5 Ways to Recession-Proof Your Photography Business

September 9, 2021

By Caroline Tran

© Caroline Tran

Outdoor family sessions like this one, which took place in San Francisco, helped me get my photography business through a tough year when all my weddings were cancelled due to the pandemic.

I will never forget my first WPPI. I had just quit my high school teaching job of five years to pursue photography full time. I was nervous but full of hope. I traveled with my group of photographer friends at the time, all of whom had more experience than me, and I was so grateful they were there to guide me through the show. I remember being in awe at every class, which they helped me choose. I was so inspired and dreamt that one day, I would be able to stand up there and inspire others too. I have since been fortunate enough to have attended WPPI for the last 12 years, and have presented for at least seven of the last shows in one form or another. 

[Read: WPPI 2021 “Packs a Punch” as Community Gathers for First Time in 18 Months]

As much as I love WPPI, it is also an annual check-in and reminder of how many don’t make it in this business. According to Dane Sanders, 60 percent of photographers give up their business in the first year. Of the remaining 40 percent, another 25 percent will fail by the second year. The remaining 15 percent are the ones who endure through the third year.

That’s an 85 percent turnover rate! 

This year, Rangefinder (with the help of my husband) surprised me with a beautiful video and awarded me the 2021 Creator of the Year award, presented by Lindsay Adler nonetheless, who was awarded the Rangefinder Icon of the Year last year.

What an incredible honor, right? I was in tears of joy—covered in bittersweetness. The reality is that as special and meaningful as this award was, I celebrated alone. None of my former colleagues and friends were with me. 2020 was a hard year for all, and it hit many in our industry.

[Read: Money Management for Creative Minds—Susan Stripling’s Tips]

The pandemic tested all of our businesses, and I am grateful to have built strong enough foundational blocks to have weathered the storm. In hopes of keeping more of us in business longer, I’d like to share what 2020 taught me about recession-proofing my business:

1. Keep data on the money that comes in and out of your business.

Know where your revenue comes from at any given moment so that you’re able to adapt and adjust as the season and climate changes. I look at my numbers weekly so that I am able to adjust the sails as soon as possible, whether it’s to lean into something that’s going really well and strike while the iron is hot or change course before going down too deep with a sinking ship.

2. Never stop innovating.

Continually gauge your audience and adapt your offerings to their needs. Something that sold well this year may totally tank the following year. Listen to your audience to help identify their current problems, then think of ways you can help solve it. 

[Read: To Upsell Photography, Start by Helping Your Clients]

My clients wanted to do family sessions, but I was afraid due to the pandemic, so I started offering outdoor studio sessions in front of my garage.

Photos © Caroline Tran

3. Have multiple streams of revenue.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. When weddings were cancelled in 2020, I leaned heavily on my portrait and commercial business, which was able to make up for the loss of wedding revenue.

[Read: The 4 P’s of Passive Income for Any Photographer]

I was also able to focus on building up other verticals in my business, such as these personalized ABC books that I created under the brand Magic Paper Studios.

4. Maintain client relationships.

Warm leads will always take less effort to sell to than cold leads, so rather than spending all of your energy recruiting new clients, spend some of that energy to nurture existing clients. It will take less energy to convert them, leaving you with more energy to do other things.

Maintaining an email list is one way to do this. Email lists are how I’m able to promote my annual mini sessions, which generate $35,000 per weekend.

5. Work on your business more than in your business.

Create systems and processes so that you can streamline and automate as much of the administrative stuff as you can. By freeing up your time from working in your business, you will have more time to focus on the growth of your business. My revenue tripled the first year I implemented this.

I share this with you to inspire you to run your business more efficiently and effectively, but know that this doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process. Pick one thing and work on that before moving on to the next. You may hit some frustrating moments as you try to change how you run your business, but remember that your business will always be a work in progress. Take it one step at a time!

Caroline Tran, named 2021 Creator of the Year by Rangefinder at WPPI 2021, is a Los Angeles-based, internationally published photographer and WPPI educator who has been helping other photographers work smarter, not harder. She offers online Small Group Business Coaching and mentoring. Want to learn more? Get an APPLICATION here.