I hear the same story from photographers all the time.  "I got into photography because it was something I loved.  I took photos of everything.  At some point, people started to tell me how much they liked my photos, and started asking me to take photos of them.  Eventually, they started to pay me to take photos, and suddenly - I had a business."  


When photographers tell me this story, it's almost as if they were walking through life, tripped, and when they got back up, they suddenly had a business.  So often, photographers never intentionally set out to start a business, it just grew out of a passion, and a hobby, and became so much more. 

Whether this photography thing you do is a business or a hobby is totally up to you - but you have to decide.  It can't be both, and if it's a business - it has to make money.  Often, there is a tension between the photographer, who started with a hobby, and the businessperson, who now has to figure out how to take this hobby and turn it into something that makes a profit. 

For many photographers, it's as if there are two completely different people, living in the same body.  There's the photographer/artist, and then the business owner, and they are rarely on the same page.  Figuring out when to think like a photographer, and when to think like a business owner, can be difficult, and can lead to some tough decisions.  If you've decided that this photography thing you do is a business, here are three things you can do to help grow something profitable and sustainable:

1. Think Like a Business Owner First

Photographers think about things like photoshop actions, apertures, cool new gear, blogging, composition, bokeh, natural light, and pretty photos.  Business owners think about acquiring new customers, streamlining their workflow, eliminating inefficiencies, increasing market share, and the bottom line.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't think about the things that photographers think about - but when thinking about your business, be an owner.  When making business decisions, figure out what's best for your business.

2. Business Owners Make Money

Photographers make pretty pictures, business owners make money.  I'm not sure why it's so taboo to admit it, but if you're running a business, it has to make money.   Why? Because you can't pay your mortgage with pretty pictures.  If you're going to give your life to something it should add value to your life.  Sure, you may not get rich being a wedding or portrait photographer, but your business has to make money.  

3. Every Decision Has A Cost

Every time you say yes to something, you have to say no to something else.  Every time you say yes to working with the wrong client, you have to say no to the opportunity to work with the right client.  Every time you say yes to buying a new piece of gear, you have to say no using that money for anything else - like paying your mortgage.  Every time you spend your time on things that don't help you grow your business (editing photos for example), you have to say no to marketing and growing your business.  Be sure to count the cost of every decision, keeping in mind that the financial cost isn't the only cost.  Often the opportunity cost is even bigger.

 Is this photography thing you're doing a business? Or a hobby? 


I've talked a lot in the past about a principle that lies at the foundation of many of the business decisions I make: Only Do What Only You Can Do. The idea is that you should focus on the things that help you grow your business and make money, and find a way to have someone else do the rest.

One of the investments many photographers look at is bringing on a studio manager, which can be a huge help in managing the day to day aspects of your business. A good studio manager can help you with client communications, scheduling, invoicing clients, and more. In fact, depending on how much you are willing to pay, and the skills of the person you hire, you can create a position that handles many of the tasks you do everyday - leaving you with more time to focus on the things that grow your business (marketing, meeting new clients, photographing more events, etc).

For a lot of photography business, the idea of hiring a full-time, or even part-time staff person can be intimidating and stressful. While you know there's plenty of things you could have someone else do, it's hard to justify the expense and time involved in bringing an employee.

Fortunately, there's another option - a virtual assistant. Now, I have no idea what image you get when I talk about a virtual assistant, but it probably involves someone answering a phone somewhere in India, or another country. Or maybe you imagine a service where you get a different person every time you need something done. That's definitely NOT what I'm talking about.

A while back I discovered a company called Zirtual, based out of San Francisco. They offer virtual (or Zirtual) assistants for people just like you and me - people who run a business and could use a little extra help. Over the last year of working with them, I've gotten to a point where I couldn't live without my Zirtual assistant, and I thought I'd share with you the five reasons why:

1. I have a dedicated assistant that knows my business, and my needs.

My Zirtual Assistant, Tara, understands my business, and what I need. She handles things for me that make my life easier, and make me better able to run my business. We spent the time to create a framework, and now she knows how to book my travel, how to interact with clients, how to respond to questions, and what to do in a lot of the everyday situations I encounter.

2. They focus on matching you with the perfect assistant.

One of the things that really drew me to Zirtual was that they really focus on matching you with someone that is a great match for you and your needs. Need someone that's great with people? Check! On the other hand, you might want someone that's super tech savy, and great at finding information online - that could be a totally different skill set. It doesn't matter though, because they do the hard work of finding the right fit.

3. I only pay for the time my assistant is actually working for me.

One of the hardest things about hiring an employee (aside from the paperwork and taxes), is that you pay for the time someone is on the clock - not necessarily the time they are actually working for you. Think about it - in a normal job setting, someone clocks in, they get coffee, they sit down and check their email, read a few blogs, and look through stuff left over from yesterday. That might be an hour of time that you're paying them, but aren't getting anything really "done."

With a Zirtual Assistant, I send Tara the things I need done, and she does them. I get a certain number of hours a month, and those are hours she's actually working on things for me.

4. She interacts with clients as if she's working in my office.

Even though she works from her home, far, far, away, to anyone who interacts with my business, it's as if she's in my office. She emails clients, talks on the phone, schedules appointments, follows up on things, all as if she's right here. Most people would never know that she's 2,000 miles away. She has an email address and phone number with my business, so no one knows any different (google voice is awesome for this by the way).

5. It's easy to budget the monthly fee

As I said earlier, I picked the plan with the level of service and time that worked for me and my business, which makes it easy to fit into the budget. If you need more time, you can simply choose a higher plan level, but either way - there's no such thing as wasted hours, or overtime, or surprises! For $200 a month, you can have someone that's working to help you make your business more profitable and sustainable.

So, what are some of the things my Zirtual Assistant does for me?

- She handles all of my calendar scheduling

- She makes all of my travel arrangements, including flights, hotels, rental cars, etc.

- When I travel for workshops, she makes all of the food arrangements for me, and coordinates with the on-site hosts

- She communicates with clients on my behalf via email and phone.

- She also handles personal things on occasion, like making appointments for things that I tend to forget (like getting a haircut).

- A ton of other things on a regular basis that free up my time to do the important things that help me grow my business.

- Basically, she can do anything that doesn't require her physical presence, which is really quite a lot if you think about it.

Think that a Zirtual Assistant might be right for you? They are currently invite only, but you can check them out using this code: