ANDREW CATTERMOLE Photography
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Wedding, Portrait and Documentary Photography - Fujifilm

How do you build an online photography business? And can someone tell me what on earth SEO, H1 tags, Sitemaps and all the rest of it are all about please?

Well, before I start, in answer to the questions above clearly I am the wrong person to ask but anyone looking to grow their business online will have no doubt gone through a similarly frustrating process to me. I’d like to think that I haven’t yet become the technophobe that some of my peers have become.  I have managed to build a reasonably presentable website, can work my mobile phone, program Sky+ and sort out my laptop when it crashes but online marketing just fries my brain.  My three year old son, Jamie, will probably be able to sort all of this soon (see technical knowledge evidence below) but in the interim I will try not to rant too much, but it’s not easy!  

Jamie sorting out his settings

If like me, maybe you started with a Facebook page, had some good feedback, so then you moved on to building a website, well done you!.  I wasn’t naive enough to think that, in website land, you ‘build it and they will come’ but I wasn’t quite prepared for the complexity of the process.  Build a website and that’s where the horror begins - apparently you can’t just have a website - you need to optimise it for SEO, whatever that is!  Do have your H1 and H2 tags right and have you also got your Alt-tags on your images? Oh, and of course you must have a blog.  Then maybe you need some Google pay-per-click ads, bit pricey, but very useful for letting your competitors click on your links to spend your own money in front of you.  Once you’ve done all that, apparently you still need backlinks, sitemaps, social media (Facebook is no longer enough) it has to be Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter and so on.  Then you get your Google Webmasters and Analytics accounts, which tell you in extreme and bespoke detail, that no-one is actually visiting your site, except that one guy in Kazakhstan, but he’s looking for some different kinds of photos.  Deep breath, rant over.

Taking a reality check, a quick search on Google does reveal huge number of amazingly talented photographers out there - it’s undoubtedly a saturated market, especially for weddings and family work.  But there are also quite a few fairly average ones too and I’d like to think I should be able to compete somewhere within that mix.   From what I know, as with many things in life, you need to accept that you are not an expert at everything so you need to buy in expertise - online marketing is a massive industry in itself for the very reason that people like me need that kind of help, but there’s a cost.

For me, I love taking photos and there is undoubtedly a vanity element which most people can't deny.  When someone tells you you’ve taken a great photo, it does feel good and it makes you want to continue to take more photos, keep learning the craft and be able to use what ability I have to develop as a business. There’s a huge gulf between friends and family being complimentary about your photography to turning that into a sustainable business where people are willing to pay for your work, and rightly so.  My problem I guess is that I just want to take pictures and ignore the rest of it but that’s not really a sustainable approach to growing a business, is it?

If you have recognised some familiar themes in this, don’t despair!  I am determined to overcome the challenge (hence the blog, one box ticked!), I will start to post more to Facebook et al, and I will keep working on the various acronyms that Google says will increase my ranking.  In time, I may be able to generate enough income to buy in that expertise (or do I buy in the expertise to get that income, mmm)?  Most of all I will keep taking pictures and appreciate that like all things in life you have to keep working at them.  And to my friend in Kazakhstan, keep visiting the website, I appreciate the interest!