15 things I wish I knew before I started doing real estate photography

In Build A Photography Business Show, Real estate photography - business management by Build A Photography Business

In this live event I shared 15 things I wish I knew before I started doing real estate photography, and these lessons come from the combined experience of running my own photography business for 17 years and from coaching over 200 photographers around the world.

I covered photography, marketing, pricing, hiring team members and more, spread across 15 simple lessons that collectively could turn your business around.

This will be great for those of you who are just getting started, but I know it will also help photographers who have been doing this for years.

Video transcript:

15 things I wish I knew before I started doing real estate photography

So today I want to share 15 things I wish I knew before I started doing real estate photography, and these lessons come from running my own photography business for many years where I did about $2.7 million in turnover. Then in 2015 I started a coaching business and I’ve worked with over 200 photographers around the world, working with them on pricing, marketing, building teams and everything you can think of.

So I've learned a lot from all of that and as a result I've come up with 15 lessons that I want to share with you. Now of course there's a lot more that could be said, and I would love to hear what you've learned as well, so if you've got a tip that you'd like to add to this list then please, drop a comment below.

1. Business is more important than photography

Number 1 on that list is that business IS more important than photography. Now a lot of us get into this industry because we love the creativity and we get a real kick out of creating images that make people go wow, that’s awesome! And that’s important, it really is. But when you choose to run your own business it’s the business side of it that’s more important than photography.

You see, if you’re an amazing photographer but terrible at business, you’re probably going to struggle. But if you’re an average photographer but you’re amazing at business, then you’re going to do really well, and if you're amazing at photography AND business then that's even better! But if that’s not you yet, then you need to work out how you can get amazing at business – so maybe you can read some books, watch more videos, have a chat with me to see what I can do to help, but put business at the top and invest time into it.

2. Image quality matters, but not as much as we think it does.

Ok, number 2 on our list is that image quality matters, but not as much as we think it does. So whilst it’s a good thing to work on our skills and to improve what we do, often times you’ll find that your prospects and clients won’t actually notice the improvements in image quality, so this kind of goes back to our first point – don’t assume that you’re going to have a hugely successful photography business because your photo skills are better than others in your area. That can help, but you need more than that to succeed.

3. You can’t substitute great photography for bad numbers.

Number 3 is that you can’t substitute great photography for bad numbers. Ok? You can’t substitute great photography for bad numbers. What I mean there is that you need to know your numbers and you need to get your pricing right, and the fact that you’re an incredible photographer can’t overcome that issue. You need to have good numbers and make sure you're profitable, or your business just won't last.

4. If you start out cheap then it’s really hard to recover from that.

Ok, number 4 on our list of things I wish I knew when I started is if you start out cheap then it’s really hard to recover from that. Now I know it’s tempting to go with low prices when you’re starting your business. You assume you need to do that to get clients, and you probably don’t have a clue what your costs are and you’d be happy to get paid $100 to shoot so you’ll take it.

The problem is that eventually you find that your costs are higher than you thought they were, or you’re not getting the kind of clients you want to get, but you’ve built your business on cheap clients and if you increase your rates then you’ll lose a lot of them. So maybe you put your price up a little at a time, but meanwhile you’re leaking money faster than you can manage and you can’t get to where you want to be because you never have the cashflow to invest or get the gear you need.

So don’t start cheap – instead, start with a fee that is sustainable over the long-term.

5. Don't confuse being busy with being profitable.

Number 5 is don’t confuse being busy with being profitable. This is a mistake I made at one point when I was building my business. I was getting lots of jobs so I assumed that meant I was going well, but the problem I had is that I wasn’t charging enough, so I was bad busy, not good busy.

So just because you're busy doesn't mean you're profitable - it just might mean you're cheap.

6. You can't do everything.

Alright, we’re up to number 6, and that is, you can’t do everything. You can’t, so instead of trying to do it all, outsource where you can so you free up time for yourself to work on other things.

Now maybe that starts out with just outsourcing the editing, but maybe you also get to a point where you’re outsourcing the management of your social media channels. And maybe you’re outsourcing the shooting, either some of it or most of it, and you commit yourself to business-building activities and marketing and building relationships.

Now it’s going to be different for all of you, but I think it starts with acknowledging that you can’t do everything and you probably shouldn’t try and do everything. Let go of some of those tasks, share things around and your business will be better for it.

7. You want to hire the best people, not necessarily the best photographers.

Ok, now we’re up to number 7, and this is something I’ve mentioned in a previous video, and that is you want to hire the best people, not necessarily the best photographers.

Again, this is a mistake that I’ve made in the past as well where I made the hiring process all about the photography, and I didn’t put enough focus into finding the best people to join my team. Get the right people and everything runs so much better.

8. You can control your attitude but you can’t control the circumstances around you.

Alright, number 8 on my list is, you can control your attitude but you can’t control the circumstances around you. So this comes back to how you manage things internally, especially when things are going badly, but also when you feel like you don’t belong, when you feel like you’re an imposter who is out of their depth. In those situations I've learned to focus on controlling my own attitude, I choose to be resilient, and I choose to change the things that I can change but be comfortable in the fact that there’s stuff going on around me that I can’t change and that’s okay.

So for example, when you’re trying to build your business and you’re out there trying to get clients, a lot of those potential clients are going to say no. Doors will be shut in your face. Things that you hoped for won’t happen. It can be really tough in those moments.

But what you can do is control your attitude through all of that, focus on delivering the values and the service that’s important for you. Focus on the things you do, and then when things go badly, and sometimes they will, you acknowledge that you’re still in control of what you can control, but you were never in control of the things that you can’t control. Acknowledge that and be comfortable with that, and you’ll be able to find a way through.

9. Having a broad client base is preferable to having one amazing client.

Alright, we’re up to number 9, and the lesson here is that having a broad client base is preferable to having one amazing client. You see, the big risk with working with repeat clients is that you get one or two clients that keep you really busy and they give you multiple jobs each week, and maybe they’re a prominent client and that name recognition is really nice to have on your client list, but the problem is that because they keep you so busy, you don’t get around to getting more clients.

Now while that big client stays with you then you’re okay, but it becomes a problem when they leave. All of a sudden that revenue source that was bringing you half your income is gone, and just like that you’re really struggling.

You don’t want to put yourself in that position, so get a broad client base, no matter how fantastic your clients are and how busy you are, get a broad mix of clients so you aren’t overly reliant on one or two, and that’s going to make your business much less vulnerable.

10. You can earn a six figure income working by yourself in real estate photography.

Okay, we’re up to number 10, and this one is something that a lot of photographers ask about when they first get into real estate photography and it’s this – you can earn a six figure income working by yourself in real estate photography. You absolutely can, a lot of photographers are earning great incomes and their businesses are awesome!

It’s also possible to go nowhere. I see photographers going out of business all the time, so we have this contrast where some real estate photographers have enormous success, and some crash and burn and they leave the industry frustrated by their experience.

Hopefully some of these lessons, and the stuff I’ve shared previously, will help you become a successful photographer, but if you want to chat with me about what you need to do then feel free to send me a message or something. But what I want you to take from this is that success is possible within this industry, and if you aren't there yet then make some changes and turn things around.

11. You can balance family and business.

Alright, now we’re up to number 11 and this is an important one – you can balance family and business. You can.

Now to do it you’ll need to make some important decisions, but if you want to find balance then that is something you can do, but the choice is yours. I think it comes down to the systems you implement within your business, the pricing you put in place and your willingness to relinquish control over everything that goes on, and if you can do that then you can have a successful business without giving up your family. Now that’s not to say that this is super easy, but it can be done if you want it.

12. Be prepared for the quiet season.

Let's move on to number 12, and this one says that you need to be prepared for the quiet season. That could be a quiet winter, so maybe you have a couple of months where there is very little work, or it could be a quiet year as a result of a slowing economy, or increased competition within your market. But the more you can do to pre-empt the quiet season, and it will almost certainly hit you at some point, but the more you can do ahead of time the better.

For example, if you live in an area that has heavy snowfalls during the winter months and if the real estate market typically slows down through that period, then one thing you’ll want to do is to factor that into your pricing. Now the reason you need to do that is that you need to earn enough that you can put some money aside to get you through that 2 or 3 month period where you aren’t earning any income.

So if you typically like to do $6000 in sales each month, but you have 2 months each year where you hardly get any work, then you’ll need to earn that $12000 in lost earnings through the other 10 months of the year.

13. Be prepared for the busy season.

So make sure you’re ready for the quiet season, okay, then lesson number 13 is at the other end of the spectrum – be prepared for the busy season.

I chat with photographers all the time and a lot of them are unwilling to set things up for when they are busy until they get busy, but that can be a real problem. As one example, I often talk about outsourcing their editing, and a lot will say that they have time right now to edit themselves so they don't need to outsource, and that’s fine, but finding an editor you’re happy with can take a while, so it’s something you want to do as soon as possible, and not leave it until you’re busy.

You see, what happens when you get busy is that you don’t get time to find an editor and test them out with a few shots – instead, you find yourself in a hole and you’re rushed and your editor makes a mess of things and then you’re dealing with a client’s photos and they’re disappointed because it’s not the kind of work you deliver, and everyone gets frustrated.

What you should be doing instead is to plan for what you’ll do when things get busy now, and then there won’t be any surprises when it hits.

14. Grow with intent.

Okay, number 14 on this list of things I wish I knew when I started – grow with intent and actively promote your business, and don’t just wait for things to happen by accident.

A lot of photographers are reluctant to promote themselves, and I get that – but the problem with just waiting for things to happen is that it’s slow and we’re relying on other people when we go with word of mouth marketing, whereas we could be growing much faster if we’re out there actively promoting our business, and I believe it’s something we should be doing if we know that we deliver a great product.

I mean, if your photos are awesome and if you know that your clients are going to get a better result from you than they will from another business, then you’re actually doing them a favour by sharing what you do with them. So get out there, and promote your business.

15. Don't wait until your business is quiet to get help.

Ok, we’re finally up to number 15 on our list – don’t wait until your business is quiet to get help. Don’t wait until things are quiet. As early as you can, get yourself a mentor or hire a business coach, and that investment in someone who can advise you on what to do and help you spot the problems within your business before they become too big, that’s huge. That’s going to help you so much, even if you’re doing pretty well right now.

I mean, something I have seen in a lot of businesses is that their growth and development is not a smooth climb up a hill. You’re going to have setbacks. You’re going to have decisions to make that are going to have pretty serious ramifications, and you will absolutely benefit from having someone you can trust to be a sounding board for you, guiding you and helping you to see the opportunities before you do because you’re so immersed within the business.

That perspective that a mentor or coach can bring, and the clarity they can give you, that’s enormous, and you want to get that while your business is healthy and strong, and not when you’re desperate and only just hanging in there.

What do you need to change?

So that’s a little bit of what 23 years of real estate photography has taught me. Some of those lessons were painful and expensive for me, so I hope some of that is useful for you. But of course, what’s important here is not that you’ve listened to this – it’s that you put it into action.

So, is there anything there that prompts you to make a change in your business? Anything at all?

Now maybe you’re not starting out but maybe you’ve been doing this for a few years and things aren’t as good as you’d hoped they’d be, or maybe things are going well and you want to make sure that continues, then let me know what you need to change.

What are you going to do to make sure that your business keeps on climbing up? It’d mean the world to me to hear that this has helped some of you, so drop me a comment or message me (here's where you can find me on Facebook or Instagram) if this has inspired you to change course and do something different.