Photography Business – One Year Later

Ozette Trail, Olympic National Park, Washington (WA), USA

It was little more than one year ago that I sent my final email as a corporate employee. At the time, I didn’t realize what the coming year had in store for me. I expected to find some success and make some mistakes along the way. Here are some of the biggest mistakes and successes we had over the course of this past year.


I wish there was a way to avoid mistakes but this is a learning experience. Only after you spend the time and money do you realize that something was a mistake. Any good business owner knows that it is never a good idea to make the same mistake more than once.

Here are some of ours:

  • Following the advice of a marketing guru to create a cheesy ad to view our products: We experimented with this and found that the audience retention rates on the videos were so low that it didn’t make sense to use this technique to drive sales.
  • Over-estimating the popularity of and ROI from a subscription community: We started a subscription community but it took a staggering toll on the rest of our business. Not only did we spend too much time nurturing the community, but this also locked out users from our blog content which drove traffic to our site. The fallout rates for the community were fairly high and the participation rates low.
  • Assuming that direct social media marketing would be easy: We fumbled on this more than once. Most consumers are on social media to be social and not to shop. I discovered that the social media post with the least interaction was the sales post. Selling on social media requires a soft-sell approach – you provide a value to your customers and let them decide whether or not to purchase your products. In other words, consumers on social media want to buy but they also don’t want to be sold to.


Success often comes from unexpected sources. When you start out on a new path, you don’t know if you’ll be successful so it is a nice surprise when things do work better than expected. One of the most unexpected sources of success was our blog content. We worked on it for the past three years and we always knew it drove traffic to our website. But this year it provided us with a platform that made photographers want to return to our site.

Here are some more of our successes:

  • Creating consistent, original, and valuable content: This requires determination and long-term planning. We started this long before I became a full-time landscape photographer. Today we have over 300 articles on Visual Wilderness and more articles are added to the website each day.
  • Having an organized customer database (ours exceeds 10,000 customers): Ultimately, it’s these customers who matter the most. We have been selling eBooks since 2009 but it was during this past year that we crossed significant milestones.
  • Knowing when to say No to opportunities that have low margins: This is harder than it sounds and it continues to be an ongoing problem as more opportunities come our way.
  • Keeping track of what works and what does not This must be driven by analytics rather than emotions, likes, ego, or your friends and family buying your work: It requires letting go of your ego-boosting posts on Facebook and Google+ and instead concentrating on the posts that create value. While a value-added post may not get you noticed as much as an ego-boosting post about a great photo you shot, it does build your business brand.
  • Keeping logistics and finance from overwhelming us as our business expanded: We did this mostly through automation rather than hiring someone to take care of it for us. This does requires some programming skills… but more importantly, it requires your attention in regards to what products you are offering (now and in the future); and adding appropriate hooks on your site to make the operation flow smoothly.
  • Refraining from spending time on every *HOT* social media startup: We often remind ourselves that our business model is to sell to customers rather than use social media to market for clients. Time spent in creating content is far more valuable than becoming famous. Again, this is harder than it sounds. Remember Pinterest? Ello? The next great network? Sure, I created an account to reserve my URL, but I never lost focus on the primary social media networks that drive our business – Facebook and Google+. The activities on these networks never suffered and eventually I gave up spending time with other networks.

As we start our second full year of operations, we are looking forward to making grand mistakes and embracing failure… and finding those unexpected sources of success that allow us to enjoy visiting exotic places while making money.