My life for the last three months has been nothing but meeting with couples, engagement shoots, photographing weddings, and editing. I love, love being a wedding photographer, but I am getting a bit worn down. Luckily for me, not a ton of people get married or want photos during the winter. I have one more wedding in December and then I’ve got a good two months until my next wedding. That time is perfect for recharging but also for accomplishing some other super important tasks. That off time will be here soon, so I thought I’d share some tips on How to Make the Most of Your Photography Off-Season.
How to Make the Most of Your Photography Off-Season
I know we have a wide variety of readers out there. Some of you are just getting into photography and others have been professionals for a long time. Some of you are into portrait photography and others like nature photography. Wherever you are, I think some of these will apply to you. Use what you can and ignore the rest.
So, when was the last time you messed with your website? If you’re like me, you probably have no idea. For most photographers, their website is how they show off their work, where they send clients, and a way to book them, but for some reason, we neglect our website. Now is the time to update your overall site and of course, your images.
With a whole year finished, I bet you have a ton of new photos to show off on your website. First, go through your entire year and pick out your favorite photos. Then, go to your website and compare the new photos to the old ones. Just because the photos are new, doesn’t mean they are better. Make sure you keep your best overall images on your site. You don’t want more than 10-15 images per page or gallery, so add and delete as needed. Just remember, it’s better to have 5 amazing images than 30 ok ones.
Adding new images to your site will help with your Search Engine Optimization, but there are still other things you can do to help even more. You need to add even more new content. If you haven’t blogged about all of your sessions for the year, here is your chance. If you have enough content, I’d suggest blogging every day. If not, you might spread it out to every other day or twice a week. This will help with SEO and it will also remind people of all the cool things you did over the year.
Last, make sure to go through all of your pages and text. Are all the pages up to date? I know I left my About Us page untouched for so long that I actually had gained another child, but the photo only showed two! Also, do you feel like the text has been working? Is it putting off the vibe you want? Is it getting you clients? You might want to experiment with some new text. While you’re at it, are there any pages that are just taking up space? If you don’t think it is helping you, get rid of it! It’s better to have a few awesome pages than to have too much, which can be distracting.
Clean Up and Get Organized
Some people are super clean and organized… I am not. I’m actually much more on the opposite spectrum. I tend to leave things all over the place and just shove items in random places to get them out of my way. I’ve tried to improve on this over the years, and I have gotten much better, but I still need to take time to just clean it all up.
The first type of cleaning up and organization is your physical space. Right now, my desk is just covered with all types of papers, sticky notes, and notebooks. There’s probably some really important stuff floating around in there, but I have no idea because I can’t see it. In the next few weeks, I’m going to take a day to just clean everything off and put things in the right spot. For me, receipts have been the biggest struggle. I’d buy something and then just throw the receipt in a pile. When tax time comes, that’s a major pain. This year, I’ve been sorting them in a folder with pockets. Even if you don’t have a desk, you could do this with your camera equipment. I’ll be doing that as well!
Next, you need to clean up your computer. You’ve got thousands of photos on there that you will never look at, never edit, and never deliver. It’s just taking up space. Some people are extremely paranoid about keeping every photo. I am not. I’ll keep RAW files for a wedding for about a year, but after that, I delete them. I still keep all the JPEGS, but I don’t see any point in holding on to 400 dancing photos. After the photos, go through all of your programs. Are there any that you downloaded but never used? Get rid of it. Then, move to your download folder and get rid of all the junk in there as well. With all of that gone, I bet your computer will be running a lot smoother.
Education and Skills
I am a big believer in being a lifelong learner. Maybe it’s because I used to be a teacher or maybe it’s just because I aim to be the best I can be, but I’m always trying to learn new things. The off season is a perfect time for this. If you work hard and really train, you could be a completely new photographer next year.
The most obvious area to improve is your photography skills. We are photographers and in the end we deliver photos, so we should be really good at that. Have you mastered off-camera flash? Does posing couples scare you to death? Want to learn a whole new type of photography? Now is the time to work on all of that. For me, I plan on learning a better strategy for setting up family shots at weddings.
There are a ton of ways to gain the skills and education. If you like reading, Improve Photography has a ton of helpful information. You can learn about all things photography. I do pretty well with reading, but sometimes I need visuals. Check out YouTube or CreativeLive if you are more of a video person. Others are more hands on. If that’s you, look for workshops or find someone that will work with you one on one. No matter who you are and how you learn, there’s something you could improve.
My big education goal for this off season is focused more on the business side. I don’t have a business background, so I’ve been learning it all on my own over the past 10 years. Let’s be honest, there are some photographers out there making a ton of money, and they aren’t the best photographer? How do they do it? They know how to run a business. They know marketing, how to sell, and other things that don’t come natural to most photographers.
Again, you can learn this in so many ways. The most expensive and time consuming would to actually take some business classes. I’m sure this would be helpful, but I don’t have the money or time for that. You could read some small business books. I’ve done that and picked up some great ideas. Then again, you could find a photographer to teach you. This is the route I’m going. I purchased Ben Hartley’s class Booked 2.0 about a year ago, and it has helped. I plan on revisiting it and seeing what else I can change and implement.
Whatever you do, do something to continue to learn and improve. If you learn one thing over the off-season, it might be worth thousands of dollars over the next year.
I’m sure you’ve all heard it said before, but it’s not what you know but who you know. It’s an unfortunate truth. The more people you know and the more connected you are, the better off you will be in your photography. When you have a thousand friends on Facebook or a thousand followers on Instagram, you can just ask for something and most likely will find someone. Need a model? Just ask. The off-season is a great time to reconnect with people and make new connections.
The first people to reach out to are your previous clients. They already know you, so they are more likely to respond and it won’t seem spammy. Check up on them, see how they are doing, and if there’s anything you can do to help. These people don’t live in photography world, so you’re probably not the first thing on their mind. By simply reaching out to them, you have become relevant again. Then they will remember they need Christmas photos or that their friend got engaged.
Next, reach out to other businesses that are connected to your field. If you’re a landscape photographer, reach out to a park or maybe a camping supply company. If you’re a wedding photographer, reach out to venues and wedding planners. Being in a similar business, there are probably ways that you can help each other out.
Last, reach out to other photographers. Yes, some of them might be your competition, but I’ve found that it’s better to make friends than enemies. They will still continue to be your competition and you might lose some business to them, but that would have happened whether you were friends or not. When you are friends, though, the other photographer will often send you business. I know I’ve had multiple photographers send people to me when they were already booked or just didn’t do that kind of work. It’s been well worth it to be friends.
Whatever the connection, make sure you are trying to help them first. Don’t just ask them for something. Genuinely care and that will get you a lot farther with others.
Do you feel like you totally rocked it this year or maybe you felt like you really stunk? Either way, you need to go back and evaluate your year. There are plenty of things to look at.
Hopefully you’ve been collecting reviews from all of your clients. Not only is this great for SEO and building trust with future clients, reviews help guide your business. Occasionally you will get an unfair review, but in general, reviews are a good indicator of your business. Does everyone say you are unorganized? Well, then you probably are. Do you think that you’re fun to be around, but none of the reviews say that? Well, then you probably aren’t. Once you’ve looked at your reviews, you will start to see patterns. This can help you see what you are good at and what you need to improve.
If the reviews don’t give you enough information, you can always send out a survey. A survey allows you to ask exactly what you want. This will guide them much more than just a regular review. To get more people to fill out the survey, try to make it anonymous. That way people will be more honest. If you’re still having issues getting responses, you could always offer a prize.
I am not a math guy, but I have learned that tracking stats can be a huge help. Every business does this, and a majority of their decisions revolve around these stats. You need to do this as well. Collect and look at these areas.
Leads are the lifeblood of a photographer. If you don’t have leads, you don’t have business. You’d be stuck photographing the same clients over and over again. The first thing to look at is the number of leads you got last year. Then, you can track it over the years and see if you’re going up or down.
From there, you can see which months were popular. If you know most people book in January, this can guide your actions. You might plan some kind of marketing for that popular month.
Next, where did the leads come from? Were they referrals or did they come from your website, an ad? This lets you know what works and where you should focus your effort.
Last, did these leads do anything for you. Out of all those leads, how many became customers? How much did each one of those spend? That’s what really matters, right?
Without stats, you have no idea what is being wasteful, and waste is what kills a business. For me, the biggest areas I have to watch out for are wasting time and money.
Often, I’ll find myself distracted while I’m working and waste time. I’ll be looking at something on Facebook or start checking emails. Then, there are the wasteful things we do that we think are important. For example, I have tried several marketing strategies that were a complete waste. It was pretty obvious at the end that it was a waste, but not all things are that simple. Look at what you are doing on a daily basis and try to cut out as much wasted time as possible.
Photography is an expensive world to live in. There are so many gadgets and gizmos out there and that’s not even the lenses, bodies, and flashes. When I first started photography, I basically did shoots so I could buy more gear. Now that I’m full time, though, I have to stop spending so much money on things. There are a few ways to help with this. One, track everything spent. This is something you should be doing for taxes anyway, but it also can show you how much you spend on certain things. Two, put a limit on how much you can spend. Once you reach that limit, you can’t buy anything else.
That’s a lot of things to evaluate and it can be overwhelming. One strategy would be to focus on one thing for a month and then move on to something else. That still too much? You might focus on one area this year and then do another the next. The point is you need to be looking at yourself and trying to improve.
Relax and recharge
Like anything, if we do it too much and push ourselves too hard, we will eventually break. Even if you love photography, there is still a point where you need a break. Your off-season is a perfect time to recover so you can do it again next year.
This recovery will be different for each person, but here’s what I do. First, get away from your camera and computer. Take a week, a month, or however long you need and don’t do anything photography related. Free your body and mind from all of it. Next, spend some time with your family and friends. I’ve been busy the past 12 Saturdays or so, but now I can hang out with the family or we can go do something fun. After you’d recovered some, go out and photograph something just for fun. Don’t put any stress on yourself, just enjoy it. Go out there and get creative.
If you’re a sports fan, you know that the off-season is when players and teams really grow and improve. The same goes for photographers. You can make giant strides in your photography and in your business. It does take work but it will be well worth it. Take your time, work through the list of things to do in your photography off-season, and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish. Good luck! I’m excited to see what you can accomplish!