the 5 stages of working on your photography business

Here at ShootDotEdit, we spend a lot of time talking about prioritizing the most important things for your photography business. To continue the conversation, we reached out to Esther de Boer of Shootzilla to find out more about the 5 stages of working on your photography business. Keep reading to learn more.

Esther de Boer is the founder of ShootZilla – a photography studio management tool that organizes the hectic life of photographers so they can handle more shoots in less time without any chaos or overwhelm!


Photography Business Tips

Are you wondering if you are spending your time on the right things? You are working 50 hours a week, no wait, you feel like you are always working! Or at least like you always could work.

Does doubt ever creep in… am I working on the right things? Am I prioritizing the right things in my photography business plan to move my business forward? There is a very helpful guideline to help you decide what you should be working on. It all depends on what stage your photography business is in. Todd Herman defines 5 stages of business growth on his blog and what to focus on in each stage. I have translated them for you to photography businesses. Whether you are learning how to start a photography business, or have been up and running for a while, take a look below.

Dream Up

You don’t have a photography business yet, and you still have your job. You have this passion called photography, and you’re thinking about making a business out of it. You might have some clients already, or you are just honing your skills, visiting the photography forums to do weekly challenges and occasionally photographing a friend.

silhouette wedding photography
Image by France Photographers

You feel a bit overwhelmed by the prospect of starting a photography business. How do you know if you can create a real income out it?

Some questions you may have could be: Where do I start? Do I need a photography business website and what gear do I need? I don’t have enough photography skills yet to face all situations. I don’t know if I can do this next to my job. What if I fail?

How to work on your photography business at this stage:

Validate if your photography is what people are waiting for. Sell a few shoots and more importantly, figure out what people are willing to pay more for. Figure out why they would or would not book you. Use that knowledge to see if you can sell more shoots.

Related: How do you know what pricing model is best for your photography business?

Start Up

When you are in this stage, congratulations! You made the jump and started your photography business. The excitement of having your first clients gives you wings. You are now taking on customers and officially sending them an invoice. But, customers are still sporadic, not consistent. You also feel overwhelmed with all the responsibilities that come with being your own boss.

It’s also the time where you find out that having your own business means you have to do ALL-THE-THINGS, even the things you know nothing about since you may not be able to afford to hire someone to do it for you (hello, website troubles, contract questions, album designs, etc.). You feel the burden of having to do everything by yourself.

You can start to worry at this stage, especially when it takes a long time to pass through. Can I make this work? When will I be profitable enough to work less? I feel like I can work all the time yet I am not growing my revenues. When will my partner ask me to get a real job again…?

How to work on your photography business at this stage:

In this stage, you should only focus on your marketing, your sales, and your photography product (your skills and your offering). Stop tinkering with your photography website and focus on getting clients and building your business every week. Plan your tasks for your week and honestly reflect on them. Are they moving my business forward? Are 80% of my tasks focused on improving my marketing, sales or product systems?

For example, some photographers avoid doing sales sessions because they are afraid of all the new skills they need to learn to pull them off and afraid of rejection. However, they are a significant factor in making your photography business financially successful. Be uncomfortably honest with yourself, or you will stay stuck in this phase forever, and in the end, you might give up or burn out.

Ramp Up

Finally, you are financially doing good. You have a fully booked calendar and loads of happy clients. You feel super confident in your photography skills, and you are thinking of branching out to giving workshops to other photographers who are starting out.

However, you feel like you also reached the maximum of your capacity since you can’t take on more clients than you do now, so how can you ever increase your revenues? And you would love to build more freedom in your business since you are still working all the time.

You can feel overwhelmed and stressed since there is very little breathing room at this stage. Your clients always depend on you, and you have to deliver. You feel like if you stop working, the money automatically stops coming in. You wonder how long you can keep up with this. You wonder about outsourcing parts of your work, but you feel like no one can do the editing or designing as good as you would like it to be. You’re afraid the personal touch will be missed when you automate parts of your work.

Related: Are you using these 6 steps to avoid an angry client?

How to work on your photography business at this stage:

Realize you have done everything you can based on your own personal efforts. If you want to move forward, you have to change things up. Focus on building systems, outsourcing parts that can be outsourced, so you have more time to enjoy life and to focus on your strategic vision for your photography business. Find software that can help you and maybe even a mentor who has been there before. It will save you tons of hours compared to figuring this out all by yourself.

Remember: Life is supposed to be fun.

Helpful resources: Photo editing company, ShootDotEdit for outsourcing your editing, ShootZilla for organizing your workflow.

Scale Up

You took the previous stage seriously and created systems in your photography business so that work can be done more easily and by other people. You now have a few people working for you, and you have free time!! Not many photographers reach this stage.

You might be taking care of payroll now and have increased your costs, but you can also spend more time doing what you love, photographing. You might even have someone doing shoots for you as an associate photographer or a junior photographer which will double the potential to bring in revenues.

One of the pitfalls of having more free time is micromanaging, which for a photographer could result in reviewing the edits, album designs, sales sessions, etc., too precisely and still putting lots of effort into making sure everything goes perfectly. This will not drive your business forward and will demotivate the people working for you.

How to work on your photography business at this stage:

Hone your leadership skills so you can hire the best people to do (some of) the work for you. Invest time in growing your leadership skills to create a culture and move your photography business to the next level.

Take time to reflect here. Is this your cup of tea? Or are you happier when you keep it simple with a few tasks outsourced to, for example, ShootDotEdit, and maybe an assistant or a studio management system like ShootZilla for the administration of the shoots? Not every photographer is an entrepreneur, and most photographers want to keep it simple so they can spend most of their time playing with their camera and cool people in front of their lens. That is entirely fine, and your business will stay in this stage, and you enjoy an incredible life while working your passion.

Leader Up

At this stage, you have it all. You are a household name for incredible photography in your area; you receive easy press, everyone wants to work and collaborate with you. You might be creating new photography spin-off products and have a team handling the online marketing and sales of it all. Hardly any photographers get to this stage. You are still vulnerable to changes in the market.

There will always be the young photographers entering the market. They adopt all new technologies in record speed, and their creativity is fresh. How are you keeping up with that? Since everything is moving fast in the digital world, your products get outdated, and you need to keep up.

How to work on your photography business at this stage:

Create a vision of where you want to go and what your exit scenario is. Most photography businesses are centered around a person. Are you going to rebrand to a studio so you can sell it or so you can get shares and become less and less involved over time? Can you hire one of the young talents to keep your company on the leading edge? Watch the trends in the market. Upgrade your systems so you can work faster and better with new technologies.

What’s next

This overview stuck with me when I saw it the first time. I hope it gives you the insight to know what to work on in the weeks, months, and years ahead of you. It might be uncomfortable to realize that spending your time in Facebook groups is not moving your business forward, but the reward of getting out of start-up phase is very well worth it.

Remember you became a photographer because you loved that passion, but probably also because you wanted freedom. Freedom to make your own choices, to take a day off now and then, to work the hours that please you. So, let’s get you there. With high revenues.

Let me know what stage you are in the comments!


When you focus on the most important tasks and work on your business, rather than in, you can help your photography business grow and continue to achieve your goals. Discover additional success photography tips and how to create a plan with our free Guide: 5 Keys to Absolutely Succeeding in Your Wedding Photography Business!

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