The Surprising Way to Make a Great Online Course for Photographers

In 2016, when my business was staying consistently booked with birth photography and newborn clients, I invested in an online course to teach me how to create an online course, which is really meta, right? But after I invested in that course, I doubled my overall revenue with the online course, and it’s been so rewarding for me to get to see other birth photographers and baby photographers all over the world have these light bulb moments and have these dramatic shifts and changes in their business and their families.

I’m talking retiring themselves, retiring their spouses, leaving their full time job, going full time with photography and getting to have that kind of impact like a small, small portion of the results that they were able to create has been so incredibly rewarding above the revenue numbers. And so if you follow me at all, you know I love marketing, I love business, and I’m always talking and thinking about new strategies and new ideas, what is working, what’s not, how to make it better, all of that kind of stuff, and a bonus to that is the extra income, right?

So in this episode, I want to show you how I created my very first course. Sort of just my journey getting there for those of you who have maybe considered creating a digital course of your own. So that’s what this episode is going to be about today, the passive income that comes from owning your own digital course and how seriously life changing it can be.

Are You Ready to Create a Digital Course?

Before you think about it…

So before I talk about my journey, here’s something that I want to be super clear on. Being known for something specific like birth photography has hands down been what has helped me grow my photography business to six figures. So what I don’t want is for this episode to become like a new shiny object where you’re like, “Oh, I’m going to go chase that now!” I want you to establish your photography business. I want you to be bringing in clients consistently, and I want you to commit to consistently showing up for your photography.

You have your systems in place and you’re booking your ideal # of clients

So this episode and the ideas in this episode is for someone who says, “You know what, I’ve already got my systems in place. I am already booking the number of clients that I want to book, or I primarily am.” We always are going to want to grow. We’re always going to have places that we want to improve. But if you can look at your business and say, “Okay, I’m creating the type of business that I want, I’ve got my systems, I know what I’m doing for market, I think I could add in an additional revenue stream. I think I have the bandwidth to create something one time that I could sell over and over.”

Because when I created my online course, I still had a six figure photography studio and I added it as an additional income source. So I don’t want you to think that this has to be an either/or. If you’re passionate about something in your photography business, if you love talking about Instagram or if you love talking about cake smash sessions, if you love something particular about lighting or you’ve learned a technique that others ask you about that could be an idea for a digital course. And helping learn that thing could be the way to an additional revenue stream for you.

So I hope that makes sense. I just wanted to clarify who that is for, because I know as entrepreneurs, it can be easy for us to jump around to new cool things that we think sound exciting (I am totally guilty of that). And then we never actually stick with anything long enough to see results. If you’re one of my brand new students in marketing school or if you just joined the certification and you’re like, “Man, I just don’t think I have my photography business dialed into where it needs to be, the systems created just yet,” then I don’t know that this episode is for you or maybe it is in the future, just not right here today. But if you’ve been doing this successfully for six months, a year, two years, five years, 10 years, and you’re like, “Yeah, I am ready to bring in a passive income product,” this is for you. So I just wanted to clarify that.

Common Hesitations Photographers Have About Creating Their Own Course

Let’s go back in time to 2014, I had a lot of my clients and just people in my community who were asking me how to use their camera. They’re saying things, “How do I shoot in manual mode? What are some lighting tips and tricks?” That kind of a thing. So I stepped way out of my comfort zone and I offered an in-person photography class, like a basic how to use your camera class.

And this is something that we’ve been talking about in my groups and my student groups a lot lately. And I know a few things can come up with this:

  1. I don’t know enough about photography to teach a class. And let me just let you in on something: when I taught this class, there were definitely things that I didn’t know about. I didn’t know every single thing about every single camera or to be honest, I didn’t know every single thing about my camera, but I knew my camera well enough, I understood the exposure triangle, and I understood what made a great photo well enough to teach somebody because I think a lie that pops up for us when we think about teaching is I have to know everything.

    And that’s just not true because all you’re doing is teaching someone who is one or two steps behind you. So you don’t have to know everything. You just have to know enough to help that person who is one or two steps behind you.

  2. There’s a lot of fear sometimes around teaching what could be your competitors. If you’re kind of stuck in this scarcity mindset of thinking that, “If I teach people how to use their camera, they’re going to become photographers and steal my clients from me.” I am here to tell you the opposite is actually true. What ends up happening is you’re positioning yourself as an expert, someone who knows what they’re doing and knows what they’re talking about.

    A lot of the people who took my photography class, my in-person how to use your camera class were either past clients or people in the community who knew who I was and wanted to learn from me.And they had no interest in starting their own photography business. Did some of them start their own photography business? Yeah, but I was secure enough in my own business, my marketing, and my ideal client to know that somebody brand new with a camera is not going to steal my ideal clients.

How My First Course Helped Boost My Revenue

So my very first in-person photography workshop, I think I had 8 to 10 people. I charged $80 for it. I had it on like a Saturday afternoon and I had a few slides just teaching them the basics – composition, manual mode. I helped them in person in real time get their camera out, figure out how to change the settings, and I made a few hundred dollars, almost a thousand dollars on a Saturday afternoon. And the students that came to the class loved it and they really learned a lot. They loved the hands-on getting together to learn photography.

That’s something that can be really hard to find. A lot of stuff is online and so getting somebody in person was really, really valuable for them. And for me, It was a light bulb moment. It was definitely a pivotal moment in my career where sitting there with them and getting to explain something and them say to me, “It finally clicked. I finally got it. Oh, I understand. When you say it, it makes sense.” And so I started offering this class somewhat regularly. I would offer it a few times a year and I increased the price to around a hundred dollars. And I was pretty consistently getting 5 to 10 people every time.

Well, it wasn’t actually passive income because I had to show up and teach the class. But it became easier and easier each time that I did it because I got better at teaching, I already had the stuff, I already had the workbook, I already knew how to promote it. And so while it wasn’t fully passive, it was just an additional way to easily make money. And I already had everything in place to sell and do this class.

One of the things that I used to do in my photography business that I highly recommend you consider doing as well is I would look forward to the upcoming month and quarter and I would start to see:

  • Where did I have gaps in my calendar?
  • Where did I have holes that I needed to fill?

So if I didn’t have a lot of birth that month, if I was off-call that month, or if I didn’t have a lot of newborns, I would look and go, “Okay, how am I bringing in revenue this month?”

And so I would do things like offer baby plans to my clients or call them to schedule their baby plans. Maybe run my limited-edition sessions in the fall, and this class then became one of those things that I could do to sort of fill in the gaps in my calendar when I wasn’t fully booked for any particular month or when I needed extra money for something. And so having this as an asset was really, really valuable in my business.

Transitioning from In-Person to Digital Photography Course

And so when I was consistently doing it, it was my first taste of offering something that wasn’t a photography session to bring in money. And so it was that experience that led me into thinking about creating an online course, because I thought, “I’m teaching 5 to 10 people at a time. Really, I couldn’t do more than that because they needed a lot of hands-on help.” And I thought, “What if I recorded something that I could give to people and they could watch over and over as often as they wanted?”

So in 2016, I was following this girl named Amy Porterfield, who I had never heard of, but I was listening to her podcast and listening to all the things that she was saying about how she used to work for Tony Robbins. And she left that corporate job and started her own business where she was helping other entrepreneurs. She was talking about digital courses and it was something that I had halfway thought of, but I never really pursued because I didn’t know how.

You might be kind of thinking the same thing. What would I even make a course about?

I knew the photography thing, but I was like, would that really translate well to an online course? Would people actually buy it? Would I want to do this? Why would I do it especially if I don’t know if people are actually going to buy it. I don’t want to spend a bunch of time and money on something that nobody’s even going to buy.

So she was offering her online course to teach me how to build an online course. And back then it was called Courses that Convert. And I remember very, very clearly when it was being offered. And maybe you felt like this, if you’ve ever made a big investment in your business. I remember, I purchased on the last day, because I was so stressed out about paying that much money for something. And I was thinking, is this right for me? Am I actually going to end up doing something with this? So I ended up purchasing it on the longest payment plan on the very last day with a few minutes remaining. I don’t know if any of you can relate to that. Maybe you joined Marketing School at the last minute too and you can remember that feeling.

But something magical happened when I invested a lot of money on something – you want to prove to yourself that it’s worth it, that you didn’t make a mistake. And I thought, “Okay, maybe over the next year, I can put this together.” And so I started working through her course and I started piecing together what is now Marketing School for Photographers.

So I purchased the course and I started to work through it piece by piece and at the time, I didn’t really know what I wanted to create a course about. I knew I loved marketing and marketing is what people were asking me about. I would have other photographers and doulas and other pregnancy-related service providers asking me, “What are you doing to get clients? How are you staying booked?”

How to Start in Creating Your Digital Course as a Photographer

And so I realized that something I wanted to do for my course had to do with marketing. I was like, “I think that’s what I want to create my course about, because I love talking about it and people are asking me how to do it, and that was the perfect combination to figure out how to create my own course.” I want to pause here for a second and ask you:

  • Is there something that you love talking about if you’re thinking about making your own digital course? Is there something that you could talk on and on about for 20 minutes? Like if I were to ask you to get on stage and talk about one thing, what would it be?
  • Is there also something that people ask you about? Is there also something that people come to you and want your advice or opinion about frequently?

And if those two are the same things, that could very well be what to create your digital course about. That is how I came to the conclusion to create Marketing School for Photographers.

Challenges that You May Encounter When Creating Your Digital Course

Trying to Make Everything Perfect

In 2017, I did something that maybe a lot of you have done in your business (or maybe you’re doing right now) and that was I tried to make everything perfect. So I procrastinated like crazy. And I absolutely still find myself slipping into this old habit of overthinking and overanalyzing because I want it to be great and I want it to be “perfect.”

And because of that, it’s paralyzing, right? Because I end up taking no action at all.

Maybe you can relate to that. You’re wanting to make things great. You’re wanting to make things perfect. So then you end up doing nothing.

So literally the entire year of 2017, I had everything I needed available to me:

I had the course showing me how to do it.
I had it laid out for me literally step by step.
I knew what I was going to make my course about.
I was just not doing it. I was procrastinating like crazy.

I think that some of you are nodding your heads right now, and you understand that feeling. You have everything you need. And for some reason you’re just not doing it. And maybe it’s because you’re trying to make it perfect.

And so this is when I’ll share what my mentor always shares with me and that is done is better than perfect. At the end of 2017, I attended one of Amy Porterfield’s in-person event and I met a fantastic group of other entrepreneurs and we started a peer mastermind where we just held each other accountable to give each other kind of a little kick in the booty to get things going.

And that was when I realized: all these other entrepreneurs around me have purchased her course, created their own course, and were having success. And I had all the same resources they had and I wasn’t doing anything with it.

And I was like, “Okay, Tavia you have had this course for over a year. It’s time to do something with it.”

And I had paid for it in full, at that point. And I had made no money because I was letting myself be paralyzed, trying to make everything perfect. So I said, “You know what? I’m done. I’m doing this imperfectly. I’m just going to show up. I’m going to quit procrastinating. I’m just going to go for it.”

Imposter Syndrome

So I started showing up on Facebook Live to help other photographers (maybe some of you used to be on those Facebook Lives).

It was like my first version of this podcast. It was January of 2018 and I just started going live sharing information, giving value, answering questions, and starting to build a small audience of people who like learning from me and want to learn what I have to share, because I know every educator is not for everybody.

And I also had this impending doom feeling of who is going to actually want to learn from me?

Who am I to teach anybody anything?
I just felt like I’m not good enough.
There’s so many other photography educators out there, who am I to add anything?
Maybe I’m too late to the game.
Maybe I’m not funny enough.
I’m not relatable enough.
I can’t teach people.
I can’t help people with anything.

But I decided the same thing that I tell you guys every single week here on this podcast and that was I had a passion for it, I wanted to do it, and I knew that that wasn’t there for no reason. So I wasn’t just going to quit.

Having Little to No Audience in the Beginning

And so in January of 2018, every single week, I started showing up on Facebook Live. And I had a topic where I would just share things I had learned, things that were working in my business. And you guys, those first few Facebook Lives, nobody showed up live. Maybe one or two people, but basically most of the time, no one was there and I was talking to no one because I didn’t have an audience of photographers. And that might be where you are right now. If you’re considering something like this, you might be thinking, “Well, but who am I even going to do a Facebook Live to?” I’m here to tell you I did not have an audience of photographers. I just started showing up.

Breakthroughs + Valuable Lessons I Learned from my First Digital Course for Photographers

Showing up to give value and build trust pays off.

People locally kind of knew who I was because I had built this birth photography business and I had this community of people. But worldwide, people didn’t know who I was. And so I was just like, “I’m going to go live and hopefully give value and build trust every single week.” I did it from January to April of 2018, every single week.

By April, I had earned $600 by creating a small mastermind group of six photographers and I charged $97 total. And those were my very first founding members of Marketing School for Photographers. Back then it was called From No Bookings to Fully Booked. And I’m going to let you know a little secret: I was creating Marketing School for Photographers week by week as we went. And I told them that up front, I was like, “I know I want to teach you marketing. I know I want to teach you what’s worked for me, I don’t have anything already created. But I just want to know what you guys want to learn and each week we’re going to learn it.”

And so by operating that way, by not forcing myself to come up with the curriculum and the outline beforehand, I was able to hear what they needed and wanted to learn. And I was also able to sell spots before I had created anything. It took the pressure off. And then once people had paid me money, I was like, “Okay, Tavia. Now you’ve gotta actually do this.”

So April 2018, I had made $600 with those 6 photographers in that mastermind group. By May of 2018, I kind of revamped things and did another live round of that mastermind where I was teaching live on Zoom. That’s it – super simple with six more students. But this time I tripled the price, so I made $1,800 from that mastermind group.

It’s okay to tweak things as you go.

Then in June of 2018 is when I first officially launched From No Bookings to Fully Booked, which is now Marketing School for Photographers. And I don’t remember off the top of my head how many students we had, but my revenue from that launch was $6,500. And I was like, “Okay, I’m onto something.” And because I had forced myself to do it and just tweak it as I go, I allowed myself to do it imperfectly and refine as I went. And students were getting results every single time. From the first group to the third group, they were getting results. So each time I just refined it to make it better and better based on their feedback.

So my point of telling you all of this is to give you a super honest behind the scenes, a really vulnerable look back at me and my business and how I got to where I am today. And I know myself well enough to know now that sometimes I just have to do it and be okay with being imperfect. I just have to force myself to try it and show up and serve the best I can and refine as I go.

So let’s fast forward to today in 2020. I created a birth photography certification in late 2019. I have launched and relaunched both of those courses multiple times. And with just those two courses in the last four years, I have made almost $400,000, which is crazy to even say. And that has nothing to do with my photography income. That is just digital courses.

Digital Course Ideas for Photographers

So maybe you’re listening to this and you’re like, “I think this is for me. I have an idea, or I want to have an idea or I’m considering pursuing ideas and you’re wondering what to do next.” Maybe for you, it’s not teaching marketing, maybe it’s something else related to a technical side of photography or workflow that you have that really works or something about your client experience that works.

There are so many things: in-person sales, product sales, online sales, a hybrid of  both, your particular newborn workflow, the particular way that you conduct your sessions or your pre-session consultation. There’s so many things that go into it that you might be an expert in that I’m not, and it doesn’t have anything to do with what I teach.

Next Steps

So in the previous episode I shared 10 Passive Income Ideas for Photographers specifically, if you have not listened to that, go and check it out. If you’re thinking like, “Okay, but what do I want to do?” listen to that episode.

I also have 100 Digital Course Ideas specifically for photographers. The list that I just rattled off in way more detail, everything that I could possibly think of, that you could create a digital course about as a photographer. If you want to download that, you can get it HERE for free.

Thank you so much for listening to this unique kind of different episode. I hope that you found value in just hearing a little bit of the behind the scenes of my story. If you enjoyed this episode, I would love to hear from you on Instagram!

And remember my friend, if you have a passion, it is not an accident because not everyone loves the thing that you love. So whatever your passion is, I hope that you will get out there and make it happen. Have a great week.


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