5 Things I Learnt From My Small Business and Applied to Photography

Carla Coulson private portrait black and white paris

Private Portrait Copyright Carla Coulson

I know you have been dying to read this post for years!!

‘Cause this is one of the frequent emails that pops into my inbox ‘what did you learn from your business and take to photography?’

It’s a great question because the truth is I took lots, almost all of what I learnt good and bad (what not to do).

As a photographer whether you are a freelancer working for magazines, fashion photography or shooting for National Geographic, you are your own small business.

Today I am going to cover the Top 5 Things I ‘translated’ from my old business to becoming a photographer.


Private Portrait Copyright Carla Coulson


Before you start any business you need a product and that includes photography. One of the things I learnt in my old business was that you don’t need to ‘re-invent the wheel’. If you offer a good product, good service and do what you say you can have a successful business.

So photographers whether you want to do travel, portraiture, fashion or weddings you need a ‘product’. Your work is your own ‘unique product’ and no-one else can produce it. It isn’t good enough to have 5 photos, you need a portfolio of work that will communicate to your ‘customer’ whether they are magazines, private clients or advertising agencies what you do.

So don’t be in a rush to get started just take the pics that you love and that will speak loudest.


Private Portrait Copyright Carla Coulson


Before you can start your fabulous marketing program (up next) you need to know who you are marketing to. When I started in photography I knew I wanted to be a travel photographer and for 11 years that is exactly what I did mixed up with interiors and portraits.

I knew from the beginning I wanted to work with magazines and books so my clients were magazines and publishers in Australia. I built a portfolio that would speak to my favourite magazines and eventually a publisher. Knowing who your client is is fundamental.

When I switched to portrait photography I defined who my gal was!

carla coulson small business to photographer


Ok, so you have your portfolio, you know who your client is, so the next step is you need to market to them. Marketing is just a word for communicating your work and that can be done in hundreds of different ways from making a call, an appointment, sending your brochure, business cards, posters, social media, website, exhibitions, launches and talking to the person sitting next to you in a bar, on a plane or at a function.

When I started as a travel photographer my ‘marketing plan’ was to meet art directors and have my work published as quickly as possible. I simply picked up the phone, told them I was a photographer living in Italy and had some stories to show and they allowed me to visit. I rang as many of the magazines I wanted to meet with and repeated the same thing. When Marie Claire eventually published my story they too were ‘marketing’ for me. They printed my name alongside of my work that reached up to 100,000 readers and other art directors in the industry.

Social media is a wonderful way of getting your work out there as well as starting your very own list of contacts.

CARLA COULSON small business to photographer


In my old business we sold a good but unexciting product (corporate clothing). But one stroke of genius we did do was to hire a fashion photographer and great models and we photographed the product like an editorial story. This was my first glimpse backstage at a photo shoot (needless to say I lurrved it) and we gave our product an edge. We spent a lot of money at the time on an amazing catalogue designed by a great graphic artist and off we charged ahead of our competition.. Why? Because our presentation spoke of good quality, product and service because it looked better than the competitions by a country mile (for the Aussies).

Presentation is a vital part of a small business, it says who you are, whether you are into quality or not and it can make or break the deal. When I presented my images to my publisher for the first time for Italian Joy I took in A3 images on fine art paper (cost a bomb) but they looked so much better than 10 x 15cm pics.

Think hard about your presentation, invest in professionals to get the look and feel that helps communicate your product and services.

Francesco Greece Carla Coulson

Super Francesco by Moi!!


I packed the same morals and ethics I had in my small business and took them in a suitcase to Italy!! It was always my intention to do the right thing by my customer even if sometimes it meant losing money.

Once I made a fatal area and when to the wrong airport in Paris (drrrrrr) and realised too late that I need to be at CDG and raced across town to miss the plane by 5mins..

I had the option to go home and let me client down or spend 800 Euros and get on the next plane to Venice and do what I promised. I spent the 800 Euros (which really hurt at time) and went to Venice!! I never told my client (a magazine) but they continued to use me for years to come because I delivered on time and did what I said I would do.

Always try and keep your word, trust is important..

And always have fun..

I hope these tips give you a little incite and how they can work for you.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” Steve Jobs




Please feel free to share to others who this may help. xx

If you want to learn how to take/create your body of work and sell it online, join my Free Training by clicking above.

5 1 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
9 years ago

This is an awesome post, something i needed to hear. Thanks for sharing!

9 years ago

I store your posts in a ‘treasure chest’ on my laptop…
filled with your valuable insights and inspirations…
Thank You so much for sharing Carla, you continually inspire me.

9 years ago

Good, solid lessons and one any small operator can do, with a little time and a little $$.

9 years ago

The lighting in the top photograph is divine! It’s so true about wearing different hats, believing in your product and keeping your word. It even goes the same for writing – keeping deadlines, being generous, giving your best. It all goes around and comes around, one hopes! Xcat

Peggy Braswell
9 years ago

being on time, and just showing up has put me ahead time and time again. Thanks for the tips.

9 years ago

Thank you for sharing your tips. It is always great to learn new things for people I admire!

Christina @ Hair Romance

Such good advice Carla, and adore your photos as always x

9 years ago

Great advise that can certainly be applied to many business ventures! The story about missing your plane to Venice is a great reminder to think big picture.

Beth Anderson
9 years ago

Thank you Carla!

9 years ago

Wow! Awesome post!
Thanks Carla for the great advice.