Creating a Photography Business on a Budget

I’ve gotten a lot of email and comments about how expensive it all it is. I want you to know that I – of all people – GET THIS! I started my business the summer before my husband started chiropractic school. We bought my first camera with his graduation money and then sold his laptop to buy my first pro lens (He’s amazing!) Since the day I had my first paying shoot in 2008, I have been our sole bread winner and I have built everything up very methodically. This was not a hobby where if I made money fun, and if I spent hubby’s money, oh well – I had to be profitable, and I wasn’t going to sacrifice my time with my kids to do it. There was a learning curve… Severe one but eventually I set the goal- it was one session a week, $200 Session Fee with an average sale of $2000. I got to work. I took every opportunity to create a brand that would portray quality as well as attract the right client type for me and my business!

I wanted to share a little bit on how I did this in regards to a budget…

#1. I do NOT believe in buying things before you’ve earned them! In other words say NO to credit, instead plan one extra session a month where all the money goes to your business! An example of this would be that I didn’t order Frame and Canvas Bags until I actually sold my first Canvas.

#2. Be thrifty! When I designed the Ultimate Marketing Kit, it was for myself before I ever thought of selling it. I created everything to be as affordable as I could possibly make it! Many of the items designed for the Free Stuff at Vista Print!

I just finished this logo design and custom marketing kit for the oh so awesome Debra R. today! Here are items from her Custom Ultimate Marketing Kit that can be purchased through Vista Print for Free or almost Free!

Cheap Photography Marketing Ideas

#3. When designing your brand, invest in creating an experience for your clients before you invest in other items that will not affect your bottom line (props). It’s in the experience that referrals are cultivated! I knew I wanted to have a larger Session Fee to cover the cost  of a retouching artist so that I could have more time with my family, so I built that in. I also use the larger session fee to prepare my clients for large orders but with that fee, I knew it was critical that I immediately reassure them of the value that they were getting! I do this with my Welcome Packet that is mailed out right after the session fee is collected. Of course, it couldn’t break the bank either! This is the first edition of my welcome packet and it costs me $2.40. I use one branded sticky note and leave a little hand written note on the front. I bring pens with me to use at ordering appointments but I don’t give them away.

Photography Welcome Packet Ideas

Today my welcome packet includes: Engraved Logo Folder, Welcome Letter on letter headContract, Model Release, Magnet, Business Card, Session Premier Menu, Style Guide (ordered from Vista), Collection Menu , I stick a hand written sticky note on the front and use a return address label from the Ultimate Marketing Kit to send it off.

You don’t have to be rich to rule my world… Sorry I just had to finish it. When I started typing the first 6 words there was no way I could finish the original sentence. But seriously – It’s not about pouring ridiculous amounts of money into your business.  I’d rather think that it’s about receiving ridiculous amount of money from your business while doing what you truly love! Sounds a lot better, doesn’t it? We are all at different stages of the game looking to fulfill different needs. Some are part time while others have studio overhead to maintain but it really doesn’t matter how many sessions you do each month, what matters is your profit margin, your referability and what your brand is saying about you!

Before I ever purchased a prop, a gizmo, or a backdrop – I invested in my business because I believe in it and I want to thrive! Create the identity – establish the brand – invest in your marketing and the rest will fall into place!

  1. Kim says:

    I love all of your stuff — such great words of wisdom!!

    Quick questio – do you design all the graphics yourself? Or where do you get all your prints/patterns/backgrounds from? I’m having a hard time finding quality stuff like that!

    Thanks!

    • Caryn says:

      Dear Kim:

      I realize this that your comment on this blog was several months ago, but on the chance that you
      hadn’t yet found great backgrounds, I highly suggest Sassy Designs… she has such affordable and beautiful digital patterns and textures that you can download! And she is really really helpful if you have questions. I hope that helps!

  2. Kalli says:

    I don’t know why I needed someone to say, “Don’t invest in props” (at least in the beginning), but I did need it! My head is being turned in every direction, but my wallet is just sitting still. This post helped me to steady my eyes in one direction–and that is to reach my goals! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  3. I’m working on polishing up my branding and putting everything together with a tight budget right now. It’s encouraging to hear that it is in fact possible! Thank you for writing this!

  4. Love your advice on money. I tell people that all the time. I bought most of my photography studio gear on craigslist from people who got excited about their hobby, decided to go pro, then quit. Why pay $500 when you can pay $100? And since it’s craiglist – cash is king, so no increased credit card balances. I have a fully functional studio. Whenever I need props – craiglists, garage sales, second hand stores are the places you’ll find me.

  5. tamsen says:

    awesome post!!! i love information like this- and the pics and inks help too!!!

  6. Jonalee says:

    Super helpful advice. This is right where I’m at. Thanks!

  7. I loved your post Leah. It was a lesson I needed to remember. Just an idea for something in the future. I am really struggling getting clients in the door. Especially clients that can afford to buy collections. Any tips / advice?

    • Leah Remillet says:

      Jennifer – that’s something I LOVE to share about but I’ve been really careful to not talk to much about that on the blog for 2 reasons…
      1. If I put it on on the blog, everyone will be doing it and it won’t end up doing any good because like most other things these ideas can become over saturated!
      2. I gotta leave some stuff that I can share through mentoring – that’s my ultimate! My passion is in getting to share live either through workshops, one on one’s and or teaching engagements!
      Schedule a phone consultation and I PROMISE YOU I will teach you and make it so that you are getting your perfect target market.

  8. As someone just getting started, I found this post very helpful (in fact, I’m wishing I had read it a month ago before I bought my new backdrop). 🙂

    • Leah Remillet says:

      I’m really glad you liked it! That’s okay! Love your backdrop and find as many ways as you can to creating marketing ideas using it – make it pay for itself now! 🙂

  9. Noa says:

    Great post! I love Rice and use them for quite a bit of my packaging as well. Investing in a customized die with them for logo imprinting has been sooooo worth it! I love extending my brand into everything I present, and I know I also have a long way to go.

    Keep up with the amazing work, Leah!

  10. Sandra says:

    Your posts are smart, sensible, and the perfect dose of wisdom in what can be an insane business!

  11. samantha says:

    I am in my second year of business, and sometimes I feel so overwhelmed by all the things that I could/should be doing for my business. Thanks for prioritizing for me! Is the style guide your thoughts on clothing choice? Also, what is your Session Premier Menu?

    • Leah Remillet says:

      Yep! Style Guide is a What to Wear tri fold and the Session Premier Menu is for the Ordering Appointment. 🙂

  12. Trysha says:

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!! I’ve booked a few sessions, but I have my first client meeting/portfolio presentation coming up and I’m so nervous I want to throw up. I’m grateful that this potential client asked for a presentation (for lack of a better word) because it’s pushed me out of my comfort zone.

  13. Jolene says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and the things you have learned! I wish I would have looked hear first! I am at the point of tears and throwing all my things away… but I refuse to give up!! You are an inspiration! 🙂

  14. Marie Asbury says:

    Session Premier Menu, is that the session pricing guide? And is your Collection Menu the pricing of your products and collections? Thanks!

    • Leah Remillet says:

      Actually that really is a menu. Each family chooses an insanely amazing dessert to enjoy during their ordering appointment. 🙂

      • Jana says:

        Leah-that is soooo unique! I’ve never heard of that, and frankly, I would LOVE something like that!
        It makes one feel ‘special’…like a party!

  15. Leah Remillet says:

    Exactly!! I’m actually going to announce on Wednesday that I’m going to do a webinar at the end of the month with all the details on how I do my ordering appointments.

  16. Whaooh, I really like your advice, I never thought about getting a wedding photography welcome package but I’m now going to design one for my wedding clients. Thanks!

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