How Long Does It Take to Build a Photography Business?

Steven McConnell, contemporary family photographer

Let’s say you’re working full-time in a job you don’t particularly like. And you dream of becoming a full-time professional photographer. How long will this transition take — a few months? A year? A few years?

What’s a realistic expectation? It’s a very important question to answer because once you enter the world of building a small business, it’s very easy to get caught up in the land of products/services which promise instant overnight successes.

Just type in something like “build small business online” into Google and get swamped with promises of massive income in just a few weeks an with little effort.

Or open the latest BRW magazine and read articles by entrepreneurs talking about hypergrowth and overnight viral social media frenzies.

I’m all up for quick-growth opportunities, but stories about those tend to be outliers. And they usually ignore the background work invested by their founders before they experienced success. Developers of Angry Birds, for example, were close to bankruptcy for years before the became an “overnight” success.

Most growth in business is linear and predictable. And if you don’t know how to predict it accurately — and don’t judge your timeframes accurately, you’re risking financial ruin and disappointment.

My first ever business had nothing to do with photography.

Steven McConnell

It was an online personal mentoring business. And I almost ran it — and myself — into a huge financial problem. I was accepting significant losses for a long period of time because I believed that the business was just about to turn profit and I’d be able to pay the debts back.

In reality, I was at least a year or two off the mark. I was not yet an experienced enough businessman, my value proposition was not sharp enough and I didn’t have enough reach into my market.

Thankfully, I made a choice to cut my losses and exit that business before taking on much more debt.

My photography business was my next venture. It has taken about a year to make profit. I started small, working part-time in hospitality to pay the bills and using all my available time to work on it.

A few months ago it became a full-time job with a steady regular income. It’s still going through peak and throughs, but is starting to stabilise into a steady growth pattern.

The important thing here is that I’m not just a photographer. I’m also a business strategist, marketer, coder, guy interested in personal growth, financial modeller, SEO guy and mentor. All those are skills I had to pick up and become proficient in.

That’s not something that happens overnight. Overall, it’s taken me five years to get here: four starting and failing at my previous business venture and one year making this one work.

Steven McConnell

My point is, you have to be prepared to be in this for the long run.

Learning how to start and operate a business is one of the most challenging, risky and yet rewarding things you can do. You will probably screw it up on the first attempt. The secret to bouncing back is being in it for the game itself, rather than the result.

It’s very easy to get sucked into the results side of things by reading the overnight rags to riches stories you see online.

Watch out for that. If you’re dreaming of starting your own photography business because you’re mainly driven by a desire to stick it to your boss, get rich and look cool with a big fat camera, don’t go there. It will not work.

Get in touch with that creative part of you that wants to building and creating something. And not just any thing, but something that matters. Something that solves a real problem out there. Something that closes a market gap.

You have to have something deeper driving you than a desire to quit your current day job and gain money or status.

Search for it. It’s within you, but you might not know it yet.

Getting in touch with that part of you is the single most important time-saving business building skill you can obtain. It will shave years off your business-building journey. Though when you do get it, the time will not matter nearly as much.

Steven McConnell is a professional family photographer based in Sydney, Australia.

He is passionate about creating photographs which communicate real stories and creating a business which creates real value.

His website is

Steven McConnell