It was little more than five year ago that I sent my final email as a corporate employee and jumped with both feet into the nature photography business. At the time, I didn’t realize what the coming years had in store for me. I expected to find some success and make some mistakes along the way, but I never expected so many twists and turns as a nature photography business owner.
To be honest, a lot of time in our first year as business owners was spent wandering around in the dark and taking a few wrong turns along the way. Our nature photography community did not work out the way we had hoped and marketing on social media produced very little return on investment. As time passed we learned how to protect our nature photography business from major strategic mistakes. And as the business grew, there were operational challenges related to scaling up content delivery on Visual Wilderness. Over the subsequent years, we spent more time fine-tuning our business model to take advantage of those successful sources.
Here are some of the most important lessons we have learned over the past five years:
Nature Photography Business Successes
Success for our nature photography business often came from unexpected sources. When you start out on a new path, you don’t know if you’ll be successful so it is a nice surprise when things do work better than expected. One of the most unexpected sources of success was our blog content. We worked on it for the past three years and we always knew it drove traffic to our website. But this year it provided us with a platform that made photographers want to return to our site.
Nature Photography Blog
This requires determination and long-term planning. Varina was responsible for starting our content creation strategy a few years ago by creating a simple blog on her site (I dismissed the idea of a blog). Today we have over 600 articles on Visual Wilderness and more articles are added to the website every month. Besides content from Varina and me, we also have a team of some of the world’s best landscape photographers contributing content to Visual Wilderness. Today our nature photography blog is responsible for driving traffic to our website.
Creating Our InFocus Newsletter
Varina and I have been teaching nature photography since 2005. However, it was not until five years ago that we started creating our newsletter. We used blog content to tell stories and to deliver consistent high-quality nature photography tips to our newsletter subscribers. This content keeps our 50K newsletter subscribers engaged and creates a reason for nature photographers to subscribe.
Forming Partnerships with other Nature Photographers
In 2015 we started forming a partnership with other nature photographers to create more value-added content for our video tutorials. This gives the partners the opportunity to jointly market their video tutorials on Visual Wilderness and it gives our customers new content. Partnership with other nature photographers allowed us to offer a bundled nature photography educational package with steep discounts.
These partnerships proved invaluable for our nature photography business in 2020 during the pandemic. We were able to host several online workshops with the help of our partners. This created a win-win situation for everyone.
Organized Customer Database
We have been selling eBooks since 2009 but it was during the last five years that we started keeping a track of our photography business customers. We started categorizing customers into different buckets and making sure that we provide relevant and timely updates about the Visual Wilderness products that they have purchased. Ultimately, it’s these customers who matter the most.
Focus on Return on Investment
Our nature photography business is driven by our return on investment (ROI) rather than the latest trends, emotions, likes, ego, or your friends and family buying your work. Sometimes this means that you have to say “NO” to the photography business opportunities with low ROI. This is harder than it sounds and it continues to be an ongoing problem as more opportunities come our way.
This focus on ROI also extends to our social media strategy. It requires letting go of your ego-boosting posts on social media and instead concentrating on the nature photography posts that create value. While a value-added post may not get you noticed as much as an ego-boosting post about a great photo you shot, it builds a solid business brand in long term.
One of the causalities of this approach was our photography workshop business. To be fair, it generated good income. However, it did not fit into our long terms plans. We still occasionally speak at events and teach at workshops organized by others for charity or for profit, but for now we are not organizing our own workshops.
Scalable Business Systems
In our first year, we had all the logistical tools in place to deliver eBooks and video tutorials for our customers. However, we soon discovered that this was not enough. As our nature photography business expanded, we had to expand our content delivery systems to handle several terabytes of video downloads from customers all over the world. We did go through a few operational glitches before getting this right. Today we rely on automation and custom programming to keep our nature photography business running smoothly.
Mistakes to Avoid
I wish there was a way to avoid mistakes in our nature photography business but this is a learning experience. Only after you spend the time and money do you realize that something was a mistake. Any good photography business owner knows that it is never a good idea to make the same mistake more than once. Here are some of mistakes we made in last few years:
Creating a Cheesy Advertise for our Products
Following the advice of a marketing guru to create a cheesy ad to view our video tutorial and our eBooks. We experimented with this and found that the audience retention rates on the videos were so low that it didn’t drive sales as expected. It also put our Visual Wilderness brand in a negative light. Thankfully we put an end to this effort after a short time.
Starting a Photo Community
We started a nature photography community in 2014 but it took a staggering toll on the rest of our business. Not only did we spend too much time nurturing the community, but this also locked out users from our blog content which drove traffic to our site. The fallout rates for the community were fairly high and the participation rates low. The income derived from this photography community was very small compared with the income from other sources. In the end, we had to disappoint some customers by putting an end to the photography community venture.
Assuming Social Media Marketing is Easy
We assumed that the social media marketing was a no-brainer if you have millions of followers. However, this was the wrong assumption to make. Most consumers are on social media to be social and not to shop. I discovered that the social media post with the least interaction was the sales post. Selling on social media requires a soft-sell approach – you provide a value to your customers and let them decide whether or not to purchase your products.
In other words, consumers on social media want to buy but they also don’t want to be sold to. Our social media strategy is constantly being refined and the income from this social media is still pretty small compared to other marketing channels.
As we continue to grow our nature photography business we are looking forward to making grand mistakes and embracing failure… and finding those unexpected sources of success that allow us to enjoy visiting exotic places while making money.