5 Business Lessons as a Photographer

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  • February 22, 2016

businesslessons-photographerIt’s amazingly my 9th year of running my photography business, officially as a Sdn Bhd / Private Limited (those freelance days were too carefree to count!). It’s a Monday today, and all my staff are not in the office, as we usually take the Mondays off after a weekend wedding shoot to rest and recuperate. I decided to stay home and do some work here too, in between cuddles with my 15 month old son who is growing up too quickly.

On days like these, I take time to think about the business and how we can grow moving forward. Being a natural worrier by nature, it takes extra effort on my part to surrender my business to God and trust Him to bring it forward. Ever since the GST was implemented last year and everyone cut down on their spending, the economic situation has been down. Together with my entrepreneur husband, we’ve diversified our businesses and also made hard decisions to focus when the time is needed.

I don’t consider myself an expert, but here are some thoughts that I have gathered in my years as a full time photographer and mother running a business:

ONE. Outsource – As an artist, one of the pain points I had was actually running the business. I hated doing anything related to accounting (though I did go through some years of basic accounting in school). I know of many photographers who have done jobs but failed to send invoices, only to realise a few months later, that they didn’t get paid for it. So I suggest finding people who are really good at what they do, pay them to do it, and then you can focus on the parts that you love, creating art!

TWO. Marketing is Everything – One of the first things my husband wisely said to me when I first started out… “You can have a website, but if no one can find it, then you’ve already failed in your marketing.” For me, the easiest way to start marketing myself was through my blog and Facebook. I set aside a budget so that I can boost posts when needed. I also started networking with people who are not already in my own usual social circle, like meeting new mothers at playgroups. Start small, start somewhere.

THREE. Don’t Put Yourself Down – There will be days when you feel down. It will come. You will doubt yourself and wonder why you ever started a business in the first place. Just keep your head up, and try to be as optimistic as you can. Pray. Talk to more people. Keep on blogging. Think of new ideas. Don’t give up too quickly.

FOUR. Innovate – Since there are obviously so many photographers in the market, I have to think of ways to innovate my business. How can I be remembered? What can I do that is different from the rest? Can I think of new ways to do old things? One thing I started doing in recent years was approaching baby stores to sell my photography packages to new mothers. I received quite a few enquiries and sales through this method, which was great!

FIVE. Take Time Off – When you run your own business, it’s pretty much on your mind 24 hours a day. I find it really hard switching off, and sometimes catch myself rambling about some random work issue to my husband before  I doze off at night. It’s ok to take a break once in a while and recharge your creativity. When you feel tired physically, just do something totally different the next day. Read a new book. Exercise or travel. Cuddle with your kids. I find that when I am recharged this way, I am a much better person, which eventually leads me to become a better photographer.

20150925_FAMILY_PORTRAITS_ALEX_GRACE_115Alex and Grace while on holiday in Bali. 


  • Philip Moey says:

    Very good points and applies to most business owners. Running for 9 years is a major milestone, as many fizzle out after 2-3 years. There are no free rides and hard work counts. Anything worth doing we always give a 110% but it can only sustain when it is your passion, otherwise it cannot be sustained. Doing one’s passion and getting paid is the best job in the whole wide world and finding that calling early in life is a blessing. When you give that 10% more than others, the value is recognised and the best marketing after that is word of mouth, which sets you apart. Many will provide a service, but service with a kind heart will be remembered. Sourcing out stuff you “hate” like accounting is a smart move – many try to save money but turns out as penny-wise pound foolish. In the end do what matters most because life is more than just the big bucks. When we serve others with a sincere heart, it is natural that the universe responds in the same frequency as well. As we give we have the capacity to receive, more than we ever know. That is the natural law of the land.

  • Jay Han says:

    Ever thought of point number SIX. EXPANSION ?

    All are great points, and many freelance photographers wouldn’t be able to grasp until they started to run their own business the proper way.
    Even I myself am not doing things proper even after a few years! Hahah…

    • Grace Tan says:

      Haha actually I can think of many more points, but wanted to keep it to 5. :) Yes expansion is key too! I think as artists, we are also very control oriented, not wanting to allow other people to give input or edit our photos because ‘it won’t be the same as how we do it’. But if we work with amazing people, we can learn how to do amazing things that we have never thought of!

  • Elfrem Chan says:

    The first time I met you was during a photography talk organised by BTL, Peter Tan. That was about 5 years back, at the time when I first started out as a full time photographer. I always wondered what makes a photography business successful. You have inspired me with your eye for art and creativity. And while you spoke about your journey, it further motivated me to think outside the box. One of the key successful factor is passion. Doing what you love, and never work another day of your life.

    I totally concur with your 5 points. The key to creating a successful photography business is the ability to think of photography services as a business. Many failed to understand the business aspect of being a photography services provider. Many failed to value their time, skills and equipment. For me it’s time = money.
    With your short talk, it has pathed the way to my 5 years now of being a full time photographer. No regrets and never looked back. Like they say the rest is history.
    The 5 years journey had carved the path to where I am today. Improvising and adapting to the constantly changing market trends and economic uncertainty. Sometimes what someone needs is to be pushed off the cliff to kickstart.
    Having the right mindset also plays an important part. To ask oneself what does he or she really wants. To persevere and being determined. The ability to say no to unreasonable clients.
    I couldn’t agree more with your marketing move. What’s the point of having a website professionally set up but nobody knows? The trend nowadays especially for the newer generation are all digital, the instant gratitude phenomenon is massive. To be able to capture the market through social media.
    I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all the best in your future undertakings.

    Thank you.

    Elfrem Chan

    • Grace Tan says:

      Thanks Elfrem for your encouraging words. I am really happy to see how it has helped you over the years. What an amazing journey, right? I am really encouraged that these talks can help improve the photography industry. All the best to you too!

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