I'm writing this end-of-year report for two reasons:
1) to reflect on the progress I made this year
2) to educate and inspire my readers to achieve success with their own creative side-hustles (photography or otherwise)
With that being said, let's get right into what I achieved this year and everything I learned along the way:
How Much I Made
First, let's talk about money. Money isn't everything, but it's the lifeblood of any business. Plus, let's face it, it's always interesting finding out how much people make. I disclose my income because I want to give people a realistic sense of how much you can make with photography as a side-hustle. This year, as of this writing (there's still three days left in December), my gross annual revenue for 2016 is $14,925.54. Notice I wrote revenue, not profit. What's the difference? After you add up all my monthly expenses (Squarespace, ConvertKit, Pixieset, 17hats, Backblaze, Adobe Creative Cloud, etc.) and gear & equipment (Fuji XT-2, two lenses, new Macbook Pro, etc.), I've basically broke even for the year. That's right, zero profit. It's kind of crazy to think about really, but it doesn't bother me. Everything I've spent money on this year is an investment into my business that will yield dividends down the line.
If you don't already know, I work part-time as an academic advisor at a university, so that takes up most of my time during the day, but during weekday evenings and weekends, I'm free to do photography. Having a day job is nice because it gives me the financial stability I need without the pressure of relying on photography as my main source of income. That being said, I have every intention to grow my business so that I'm making a full-time income with it. For me, that's a minimum of $40,000 a year.
Finding My Niche
I've been shooting for almost three years now. For those first two years of pursuing my craft, I tried my hand at all different types of photography: weddings, pets, newborn, headshots, portraits, you name it. I quickly learned that if I wanted to really grow my business, I needed to deliver high-quality work, and to do that, I needed to specialize. This year, I made a concentrated effort to focus most of my time on improving my portrait work, and I've noticed a drastic difference in the reception of the work I share on social media. I don't think that's a coincidence -- focusing on portrait work has sped up my learning process. I've trained my eye to look for key elements that make a good portrait and I've gotten better and more consistent at delivering the results my clients are looking for. Of course, there's still room for improvement, but there always will be, and that's what makes creating art so great.
I should mention that even though I chose to focus on portrait work this year, I still tried my hand at other types of photography as well. Choosing to specialize doesn't mean you have to exclusively shoot one genre of photography, it just means making one a priority. In fact experimenting with different types of photography has contributed to my growth significantly this year. Candid photography, for example, forces you to be intimately familiar with your camera's settings, so you can be ready at a second's notice. It also demands that you look for beauty in places that would otherwise look ordinary to anyone else. I found myself drawn to taking candids of people in everyday situations and it sparked a new passion within me that has carried over to my portrait work. You never know how experimenting will influence other areas of your art.
Treating Photography as a Business
At the beginning of this year I told myself I was going to treat my photography as a business and not just a paying hobby. I raised my portrait session prices and became more selective with the trade work I took on. I also started using monthly subscription services like 17hats to send client contracts and invoices, ConvertKit to keep in touch with my email subscribers (more on this later), and Pixieset to host my clients' images in beautiful galleries. I worked regularly with makeup artists and hair stylists to make sure my clients looked and felt their best. My end-goal for all of this was simple: I wanted to be known for high-quality work, and I wanted my clients to have the best customer experience possible, from their initial email inquiry all the way to receiving their images.
Leveraging Social Media
This year I put out a healthy amount of content on social media, mainly Facebook and Instagram. There's no way of knowing how many posts I made in the various Facebook groups I'm a member of, but I tried to post a photo every other day or so. On Instagram, I made 459 posts and garnered 56,942 likes. I looked up my top nine liked posts and noticed that five of them were taken less than two months ago. Guess that means I'm just starting to hit my stride? :)
While I'm on the topic of social media, I want to point out that having a massive amount of followers or getting a ton of likes per photo is by no means a pre-requisite to receive amazing opportunities. What matters more than sheer numbers is how engaged your followers are, even if you don't have that many. Last year, I received a few free drones from someone who discovered my Instagram and was interested in having me create content for their website which features drone footage. Earlier this month, someone from Vayner Media (a digital agency that focuses on social media) reached out to me to ask if I'd be interested in creating content for one of their client's holiday campaign. That client just so happens to be Coach. After signing and sending in my creative agreement, a gorgeous brown leather rucksack (valued at $695) was shipped to my doorstep. It's mine to keep, I just have to create a series of images with the bag and post them on social media.
Keep in mind that my Instagram presence is very modest. I don't even have 3,000 followers yet. But I work hard to create quality content and stay consistent with how often I post, and that's what most important. These days more than ever, companies and brands large and small are turning to micro-influencers (people with smaller but engaged followings) to help promote their products or services. Keep putting out good work and opportunities will come your way.
Investing in New Technology
Probably my most exciting purchase this year was the Fuji XT-2. It was so exciting, in fact, that I wrote an Amazon review for it, which just so happens to be the top review on there. (Guess my adoration for Fuji is infectious!) I picked up the Fuji because I wanted to give mirrorless a try, and I have zero regrets, it's amazing! One of my resolutions for next year is to shoot more street photography and get into video, both which the Fuji is perfect for. It's small and lightweight, so I can carry it anywhere, and it shoots in 4k and has awesome film simulations you can apply to both pictures and video, which is super cool. I could write about the camera all day, but you can just read my Amazon review for the nitty gritty.
Focusing on Educating
I love helping others. When my other blog, People Passionate, started gaining traction, I received a lot of questions about how to start a blog and get web traffic. So I distilled everything I learned through my own experience and created an online course on how to build a blog that detailed out everything I knew. This year, I realize with the success I've achieved so far, I have a unique opportunity to help other photographers who are interested in learning what it's like to start and grow a photography side-hustle -- from the creative aspect to the business side and everything in between. I started an email list recently where I write weekly posts covering a variety of things -- things like how I work with natural light or showing behind-the-scenes pictures from my shoots -- all with the aim to help or inspire people in some way. (If you're interested, you can join my email list here.)
Educating others presents lots of opportunities for income as well. For example, I use affiliate links whenever I review a product or service that I use, so I receive a commission whenever someone purchases through my link (at no additional cost to them). I remember checking my bank account one day and seeing a deposit from Amazon for $58. It turns out, someone purchased a Sony mirrorless camera using one of my links, yielding me a nice chunk of change as a result. You can see how this can add up quickly, especially if you review products often.
Goals for 2017
In 2017, I want to continue the direction I've been going in: Consistently create the best images I can and write about my artistic and entrepreneurial journey along the way. I also want to do a better job of setting boundaries so that my mind isn't always so business-focused 24/7. It's important to take a break every once in a while and be mindful of the present, and I plan on doing a better job of that. It's been one hell of a year, and I couldn't be more excited for what's yet to come. If you're not a subscriber to my email list, please consider joining if you're interested in reading my thoughts on what it's like to grow a photography side-hustle; you can sign up here: http://www.kevintitusphoto.com/email-list/. Thank you for being a part of the journey!