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How I packed my calendar as a brand new photographer…

…without spending a dime on advertising. Yep, you read that right!

Sometimes we get a camera to take better photos of loved ones or start a new hobby, other times we dream of starting a side biz or a full-time photography career. This post is for the people who want to make money at it; below I’m sharing how I built an exponential photography business as a newbie with no money to spare.

Rewind to 2013, I finally get my first DSLR… a Canon Rebel. I felt so legit. I started practicing on my four year old son, editing with free online software. Photography is not just pushing a button, I would realize. There were ISO and shutter speed… and what the hell is aperture? It was overwhelming, but I loved the way I got to freeze time and manipulate lighting and angles to create totally different perspectives.

A friend on Facebook noticed I had stepped up my photo game and asked if I would take his engagement pictures with my new camera. Totally intimidated and terrified, I told him “Oh, no. You’re going to want a professional to capture those!” Then I thought “Wait, why AREN’T I doing this professionally?” So I messaged him back and told him I would take their photos as long as I could do them for free. By not letting them pay me, it alleviated a ton of pressure. 

They turned out pretty great and more friends started to inquire. I came up with a pretty smart business plan that would prove to provide me steady, loyal clientele for years to come.

I announced on Facebook that I was embarking on this new journey and that I would be starting family sessions at $50 for the first month, increasing exponentially by $50 each following month until I was at my ideal pricing, which was $299 at the time. What this did was create haste because people wanted to book me before the next price increase, and the affordable rates made them feel comfortable taking a chance. This also enabled me to be busy every weekend, which not only garnered me tons of experience but also produced a lot of sharable content, thus creating demand and giving potential clients examples of my work.

But I had one rule: Whether they were paying $0, $50, $100 etc, everyone would be treated as full-price clients. To this day I still photograph many of those first-month clients every year. And though my gear has been upgraded, my skills improved and they’re investing more now, they’re repeat and referring clients because I treated them with the same care even when they weren’t. That has always been the backbone of my business; great customer service. And it’s proven to be the most effective tool to have. The good news is it’s totally free.

My best piece of advice to anyone starting out, is utilize your social circles. Don’t underestimate the power of referrals! Your personal Facebook alone probably has hundreds of people who know you, love you and already trust you. Remember when I said I got started with a steady stream of clientele by just reaching out to my personal Facebook page? To this day, years later, I’ still don’t pay for advertising. Client referrals remain my top lead source. 

I want whoever is reading this to know they don’t need a lot of money to get their name out there. And the best part is customer service is free. Manners are free. Common courtesy, warm email responses and professionalism is free. Those are your moneymakers because people pay for EXPERIENCE over product. You can be the best damn photographer in the biz but if you’re hard to hang out with for an hour, no one will book you. And to be clear, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with paying for advertisements. But please don’t feel discouraged if you can’t invest that in your business right away. I promise you don’t need it.

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