The Whimsical Odyssey: Joel Robison’s Journey to Photographic Success

Success story summary In an enlightening interview focusing on Joel Robison’s remarkable success as a photographer, he highlights his humble beginnings as a business, offering insights on laying the groundwork for a thriving business and sharing valuable tips on client attraction.

Can you please share a brief history about your photography business? What motivated you to start this venture?

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be an artist, as a child I wanted to become an animator at Disney creating movies and animations that told colourful stories filled with adventure. When I discovered conceptual photography about 15 years ago, I immediately fell in love with the possibilities it had and I saw a way for my own creativity to flourish through photography instead of animation. I started to build up my ideas and create them using my camera and Photoshop and it’s been a successful career ever since.

An image of a miniature man holding a four leaf clover in a forest of clovers

What kind of challenges did you face when building up your portfolio or setting up your studio? How did you overcome these challenges?

I think the biggest challenges for me personally have been staying organized within my own business, as that side of things doesn’t come naturally to me. Being a freelance artist typically means a lot of the tasks need to get done by yourself and it can be daunting and sometimes overwhelming to try and it get it all done. I’ve learned a lot about myself and my limitations through this process, I’ve learned to rely on others when I need to and I’ve learned to say no to things when they’re not looking like the right thing for me. I think this has helped me gain confidence not only as a business owner but also as an artist.

Could you describe the early days of your business? What were the initial reactions and feedback you received?

When I first started a career in photography, I was balancing it with another job and I was hesitant to try and make the jump to a full time career, mostly because of the uncertainty of it. I think in the early days of my business I likely undervalued myself and had to learn how to negotiate for fair prices and conditions but each client interaction I had was positive and helped me to network and reach new people. I would say most of my large projects have come from networking and relying on those positive experiences with past clients.

An image of a man sitting in mid-air inside a circle of books while reading a book himself.

How did you manage to grow and expand your business? What strategies did you use to attract more clients?

My business has grown naturally over time, mostly thanks to social media. I’ve used the main platforms to establish a consistent voice and image and through that I’ve been able to connect with large clients who I work with, sometimes on an ongoing basis. To attract more clients, I will often create personal work that might be more aligned with what a brand or customer may want and that can help them see a connection between their brand or requirements and my style. I think learning to develop multiple income streams has really helped, between commissioned work, licensing, course referrals and print sales it’s allowed me a consistent stream of income.

An image of a man being carried away while holding several balloons.

How has your business performed financially over the years? Can you share some milestones or achievements in terms of revenue?

My professional career has continued to grow consistently over the course of the last decade. Despite the pandemic and global markets shifting, I’ve consistently been able to increase my revenue and profits from my work and invest it back into my photography.

What are some key lessons you've learned along your entrepreneurial journey? Is there anything you would do differently if given a chance?

I would say that it’s worth it to take some sort of business course, even if it’s just a basic level one. I had done some business management courses in school so I had a very basic level of understanding but I think that’s the area that I could have spent more time developing. Keeping track of receipts, taxes, contracts, and the paperwork is just as important as the creative side and it’s often the less exciting side of things. So I would have likely spent more time learning the right tools and techniques for keeping the business side of things more organized and streamlined.

Are there any tools or software that have been particularly useful in managing and growing your business? Give us a list of what you use in your kit.

I’m pretty old school when it comes to tools and software. I think learning how to use a spreadsheet is one of the most beneficial things, and I use Google Sheets almost daily to track everything from finances to due dates and everything in between. Having a customized and very visual way to input data has helped me stay organized.

An image of a miniature man swinging on the stem of a poppy in a whimsical scene.

Could you recommend any books, resources, or mentors that have significantly influenced your business journey?

The team at Offbeat Photography have put together a great resource called The Business of Photography, it’s really informative and easy to understand and has given me great ideas to use in my own career.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs who wish to start their own photography business?

I would suggest you do the research well in advance. Look at how much you realistically need to earn each month and find several ways to diversify your income. Build up a strong portfolio with a consistent voice and brand so that you’re able to show people right away who you are and what you do.

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Joel Robison is a Canadian conceptual portrait photographer and digital artist currently residing in Hampshire, UK. With over 13 years of experience in creating captivating conceptual portraiture, Joel’s passion for storytelling and self-expression drives his artistry, captivating audiences globally.

As a seasoned instructor, he has mentored over a thousand students worldwide through photography workshops and online courses, fostering creativity, unique voices, and business acumen. Joel’s remarkable portfolio has graced campaigns for renowned brands like Coca-Cola, Heineken, Microsoft, Google to name a few.

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Build up a strong portfolio with a consistent voice and brand so that you're able to show people right away who you are and what you do.

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