How I Went From Unemployed to Six-Figure Photographer in a Year

PIN - Unemployed to SixfigureAfter just over a year in business with my photography studio, I had hit the six-figure per year mark. By year three, my photography studio was doing well into multiple-six-figures per year.

It had grown to the point where my wife was able to quit her full-time nursing job in order to join the business as the studio saleswoman, and spend more time with our kids.

What would having a six-figure photography studio of your own allow you to do?

A couple days ago, I posted a common question that just about every hobby photography has run through their mind at some point; “will I ever really get my photography business started?”

Many hobby photographers dream of being able to quit their full-time jobs and support their family from their passion business, but unfortunately, many never make it to that point.

I talked about my own experience with this question, and how losing my job 18 years ago put my back against the wall and gave me the push I needed to jump in and finally get my business started.

I also asked what YOU would do in that situation – “what would you do first to get your business started ASAP?”

You left some great answers in the comments!

Hopefully, you won’t have to go through losing a job in order to find that push to get started…

…But, the situation did force me to learn a lot about what to do and what NOT to do in order to run a successful business.

Today, I want to pull back the curtain and give you my own answer to that question.

So, here are the big revelations that took me from unemployed to six-figure photography business owner in just over a year, and that put me on the path to where I am today.

Suddenly unemployed, I realized that I needed to focus on only the most important tasks

When still in the hobby phase of your photography career, it’s really easy to get caught up in all the “faux business” activities. Getting a business card made, spending hours upon hours trying to put a website together, and stressing over logo designs are all examples of this.

What do they all have in common? They will not contribute to bringing in a single penny for your brand new business.

That was the biggest revelation for me at that point, and it’s one that I can’t stress enough to anyone at that stage.

How can you fix this problem?

  • What activities have you heard that you need to do in order to start your business? Write them down. Then ask yourself, “will this activity help me bring in a client or bring in revenue?” if the answer is no, skip it!!
  • Laser-focus in on the tasks that will bring in your first customers. Yes – these are usually the scariest ones or the ones that we are most likely to push down to the bottom of the list over and over, like reaching out to local businesses or asking for referrals.

Once I had my first clients booked, the second revelation hit:

I was not going to be able to support my family if I didn’t sell premium services at premium prices.

Honestly, selling your work and setting prices for its worth can be very difficult at first. It can feel like you’re putting a price tag on your own worth, and it forces to you evaluate your own skill and confidence levels.

This has got to be one of the big reasons why so many hobby photographers fail to make a living from their work…

…If you undervalue your work and price yourself too low, you will end up on a treadmill of trying to bring in enough low-end clients to pay low-end prices.

I didn’t want that. Yes, I wanted to bring in money as quickly as possible, but I also wanted to set myself up to work with premium clients on my own schedule.

How can you fix this problem?

  • Don’t sell yourself short. I’ve talked about this in previous articles, but setting your prices at a moderate to premium rate means you have to bring in less clients in order to make more money.
  • Have faith in your abilities. If you have honestly done the research and practice required to hone your skills, you have no reason not to charge for the work that you offer.

The overall keys to this success

All in all, everything I learned came down to practicing four key things:

  1. Confidence in my skill and my work
  2. Trust that my hard work would pay off
  3. Will to face my fears and doing what it took to bring in my first clients
  4. Focus on what’s important

I really believe that if you’re able to hone in on these four things, you will be able to create a successful photography business.

It wasn’t some special magic or huge amount of money that lead to the success of my business. I got here the same way most successful photographers have; trial, error, and hard work!

I feel lucky to be able to say that I’ve experienced the benefits of owning my own photography business.

I get to do what I love on a daily basis.

I have the freedom to work the hours I choose, and I can even work from home if I want.

It allows me to bring joy and even some tears to hundreds of clients each year.

Now, it’s your turn!

I want you to be able to experience the same pleasures of having a successful photography career that you love.

I know there is plenty of conflicting information out there on how to get a business started scattered all over the internet, but I don’t want you to have to sort through all of that information in order to figure out what may or may not work.

I’ve been there- I know just how overwhelming that can be!

This is YOUR time now. Over the next couple of weeks, I want to make it easier than ever for you to find all of the information and tools you need to get started, more quickly and more easily than ever before, all in one place.

But first, I want to hear your thoughts!…

…In the comments below, please write any question(s) you have about getting your photography business started. Let me know what you’d like us to write about!

I’ll be here to write back to your comments.

I’ll also be back in a couple of days with more!

  • Eric Morales

    This article is great. I’ve been a hobbyist for 3 years with no sense of guidance in how to evolve into a business. Thanks for this

  • Thank you for the comment, Eric! I’m so glad you found this helpful.

  • Sarah Mae Lindell

    Thank you for all of your articles and quick responses! I bought my camera about a year ago, granted it is just a point and shoot but I am learning how to shoot it in manual. I have had several people ask me to take pictures for them but just not sure if I am ready. So until I bite the bullet thank you for putting ideas in my head!

  • Linda Marquette

    I am a Landcape photographer, so what is the best way to increase my business and sell more? `

  • Hi Sarah, thank you for your comment, and you are welcome!
    Learning manual is a must-do if you want to do this professionally, so it sounds like you are on the right track.

    If people are asking for you to take their photos, I say by all means, go for it! You don’t have to charge full price right out of the gate- maybe you could offer to give them photographs at cost in exchange for them allowing you to use their photos in your portfolio and future marketing materials.

  • Hi Linda, landscape is a bit of a different story – our articles are primarily geared towards client portrait photography. Since you wouldn’t usually be working for individual clients, you may want to focus on how to drive more traffic to your website. Maybe you could get your work feature on different blogs, or even submit your photos to sites like iStockPhoto?

  • Linda Marquette

    Great ideas. My work is being featured at a few Banks and cafe’s. That helps with exposure but certainly not enough to quit my full time job. How would I go about being featured in blogs? Thank you for your input.

  • That’s great! Getting your work up around the community is an excellent strategy.

    Here’s an article to help you with building relationships with bloggers and getting featured. It’s written for increasing a blog audience, but can definitely be applied for what you’re doing as well.

  • Linda Marquette

    Thank you so much. I will check it out.

  • Larry Downey

    I got the photog bug in 2008 and have been getting better gear and honing skills since. Finding Hobby to Pro has inspired me to pursue more. Thanks for the boost. This post has me working on my six steps to six figures in photography. Keep it coming. You are truly inspiring.

  • Dustin Baines

    I currently charge per hour but want to change that to per event. But completely unsure how to do that. Can you tell us about how your pricing evolved?

  • Hi Larry, thank you so much for the kind words. It means a lot, and I’m so happy we can help!

  • That’s a great idea for a future article! For now we do have a whole series on pricing that may help. Here’s Part 1:

  • nora mcdaniel

    I had to quit doing my job as a dog bather due to an injury. I thought what better way to still be around animals is to photograph them, I love taking pictures and animals. I have been learning a lot more about photography and enjoying it. I have done photo shoots for my friends but I am trying to get my name out there. I had also done a couple of motorcycle events. I had recently ordered a photo booth I was hoping that will help to get more photo shoots and do more events. I am also thinking of changing my business name, it is called Furtography but with the photo booth I am not sure with that name I would attract the clientele but I would like to have a name that could tie both together. Any suggestions?

  • Nora, what a great name – Furtography! I think it would be very wise to set yourself apart as a pet specialist. That is a tough question though, since a photo booth wouldn’t really make sense with pet photography.

    You may first want to make sure that name isn’t taken already by a business in your state. If not, you could always do photo booth/events under a separate name!

  • Hi Nora,

    I was just thinking about your question some more and have a couple other suggestions. You could call the business Furtography by Nora McDaniel so that your other offerings can be by Nora or on your website have your main pet section and then a button marked “for humans” or “for dog’s best friend” (something like that) and then link to your other offerings.

  • Linda Marquette

    After reading about triggers and emailing none of the subject matter was about photography. So I am still not sure how I would apply it. For instance I sell my work at location where I am there for one week. Its the most profitable thing I do. So I started getting emails addresses of my customers so that I can later thank them for their purchase. Then maybe mention other locations I will be at. But unfortunately that’s all about me. I don’t want it to feel like I am being pushy. Suggestions?

  • ShannonMBeier

    Photography is more than just “an unemployed” job for me it is a passion that I have for every person and view of seeing things differently. I was a nurse for many years and took photography classes just to be full time for my grant program. Still I loved for photography. I have not worked in the medical field for 7 years, although I worked in many Photography Studios with their many many rules and regulations. I just got out of the military, and purchased a home and just bought an 1800’s Manor home to open a non profit organization Photography Studio for students of all grades and all school events, of low income families military families and ones that are referred to me. Today it is still under construction although I still do all photography mobily but due to my health my sponsors feel I need to get a little better before moving forward . The good advantage I have is that the studio house is right next door to my very own home! any suggestions?

  • Correct, it’s not specifically about photography, but it’s for all entrepreneurs. The idea from this article is the method for getting featured on other blogs. The video talks about how to approach blog owners through email in order to get them to promote you.

    As for your other question, email is also a great way to grow your business! The fact that you’re collecting email addresses is a great start. Some other things you can email them would be special email subscribers-only discounts / specials, links to any blog postings on your own site (if you post photos from recent sessions), and asking questions about what they are looking for from you in the future. Hope that helps!

  • Linda Marquette

    Thanks again. You have been a wealth of information. Responding so quickly is appreciated.

  • heather

    Nora, I, too, hope to one day be a professional pet & wildlife/nature photographer. I worked as a mobile groomers assistant for about 6 months, and now on a horse farm. However, I also worked for a photobooth company. One of my favorite events that I was lucky enough to be booked for, was for the opening of a new condo building in Arlington. This particular community was VERY pet friendly, and, though I am still to this day not sure if it was aloud, one lady asked if she could bring her dog into the booth with her. Well, someone saw this, and wanted his dog in there, then another, and another, and another, and so on and so forth, until we decided to borrow one of the lobby benches for the afternoon, and soon there was a line of people with their fur babies waiting for their turn in the booth. My point, is that you can aim the booth at the same clientele as your photography. Attend local pet adoptions, bark in the park events, ask a small business if they would be interested in receiving a small percentage of your daily profits for you to set up in their shop for the day, all the while, promoting your pet photography. Another inventive, would be to donate part of your overall profits to a pet rescue, or the ASPCA. Especially with the whole “organic” movement going on, people love companies who help others, especially pet parents who have chosen to adopt their babies. (yay!) As for the name, I agree with Scott, “Furtography by Nora McDaniel” sounds like a wonderful name!

  • Chrys Campbell

    I was laid off 6 months ago and still struggling to figure out these questions. In your blog you as “What activities have you heard that you need to do in order to start your business? Write them down. Then ask yourself, “will this activity help me bring in a client or bring in revenue?” if the answer is no, skip it!!”…..but I don’t even know what the activities are to start my business.

  • Chuckles

    Activity #1 should be to make sure you can deliver a product, activity #2 should be to immediately start using your available connections to get clients. If you don’t have connections, you better make some, because otherwise you could be bankrupt in fairly short order.

    You work for yourself, so you’re in the people business, NOT the photography business. You can be the best photographer in the world but if you can’t be on time to shoots, be friendly with them, or actually find more clients then you’ll do very poorly.

  • Muranda Adams

    Me and my husband started our photography business a couple of years ago and we have clients already however we don’t have enough to stop working at other jobs and just become full time photographers. We are mobile and more busy in the summer and slow in the winter. How can we keep business more consistent? And should I go to school an earn a degree in photography?