Taking risks is one of the key ways to grow and improve your photography business. Risk-taking defines entrepreneurship, but not all risks are the same.
Taking risks and growing your photography business requires careful planning and decision-making. Making the right choices is a process. The risks you take today should not be isolated from any aspect of your business planning.
Risk vs. Reward: How to grow your photography business
Whether you’re thinking of creative risk-taking, sales and marketing decisions, or how much you’ll invest financially, all risks must have one thing in common: You must calculate the potential outcomes, both positive and negative.
We all want our clients to be satisfied. New and old clients alike. We want our work to be accepted and appreciated and for clients to employ us again and again. At times this means being extremely consistent and producing images based on a set formula (creating images you know your client loves). At other times, you need to get outside your comfort zone and produce new, creative photographs that you hope your clients will appreciate.
Knowing when to take risks and when to savor the status quo is a major key to success.
Here are five techniques you can apply to help fuel your photography business growth:
1. Take calculated risks
Creative people often tend to be spontaneous. Making a decision on the spur of the moment has exciting possibilities. Doing something new and different has the potential to produce unexpected results. Sometimes these choices result in long-term growth and open up many opportunities. At other times, the outcome is less than inspiring.
Running a photography business requires a good balance between our creative impulses and our analytical sensibilities. The need we have to create new and exciting photographs must balance with the need we have to pay our bills.
So when it comes to risk-taking, being calculated about the choices we make is vital.
It’s easy to run with our emotions when we have a wave of creative ideas. But before we dive deep into spending any amount of time and money taking risks, we are best to first give some thought to the outcomes.
Think about it. Ask yourself some questions, and answer them too!
- What’s the potential of the new idea?
- How does this affect my style?
- Can I make significantly more money by taking this risk?
- How much could I lose if it all goes wrong?
- Do I have the necessary resources (including time)?
Let your analytical self take control for a while. Work through the issues. Brainstorm them with a friend or business mentor. Open a spreadsheet and map out the numbers. Working with a new idea in this way improves your likelihood of success.
Running with a new business idea without stopping to strip it down and understand the potential consequences is exciting. Pausing to think it through may dull your initial excitement, but you’ll probably bear more fruit when you do.
2. Take charge
If you’re already running your own photography business, you’ve taken charge of your situation. You have made one of the most significant risks you’ll ever take. To break away from your previous employment or study and kick-start your own business takes courage.
Risk is rarely isolated. When you’re starting out in business, everything is fresh and new. Every choice you make has some element of risk attached to it. You have little or no experience to guide you. So you must take charge and be organized.
The less control you have over the choices you make, the less successful you can be, at least in the short term. Being in control means having a good understanding of the decisions you’re making and knowing why you’re making them.
According to Insureon, some of the most common risks associated with running a business are:
- Leaving a stable job
- Taking out a loan
- Offering a new product or service
- Selling assets or going into debt to help fund your business
Any of these common risks can significantly alter your business and lifestyle. Selling assets and going into debt is often painful. Without a clear plan and careful decision-making, you can end up deeper in debt. Mindful, deliberate risk management is more likely to return a positive outcome.
If you’re in charge, you know why you make these decisions. You’re also more assured of your success. Calculated, controlled risk is still risk. It just provides you with a greater chance of progress.
3. Set goals to help manage risk-taking
Do you know where you’re heading? Do you know where you want your business to be in five years? In ten years? Having a solid set of goals helps you make better choices when it comes to risk-taking.
Without some clear idea of your direction, you’ll end up making wrong turns in your business journey. These can end up costing time and money and setting your business back. With carefully thought-out goals, you’ll be more prepared to take risks. You’ll recognize opportunities as they arise. Because you know what direction you’re heading, you’ll know whether or not any particular risk is worth considering.
If the risk fits, take it. If you can’t see how making a choice to do something, buy some new gear, or embark on a new marketing strategy fits your goals, think again. The more aware you are of how you want your business to develop and meet your goals, the easier risk-taking becomes.
Buying new gear - an example
Buying new camera gear is always a temptation. When I was starting my photography business I had a young family and a new mortgage. I had to manage my finances carefully and buying new gear was a serious decision-making process. My goal was not to go into more debt by purchasing unnecessary camera gear.
I decided a good rule of thumb to guide me was that any new gear had to be able to pay for itself. If I didn’t think the new lens, tripod, or other shiny photography thing would help me earn money, I wouldn't buy it. This helped keep me from spending money on all manner of nice things, but it did not stop me from earning more.
I once took on a job to photograph a yacht, inside and outside. I knew my widest lens was not sufficient. So, on my way to the marina, I stopped and picked up a secondhand 20mm lens. By the end of the day, the lens had paid for itself with the money it had helped me earn. Many years later I’m still enjoying using the lens.
When you set goals it reduces the likelihood of failure when taking risks. The goals help guide your decision because they provide us with a foundation to work from.
4. Remain current and informed
Read the news. Remain aware of what’s happening in your niche of the photography industry. Make time to regularly stay in touch with other professionals. Doing so will help you set yourself more suitable goals. You’ll have a clearer picture of when to stick with what you’re doing and when to change directions.
Look at the bigger picture from time to time also. Don’t remain so focused on your field of photography that you miss new developments. Photography is an ever-evolving field, so it pays to keep an eye on issues such as image-generative AI that are sure to impact the industry as a whole.
Being aware of what’s going on in the world of photography helps you to plan and set goals that are future-proofed.
5. Analyze the overall costs and potential
What have you got to gain and what could you lose? Every risk approached with these considerations in mind will help guide you to making better decisions.
It’s often easy to think about your photography business being successful and only look at the potential benefits of the risks you take. But any investment of time or money can have a negative impact on your business.
Keeping your existing clients in mind is key. It takes much less time and fewer resources to keep an existing business client than it does to find new ones - at least in many areas of the photography industry. The main exception is for wedding photography businesses where returning clients are not so common. So considering the cost of losing clients must factor into your risk-taking.
How will your choice to take a particular risk impact your availability to continue providing services to your clients? The choices you make should improve what you do for them, but also not restrict being able to bring on new clients.
Calculating the potential benefits and pitfalls of each risk will help you make better choices and be more successful. As you make these calculations, think about how much you’ll learn, even when the outcome of your choice and effort is not as stellar as you hoped it would be.
6. Enjoy the challenge and remain positive
One of the key elements in risk-taking, whether in business or otherwise, is to maintain a positive mindset.
Making the wrong choice or experiencing an outcome you hadn’t planned does not mean you have failed. When we can learn from our mistakes the risks we take are never in vain.
Success is not always what it may seem:
- If a plan goes off course.
- If we lose money on an investment.
- Or if the time and energy we pour into a project bears little fruit.
But all is not lost. Reflect on your situation and build on the experience. This is all an important part of learning to take risks that will grow your photography business.
So long as you surrender your mind to negative thoughts, you’ll struggle to make progress. Keeping a positive attitude toward the challenges you face will inevitably lead to success as a photographer.
Every photography entrepreneur needs to calculate their own risk-reward profile
In any business, risk is inevitable. It’s up to you to make the best decisions you can. When you’re reluctant to take any risks you’re only cheating yourself. At the same time, you’re actually taking the biggest risk … of not doing anything and stagnating your business. Photographers that innovate and take risks are more likely to take on bigger and more interesting clients to help push their own artistic boundaries and earn higher incomes.
As you identify the areas of your photography business that you are comfortable with and the ones that are struggling, you’ll take more calculated risks. Planning and goal setting will ensure you have more success with the risks you decide to take.
Whether you’re facing creative risks or having to make more business-oriented risks, keep your core values in mind. It’s good to have a solid foundation and your goals should provide you with this.
Remember, as a photographer, if you’re taking risks and making mistakes, you’re on the right track.