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Class Introduction

Lesson 1 from: Building a Successful Photography Business in a Small Market

Clay Cook

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Lesson Info

1. Class Introduction

Lesson Info

Class Introduction

So let me preface this entire presentation on one fact. Everyone has their own path. Success has many layers and is not defined by simply wealth or power. My success has been built and has, my success, to me, is really about health. It's about wisdom. It's about living out a true purpose, making an impact with my photography, empowering others. And so it's important for you to define your own success, because it might be completely different than what success is to me. So while a lot of people might say, "Here's how to do it," it's based on formulas, numbers, budgets. I was never really good at math. I failed math, and, well, I'm not good at Excel at all, either. So it was solely built on the foundation of relationships, but let me rewind. We have to go back to my creative journey. I started in the music business. And at the age of 16, I started playing music with some friends of mine, and at the same time, I started playing with social media on Myspace. (laughs) I was actually on Frie...

ndster, as well, and I started playing with graphic design in Adobe Photoshop. In a matter of six years, my band went from playing small clubs to about zero people to playing really sold out crowds across the nation. We had built a solid reputation and eventually sold over 60,000 records. I'd also formed a small graphic design business while we were touring and on the road at the same time. I was just doing bands' flyers and just whatever I could do to make ends meet. But in the music business, the biggest challenge wasn't really gaining popularity. It was actually trying to make a financial gain from all the hard work that we put in. I compare it to just sort of running on a treadmill and just never getting anywhere. Since record sales had plummeted at the time due to digital downloading, there was only a handful of independent artists that were actually making money off record sales. Most artists had to rely on merchandise and ticket attendance, and so we always said in the business that we were actually in the ticket and tee shirt business rather than the record business. In the fall of 2010, my band, (intheclear), called it quits. But fortunately, I had formed the graphic design business, and I had worked for record labels such as Universal Records, Metal Blade Records, and dozens and dozens of bands. Metal Blade really helped me out and pushed me forward to working with Universal, and I was working with a lot of various brands at the time due to the graphic design. The same year, I picked up a camera, because of all the crazy design requests that I was getting, actually, and everything just sort of snowballed from there. I took what I learned in the music industry and applied it to the photography industry. While I had to really navigate a lot of unknown territory at first, making money in photography really came easily for me, actually. I went from photographing babies, friends at parties, weddings, like, everything I possibly could. Landscapes, whatever it took, to partnering with high-caliber clientele in the editorial, entertainment, and advertising world. And eventually, I referred all my graphic design clients off and decided to put that business to rest. But my success wasn't necessarily built on talent. My success was really built on just relentless action, creativity, and strategy. So today, we're gonna talk about business in a small market. So I was born in Columbia, South Carolina, but I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. A lot of you are like, "What's Louisville? "What's that?" That's how the locals say it. (laughs) Most of you know it as Louisville. But compared to large markets such as New York City or Los Angeles with, like, 20 million people in its metropolitan area, Louisville is very small if you think about it. We just have right under a million people in Louisville metro, which, to some people, that sounds, like, huge. It's massive, but if you compare it to many large, editorial commercial markets, it's small. There are a lot of opportunities in Louisville, but I really had to adapt and learn, learn to adapt to small town politics and small town pricing, and if you're located in a city, like, that's under 200,000, such as, like, Trenton, New Jersey or Lima, Ohio, there might not be as many opportunities in the commercial space. And so our focus today is gonna be more on the commercial side of photography, which is what I do. There's a lot of takeaways from the music business. I learned a lot of what not to do by failure, but at its core, it's a business of who you know.

Ratings and Reviews

Koko Hunt

I love Clay Cook, his stories and his teaching method. He is genuine and to the point. This class is very concise and easy to follow; it touches on basic yet important points that are practical and useful. He provides good insights into commercial photography business for a small market, using some good, benchmarkable examples.


Clay Cook gets into the nitty gritty of the business side of photography. He is super informative and confidently concise about his knowledge and experience in the industry. As a modestly-small business owner, I found this course to be insightful and motivating. It is very helpful, and I highly recommend it!


I really appreciate how he just lays out numbers. I think that's super helpful for the industry as a whole, and it sets some perspective of how much guac photographers can really make.

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