On the surface, running your own photography business sounds like a dream. And in so many ways, it really is (let’s be real… I’m in my pj’s as I type these words). But you’ve probably figured out by now just how many very different and sometimes uncomfortable hats a small-biz owner has to wear. I have to be a creative AND a business-woman?! I have to figure out marketing, accounting, web design, album design, product curation, search engine optimization, photo editing, customer service, tech troubleshooting, camera repair, social media management, general design, big-picture planning, budgeting, and, and, and?! Deep breaths.
The past 16 years in the wedding photography industry have taught me that to build something that lasts, you’ve got to have 1) some serious stick-to-it-iveness (what, it’s a word) and 2) be willing to grow and change. Guys, Instagram wasn’t even a thing when I was looking for my first clients! If you’re in this for the long haul, it’s time to get excited about growing and changing. These 10 tools for photography businesses will save you serious time and energy, help you work smarter with strong photography business workflows, and allow you to find balance as you build a business you love that lasts.
Quick Disclosure: Some of these links happen to be affiliate links which means when you click the link to purchase something on this page, it won’t cost you more, but I may receive a commission for sharing this with you. Which is great, because I was going to share it with you anyway!
My #1 tool for my photography business workflow: Honeybook
I’ll be honest with you – it took a long time for me to swallow my frugal, type-A, Enneagram-3-pride and actually pay for something to help me keep my photography business in order. Actually it took a 50% off code from a friend, like the one I’ve linked below, to be exact. But after 4+ years of using HoneyBook to manage my photography client workflows, I can safely say this one is a must-have for me. HoneyBook gives me hours of my life back, keeps me focused and sane, and ensures that I’m providing the best possible service to each and every one of my photography clients, every time. You can read more about my photography workflow in HoneyBook here or download 3 of the exact wedding photographer prep templates that I use in Honeybook for free here.
My email marketing provider of choice: Flodesk
I was resistant to hop on the email list-building train for a long time. But when I finally started to collect customers’ emails (past, present, and potential), I began to see what all the fuss was about and sorely regret not having started sooner. Your email list is the one direct route to your followers that you own. Instagram down for the day? Pinterest algorithm throwing off your traffic? Banned from Facebook? You can still get in touch with your people, exactly when you choose, in their inbox. And you’re pretty nearly guaranteed that a much higher percentage of your audience with lay eyes on your content via email than on any of those other platforms. It’s true! What does this mean? Building your email list now should get moved up that priority list. I started out my list using Mailchimp’s free service, which worked just fine for my purposes for a while. But when I laid eyes on the beauty and simplicity of Flodesk I was hooked. Flodesk might be just the tool you’ve been looking for to help you connect with your people in a beautiful way.
How I get my photos seen and attract my ideal clients: Showit and Tonic Blog
Many moons before I had any clue what I was doing in the photography marketing department, I began blogging each and every one of my weddings. My motivation was simple: I wanted to have control over how my couples first experienced their photos. It turned out that blogging them – curating them in a really intentional way – was just the ticket. I soon found that blogging a couples’ wedding was also a major way to show that I valued them and loved being a part of their wedding – my top priority! Over the years, photographers started to report that “blogging was dead,” and many dropped their blogging habits altogether. But because my motivation for blogging revolved largely around serving my couples, I kept chugging along.
I didn’t blog my weddings the way the experts said you should – I stopped writing long descriptions about each wedding since that began to be a huge deterrent for me. I kept my blogging workflow simple enough to keep up with but to also benefit my ranking in the search engines. I included a title that included the venue name, links to all of the vendors involved, and a thoughtfully curated selection of photos. There are far better ways to do this if you’re looking to rank in search engines (I can just feel the SEO pro’s cringing now). But this was what felt do-able to me at the time, and I fully believe that done is better than perfect. It turns out that 16 years’ worth of imperfectly blogged images function as their own kind of compound interest system. Last year alone, I booked $10K in packages from couples who found me via one 7-year-old blog post. Just one of them! Moral of the story: begin (or dust off) your blog now. It doesn’t have to be a Tonic or Showit blog or website (though I looooove both the beauty and function of mine); anything you’ll actually use regularly will do!
My secret to doubling website traffic: Tailwind and Pinterest
Last year more than half of the traffic to my website came from Pinterest. That’s more than every single other traffic source combined. From Pinterest alone. Remember that blogging habit I just told you about above? It turns out it’s also handy when it comes to building traffic from Pinterest. I use a Pinterest batching tool called Tailwind to schedule weeks’ worth of Pins at a time. Each of these pins features one of the thousands of images from my blog, appealing to my ideal client and leading them directly to my website and blog posts. The result is hundreds more of my ideal customers visiting my site every month. Oh…and the pins I pinned once, like 10 years ago? They still get clicked on hundreds of times a month as well. Without me lifting a finger. Yep – figuring out Pinterest is definitely a great long-term investment in your business.
How I cull photos fast: Narrative
We photographers love RAW files for the incredible things we can do with them in the editing process. However, the same bountiful data that gives you all that editing flexibility can majorly slow your computer down if you try to skim through thousands of photos in Lightroom. Narrative is a stand-alone program designed to help you efficiently cull your photos (or choose which photos to keep). Narrative avoids the painfully slow rendering times typical of photo editing tools like Lightroom. But where Narrative really shines over other culling programs is in their “smart tech” as they call it – eye and focus assessments allow you to quickly see if your subjects are in or out of focus and if their eyes are open or closed. You can also choose to filter out the technically “worst” of your images, reducing the number of photos you’re flipping through by 20-30% right from the start. As you can imagine, this help honing in on your best images paired with the extra speed in navigation can result in huge time savings when culling through thousands of RAW files – on my first cull with Narrative I shaved 45 minutes from my already speedy cull time! If you haven’t yet given a tool like Narrative a try, now is definitely the time.
How I edit photos fast: Loupedeck & Lightroom
Adobe Lightroom serves as a batch photo editing tool that shows you how your edits will affect your original photo once you export them. This means you can edit and experiment with your images ’til your heart’s content, all without altering your original or having to open>edit>save each individual image. Edit images one by one, create and apply photo presets, or apply batch edits to an entire gallery at once. Lightroom is a serious photo editing time saver.
Working hand in hand with Lightroom is my other secret weapon for editing speed – Loupedeck. This keyboard-like deck connects to your computer and provides you with endless dials, buttons, and wheels for customizing and speeding up your editing process. I use my Loupedeck in Lightroom to make precise adjustments to my images at super speed, as well as do repetitive, multi-step tasks (like duplicating an image and converting it to black & white) at the touch of a button. Imagine the possibilities for your editing workflow!
How I keep track of all the passwords: 1Password
Do you die a little inside each time you’re asked to create a new password…or when you’re reminded that you’re using one that’s less than secure? I used to. But my hubby finally convinced me to get set up with 1Password to help us share and keep track of our millions of logins, and man, has it simplified my virtual life. No more getting locked out of sites after multiple failed password attempts or having to click the “forgot password” link to reset one I’ve forgotten…again. Or worse, finding someone’s hacked my account because of a majorly over-used password. It’s happened to me more than once. Just one click in the 1Password browser plugin opens my desired website and fills in my username & password for me. The app also makes it super simple to create a strong and unique password for each account to keep my virtual world locked up tight. Even better, the mobile app allows me to log in to everything I need on the go. This one’s a major productivity and internet security game-changer!
My photo album design company of choice: Align
One of the first things I’ll tell you if you’re trying to scale your photography business and earn more while working less is that you’ve got to value photo albums and prioritize educating your clients on their value. At one point in running my business I actually avoided selling my clients an album because I felt too overwhelmed to design and produce them. Yikes! I decided it was time to outsource my album design and never looked back. Full disclosure, I’m not currently an Align customer (my fantastic studio manager handles all of my album designs now). However, for years before I had a studio manager Align made it simple to offer my clients beautiful family heirlooms and a great experience while boosting my profits – they may be a good solution for you too.
My design program of choice: Canva
Back in my day, we used Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign for all our design needs ;). I’m really thankful I learned how to use these tools and still need them on occasion. However, it’s Canva that’s rocked my world. A free online editing and design tool, Canva is so intuitive and straightforward to use. An inexpensive upgrade to Canva pro gives you all kinds of extra tools, beautiful pro templates, and 1000’s of free stock photos. I use it to keep track of my brand colors and fonts and to create all of my Pinterest graphics, guides for my couples and photographers, marketing materials, and pretty much any little thing that requires a designer touch. If you’re trying to figure out how to create professional and beautiful collateral for your biz Canva might be just what you need.
My budgeting tool of choice: Mint
Confession: I really, really dislike Quickbooks. I know! How can I be a business owner and a “numbers girl” and not love Quickbooks?! Call it a mental block or just plain stubbornness, but I opted for an Excel spreadsheet for business accounting for many years. Then I tried out Mint for my personal finances. It was so simple and effective (not to mention free) I decided to give it a shot for my business, and I am so happy I did! I’m especially grateful for Mint every year at tax time when some simple sorting in their Budgets and Trends tabs makes understanding the big picture and classifying my profits and losses a cinch. If you are struggling with staying on top of your photography business finances, Mint might be the solution.
My big-picture planner of choice: Passion Planner
During a tough personal season for me, my dear friend Coley gifted me this pretty little planner that a new company had given her to share with a friend who could use it. I took it politely, noticing the word “Passion” on the front, and went home and cried. This planner was supposed to help me identify and achieve my short and long-term goals and dreams. Ha! I was tired…in all the ways tired. Defeated. There would be no dreaming any time soon, thank you. My pretty little planner went on the shelf that day and began collecting dust.
But later that year, I started to dream – just a little. I had done some work and some healing and was now trying to solidify what I actually wanted from this life when all was said and done. Heart pounding and misty-eyed, I pulled my pretty little planner off the shelf, opened up to the dreaming page, and followed the instructions. And my life was forever changed. Just kidding! It was by no means epic, but it was a significant first step toward a more intentional business and life for me. And while I may not have achieved each of those dreams I wrote down that day, I did have more than one very big “aha” moment that I now carry forward into all of my planning. Ask me in the comments, and I’ll tell you all about it! Plus, total bonus, the actual function of the weekly planner works perfectly for my life! And bonus bonus, they give one away to someone who could use it each time you purchase one!
Ready, set, grow
Well, friend, there they are! My 10 tools every photography business needs. Go pick one or two that could help build your photography business workflows or solve a pain point for you in your biz today and give it a try! I sincerely hope these save you loads of time and mental energy, spur on your continued growth and change, and get you one step closer to running a business that feels good. Happy growing!