Around 85% of photographers fail to make it through their third year and even fewer ever make it to full time photography.
There are many reasons photographers fail to go full time, but I think the first 3 reasons on this list are the most common.
We spend around 40 hours a week working.
That’s one third of our waking life!
So, it would be nice to enjoy it, right?
Plus, when you enjoy your work you tend to be happier the rest of the time too. Which, in turn, makes you more fun to be around.
And, while you’re enjoying your work it would be good to earn a decent living from it too, right?
Earning a great living doing what you love is one of the finest things life has to offer.
So it baffles me that most people never strive for it.
…which brings me on to the first reason most photographers fail to go full time.
1. Not working hard enough
Starting a photography business is hard work. It requires dedication and long hours initially because there’s often a day job sucking up 40+ hours.
Read the biography of any entrepreneur and they’ll tell you they worked obsessively. Now, I’m not suggesting you should risk your health or your family for your work, but you need to make some sacrifices.
Ask yourself, how much do you really want to be a photographer?
Being a photographer is awesome and gives you a lot of freedom, but becoming one is hard work.
There are hundreds of people vying to be a photographer in every town. The ones who make it are generally the ones who work hardest.
Even the smart ones fail if they don’t put in the hard yards.
Are you ready to do what it takes?
So, that brings me on to…
2. Not having enough time
We always make time for what’s important to us. The best example is a busy person who then has a baby to take care of. Suddenly they drop everything to take care of the most precious thing in their life.
New parents sacrifice hours of sleep and stop seeing their friends as much.
Of course, it’s completely understandable. After all, what’s more important than your new baby?
But, other than family, what’s more important than having an amazing career that gives you more time with the people you love?
Busy people seem to find time to watch their favourite TV series.
We make time for a week off work.
We make time to move house.
We make time for the pub.
We make time to train to run a marathon.
We make time for our favourite hobby, whether it’s football, the gym, fishing or the cinema.
How busy are you really?
If you have children it makes things more challenging, but not impossible when you have a plan.
After all, most full time photographers have children and keep their business running.
It can be done (and we have a whole module on managing your time in our membership site).
The only issue is, most photographers don’t have a plan. Which brings me on to…
3. No plan
A successful photography business – any successful business – does well because there’s a coherent plan.
A plan for finding and targeting good quality prospects.
A plan for converting those prospects into clients.
A plan for standing out from all the other businesses in the area.
A plan for pricing your service to make a decent profit.
And so on…
A successful photography business doesn’t generally happen by accident.
Napolean Hill spent 25 years studying 500 millionaires back in the early 1900s. He wanted to find out what made them so successful. He made a huge number of astounding discoveries that he compiled into what many consider to be the greatest business book ever written. It’s called Think and Grow Rich and you can read the PDF here. One of the things he discovered was that there was one common thread between all these successful people. Although they all got successful in a myriad of ways there was one thing they all did. They all had an ‘organised plan’.
If you bumble along with no direction and no goals you’ll never make it.
That’s the beauty of being a Get Pro Photo Club member, because we give you the organised plan for becoming a successful portrait and wedding photographer. Plus, we help you every step of the way, so you’re never at a loss for what to do next.
4. They try and figure it out themselves
You’re a smart person. After all, you’re reading this blog post, so you clearly understand success in the photography business isn’t just down to how well you know your camera. Since you’re smart, I’m sure you’ll be able to figure out all the stuff on this chart.
The really tricky bit is building it into a system that takes prospects through from a state of never having heard of you, to becoming a great client.
Business nerds like me call it a marketing and sales funnel.
To find great clients you need a system where every single part of the process helps you achieve your goal. For my family portrait business my goal is to help clients choose decent sized, beautiful framed portraits of their family for the walls of their home. Our system is designed to make that happen so we’re not competing on price with shoot and burn photographers. For weddings we have another system that works just as well.
Trying to work this stuff out on your own takes years. Plus, it costs you thousands of pounds caused by making mistake after mistake. Not to mention that it can be rather soul destroying.
We’re here to help you become a successful photographer quicker and cheaper than doing it yourself.
5. The wrong plan
Some photographers work hard and create a detailed plan too, but they still struggle. Why? Wrong plan.
I’ve had many bad plans that I’ve worked hard on. It makes me feel sick when I think about the time and money I’ve wasted on things that didn’t work.
We speak to photographers every day and one of the biggest issues they have is they keep putting things off. They never take action. It’s easy to get distracted with non-scary things like:
- Designing logos
- Tweaking your pricing
- Buying new camera gear
- Practicing with Photoshop
- Buying samples
- Buying baby props
- Researching the competition
- And so on
That stuff is all fine, but the trouble is, they never do any of the stuff that truly matters. Like doing the marketing that’s going to bring in the clients.
It’s understandable, because we want everything to be perfect. We’re scared of the unknown, so we want to be hyper-prepared for every eventuality.
We’re scared of uncertainty. We’re all too quick to focus on the negative things that might happen if we put ourselves out there. We’re programmed on a DNA level to want security. But seeking security, wanting certainty and wanting perfection are all just easy excuses for not trying.
The funny thing is that the thing that finally made me become a full time photographer was being made redundant from my day job. I thought the day job was my security. It wasn’t.
Having your own well run business is far more secure than working for someone else.
Something that really helps with procrastination is having a mentor. Having a mentor by your side overcomes procrastination because it reduces self doubt. You know that you’re on the right path so your motivation multiplies and you get far more done, more quickly. Whenever you have a question you can get it answered right away and keep your momentum.
Procrastination is rampant in most of us and it’s a silent killer of dreams. Watch out for it.
7. They’re too comfortable
I mentioned earlier that the catalyst for me becoming a full time photographer was I got made redundant. I HAD to make it work. Before that I was comfortable. The job was fine. I didn’t hate it, I just felt like my life was draining away. But it wasn’t horrible enough for me to work as hard as I should have.
This may be the case for you. Life’s pretty good, but it would be nice if you could be a full time photographer. It’s a dangerously comfortable situation. Pretty soon life has passed you buy and you realise you spent one third of it sat at a desk being bored.
However, please don’t run off to tell your boss to shove it and start full time photography today!
Just realise the situation you’re in and consider how badly you want what you say you want.
If you really want to be a successful photographer then it’s time to get serious and plan things out.
I’m not immune to this phenomenon. I’ve already achieved my first goal of making a nice living as a photographer. There’s always a danger of me relaxing, sitting back and scratching my belly. I have to force myself to take my business to the next level. There are up and coming photographers who are vying for my position in my town.
That’s the thing with this industry. It’s a job that people feel passionate about. Passionate people work their arses off. If I don’t keep bringing the heat then I could get left out in the cold.
8. Not prepared to make any sacrifices
This one is closely related to ‘not having time’. When you say ‘I don’t have enough time’ you’re actually saying ‘I have more important things to do’.
When I decided to become a photographer I stopped seeing friends so much.
I stopped playing table tennis in the league, despite having played for over 20 years.
I changed my job so I could be nearer home and work fewer hours so I would have more time for my photography.
I worked in the evening instead of watching TV.
I did it even when I was tired.
Every day I thought about what I could do to move my business forward.
I made sacrifices, otherwise I wouldn’t have had time.
9. They copy other photographers
I fell into this trap. I looked at what all the other photographers were doing in my area and copied them. I assumed that if they were professional then all I needed to do was copy them and I’d become a professional too. I hadn’t realised I was copying people who were actually struggling! One of the people I copied actually came to me for help a little while later!!
Aside from the fact that you may be copying a bad formula, it’s also important to differentiate your business. Which brings me on to…
10. They don’t differentiate themselves
If you’re offering the exact same service as other photographers then nothing separates you except price. Sure your photography is different, but there are lots of talented photographers who are cheap.
Compete on service. Be different. Stand out.
If everyone else does shoot and burn then focus on beautifully framed wall portraits and elegant albums.
When you stand out from your competitors you’re able to charge more. Which brings me on to…
11. They don’t know how much to charge
Most photographers don’t charge enough to survive full time. The competitive market of the digital age means prices are lower than ever.
When people ask me how much they should charge I say “work out how much money you need and then work backwards from there”. The response is usually, but xyz up the road only charges x, so I can’t charge more than that.
Yes you can.
But, you have to differentiate yourself, as I said in item 10.
There are photographers all over the world earning a fantastic living despite being surrounded by cheap competition.
I mentioned in item one that most photographers don’t work hard enough. So if you offer services that other photographers can’t be bothered to do then you’ll stand out. Again, go back to item 10 for a few ideas.
12. They do know what they should charge, but they’re too scared
This is one I wrestle with to this very day. I think “I would never pay that much, so how can I expect my clients to?”
Well, I’m not my ideal client.
I wouldn’t spend £50,000 on a car because I don’t think it’s worth it.
…but if I earned hundreds of thousand a year then maybe I would.
That’s why some people are happy to invest large amounts of money in a photographer.
It’s because they value the extra level of service. It’s because they like YOU as a person and are happy to invest a little for that reason alone.
People spend money illogically. I do, you do, we all do.
Maybe you love handbags and spent more than you should have on one because you loved it.
Maybe you spend thousands of pounds a year down the pub because you love going out.
Maybe your car is a little extravagant for your pay packet.
My wife and I love holidays, so we spend more than most people on those.
Never second guess how much someone will pay or should pay for your service. They may value what you do more than you do!
Price yourself outside your comfort zone and as your confidence grows keep moving your prices up accordingly.
You’ll be amazed where you end up.
13. They give up too soon or too easily
In this world of instant gratification we all want to be an overnight success.
Show me an overnight success and I’ll show you someone who put in a lot of graft before they suddenly gained momentum.
My mentor, Chuck Lewis, calls it the Steam Engine Law. Steam engines take a long time to get going, but eventually they build up a head of steam and they become unstoppable.
Your photography business is the same.
You’ll eventually hit a tipping point where all that groundwork, all that effort, suddenly gains traction.
Google will suddenly notice all your blog posts and raise you through the rankings.
A bride with loads of friends will suddenly hire you and refer you to everyone she knows.
You’ll make friends with a wedding supplier who suddenly sends you loads of referrals.
And so on.
You can go from struggling to thriving very quickly. But you and I know how much work you did before that halcyon moment.
And when it finally happens and you know how much you deserve your success it can make you cry with pride and pleasure. Or was that just me…!
14. They offer bad customer service
I think it may be something to do with us being creative types. A lot of photographers can be a bit flaky.
Many of my enquiries tell me “thank you for responding, I’m finding it hard to get hold of a photographer, they’re not returning my calls/emails!”
Then there are the photographers who haven’t designed the album 6 months after the wedding.
Then there are the dreaded wedding photographers who get stressed and snap at the guests for getting in the way, or taking photographs over their shoulder.
Then there are the wedding photographers who turn up dressed like they’re going to a friend’s BBQ.
The list goes on.
There are many ways to undermine your own business. If you consistently fail on any of them then you could be struggling without ever knowing why.
15. They think selling is evil
Selling is simply customer service. It’s not about pressure, it’s about helping people, asking questions and offering advice.
For example, I use a piece of software called ProSelect that allows me to show my clients the photographs from their portrait session on the walls of their home, to scale, and with my supplier’s frames around them.
My clients love it because they can see what the photographs will look like in their home before they buy. I love it because it shows clients they need to buy decent sized photographs for their walls, otherwise they look lost in the big space behind a sofa, or above a mantel.
That’s one example of great selling that’s also great customer service.
16. They don’t understand marketing
Marketing isn’t taught in school, but it’s the lifeblood of any business. It amazes me that schools teach chemical reactions and geological formations, but they don’t teach business.
We’re then sent out into the big bad world and expected to perform well in our jobs.
So, we cling on to the urban myth that marketing is about having a ‘catchy headline’ and we rack our brains for some amusing pun. The promotion flops and we don’t understand why.
Marketing is a maze of human psychology and a subject big enough for a million blog posts. I’ve studied marketing for over 25 years and I still have promotions that flop.
So, what happens is after a few failed promotions photographers start to lower their prices because they think that’s the problem.
Boom, suddenly they get enquiries and they think price WAS the problem.
The trouble is photographer’s prices become so low they can’t survive and they end up quitting.
The challenge is to run marketing promotions that attract great clients who want to hire you for your service, not your price.
It’s an art.
At Get Pro Photo Club we look at our member’s marketing ideas and improve them to ensure they get as many enquiries as possible.
17. Their photography isn’t good enough
It’s not an accident that this one is quite far down the list. However, I do see too many photographers who haven’t got the technical skills to call themselves a professional.
We’ve all heard to horror stories about wedding photographers.
It’s one thing to take a great photograph now and then when conditions are perfect. But professional photographers must consistently take great images in bad light, when it’s raining, with nervous clients, with sulky children and so on.
With weddings it’s particularly critical that you know your camera inside and out, without even thinking about it.
The best way to learn your craft without the pressure is to be a second shooter for a more established wedding photographer. That way you can test yourself in difficult situations and see what challenges you’re going to face when you set out on your own. It’s invaluable.
18. They never really believed it was possible ‘in their situation’
It’s easy for us to create reasons why we can’t do something. It’s safer to say it’s not possible ‘in our situation’. If we don’t try then we’re protected from the pain of potential failure.
The thing is, we only fail if we give up.
As I said earlier, perseverance virtually guarantees success.
There are successful photographers who have overcome almost every challenge you can imagine. To paraphrase the great Brendon Burchard “You’re not going through anything that someone hasn’t already overcome.”
We can become a photographer despite having a family to look after.
We can do it even if we don’t have much money when we start.
19. Lack of confidence
I was that short, funny looking kid in school who got bullied. Nothing too bad (and I had plenty of friends), but it still knocked my confidence badly.
Stuff like that creates emotional baggage in adulthood too.
I never felt worthy.
I put everyone else before myself.
I was terrified of conflict.
I wanted everyone to like me.
I was shy.
These characteristics meant I found it hard to promote myself or charge the prices I needed to.
How did I overcome my lack of confidence?
20. They don’t know who their target market is or how to reach them
Our natural instinct when we start a photography business is to promote ourselves in a way that appeals to…. ….us.
In many ways that’s great. You should put your own personality into your business.
Just bear in mind what I said in point 12. You may not be your ideal client. Perhaps you would only be willing to pay £50 for some family photographs, or £500 for wedding photography. Unfortunately you can’t run a business on those numbers.
Think about how much money you want / need to make and then target the market that would be prepared to pay that amount.
Where could you find someone prepared to pay £1000 on family portraits? Or £500?
What hobbies do they have? Horse-riding?
Which estate agent / realtor would be selling them their houses?
What sort of service might these people want from a photographer? Just digital files, or would they want you to get the images professionally printed and framed for them?
What style of photograph might they want to put on their walls?
Once you know who you want to target, where to find them and what these people want from you then it gets easier to market to them.
We can help you with that too.
21. They’re not prepared to invest in their business or education
You can’t be an accountant without years of expensive studying.
You can’t open a shop without investing in a lot of stock and renting a location.
You can’t open a restaurant without renting a property and hiring staff.
Hair salon… same thing.
Chiropractor… same thing.
And so on.
The thing with photography is it seems like you just need a DSLR and you’re good to go.
In reality photography requires more expertise, more expense and more business acumen than anybody realises.
To be successful at it, anyway.
After about 3 years of struggling I joined a photography business membership site and it changed everything.
I learned so much and I put what I learned into practice.
My business blossomed. Within a few months my average order for family portraits tripled from £150 to £450. I went from booking 33% of weddings clients who met me to booking 89%, despite putting my prices up.
Having a strategic plan mapped out for me and someone on-hand to answer all my questions changed everything.
Finally, I knew what to do and how to do it. And when I got stuck my mentor helped me.
The dream of becoming a full time photographer became achievable and real.
The motivation, excitement and determination I got from knowing how to achieve my dream was incredible. I worked harder than ever before and each time I had a new victory it spurred me on.
That sense of direction and control over your future is what we want to give you.
One of my great fears was that I’d get to old age and wonder if I truly lived my life. That thought spurs me on every day.
We’d love to help you have the photography career you want. Click here and get free membership for a whole month to see everything we have to offer. If it’s not right for you then ping us an email to say you don’t want to be a member anymore and that’s that. You can’t lose.