Marketing Your Business and Staying in Business

Before you take the leap and start your own photography business, you need to consider three very important questions and know how you’ll use different marketing techniques to help maintain a sustainable business.

From naming your company to designing your website, Karl looks at the various marketing materials you could use to draw attention to your business. Using examples from his own work, he covers identifying your market and reaching potential clients, defining your brand, building a portfolio, tackling social media and website design and much more.

In this class:

  • What to think about before starting a business
  • Understand how to market your business
  • How to build your brand
  • Different materials to market your business
  • How to use social media to market your business
  • Working with agents

Questions? Please post them in the comments section below.

Marketing your business

Marketing your business is key to success.


  1. Hello,
    I am also interested in how should I register myself as a photographer/business. Should I be self employed or company, tax-wise, insurances and what can I deduct from taxes (as business expanse).

    BTW Glenfiddich 18 yr. is in my humble opinion best whisky.

    1. Hi Nick, the Glenfiddich 18 is very very nice but I’d say my favourite is the McCallan. For your business it shouldn’t make a great deal of difference, even as a self employed sole trader you can still deduct your expenses etc. A limited company setup is better from a legal point of view and you then can be an ’employee’ of the company on a salary with the option for bonuses and you can even take loans from the company if funds provide but there is more cost involved in accounting and setup for a limited company than a sole trader. My guide would be based on revenue, if you’re only a small business then sole trader is fine but if you’re expecting to turn over a lot then limited company would be better. Remember (here in the UK anyway) that you can be a sole trader and change to a limited company later.

  2. Hi Karl!
    Thanks a lot for the business videos. They are very helpful.
    I am having a bit of a silly question really.
    One of the questions to ask ourselves is “Is there demand?”. But how can I figure it out without a super expensive marketing research?
    I would like to photograph for cafes and restaurants. Food, meals and drinks.
    Obviously, here are plenty of pubs, posh restaurants, small artesian cafes and tiny take-aways: so all range of clientele in this sector (I live in outskirts of Oxford) . But how can I figure out if the food photography market is saturated?
    For example, I googled “Food photographer Oxford” and went through all the websites on the first 2 pages. It showed the only one photographer with a high quality good food imagery (subjectively, just my opinion). This equally can mean a high demand in food photographers, or opposite: dead market.
    How do I know which is which?
    Many thanks

    1. Hi Kseniia, thank you. Well the first thing I would explore is all of the businesses that you mentioned that have photography is where are they getting it from? You could simply ask them in passing as it is not too personal a question. If you can discover that then you can move on to how much they might be paying for it by looking up there suppliers and doing some digging. If as you say there is only one good food photographer in Oxford then it doesn’t sound like there is a great deal of competition but it may be that the businesses you are wanting to target on are not getting there photography from Oxford or using stock images? Start making a list or a spreadsheet and getting facts down on paper. When it comes to business getting facts is very important as too many ‘creatives’ try to run a business on a hunch or gut feeling and are then surprised to discover there isn’t enough work or that the work is all done by a few other excellent companies etc etc. So you will have to persist with your research. The other thing is it’s not often commercial photographers just survive doing one things such as food photography, only when you’re at the top of your game do you make a living specialising in just one things so you need to look at other commercial photographers in the area and see if they are also doing some food, architecture, people etc. Most companies such as a restaurant don’t just need food photos, they also need the building, the location, the interiors, the staff etc etc and for this they often go to more general commercial photographers to do the whole project. When I was a much younger commercial photographer that’s the sort of thing I was doing, a bit of everything commercial, but to a high standard and then as my career developed I became more known for a certain thing and began to specialise in that. I hope this information helps and good luck!

      1. Hi Karl.

        Thank you for your advice which I followed. I did some work on this and emailed a number of local businesses (tried to avoid large chains). Response was quite poor but those who came back to me all said roughly the same thing: “We use our family friend”, “One of our employees doing it for us”, “We use what customer shoot and what is left from the previous owner”.

        This made me think that not only there is no market for food photography in Oxford, that local businesses do not see the value in professional photography and not ready to pay for it, despite a few websites demonstrate really poor visual content. And I feel that I cannot approach large chain as they would want big names in my portfolio.

        So I am at the square one: I have no idea how to enter the market. My photography is decent and I have occasional orders (lately mostly corporate photography: headshots, photo journalism) and this is because of the old connection. And I cannot use any of that work for my portfolio either. I’ve been studying extensively for the past 3 years and polishing my skills thinking that that’s all I need. In reality, it’s all useless without marketing plan.

        Karl, could you tell more about your customers at the early stages in your career, please? How did you get orders? And would you think that cold approach (emailing, posting) would have any effect? I think nowadays people are snowed under spam and this will take a lot of work and will have a very effect (like my marketing research: I spent at least 4-5 hours finding contacts and sending personalised emails to have 4 responses back).

        Many thanks

        1. Hi Kseniia, yes that sounds disappointing of course and things have changed since when I started out, people are busier and pay less attention. But I also don’t know what level of marketing you are putting in? You said you emailed a number of local clients? You emailed them? No one looks at emails or replies to cold call emails! Also how many did you email? 10, 100, 1000? A return response on a direct mail marketing campaign will be less than 3%. When I used to market myself to new businesses it was done by direct mail with brochures, postcards, or printed sheets (that cost money to produce) I would then spend a week creating mailing labels and packing them into envelopes, the post and envelopes would cost many hundreds. I would then send out to around 1000 business and I might get 10 positive inquiries back that would turn into 4 actual jobs and then I would chase many of the other key prospects by telephone asking them if they had received my brochure etc etc and it was an ongoing campaign that lasted for months. If I managed to bring in 10 clients from 1000 mailshots then the money earned from those 10 clients would recoup the money I had spent and make a profit. I also kept a detailed database spreadsheet of everyone I sent to and who I’d called and who had responded etc etc.

          I also don’t know the standard of your work so it’s hard to say what reaction it might get compared to others in the market. From your email though it doesn’t sound like you have really conducted a proper marketing campaign because in your own words you say you’ve just ’emailed a number of local businesses’ that in itself sounds like a waste of time. I get businesses email me everyday and they all end up in my spam and I barely pay any of them any attention even if they do end up in my inbox.

          Also if you’re targeting companies that can rely solely on friends and staff photos then they don’t sound like credible businesses that would even need photography. It’s obviously very hard for me to ascertain your situation but my questions would be 1. How good are you really? 2. If you are good and your work is good then credible customers would be able to see that (regardless of whether you had shot for big brands), I won some big brands before I’d shot for big brands. 3. Are you really putting enough effort into your marketing as it doesn’t sound like it based on what you have described. 4. Is there a market for what you are trying to achieve in your area (supply and demand), maybe there isn’t and you need to look elsewhere? Send me a link to your website/portfolio please.

          1. Hi Karl.

            Thank you for coming back to me. Apologies, I was not exactly clear in my last message: it was the response to your previous advice to me how to figure out demand in Oxford.
            This is why it was “I sent a few emails (I think around 30)”, because it was not a service offer, just a question about who does photography for them.
            It was very helpful as looks like there is no much demand for photo work (at least among the companies I was targeting).
            I am very grateful for your advice about the demand: it was an eye-opener (as well your info about the scale of the marketing one should expect to do!). I think I never realised how much marketing work needs to be done and focusing only on polishing photo skills.
            It’s a lot to think about and definitely will try to find niches with a higher demand.

            I am happy to share my website once it is ready and would appreciate your critique. I am bulging it myself and it’s a bit of a mess right now to be honest. Also, I was told before that product photographer should never have headshots on the website and vice versa. So I was torn about what to choose as the main direction for the website (lately did mostly headshots and conferences, but want to do product and/or food). It seams from your message, that all what can be useful for the companies of my target should be fine.

  3. mgilvey

    Hello Karl,

    Before COVID, I was doing well for five years, shooting for an international plumbing product manufacturer. Then COVID, then crickets. They have renewed my contract each year, but since COVID, I haven’t received a thing to photograph. I’ve tried searching in my local library for manufacturers in my area, going about 100miles but didn’t find anything; I think they exist; I’m just not targeting the right keywords, I guess. I’m trying to find companies that manufacture some kind of product to photograph—where should I look? I’m in the Washington, DC, area. The company I was shooting for actually found me, not the other way around. They found me because, at the time, I was doing SEO work when most photographers were just putting photos on their home pages, so I ranked higher than them.

    1. Hi, it’s a tough one. Your SEO strategy worked so hopefully you can regroup and keep that running effectively. If it was me (and this was before the internet as I actually did this) I would be setting aside 3 days of driving and visiting industrial business parks, industrial zones etc that you’ve identified from Google maps satellite view or listings. For example most companies that make stuff need pretty big premises so can usually be found together on large industrial parks. A drive around these or using google maps can help you name plate and identify lots of them. Make a note on the map of who is who and what they do and then target them with the appropriate marketing material and follow up meetings.

  4. Hi Karl,

    As an entrepreneur I am a newbie, although over the years some of my photos have been published via a stock photography agency, among others in textbooks and a well-known British daily newspaper (thus meeting their standards).

    In two months time I will be traveling to Thailand for a few weeks, and of course taking a lot of photos in that exotic location. Speculatively, I would like to offer my best travel shots for sale, for example for the travel industry or any suitable publications. I will surely apply what I have learned from KTE.

    Suppose I come back with a number of good photos. What advice can you give me business-wise, in making the most of such an opportunity, to get some sales, market my services, and network with useful people – starting from not being known in the field?

    Best regards,

    1. Hi Hannu, I’m afraid the competition in this area is very fierce and it will mostly come from the established stock libraries. I would first review all the stock images you can to assess the standard and then see if you can bring something new to the market, new point of view, updated images, more interest etc etc and then those images will give editors browsing stock libraries more choice.

  5. Hi Karl. I want to start building my product portfolio on my website. Are there any copyright issues with photographing branded products and displaying them on my website?

    1. Hi Will, generally this isn’t a problem as long as you don’t put the brand name as a separate layer on top of the photo to make it look like it was an official advert. The only thing of course is that if the brand is made to look bad then it could be asked to be removed but if the standard of photography is good then it is just free exposure for the brand.

  6. Hi, Karl!

    I’m rewatching this and trying to focus on doing a business plan of some sort. These are amazing tips.

    I feel like I do and have done a lot of these things that you mention, which is probably why I stay somewhat steady with work.

    I also feel, however, that it seems to be getting harder and harder to get or maintain work. There are a few reasons that I see first hand, one is that the market seems to be flooding with food and product photographers. I’ve noticed some of them actually market that they are ‘iPhone Photographers’, which I don’t know how to feel about… but, it seems that the market has been a bit watered down and devalued.

    It also seems that certain clients have become very reluctant to spend money on photography since the pandemic. That could just be where I am in Texas, but, I’m definitely noticing it.

    Are you seeing these trends as well?

    Do you have any tips or ideas that you might add to what you’ve already mentioned here, if so?

    Thank you as always for your guidance!

  7. Levision

    Hi Karl!

    After I watched this video I decided to go to the nearest pastry shop. I asked for the newest cake which has never been photographed. Also I asked for the owner mobil and email address.

    I’ve never shoot food so I watched your video about “Dessert Photography: Raspberry Dessert Photoshoot” then I took few photos of the cake I bought. I sent it to the owner with a little message, how importan is to have good photo and etc… . I allowed her to put the photo on their social platforms and it went really well, She liked it and asked me to take photos of all the cakes they have :))

    It wouldn’t happen if I don’t see your videos. 🙂

    Thanks a lot!
    Levi from Hungary

  8. Hi, Karl,

    I love this segment! I am wondering how relevant you think that actual brochures still are. I have one I designed and was planning to potentially order and send out to lots of places (restaurants, ad agencies, food brands, catering companies, etc…), but, also, not sure if you think a paper brochure is outdated at this point?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Allison, I actually think in a world awash with digital noise, emails, facebook ads, online marketing that it’s very refreshing to receive something tangible in the mail. I know personally I get lots of photographers or assistants applying for work every year most of them by email with links or photos but when you receive a well presented letter with a book/portfolio it gets your attention and you usually keep it kicking around in your office for a while whereas digital is lost in the inbox within 48 hours. The only problem is that it is a more expensive marketing method.

      1. Hi, Karl,

        That was pretty much exactly my thought process on it, and so glad you validated it. Refreshing, and also a chance to do something a bit different and not get lost in the ethers of the digital world.

        Thank you!

  9. Gary Stasiuk

    Hey Karl,
    I’m at a point where I need to decide on a plan for marketing. But the budget is slim. I’m thinking local market product photography, with possible corporate work, portraits, environmental profession depending of the business. My list includes business cards, website, postcards and a physical portfolio. I get the feeling I must visit many potential clients to provide a face and a personal touch and leave behind postcards as opposed to just a business card. All marketing media funnelled back to the website of course. Concerning the spec work, which in my case is a viable opportunity and I have been working with this model in mind. I have only sent images to one client without success, but I believe I’ve learned from my mistakes, and that potential client was just a growing phase possibility. But I want to revisit this form of marketing.

    Size of file. Are you sending the full size image? I was sending a reasonable large file (2000px min), but not full size. I’ve sent high quality jpg mostly because I am never sure how savvy they are at viewing a tiff or even a png. Full size files cans be substantial attachments and anything large as an attachment can be a concern to some people. Last thing I want to happen in the file is binned without even a single view. I also think it is important to target the marketing department. To find the right person with the right pair of eyes. Any additional words of advice in these areas?

    1. Hi Gary, all of the top paragraph of what you say is correct in your approach but in the second paragraph I’ve never sent a speculative image in digital form I’ve always sent them a physical print along with a card and a letter.

  10. Hi Karl,

    thank you for this video.
    Would you prior call a client or send an e-mail before sending a brochure?
    I am targeting the beauty sector and just launched a new website, printed new business cards etc, but I am not sure how to begin now. Until today the clients I got are mostly local fashion clients (and I am a Master Photography student) but I tried to build up my beauty portfolio during the last months because I want to get bigger and different clients.

    Thank you in advance and regards

    1. Hi Cristin, for me it’s best to send the brochure/portfolio of your images to them first because it then gives a purpose to the call and if they like your work they are going to be happier to speak to you and hopefully recognise your name and take the call. If you just call them out of the blue with no reference then I think it’s going to be too difficult to generate a conversation where they actually believe in you.

      1. Shimmy

        Hi Karl,

        First of all, thank you again for this amazing website ana an even better value it provides.
        I have a question about speculating part and sending images to the clients you wish to win. You said to send them a free photo with an example of what you can do. Would you send them this photograph in full resolution and no watermarks/logos, basically a photo that they can immediately use if they wish to (or maybe they can not anyway? I am not sure about that part) or would you kind of “protect” your work and kind of show them what you offer but without the possibility that they can use it? I hope you understand what I mean.


        1. Hi Vanya, thank you for your comments much appreciated. If you send them a print there isn’t much they can do with it because it is difficult to copy a print to use it for anything commercial and I would put my name small in the corner like I do on my website images But it depends on your marketing strategy, if the image is of no use to you commercially, for example you took a picture of a bottle of their wine and sent it to them, then it might be useful foot in the door to say ‘hey if you like this image you can use it for free but please come and speak to me about your next shoot!’

          1. Shimmy

            Thank you Karl for your swift reponse. Got it now, makes sense. Really appreciated.

            Greetings from Dubai

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