A common pattern I see in emails from beginner photographers: you want to build a new photography website, as cheaply as possible, so you can get more people to hire you or buy your images. And fast.
So many ways in which that’s naive.
You’re basically expecting to launch a website that works on its own, and that will magically bring you more money. The old “build it and they will come” mentality.
I’m here to tell you that, unless you stop thinking like a hobbyist, you won’t be able to build a healthy photography business and get the results you want.
Start thinking like a business owner
Photography is a business. So besides shooting & editing photos, you have to learn many other skills: web-design, SEO, marketing, finances, contracts, copyright, etc.
You don’t need to be an expert, and you can surely outsource some of these aspects, but you still need to understand the basics in order to succeed.
Overall, you need to treat what you’re doing as a business. This change in mindset will help you take better actions towards your goals:
- you define your target audience to make sure your website copy is aimed at your ideal clients
- you don’t work for free. Spec work is bad for you.
- instead of just launching a site and waiting, you schedule a monthly review for your site, deciding what content could be updated/refreshed
- you take care of your finances, and you protect yourself using contracts for any assignment work
Otherwise, you’re leaving it all up to the wind.
You might be afraid that all this business-related work will take something away from your creative flow. I get that. I become a photographer to do what you love, not some boring business stuff. But by thinking long term, you soon understand that growing your business will give you the freedom to do more of what you love in the future.
Build it, continue working hard, and they will come
When thinking of your photography work as a business, let’s emphasize the role of your website: it’s an investment. You spend some time and resources now to create a “marketing engine” that will help you get sales/clients over time.
The fallacy here is that it’s not a one-time thing. You don’t just put something up online, launch it, and then expect it to do all the work.
Everyone has a website these days. It’s not enough.
Websites are not magic, they’re just multipliers of the quality of your work. Your photography website can indeed be a powerful tool in your career. Sometimes indispensable, but only a tool. It depends on how you use it.
It’s OK if you just want to stick to a simple portfolio website (for people who find out about you from other means and just want to check you up online). But don’t expect more work from it.
That only comes if you continue putting in the work over time:
- adding new featured galleries or rotating past work (to make your website feel fresh)
- writing new blog posts (to increase your readership over time)
- understanding the industry and adapting to trends
- continually testing and improving the site
The grocery store analogy
If you were trying to build a grocery store in the real world, you wouldn’t just need to rent out the space, fill it with produce and then open the gates. There would be many aspects to take care of in order to turn it into a flourishing business.
All aspects of running a physical store translate to your online photography business:
- store location -> business location, target audience
- branding -> online branding
- construction material -> hosting service, platforms, themes, plugins
- interior design -> web-design
- product quality -> the quality of your images (this is the most important thing), and tightly editing your portfolio
- product prices -> image licensing, assignment rates
- marketing -> online marketing
Stop looking for shortcuts
When you build your first website, you can dream that the website will automatically bring in new sales & clients. But you’ll soon realize that the process is lower than expected (but it requires hard work, it if were that simple, everybody would do it).
Without treating it like a business and taking the time to do your research, any “tips & tricks” that you implement on your site won’t help you get results. The obsession some photographers have with SEO or with Facebook Ads is proof of this; they’re just unreliable shortcuts, instead of putting in the work.
If you lack clarity or you’re working in a dead-end photography niche, all the SEO and advertising in the world won’t help you reach your business goals. Even if you have a beautiful website. Bottom line: you need quality work.
“If you think your organization needs a bigger marketing budget, maybe you just need to be less average instead.” (Seth Godin)
Look around at some successful photographers online. Many of them are using Flash, have crappy About page, poor navigation, SEO issues, you name it.
But they’re still hugely successful because they focus on their images, and they think of their business as a whole. Their website and social media outposts are just tools they’re using, poorly or not, to drive their business forward.
Work hard to differentiate yourself
It’s a lot easier these days to build a quick portfolio website for yourself. Countless tools and templates to choose from, just waiting for you to upload your images.
But everybody is doing that.
Acting as a professional and strategically thinking how you’ll be growing your business in the future, is what can set you apart (and rise above the sea of hobbyist photographers).