How I Make $10K/Month From My Newborn Photography Studio In San Diego, CA
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, my name is Sophie, and I am a Professional Newborn Photographer in San Diego, CA. I love my profession and I am so thankful every day that I have a job that I am so passionate about. I own and operate my sole newborn photography studio in San Diego.
My flagship service is creative, artistic, and safe-posed newborn photography. Over the past 14 years years of business, I have developed a strong reputation and name for my business, being known as the San Diego Baby Whisperer, and one of the pioneers of posed newborn photography in San Diego.
Having made a complete career change back in 2009 to follow my creative dreams from being a high school French teacher to opening up my own newborn photography business, I never would have imagined that I would be so successful, and am so grateful for the change.
Being a newborn photographer is incredibly rewarding in all aspects of my professional career, which translate into happiness in my personal life as well. I measure my success by the joy this career brings me and the passion I have for capturing these memories for my tiny clients.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My newborn photography career started when my first daughter, Ava, was born in 2005. At the time, I was a high school French teacher, with about 3 years under my belt.
I wanted to capture my baby’s perfect, tiny little newborn essence before it was too late. This was way back when I didn’t even own a ‘real’ camera, or knew what I was doing in any way.
With no photography education, I picked up my point-and-shoot pocket camera – you know, what we have now replaced with iPhones – took my sweet newborn, Ava, placed her on my bed with her pink and purple baby blankets, and started to pose and photograph this beautiful little girl.
I remember deciding with confidence ‘Ha, I don’t need to hire a professional newborn photographer, I can do this myself’….
Well, it turns out, I was terrible.
Lighting, posing, angles, details. No bueno. I mean, as a mom, those images were the most amazing photos ever taken and I will cherish them forever, but professional? No way.
But that was my “ah-ha” moment. I was so in love with what could be created and captured forever in newborn photography that I decided to learn more. So I sent out and purchased an entry-level DSLR camera, learned about lighting, exposure, posing, and handling, and began photographing my friends’ newborn babies. Then I photographed friends of friends’ newborn babies. As time passed, I gained the confidence to turn my passion and hobby into a profession.
And Sophie Crew Photography was born.
My career as a High School French teacher came to a permanent halt. Cuddling and posing newborns took over as my passion, and that was over a decade ago.
Starting a newborn photography business was not that complicated, but I took it in steps.
Step one was getting a business license. I headed over to my city hall and paid for my business license. I think it was about $50, and I (obviously) continue to pay this year to maintain it. I didn’t have a studio at the time, so my home address was used as my place of business.
Meet with a financial advisor or financial expert in your field to make sure you are setting up your business successfully and profitably.
At the time, I was still very short on my inventory of newborn props, still just finding pieces of fabric from Joanne’s Fabrics and useful, vintage props from Goodwill and the Salvation Army. Looking at my vast collection of custom-created newborn props now, you’d never guess I had practically nothing to start with. Just a mom with a camera, essentially.
I photographed newborns in my clients’ homes. I would have to lug those plastic containers full of props and fabrics up and down stairs, in and out of houses and it was such a pain.
As the years went on, I decided that it was time to end the nonsense and finally get my own space. So, I found a tiny, 400-square-foot studio that I shared with a Wedding makeup artist. It was perfect at the time, as she would use the space in the afternoons when her brides would get off of work, and I would use it in the mornings when my clients were home anyway on maternity leave.
Eventually, I outgrew that space, and a new, larger studio all by myself were what was on the radar. I was so happy to open up my location after all of that, and three studios later, I am happy in my current location.
Launching my business was kind of gradual. When I first started in 2009, I barely scraped together a very basic website and Facebook business page. My customers found me through Facebook and word of mouth.
Over time, I was able to work on my website and SEO and was able to get my site on the first page of Google. Now, clients were starting to find me through organic searches for a San Diego Newborn Photographer. Good SEO, combined with continued great word of mouth, really helped launch my career into having a sturdy, consistent amount of inquiries and clients each month.
For my website, I use WordPress as it is a pretty easy and user-friendly platform. There are tons of free templates to make your website, and I certainly took advantage of using those freebies when I first put my website together.
Years ago, I found Divi, which I found to be great for structuring my website just the way I wanted it from scratch. I have been happily using and updating my Divi-themed website for years and it allows me to be in full control of how my website looks and works. I keep it updated by adding recent work and I continue to fine-tune it throughout the years to keep up with what potential clients will want to see more of.
Getting my website started was not too difficult, but getting on the SEO map has been a lot of work to maintain. Getting on that first page of Google in an organic search can be challenging, especially in a very saturated market such as San Diego.
Some tips I have learned throughout the years are to make sure all of the images on my website have alt text that relates to my business and more importantly, has links to my business from other, reputable websites. Blogging can be tedious, and I am not always consistent as I want to make sure the majority of my time spent for my business is geared directly to my clients to ensure their complete satisfaction, but if possible, blog, blog blog!
I know it’s important, and with a dedicated day per week or month, you can start to see results in your SEO game too!
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Since starting my business, I would say that despite great SEO, word of mouth has continued to be my favorite method of attracting and retaining clients. In general, we like to know that the company we are hiring has been vetted and has been used by someone we trust so that in turn, we can also feel confident in our quest to hire a company based on real reviews from real people.
Having clients come to me because their friend used me for their newborn photos is great because the referring client has likely shared my work with the inquiring client, as well as their experience so that inquiring client can get a first-hand account of how my business works, and that they can get a good feel for if my services are right for them.
I also set up my photography packages to include a complimentary future photography session once a certain amount has been spent on their photos. This is a great way for me to retain my clients, as they are excited to redeem their complimentary photography session within that year, and I am happy to see my newborn clients grow into babies, toddlers, and kiddos.
I have been running my business so long now that I am watching these newborns from my early years go through high school now, and soon enough, I will be photographing their senior portraits!
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Sophie Crew Photography is doing great today, and I anticipate the future continuing to be as successful.
I opted to switch from being a sole proprietor to turning my company into an LLC a couple of years ago, and with that, I had the thought that in the future, I would expand my business under my LLC umbrella.
What does that mean for now?
Well, right now, it’s just a thought, but I would love to see my company continue, even when I decide to retire (which won’t be for about a decade at least because I love what I do). So, I’d eventually like to begin training other photographers in both the art of newborn posing as well as editing, and then open up a few other newborn photography studios across California (maybe even nationwide) featuring my signature work.
For now, I have been offering newborn photography mentoring in Southern California, where I have been teaching fellow photographers how to safely and artistically pose and photograph newborns. Many of these photographers have used this valuable mentoring course to open up their newborn photography studios, but eventually, these mentoring courses will be taught to those who wish to run my alternate locations in the future.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I am more of an ‘artsy’ person versus a ‘businessy’ person, so even though I have so much fun with my career, it took me quite some time to understand the financial stability of my business.
It took a few years to understand that you can’t just buy a camera, and some props, get a website, and just start charging whatever price I thought would work for my company. I realized that I was undercharging because I had never sat down to run my CODB (Cost of doing business).
Had I kept my old way of just winging my business, I would have been completely overworked, and underpaid and likely would have shut down my business by now.
It’s so important that every new business owner takes into account the cost of doing business, the cost of actually paying yourself a decent and profitable wage, and also keeping good savings around for situations such as the big Covid shutdown in 2020.
During that time when the world was shut down, I had to rely on my business savings to keep my company going when I wasn’t able to work.
I might suggest to anyone looking to start a business, to speak with a financial advisor to get everything to run a successful and profitable business.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
My business is on the first page of Google organic search for what I want to be found for (San Diego Newborn Photographer). I am also on Instagram and Facebook. I also have a Google Places listing that I try to keep current with reviews and updates whenever I make a new blog post.
I love the simplicity of Instagram and Facebook because as a photographer, it’s an easy way for potential clients to see my most recent work.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I often browse through different podcasts that are related to my craft. I find these inspirational when I am feeling ‘blah’, and they get me motivated to get more creative or teach me ways to grow. Photospark Show has been a great podcast for me and is local to me.
My husband is a Realtor and started his own Military and Veteran Real Estate Team in San Diego a few years ago, and to be quite honest, he inspires me daily. He started his successful team from the ground up and loves to not only learn how to be better as a team leader but also loves to teach and share his experiences with others, including me!
He has lots of suggestions and perspectives that truly help me with my business, even if our two fields are completely different from each other. There are lots of things that he does for his clients that I can also apply to mine, to make my business as successful as possible.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
I love learning from others who are ready to start their businesses. My eldest daughter is headed to college in the fall, and I can’t stress enough that she take courses that will help her eventually start her own business, whatever that may be.
Education is something we can never get enough of. Business, psychology, etc… there is always something relevant that can help in getting a business up and running successfully.
I recommend that those who are just getting started reach out to fellow entrepreneurs in their community. Bring them out to coffee and pick their brains. I have found that those who are eager and interested in helping you start your journey are the ones who genuinely want to help, and are always successful themselves because of it.
Meet with a financial advisor or financial expert in your field to make sure you are setting up your business successfully and profitably. Don’t just wing it when it comes to pricing your services and products.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
As of right now, I am not looking to add to my team but I will be looking in a few years when it comes time to expand my company and open up those other newborn photography studios across the state.
Where can we go to learn more?
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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