in my head and gonna have to just pick a few things to focus on out of there. Thanks for always having so much encouraging material. Keep it up


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor January 24, 2012 at 11:05 pm

Thank you so much for your kind words Brett! I’m glad you were inspired! That’s always the best way to approach these things – just pick what speaks to you and go after it. Once you’ve rocked that, pick another and go to work on it. One of the best ways to paralyze yourself is by getting hypnotized by the plethora of marketing options you have to choose from. Just Do It.

I really enjoyed visiting your web site tonight! Lots of great work there, beautiful colors and tones. Your clients are blessed to have you to work with!

Thank you for your readership! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures in professional photography. šŸ™‚


Trish January 25, 2012 at 11:47 am

After reading your blog and writing to you once before, I am proud to announce I have OFFICIALLY opened for business! I have even managed to CHARGE one of my friends for shooting her V-Day photos! It wasn’t a lot, but it was SOMETHING! That took guts! I do want to inquire about something though. I am nervous about keeping records for taxes. I have NO idea of how to organize it all and what exactly I have to keep up with. I have started saving receipts already for print orders and such, but when I go to the IRS site, I immediately begin sweating from all of the accounting terms being thrown out there and threats of penalties. State taxes would be my first concern as I am in Texas and they are due for the first time in April. Could you offer any less scary, easy to understand advice in this area? If you have a blog about this already, forgive me and just point me to the right direction. šŸ™‚ Thanks so much for your blog and insight! It has truly been the PUSH I needed to get out there and JUST DO IT!


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor January 26, 2012 at 12:58 am

Ahhh so awesome Trish! Sounds like you’ve hit the ground running, which is way cool – I swear the hardest part is just getting past those first steps (first shoot, first paid shoot, first sales session, first bad customer, first big sale, etc.). You’ve got the ball rolling – I’m excited for you! You’re doing what so many people dream of.

With the caveat that I Am Not a Lawyer or CPA, here’s what I know / do for taxes:

– I keep track of every dollar I earn. This goes in the Total Revenue column.

– I keep track of every dollar I spend. This goes in various categories for tax write-off purposes. My tax preparer tells me where she wants to stick what expense, and so at the end of each year I can just hand her a printout of those total expenses.

– Keep those receipts, but you only need them to establish totals at the end of each year, and have for audit purposes should one come about.

– Sales taxes are some of the easiest, because you know the exact amount to collect and remit. The Comptroller web site should tell you what tax zone you’re in, and what you should be collecting (usually 6.75% in rural areas, 8.25% in the city); when in doubt, collect the maximum on every dollar earned. It’s been explained to me that photography is lumped in with manufacturing, so we collect sales tax on all labor and products. It’s smart to keep this collected money separate for both audit and practical purposes – you don’t “charge” for sales tax then pay it back to the state, you collect it as a pass-through and then hand it over every quarter or year. They like to see that money separate and never spent, and then you don’t have to sweat come tax time when you have to turn over those funds, because you’ve kept them separate the whole time.

I do hope to put together some good pieces this year on the legalities of running a part time photography business – it seems to be an area that strikes fear into the hearts of many would-be pros, and understandably so with all the surrounding gravitas.

I hope this helps! Take the time to keep good records of your income and outgo, and keep those sales taxes collected in full and separated from other accounts, and you’ll never have the slightest problem to worry about.

Thank you again for your readership! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!


Wendy February 4, 2012 at 7:41 am

Wow! What a great read! I just discovered your site and this post is awesome. Love your writing style and to echo other commenters reading this lit a fire under me! I have lots of work to do, but I have a clearer view of the path. Thank you!


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor February 5, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Fantastic Wendy, thank you so much for your kind words and readership! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures – I’d love to hear about the progress you’re making here in 2012.


Mark February 15, 2012 at 10:02 am

Very good article. I appreciate your giving spirit. Keep up the wonderful work.


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor March 25, 2012 at 11:52 pm

Awesome, thank you so much Mark! You have a great web site and beautiful art to show off on it! I hope 2012 treats you and your business most kindly. Keep me posted!


Barrie Photographer February 18, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Very inspiring, point #1 is me… putting photography off instead of diving in. Thanks so much for the kick in the arse!


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor March 25, 2012 at 11:51 pm

Always happy to kick arse and take names! Thank you for your comment and readership! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures this year!


crystal miel March 1, 2012 at 7:09 pm

wow. just wow. thank you so much for all of these articles….i stumbled across them today and i cannot tell you how much i needed them right now. i’ve been thinking about starting out in a photography business, and moving along with things slowly…..wayyyyy slowly. but thanks to your words i think i am going to step it up a notch and not be so afraid to try and learn and grow!! thank you so much!


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor March 25, 2012 at 11:48 pm

You are most welcome Crystal, thank you so much for your kind words! I can’t wait to hear what successes and adventures you have this year. Please do keep me posted on your progress! I’d love to hear how you and your business grow in 2012!


Dawn W November 1, 2012 at 1:41 pm

I just used your suggestion and offered my services to my apartment communities Santa Day. I am taking photos of kids with Santa. The apartment community isn’t paying me but will let me offer the parents the option of purchasing the photos. Plus, I can give flyers and cards to promote my flegling business.


Kristi Ellis November 5, 2012 at 11:25 am

Thank you SO much for taking your time to encourage the rest of us. Your words “portfolio building” hit home with me as that’s what I call all of my sessions as I’m not confident enough to call it a business. I have gone to godaddy several times to pick my domain & website but have yet to follow through & make that purchase. I have bookmarked your page & will reference it often I’m sure. Thank you for giving me the push I needed!


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor December 30, 2012 at 11:39 pm

Thank you for your readership and kind words Kristi!

Pick the name, buy the domain, and launch your portfolio. Get those business cards printed up with your web address on them, and don’t hesitate to share them with friends, family, and folks you meet.

You are a professional photographer now – don’t let any measure of hesitation keep you from being the blessing to your clients that you have the opportunity to be.

Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures in 2013!


Veronica March 17, 2013 at 8:07 pm

Thank you so much for this article (sorry for the super late reply but I’ve just stumbled on it). I will definitely be using these steps for 2013! I think for me the biggest fear is getting out there and then failing. But I believe in my work and I have the passion to drive that so I’m ready to get out there and give it my all! I will be reading EVERY article on your website. Thanks again!!



Outlaw Photographer James Taylor April 27, 2013 at 10:27 pm

Read everything you can about Failure by author Seth Godin, such as this great blog post: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2011/04/how-to-fai.html

Failure is a friend and a teacher, an inevitable milestone on your road to success. Nothing will accelerate your journey to where you want to be faster than failure. Learn to embrace it, learn from it, and welcome it as the wise teacher that it is.

Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!


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