2011 Wrap-Up #3: Major Business Milestones (Photography Business Tips)

While learning things the hard way in 2011, I also had some great successes and reached some major milestones in my business. Here are a few, with some tips about how to do the same for yourself, if you’d like:

Doubled My Gross Income, Again

For the 4th straight year, my gross income at least doubled. Going full-time in 2011 was a big risk…but it paid off, big time! While I haven’t replaced the income from my previous career, if this trend continues, in 2012, I might! Having the time to invest myself 100% in my photography allowed me to grow it by leaps and bounds. I have one very supportive and patient husband to thank for that! He’s the best. I wish everyone was so lucky.

Improved Website Traffic

I still have work to do in this area, but made significant progress in this area between 2010 and 2011:

  • Bounce rate improved from 67% in 2010 to 45% in 2011.
  • Average time spent on my website increased from 2:46 to 5:04.
  • Page views increased from 50,268 to 71,096.
  • Pages per visit increased from 9.34 to 12.74.

I made several significant changes in order to improve traffic to, and on, my website, including:

  • I worked with Fastline Media to overhaul my website.
  • I improved my keywording of all images in Lightroom, and now upload them to my SmugMug site from the Lightroom plugin. SmugMug recognizes and embeds Lightroom key words, so I only have to do that once. Key words help with SEO.
  • I added external links to my website on all of my many other online profiles.

Income Diversification + Movement Towards Commercial Photography

My goal in 2012 is to increase the percentage of income I make from commercial projects and reduce my reliance on portraiture. However, at the same time, I’ve worked to diversify my income streams for long-term sustainability. By the end of 2012, I aim to qualify for General Member status with ASMP, which requires that at least 50% of one’s income is derived from commercial licensing fees.

To move my business towards these goals, I needed to better understand my own business.  I tracked 2011 expenses in these categories:

  • Creative Fee: Commercial.  Creative fees in commercial projects are based on factors like the time on-location, administrative costs, whether an assistant is needed, post-production requirements, etc.
  • Licensing Fees.  Licensing fees are based on how the client(s) will use the image(s) and for how long. General marketing rates are less than paid advertising, as so on.
  • Event.  I charge a flat rate for event coverage up to 4 hours.
  • Non-Shooting Assist.  I assisted several photographers in 2011, for which I was paid a flat rate based on the time on location. I love assisting! It’s like getting paid to attend a hands-on workshop.
  • Creative Fee: Portrait.  All of my portrait clients pay a non-refundable Creative Fee due prior to their session. This excludes product and covers shooting time, post-production, and web hosting.
  • Photo Restoration.  A new line of service for me in 2011.
  • Product.  This includes all portrait sales including digital and printed products, online and in-person orders.
  • Fine Art.  How this whole thing began…and something I try to keep going to keep my heart in the game!
  • Equipment Resale.  As I upgrade my equipment, I shed older and lower quality models. In 2011 I sold equipment to local photographers and also via Used Camera Buyer, which I highly recommend.

Here is the result at the end of 2011:

My product sales in 2011 were inflated primarily by the Keystone School Spring and Fall Portrait shoots. Over the course of 2011, I started doing less portraiture and more commercial work as my SEO kicked in and my commercial portfolio grew, while simultaneously charging more for both. Over time, those changes should nudge me towards my goal of 50% licensing fees, since I will price out most portrait clients.

Joined the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) and Professional Photographers of America (PPA)

I have local photographer Keith Ball to thank, profusely, for agreeing to sponsor my ASMP membership. Becoming a member of prominent trade organizations such as these offers many benefits:

  1. Credentials.  I’ve added links to my profiles with these organizations to my website footer.
  2. Direct Referrals.  I got the Freeman job via PPA, and several assistant gigs via ASMP. The jobs more than paid for the cost of membership.
  3. Vendor Discounts.  To great vendors, like Apple, BHPhoto, etc.
  4. Educational Opportunities.  For example, the Steve KozakTony Corbell, and Steve Whittaker workshops I attended in 2011.
  5. Business Tips from Seasoned Pros.  I participate in ASMP’s Architectural and Stock list serves, which is a daily conversation among other members, many of whom have been working for decades and operated at a level of sophistication to which I aspire. Surrounding yourself with people that are better than you is important.

I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, joining these organizations is probably the one single thing that helped me increase revenue in 2011.

Started Booking Jobs via Internet Searches

This was a very significant milestone for me! Moving to OKC was scary; I knew I couldn’t rely on word-of-mouth bookings, since we didn’t really know many people here. I had to get my name and my work out into the community, improve my SEO to advance my search result rankings, and make sure people liked what they saw once they found me. I accomplished this by attacking it on all fronts.

  • I met with ad agencies.
  • I started tweeting and using Twitter to network with locals. Find me at @BaumannPhoto.
  • I improved my Facebook page and worked hard to increase the number of fans.
  • I sold packages through local “Groupon” Momma Counts.
  • I blogged like crazy. This was the most important effort. Most people report that they find my blog before my website. Search engines love new content!
  • I improved my keywording of imagery on all forums.
  • I started using Flickr to drive blog hits by captioning images with related blog posts.
  • I created Linked In and Google+ business pages. I already had personal pages but added the business ones as well.

I could go on and on. As a result of all of this work, I booked jobs with Laser Spine Institute, Walton Signage, HGTV, and Freeman Co.

Started Using Photoshop CS5

For most people, “photographer” and “Photoshop” are practically synonymous. Everyone always assumes I process images in Photoshop. In fact, I ran my business for 3 years before I used the software a single time! (And I really don’t think anyone could tell.) While some may criticize me for doing so, I strongly believe that this choice forced me to

  • Learn my camera inside and out
  • Understand how to create great photos in-camera and on-location rather than in post-production, and
  • Squeeze every last ounce of capability out of Lightroom 3.

However, at some point in 2011, I realized I was getting bored with my imagery, and knew then it was time to leap into Photoshop to take my work to the next level. And so, I did. The photo restoration project I did in 2011 is a great example of how CS5 use improved my ability to serve clients. In architectural images, the content-aware tool is just amazing for removing distracting elements like phone wires, etc. Worth every penny!

Delivered First HDR Images to Clients

To say the use of HDR in architectural photography is a controversial subject among experienced and film-era photographers is an understatement. However, I think it’s a powerful tool when used subtly; it saves tremendous amounts of time and can really improve the range of shadow/highlight detail in an architectural image. I used Nik Software HDR Pro in final exterior images delivered to Laser Spine Institute and HGTV/Showhouse Showdown. Both clients were thrilled. Understanding how to use this software gives me one more weapon in my arsenal.

Became OKC SMUG Leader

You can catch up on 2011 SMUG’s in my previous related post. Being a SMUG leader comes with many benefits, including a $500 Bay Photo credit, which subsidized my large direct mailer in 2011, and the Nik Software suite (see above). Plus, it was just really fun!

I will wrap up there! 2011 was quite a year and I am so grateful for all of the progress I made. It makes me really excited about 2012! I hope your 2011 was just as successful, if not more so, and wish you all the best in 2012. Let me know if you have any questions, and what you accomplished and learned this year!

– HBA

About Holly Baumann Photography

I am Holly Baumann Ambuehl, a commercial and portrait photographer based in Central Illinois. My blog posts feature client work, but I just love to write, so I also write about owning a business, food and drink, travel, and my personal life! I am always honored when clients trust me to capture their vision, and equally so when my readers converse with me about what I've photographed or expressed here. I hope we'll have an opportunity to collaborate professionally and/or become friends. I'd love to hear what you think! - Holly
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2 Responses to 2011 Wrap-Up #3: Major Business Milestones (Photography Business Tips)

  1. So you shed older lower quality gear and upgraded. I take it you sold all that Nikon gear and bought Canon. 😉

    Glad to hear things are going so well.

    Like

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