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Launching a Photography Studio From Scratch

Services Design

The Challenge

More Life Photography was a personal passion project of mine. One day it hit me that I could get paid to do what I love. Since 2011 I have been a street style, portrait, and fashion photographer. I ran a popular sneaker blog and used my photography skills to launch my own apparel company. But I never explored photography as a service. All of the work I did was either pro bono or for personal projects. I took pictures because I loved taking pictures.

9 years ago when I fell in love with photography, I couldn’t explain why, but something about capturing a moment captured me. As I learned more about myself and the art form, I found 3 key drivers.

I loved…

  1. The creative process behind planning and executing a shoot: I loved finding the right location, styling my subjects, informing their poses, and making sure everything felt cohesive.
  2. The power of photography to help people see themselves in their best light: I loved the joy people felt when they saw their pictures. They would look at themselves in pride and disbelief. It was a special flavor of confidence.
  3. Photography as a medium for storytelling: I loved using pictures to tell a story about a moment in time.
  4. But it took me a while to come to this realization. By the time I thought about starting a photography studio, I moved for college and it was a couple years since I actively published content anywhere.
  5. Nobody knew me as a photographer. I had to restart from scratch, build a brand, and monetize it.

The Goal

I devised a multi-phase plan to successfully launch my studio over 1 year:

  1. Build a brand to gain awareness and credibility among my audience
  2. Create a distinguished and seamless user experience to capture the most value possible
  3. Launch a grassroots marketing campaign (aka i had no budget lol) to get people through the funnel

I’ll caveat everything sounds a lot more perfect than it was. Hindsight is 20/20. The real process was a just a series of hunches about how to get from A to B, that i was silly enough to act on. That’s an idea I really want to come through: launching your project is basically about following your hunches and validating them somehow. But like Lisa Nichols says, don’t wait for clarity to take action. Clarity will come from the action itself. That’s something that I felt throughout the process, from the idea to start this journey down to how I priced the services. So if you take anything from this, I hope it’s more action lol.

The Results

  1. Converted 10% of leads, resulting in $3k monthly revenue
  2. 100% customer satisfaction rating
  3. 3x’d monthly sales in one quarter
  4. #1 grossing studio on campus
  5. 100,000+ views/engagement and 7,000+ followers generated across social media

The Solution

Build a brand to gain awareness and credibility

The first step was to build a brand from scratch. This was important because like Grant Cardone says, “if people don’t know you, they can’t flow you.” Building a brand is hard because it’s hard to get people’s attention in the beginning. So I asked myself how could I get people to reshare my content? The answer had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the community I was a part of.

Epiphany 1

Howard University is consistently ranked as one of the top 3 most fashionable schools in the country. Every day is a fashion show. The campus is overflowing with creativity and individuality.

Epiphany 2

People are naturally self interested, so if I focus on doing something from them. I create reciprocity, a virtuous cycle, and as a result — virality.

So I created an Instagram page dedicated to featuring the best fashion on campus. This page quickly amassed a following and created buzz for two reasons:

This idea of sharing lessons learned has always been at the core of my content strategy ever since 2011. It forces me to reflect honestly on where I am and articulate it. It also allows you build brand more effectively because you’re being honest and you’re reaching back to the people who are going through what you just went through. This is the power of micro-influencer brands. While blockbuster influencers may have expansive reach, micro-influencers have the benefit of really strong connections and relationships with their audience. So in some cases they may have a fraction of the audience but 10x the power.

Creating a distinguished and seamless user experience

Now that I built a brand by focusing on adding value to a community. I had to figure a way to capture the value. The first step to capturing value is defining what you market you are serving so that you can be focused in everything you do. I first narrowed my niche to focus on portrait and graduation photoshoots. I wanted to select a niche that would give me comfortable margins and evergreen opportunity. In my research I was surprised to find that people were taking graduation photos all year round. And because of the magnitude of the moment, you have a very eager buyer.

What do I get when I book a shoot with you?

Problem: This was important because many people wanted to do several looks and locations for their shoot. Graduation was a big deal so people wanted to capture the moment in as many flavors as possible. But as a photographer, this results in a lot of variability in your work, which makes it hard to scale.

Solution: I productized the shoots based on the number of looks, locations, and edits. This created predictability which allowed me to scale faster. This also allowed me to scale my pricing. Beyond the structure, I differentiated myself by using my background in fashion to offer free styling and creative consultation as a bonus. This supported the premium brand positioning.

Where can I see your photos?

  1. Problem: People need proof of work to see artistic range and align on vision. Most photographers were running their biz through instagram so their feed was a hodgepodge of stuff, not all of which is necessarily relevant to the client.
  2. Solution: I believe the riches are in the niches. If you can prove to the client that you have the specific solution they want, they’re more likely to trust you to solve their problem. So I curated my portfolio and created an abbreviated + expanded version. You got a taste on the landing page, but could go for the full meal if you wanted. The selection of photos were specific to the most popular types of graduation shoot styles.

Launching a Grassroots Marketing campaign

Once I built the website, it was time to drive traction. I didn’t have any marketing budget so I had to get scrappy. I launched my own grassroots marketing campaign. My strategy had several components to it:
Problem: Finding a time that works for both parties is often the most time intensive part of the sales process, especially when working at scale. If you’re running your biz via instagram, a calendar, and venmo — you’ll constantly be going back and forth to coordinate times and appointments and it gets very tedious.
Solution: I solved for this by integrating my website with Square Appointments for seamless booking and payments. So once the client saw the work and selected a pageant, they could select a time on a calendar and pay in one go.
A launch announcement on my personal social media platforms

This allowed me to capture initial traction and support from my existing following.
Digital/Out of Home Marketing Campaign

This allowed me to create a campaign unique to the brand that would run during peak season
Continuous documentation and client testimonials

This allowed me to leverage social proof to keep my marketing strong/fresh.

Content Strategy

I created several ad variants and posted them across social and in high foot traffic areas on campus. But this wasn’t enough. No matter how good my flyer was, only a few people would notice. I had to find a way to get in front of people where I KNEW I was more likely to have their attention. Then it hit me, elevators. Elevators are great real estate bc they’re high traffic and you have a captive audience.

So I went into every elevator in all the major buildings and placed my ads on the inside of the doors right before class let out. This way when students were in the elevators they would be staring at my ads while they waited. Every time they would get taken down, I would just go put them back up again and I enlisted my friends and classmates to my street team as well.

I had to find a way to get in front of people where I KNEW I was more likely to have their attention. Then it hit me, elevators.

The icing on the cake was how happy people were with their photos and throughout the whole experience. I made sure to document every shoot on instagram via stories where I was averaging 300–500 daily views in addition to 2k post reach. By constantly documenting my progress and journey, I was creating an endless log of social proof and live testimonials of clients having fun. This was important to move people from consideration to purchase. Often times you’ll have someone who is on the edge, and they just need to see someone else go first before they jump in.

Conclusion

As a result of combining all of the above, I was able to help people capture their college graduation in epic style. This was a huge honor because graduation is such an important milestone. These are photos people get to cherish forever and even show to their children. I’m grateful I had a chance to help capture those moments. This project was a great experience for me because it allowed me to combine all my interests from photography to design to marketing and sales. I took an idea and actually made an entire business out of completely from scratch. The marketing campaign resulted in a 3x increase in sales and I was able to generate $3k monthly revenue on a consistent basis thanks to sustained organic instagram content.

Lessons Learned

As a result of combining all of the above, I was able to help people capture their college graduation in epic style. This was a huge honor because graduation is such an important milestone. These are photos people get to cherish forever and even show to their children. I’m grateful I had a chance to help capture those moments. This project was a great experience for me because it allowed me to combine all my interests from photography to design to marketing and sales. I took an idea and actually made an entire business out of completely from scratch. The marketing campaign resulted in a 3x increase in sales and I was able to generate $3k monthly revenue on a consistent basis thanks to sustained organic instagram content.

Lets Create Something Great