Leah O'Connell

for photographers

5 Major Shifts That Helped Grow My Family Photography Business

I'm Leah!

I’m obsessed with stories of family, creativity, and simple joys.  A nostalgia nerd, educator, wife, and mom of 3, I believe life’s most fun when you’re dreaming big and having kitchen dance parties. 

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These 5 decisions were the most strategic steps I implemented to grow my family photography business since I started 10 years ago. Over time, they built upon each other to help me not just “get seen,” but to get to work with clients who were truly a great fit for my style, personality, and profitability.

Each step resulted in a smarter, healthier business and exponential growth for my family photography business.

grow a lifestyle family photography business

5 major shifts that helped grow my family photography business

1. Strategic Blogging

Fine, roll your eyes, but hear me out.

This is something you can do that your future self will thank you for.

Yes, it’s good for SEO, but also for answering your clients’ questions as they’re searching for a photographer, and for the simplicity of your process.

Blog posts with purpose can exist as a living, growing resource of reflection, examples of your expertise, opportunities to build trust with your potential clients, and more.

Purpose = any content that you can use again, that clients can learn from, or that intentionally provides a connection to people in your market.

When clients have everything they need and your process is smooth, you’re slowly getting found more easily and building trust, which with lead to growth in your photography business over time.

In my workflow, I refer clients back to several blog posts I’ve written as far back as 2016.

Some of my most commonly referenced posts are:

Favorite locations for family photography sessions in Charlottesville

Things to do in Charlottesville with kids (I send a link for extended family sessions or out of town clients)

4 Tips for family photos with your dog

photographer working at desk on print sales to grow photography business

2. School Photography

School photography was a major contributing factor to my photography business growth. I started learning and thinking about school photography because it aligned to an avenue of connecting with my ideal clients…but I didn’t actually have any schools asking me for this service.

It was by complete happenstance that a local branch of 3 daycares reached out around that time and I said yes. It’s a lot of work to set up initially, but aside from small improvements behind the scenes each year, it is extremely replicable. And for someone who loves photographing children, it’s really fun, too!

Since then, I’ve taken on 2 other small private schools and 1 Montessori school in our area in different seasons through direct, persistent marketing outreach via email and snail mail.

The kicker here is the CONNECTION it opens up to so many families whom I never would have reached otherwise.

behind the scenes of a photographer using school photos to grow photography business

Because of a positive experience with school photos, they have a direct line to me and a reference of the quality they can expect. It’s an incredible avenue for natural growth in your photography business. These families have been to my website, they’ve seen my face, and they’ve experienced my work for themselves.

After I began working with schools, my leads and bookings increased significantly because of families who came from those schools.

It’s marketing that’s based around shooting and connecting and serving in the process, so in my book, it’s a game-changer.

3. Shifting my workflow to a virtual sales model

It’s always been important for me to include printed products in my offerings, but for the longest time I couldn’t quite figure out how to do it in a way that served my clients and was profitable for my time and business.

When I shifted my workflow to a virtual sales model, it eliminated so much stress and extra steps for my clients. Both my bookings and my sales increased.

Every client has a credit included in the collection they purchase, so they can use it however they want – no packages, no minimums, just service that feels good and works well for everyone.

Again, it’s a commitment to think through the systems and set this up smoothly, but it is SO WORTH IT.

I dive into all the details in a live video through my private facebook group for photographers if you want to learn more about the whole process!

A good CRM helps make this possible – I use Sprout Studio for beginning to end of the client experience and highly recommend it! (use this link for 20% off your subscription after a 21-day free trial)

When clients are happy with a smooth, enjoyable experience, referrals will go up and you’re far more likely to see that organic growth in your photography business than with any paid marketing out there.

grow a family photography business with virtual print sales, professional albums for family photos

4. Contracting a designer to create a brand kit

For the first 7 years of my business, I tinkered with shotty logos and colors that never really fit the vibe I was going for. I wanted something that felt professional but approachable, but I was missing the mark. And I couldn’t build any kind of brand awareness because I changed it so often.

When I finally made the move to invest in a simple brand package to iron this out, it had a snowball effect on growing my photography business. I hired someone from Upwork to take my vision and turn it into a look that clients could resonate with.

The designer I chose did an amazing job. It was way less expensive than I expected and only took 1-2 weeks total. I walked away with a clearer set of tools to up-level my online presence and set the tone for my clients.

When people land on your website, they’ll move on right away if it feels disjointed before ever digging deeper into your work.

A strong website and cohesive look immediately set me apart in the market and helped me stand confidently behind the direction and experience I was offering with my service.

brand designer photoshoot with detail shots of color swatches

5. I started communicating with my actual voice instead my “professional” voice

When I (not-so) boldly claimed “I’m a photographer!” for the first time as my career choice, I was desperate to be taken seriously.

I was 23 when I began my business and had no actual idea what I was doing, constantly overexplaining or over rationalizing my work to compensate for my lack of experience.

I thought if I sounded “put together,” people would trust me more.

In reality, people trust other people who are honest, generous, and real.

When I stopped speaking AT people and started speaking WITH people, the clarity and simplicity of my message carried into my content marketing, my work, the way I wrote to my clients in email, and the way I directed and engaged with them in a session. It carried into all areas and helped me attract clients who truly aligned with the style of photos I wanted to make, helping me grow my photography business in a truly authentic way.

Together, we were able to create even more beautiful images that felt relaxed, aligned, and comfortable because we connected as humans, first.

family photographer headshots, educating photographers to grow a healthy business

These 5 major pivots were crucial to the growth of my photography business. And we’re not even touching delegation here because WHOA that is a huge one worth its own full breakdown.

Remember, wherever you are in your journey, it’s a process of making one smart decision at a time, learning from your challenges, and continually noticing. You can’t implement all the things at once, and you shouldn’t try to!

Have grace with yourself to run the marathon, not the sprint.

family photographer details, camera strap, notebooks

If you want to hear more about these steps and the processes I’ve developed to run and grow my family photography business, I did a whole live video on this topic within my free Facebook group, Lifestyle Photographers | Behind the Scenes.

Hop in with the growing community over there to chat more in-depth about creatively photographing families and building businesses that serve from a place of joy overflowing.

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Hi, I'm Leah.
Family photographer, writer, educator.

I’m  one of the first to meet your newborn baby, the one who won't judge your clothes baskets and unmade beds, and the one who can capture the way your husband looks at you with a twinkle in his eye after 12 years of marriage. I believe in honoring people and telling stories.

I believe art has the power to light up the world in dark places, starting at home.