Photography as a business – dream vs reality part 3

Wedding photographer for Suffolk
Mum pins her Son’s button hole in place on his wedding day.

This is part 3 in my series of blogs about wedding photography as a business  – dream vs reality. So it all makes sense I recommend you start at part 1.

I will share what I have learned about the reality of being self employed for the first time in my life and the practicalities of earning a living from wedding photography.

Here in Part 3 I am going to write about my “learning” experiences in relation to being a “recommended supplier”, advertising on venue magazines/DVDs/USB keys and wedding fairs.


Carrying on from part 2, I was approached by one venue with a view to me buying advertising space at the end of a DVD they were producing to distribute to potential Brides. There were going to be four spaces for wedding photographers with a similar number for wedding transport, videographers, cake makers, Masters of Ceremonies, chair cover suppliers, DJ’s, florists and so on.

Now the venue was currently running 60 weddings per year but they were initially aiming to increase that to 80.  So you might think, 4 photographers, 80 weddings. That’s 20 each. Wow. That’s pretty good!

As always, the reality is very different. Now I know this isn’t a scientific study but I have done a bit of investigation on this one because advertising on this particular DVD required a substantial investment on my part.

By looking at the number of bookings I’m getting where I’m NOT a recommended supplier and from feedback from clients who HAVE booked me, from chatting to venue  “wedding organisers” I’ve got to know over the years and colleagues who HAVE gone down this advertising route, I reckon I’m being generous when I say 50% of the couples (so for this venue that’s 40 couples IF they make their target of 80) will not use the venue’s recommended suppliers.

You then have to realise that, with all the advertisements being shown right at the end of the DVD, not all the couples who watch the DVD promoting the venue will then sit and watch the adverts for all the recommended suppliers afterwards. I wouldn’t be surprised if only 50% bothered to. That means the potential client list has now gone down to 20.

20 Clients divided by 4 photographers, 5 each. Personally, I think that’s a much more realistic expectation. They wanted to charge me £2000 plus VAT to advertise on the DVD. That’s a cost to me of £500 per wedding client.

Now if I had a really large “advertising budget” and charged several thousands of pounds for my services, that may be affordable. To me and I suspect the majority of “start ups”, it’s simply too expensive. On what I charge, I would be working just to cover the advertising costs. Or to put it another way, I would be working for nothing!

You can see why it’s good business for the venue. 4 photographers, 4 videographers, 4 florists, 4 wedding transport providers, 4 DJ’s, 4 chair cover suppliers, 4 cake makers and so on all paying to be on the DVD. It adds up to a substantial amount of revenue.

To me, the unfair thing is all these providers have to allow for that overhead when they set their fees. This cost then gets passed on to the couple, their clients, who end up indirectly paying a lot more for the privilege of using that venue without even realising it!


Here’s another example of advertising. I was approached by a Town Council. They held weddings in their Town Hall and other council owned premises. In this age of “cut backs” they had decided to raise revenue by charging “recommended suppliers” ( here we go again, prepared to “recommend” suppliers they no absolutely nothing about ) a fee for each booking they received at a council owned premises as a result of their “recommendation”.

Now as businessmen and women, we should build an element into our fees to cover “advertising”. It’s good business practice to do so. Also, on the face of it, it makes good business sense for the council and the residents they represent to raise money where they can in the current economic climate.

The issue I had with it is simple. It was the amount they wanted to charge me just to include my business details in a leaflet. ( Yes, that was all it boiled down to. Include my details in a leaflet they give to couples ). Remember, this is a fee I would have to pay for each booking. I would have had to increase my charges by £300 per wedding just to cover their fees.

Now I did ask, can I have 2 price lists then. One for council weddings and one for all the others, just so that my clients realise that I am collecting £300 from them on your behalf! Needless to say, they would require me to sign a contract which would forbid me from pointing this out.

I’m not against venues making something out of “recommending” suppliers, I guess it make good business sense for them to do so. After all, they need to make a profit in order to continue trading.

What I am against is the amount they try to make out of wedding vendors ( not just photographers ) for very little work on their part. Then when you get potential clients see you and question why you charge so much, you can’t tell the clients “well, £300 of my fee is going straight to your venue for recommending me!”

I would emphasise, not all venues do this. Some photographers have worked long and hard cultivating relationships with venues and their wedding organisers in order to get on the “recommended suppliers” list. To me, that’s how it should be done and they deserve every booking they get.


A few years ago I was approached by an advertising company who were selling advertising space on a “USB key” that was going to be distributed at wedding fairs and at the Registrar’s Office for the same Council I mentioned above.

I checked with the Town Hall and spoke to someone who confirmed that yes, that company was selling advertising on a USB key on behalf of the Town Council and yes, that USB key would be distributed at wedding fairs and at the Registrar’s Office in the town centre. The “Council” were “enthusiastically supporting this initiative to help local businesses”. Surely if the Council are supporting it, it must be all good and my investment would be safe.

I paid several hundred pounds for said advertising and waited to see how my advert came out on the USB key. It never materialised. To cut a long story short, the advertising company went out of business and the Town Council simply didn’t want to know. After the advertising company failed, their attitude changed. They stated the company was “authorised” to act on the Town Council’s behalf, but the Town Council were not responsible for the failure of the company to produce the product I had paid for. Lesson learned, be very careful !! It appears you can’t even trust your local Council to act honourably.


I’m not saying that you should never invest in advertising ( I realise that’s what you might be thinking after reading about my experiences ).

I’m just trying to make you aware of the dangers. When starting out and thinking about advertising for the first time, it’s easy to get drawn in by the “sales talk” of those selling the advertising. Remember, they are selling you a product, not doing you a favour ( you’re doing them one ). Do your homework to the best of your ability and only spend money you can afford to lose.


On to wedding fairs. Be selective. They can be very expensive for very little return. Having spoken to others who have been in business a lot longer than me, it appears the emphasis on wedding fairs has changed over recent years.

In the past, a venue would organise a fair and invite trusted traders along with a view to attracting couples to their venue so the couple would have their wedding there.

Nowadays wedding fairs are being organised not just at wedding venues but also at random other places like village halls, with the organisers making their money by selling table space. The emphasis therefore is now on making money out of the traders rather than attracting engaged couples to the venue.

Nowadays I think you find there are just such a lot of wedding fairs being held all over the place that you have to check there aren’t too many nearby ON THE SAME DAY! Just take a look in the back of those “free” wedding magazines they give away at fairs and you will see for yourself there are simply too many of them.

They vary a lot in quality as well. You can usually tell the good ones by the fact that they are very difficult for photographers to get into. They will limit the number of photographers to just three of four ( at the larger fairs, less at smaller ones ). It’s no good going to a fair with too many photographers. Potential clients will be put off by the fact the wedding fair has been turned into a photography fair!

The thing with wedding fairs is, I am yet to find a “magic” solution. I have attended “large” ones where I haven’t had much interest and attended small ones where I have been really pleasantly surprised with the result. If someone reading this blog knows the magic solution to being successful at wedding fairs, please pass it on!!


If you want to try your hand at wedding fairs you will need a roll up banner and some leaflets/brochures to hand out.

Don’t buy too many brochures. If you are only going to hand them to clients who show an interest in what you are offering ( that’s what I do. I don’t “pounce” on every poor unsuspecting couple that walk past my stand like I’ve seen some do ), you will not need thousands of them.

Yes buying in bulk makes the cost of each brochure cheaper at the printers. Trouble is, next year your work will have improved and the brochure has your “older” work on it. Trust me, you’ll end up throwing the old brochures away which means you have wasted more money than you saved by buying in bulk!


I hope you are finding these blogs informative and useful but the old “word count” is getting high again ( up to nearly 1800 ) so I’ll end here for now. In the next part I will talk about how I decided how much much to charge for my  photography services and some issues around supplying wedding albums.

Hope to see you soon.

wedding photographer for Essex
The Bride and Groom on their wedding day in Colchester Castle Park.

Part 4

Back to part 2

 

Photography as a business – dream vs reality part 2

Wedding photographer for Essex
The Groom serenades his Bride at Maison Talbooth in Essex.

This is part 2 in my series of blogs about wedding photography as a business  – dream vs reality. So it all makes sense I recommend you start at part 1.

I will share what I have learned about the reality of being self employed for the first time in my life and the practicalities of earning a living from wedding photography.


Here in Part 2 I am going to talk about where to get training and some of my “learning” experiences in relation to different forms of advertising / marketing.

So, you’ve realised just how little you know about running a photography business and decided to look into getting some training. There’s excellent training available and there’s poor training. No one wants to waste their money on poor training, so where do you go for advice?

I suggest you join one of the photographic societies. I’m in the SWPP because I have found what they offer suits me. There is a great on line forum where experienced photographers are happy to share their knowledge with those starting out and they’ve helped me out with useful, honest advice on more occasions than I can remember.

The SWPP are not the only organisation of this type. There’s the Royal Photographic Society, the British Institute of Professional Photographers, the Guild of Photographers, the Master Photographer’s Association and the National Photographic Society to name a few.

I’m not going to “recommend” one in particular. Take a look at what they all have to offer and join whichever you think suits you, your needs and your personality.

Many of them will offer member benefits like free legal advice, special offers on insurance and other products, on line forums where you can ask questions and so on.

I was amazed at the amount of training there is available. Not just “how to take good photographs” type training, but “business” training as well. With so many courses, where do you start ? What do you need to learn ?


You NEED to learn the importance of social media and how to utilise it. How to use Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, Instagram. The list just goes on and on. Don’t underestimate it’s importance nor the amount of time you are going to spend updating it!

Seriously. Unless I am missing a trick here or have missed a training course I need to go on, you will spend an extraordinary amount of time updating your social media in order to get work. All time that is effectively unpaid! (If you are currently “employed”, be prepared for the number of hours to have to work for free when you become “self employed”)

I’ll admit this social media business is something I struggle with, probably because of my attitude towards it. I hate it and that stems from all the suffering I have seen in my previous job. Suffering caused by those who abuse it. But love it or hate it, in this modern world you HAVE to learn how to use it to promote your business. (I must admit I’m quite enjoying this blogging though, much to my surprise).


Learn about advertising through other media too, such as magazines, wedding fairs and so on. My personal experiences on these are not good.

I have tried advertising in 4 different “wedding magazines”. I even got an image used as the front cover on one issue. I’ve only ever had one enquiry from this type of advertising and they went with a “cheaper” photographer.  I’ve never had a confirmed booking as a result of magazine advertising, and it isn’t cheap!


Off on a tangent here (again) but I used to ask couples why they chose someone else so that I could learn from it and maybe make some changes. To be honest, I don’t think you get truthful “feedback”. I suspect the majority (not all, but the majority) just think of an excuse to give you. Why?

Well the most common reason given to me is price. I accept that people have to try and keep within their budget, but I do wonder why they bothered to see me if it’s just price because I advertise all my prices on my website. If they just look, (and I advise them to do so before we meet) they can see what I charge before we have a consultation.

Other reasons for rejection have included “All your photos looked the same. There was no variety”. Maybe they had a particular type of image in mind which isn’t in my portfolio, or perhaps I need to be more adventurous! It’s more than likely that my “style” wasn’t what they were looking for, which is something I’m not prepared to change. I’m puzzled why they bothered to come and see me though, considering my “style” is pretty obvious when you look at my website.

Another was “You’re too old”. I don’t feel too old. I’ve never failed to attend a wedding through sickness and never had anyone accuse me of failing to perform because I’m not fit enough to do the job! Anyway, my age is something I can’t change.

I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that, in my experience, asking people for the reason why they went with a different photographer is unlikely to provide any useful feedback so I no longer bother.

Oh, and of the number of people who promise “We’ll let you know”, only a few will bother. Don’t take it personally (I used to because I was brought up to be polite and keep my promises. If I say I’ll get back to someone, I do, without fail), they’re probably like it with everyone.


Off on another tangent (sorry, I have so much information I want to share!!) Rejection. Get used to it. I was taking it really personally thinking it’s me, there’s something wrong with me!! I’m not perfect, which means I’m human and perfectly normal. The simple truth is

I’m not the right photographer for everyone, and not everyone is the right client for me.

It doesn’t mean there is something wrong with me, or with them. It’s a two way process and thankfully there are enough people who think I’m right for them, to keep me in work. You will probably find the same. Give 100% to those that like you, forget about those that don’t and never take rejection too personally.

Another thing, don’t be afraid to “sack” a client. If you don’t get along with them and don’t want to work for them, just say you’re not the right photographer for them. If you photograph the wedding of someone you don’t really like very much, it will show in the photos and that isn’t fair on them or you.


Anyway, back to advertising. Maybe I used the wrong magazines ( I suspect the “right” magazines require a much larger advertising budget than I am prepared to spend ), but if you are considering this type of advertising, I found you can knock them down on their rates as they struggle to sell advertising space at the “last minute”, just before they “go to print”.

Another form of printed advertising is that sold by venues for you to appear in their own wedding information packs. They sell you advertising space and list you as one of their “recommended suppliers”.

The problem with this is you will find the official wedding organisers at these popular “wedding venues” move around a lot. When someone new moves in that lovely magazine you paid hundreds to advertise in will get thrown in the bin as the new wedding organiser decides to “start again” and do things their way. That usually means new advertising literature!

One thing I have wondered about. How can they “recommend” a supplier, be it photographer or any other trade, if they haven’t worked with them and simply don’t know how good/bad/indifferent their service is? My wife, who is a wedding celebrant, has had the same experience. She has been approached by venues she has never worked at with a view to her appearing in their magazines as a “recommended supplier”.

The answer is simple. Some venues don’t care who the supplier is, they just want to raise advertising revenue. You pay for the “recommendation”. Well, I personally don’t and never will work like that. I don’t get much work from venue recommendations, but the ones I do get are genuine and not “paid for”.


Facebook. I have never paid for any advertising on facebook and will admit that  perhaps that is the reason why I have never had any bookings through it.

I have had several enquiries and responded to them all in a positive fashion, but the simple fact is all those enquiries have been looking for the “cheapest” photographer they can find. Quality doesn’t seem to come into the equation.

I was in a Facebook group for wedding suppliers, and used to respond to enquiries where couples were looking for a wedding photographer. I stuck with it for about 4 months until I got thoroughly fed up with the responses some photographers were making. For example:

Enquiry.  “Looking for a photographer for a wedding in Essex”. Photographers in Scotland, YES. SCOTLAND. Willing to travel, all day coverage for £350 travel and accommodation  included. Really?

You cannot be earning a living and providing a good service travelling from Scotland to Essex with all day coverage for £350 including travelling and accommodation!

This was not an isolated response. It happened on every post where someone was looking for a photographer, no matter where they lived. If you are starting out in this business, you need to know there are “cheap photographers” out there and clients who simply want “cheap photography”. I decided they did not fit into my “target market” and left the group.


Tangent time! You will see when I talk about web design, I am very much against “cheating”. Facebook is another area open to abuse. I’m aware that you can buy “likes”, so are most other people. Thing is, if you are “comfortable” about cheating with your website and social media, you probably wouldn’t think twice about “cheating” your clients. I believe if you want to succeed in this business, you need to be honest and trustworthy (unless I’m just being naive).


We’re getting a bit high on the word count again, over 1700, so that’s enough on these subjects for now. In the next blog I will write a bit about my experiences with venue DVD advertising, USB key advertising, wedding fairs and how I decided how much to charge for my services.

See you soon.

Wedding photographer for Suffolk
The Groom shows off his wedding ring for fun at Woodall Manor in Suffolk.

Free Listings (added 17th March 2018).

Why write about free listings now? Well, I had forgotten about them until this morning when I was approached about one.

I received a friend request from another photographer on FaceBook. I’m always keen to share experiences with other photographers and see their work, so I accepted.

I then received a message from him via FB. He asked how my business was going, how many weddings I usually cover in a year, how my bookings were looking this year, that kind of thing. Thinking we were “comparing notes” I answered honestly and asked how he was getting on.

Well how naive was I. I walked straight into it. I should know better at my age !!

His reply said nothing about how his photography business was going but was  a request for all my details so that I could appear on his newly created wedding directory. My listing will be free and all he would like in return is “feedback” on it.

Let’s face it, a listing that is worth having will not be “free” for long. Before you know it, I will be offered an “enhanced” listing for a fee. I fell for this trick early in my photography career and I almost fell for it again !!

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any issue with someone setting up a directory to try and generate another revenue stream. In fact I wish them every success with their endeavours. What I object to is misleading people by using sneaky sales techniques in order to get them to sign up. Time to “unfriend” on FB, I think.

If you are thinking of going on a “free” listing, give it a go. It might work for you and you won’t know if you don’t try. Do a “search” yourself and see if the listing you are thinking of appearing on actually “comes up” and is easy to find. If it doesn’t show on your search, it probably doesn’t show when Brides and Grooms search either.

If you get a good result from the “free” listing you can considered paying for an “enhanced” one. If you get nothing, you’ve lost nothing as it was free.

Personally I tried some a few years ago and didn’t find them very productive so don’t lose heart if they don’t work for you either. I’ve been on one of them for 7 years and no enquiries have resulted from it.

I know they will say you need to be on an “enhanced” listing for people to see you. My reply to that is, then why do you offer “free” listings if you know they don’t work. (We all know why, so they can talk you into paying for the enhanced listing).

I have suggested letting me have an “enhanced” listing for a short period to see if it works. If it does, then I’ll pay to renew it. Funnily enough, they never seem too keen on that idea. I wonder why !!

Part 3 

Back to part 1