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Insights & Thoughts

Business Is Slow | Tips For Getting It Back Up To Speed

By Chris Nachtwey on August 21st 2014

Inquires for Business Have Come to a Halt…

That’s a scary thought, isn’t it? Client inquiries have stopped coming your way, and you don’t have a single job on the books for the foreseeable future. It’s so bad you go and test the contact form on your website to make sure it still works!


Welcome to being a full-time photographer. It’s going to happen. I’ve been through it, and if it’s not happened to you yet, it will. Just give it some time. We all hit points where work is slow, you start questioning your sanity, and more importantly, your business model.


Don’t stress (too much); I’m here to offer up some suggestions for getting through that bump in the road.

1. Look at Yourself in the Mirror

Let’s be real for a moment – you might not be getting inquires or business for that matter, because of you. Yes, you. You need to put your pride to the side for a moment and take a look at what you are doing to generate inquires and business for yourself. Are you honestly doing everything in your power to get your work in front of people who will pay you? My guess is that you are not.

One thing I suggest doing everyday is making it a goal to do one thing that will help you get your photography in front of people who will pay you for it. This can be working your tail off to blog that last wedding you did, even though you hate to blog. It could be cold calling local wedding planners and offering to meet with them to show them what you can offer their clients. It could be making some great flyers and just pounding the pavement.

You need to make sure you are always relevant and that your work is being seen by people who want to pay for it. There is no surefire way to make this happen, but if you’re just sitting around hoping you get an email or call from a potential client, and not doing anything to generate those emails or calls, chances are it’s not going to happen.

As I always say, no one on the bench gets noticed, but even the weakest player on the field is being seen by everyone. That weak player might have not been noticed by anyone yet, but they have a better chance of being noticed because they are on the field grinding away and not sitting on the bench. What’s this means for you: even if you’re struggling, being on the field in front of people is going to get you noticed more then if you are sitting on the bench waiting for your chance to shine.

2. It’s Ok To Ask For Help

There is no shame in asking for some feedback from a business coach or fellow photographer. Sometimes, we cannot see the weak areas of our business without the help of someone else. Don’t fear asking for help, most of the time you will get valuable feedback that can help you and your business continue to grow and keep new clients coming.

3. Run a Sale

Running a sale is a great way to generate income and broaden your client base. If you like to shoot family portraits like me, it’s so easy to use social media to run a flash sale.

For example: You need to make $1,000 to make ends meet at the end of the month. Run a sale that could potentially help you generate that much needed income. Maybe it’s not even a sale; maybe you include a product that is usually an a la carte option. When running a flash sale, you need to provide something of value, just saying that family sessions are 10% off this month will not attract that many people. If you include something of value, let’s say a gallery wrap and showing what its value normally is, will give potential clients a sense of the value they are getting for booking your special. This will bring you the income you need, and hopefully create some new clients to spread the good word about you and your business.

4. Offer Your Services for Free

I don’t work for free Chris, oh hell no, I’m only clicking the shutter if I get paid.” Oh really, so that’s how you feel, funny you didn’t feel that way a few years ago when no one knew who you were!

When shooting for free, you need to make it a calculated effort.

For example: You really, really, want to get into shooting food photography to generate income in the off season. Why not find a small local restaurant that could use some great images of their food for their website, or marketing? Offer to shoot for free, this will help you build up a portfolio and also give your local restaurant images to use. You can then use those images and new relationship with that business owner as a way to market yourself in your local area and beyond.

That’s just an example that comes to mind, but there are so many different ways to get out there and in front of people. Just be sure that anything you do for free is going to possibly lead to paying work in the long run.

4. Create Work For You

So many photographers I speak with only seem to focus on creating work that clients want or need. If business is slow, it’s a great time to create work that you have been dreaming about or wanting to try. Don’t stop with just creating the work and posting it on social media or your website, blog the heck out of it.

Blog the whole process, why you’re creating this work, the challenges, and the people you’re working with to create your personal work. Share those blog posts on social media and start to get people into you, the project, and your work as a whole.


5. Stay Positive

Let’s face it, being a photographer is tough nowadays. There is so much competition, and so many people entering the field thanks to digital cameras. You need to know that slow times are going to happen and stay positive. If you go to negative town, you will not get out of it. It’s too easy to quit. Staying strong and navigating a rough patch is hard, but it’s essential to you and your business in the long run. Keep your chin up; if you’re doing all you can for marketing, creating great work, and building new relationships, things will turn around. It might take awhile, but things will get better for those willing to work hard to make them turn around.



I’ve been through some rough patches, and I’m sure I will be through some more in the future. As hard as it was to keep my chin up and keep working, I always found a way to turn things around. Truth is: sometimes it’s not you at all, it’s just the current market. Things will turn around; I swear they will, just never give up on yourself, no matter how rough the waters get.

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Chris Nachtwey is a full-time wedding and portrait photographer based in Connecticut. He is the founder and creator of 35to220 a website dedicated to showcasing the best film photography in the world. Chris loves to hear from readers, feel free to drop him a line via the contact page on his website! You can see his work here: Chris Nachtwey Photography

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Mi Guel

    Awesome Advice..

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  2. Rafael Steffen

    Some photographers says that a photography business is almost 90% business compared to 10% only shooting time.

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  3. Jim Johnson

    Work for free— but do it in a beneficial way. Helping out a local business is not just for your portfolio if you try to make that business part of your “network”.

    But, the main way I work for free is charity work. Pet shelters need good portraits for adoption. Low income families like would like to have portraits done. The local historical society would probably jump at the chance for architectural photos. Everyone could use photography work, it’s just that some don’t see it as a value for their limited budget, and that’s where you come in. And you can write it off on your taxes.

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    • Stan Rogers

      Speaking of which, look for a local Help-Portrait project. Yes, they tend to be seasonal (so that the pictures will be available for the holiday season), so they won’t do much for you when the wind stops filling the sails at the wrong time of year, but they not only get you work that will be seen, they’ll also hook you up with the local network of photographers (and occasionally stylists and MUAs). A lot of the time, other photographers are your direct competitors, but being someone else’s “overflow guy/gal”, second, or even a mercenary assistant for the occasional big job can keep you in mac’n’cheese when the ketchup soup starts sounding like a gourmet meal.

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  4. Kelvin Ikhide

    Lovely read… Thanks!

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  5. Daniel Thullen

    Nice article Chris. A nice reminder that being a photographer for a living is a business. Its tough when smart phones can take some extraordinary pictures. As photographers we need to market just like all other service providers, be they wedding planners or realtors. Chris, I always look forward to your insights!

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