Photography Business Lessons Learned From 2019 for a Successful 2020

As I enter into my sixth year as a full-time wedding photographer, I find that I more often reflect on past clients, weddings, and business practices than I used to in my early years. 

I attribute this to my narrowing scope of work over the past several years. I used to be a yes girl – saying yes to anything and everything that came my way; even if it was something I wasn’t comfortable shooting.

I said yes to friends of friends to shoot their wedding because it was a direct referral from someone I knew. I didn’t vet them the way I usually did and it ended up coming back to bite me later on. Cut to the bride sending me nasty emails about how I must remove the wrinkles from her dress and how the light flare on her husband’s uniform was disrespectful.

I did shoots with couples who dictated when and where I must do the shoot – even if it was an over-crowded beach or a place I did not have permission to access.

The feeling of fear that if I let this one go, or the next, that I wouldn’t be able to make ends meet was nearly paralyzing.

Taking all of what I’ve learned in the past – every hard lesson and trial – this is what I’ve learned from 2019 for a successful 2020.

1. Be visible online with contests and backlinks

In 2019 my goal was to be visible. I did this through my ambassadorship with MagMod and entering a plethora of photography contests.

Some contests were successful for me, and some weren’t. Entering contests isn’t the right path for everyone, but it will push you to look critically at your work and you’ll get some great back-links if you win!

Participating in weekly challenges (DVLOP does some great ones) can help increase your visibility!

2. Start saying no to things that don’t light your soul on fire

And not in the sense of making yourself unavailable – but start saying no to things that don’t feed your soul. I recently wrote an article on my blog about why I’m stopping shooting beach weddings. You’d be amazed how many people reached out to me telling me to reconsider! And that I was wrong to do so!

I know, I know: it’s weird for a Hawaii wedding photographer to say no to beach weddings, but if we’re being honest: beach weddings aren’t my ideal weddings. Beach weddings really limit me creatively and just don’t light me up. I understand the dream to get married with your toes in the sand – but I’m just not the right photographer for the job.

This fall I had a triple-header wedding weekend. Three days of back-to-back full day weddings. I was intense and I’m pretty sure that my brain started malfunctioning by the end of day three.

But you know what? They were my most inspiring weddings of 2019. I was exhausted, but I came home smiling every night because the weddings pushed me creatively, I had already connected with the couples, and they were my ideal clients.

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Saying no to the things that don’t light you up enable you to say yes to the things that will benefit you in the future.

3. Start compiling mailing lists

I am in a unique market where I don’t get return clients very often. I only photographed one couple that was local to Maui last year out of the nearly 30 weddings I had. I never saw the value in mailing lists until I wanted to ask my couples for feedback about their wedding experience.

Going client-by-client to extract email addresses was exhausting. In 2020 I’ve created a mailing group in Gmail that has both couples in it. It’s part of my workflow now. Once the client is booked, my CRM (I use Studio Ninja) prompts me to add them to my mailing list.

Keeping those emails easily accessible helps me stay in touch with my clients, offer them resources, and ask for help when I need it.

4. Use a photo-hosting platform that offers automated marketing.

Just recently I switched over to Pic-Time from my old gallery hosting site. It was cumbersome to move everything over and get the client galleries all in order the way I wanted – but the email marketing was insane. In the month of December alone, I made over $1200 by sending out automated coupons with reminders. It was incredibly easy and it made me a bunch of cash I wouldn’t have made otherwise.

Automating systems like this will make your life easier in the long-run and put more cash in your pocket at the same time.

5. Make a workflow and automate as much as you can

At the beginning of 2019 I created detailed workflows for every step of the process in regards to weddings. I had automated emails going out after booking, two months before their wedding, one month before, the night before, and the day after. All of them set expectations, answered all those FAQs (e.g. When do I get my images? Can I post on social media? etc), and gave couples the assurance that I wasn’t ghosting them. 

In the long-term, it ended up being one of the smartest things I did for my business in 2019. My couples were informed throughout the entire planning process so when we finally did get to meet in real life, they felt like we had been in touch the whole time and that I was truly on their team.

These are my Photography Business Lessons Learned From 2019 for a Successful 2020. I truly hope they help another business owner out there rock their 2020!