We recently interviewed Timo Nausch, the owner of a photography website built with the popular website builder Squarespace. Since setting up the German-language website in 2019, Timo has picked up a variety of additional website-related skills, from content writing to SEO.
Alongside discussions about Timo’s growing knowledge, we also discussed the ins and outs of marketing yourself as a photographer online, the opportunities available with AI, and what Timo’s got lined up for the future.
“But, if you’re interested in the subject itself, then the setbacks won’t bother you as much, and the likelihood that you’ll persevere is higher.”
“I’m Timo Nausch and I have had a photography business since 2019, mainly because I started to build a side income by selling licenses for photos. Camera equipment is very expensive so it was nice to be able to finance new equipment with the initial earnings, saved over a few months.
Anyone who visits my website will notice that it is written in German. Since I’m German myself, I had to choose whether to create content in English or German. However, I’ve always felt that German content could be better. In English, there are a multitude of great sources, but there are often only a few big players and little choice in German, especially if you’re looking for high-quality information. Therefore, my approach and goal was to change this.
I taught myself photography with English content as it was simply better and more understandable. Therefore, I felt like I wanted to “give something back” and be a source of high-quality information for German photographers as well. At the same time, I was fascinated by the idea of making money online. In 2019, I had just finished my studies and was only accustomed to the “normal” career path so far: learn something useful and then work for a company for 40 years.
A website is a great opportunity to explore what else is actually possible.
As a result, I used the website as a playground and wasn’t 100% sure at the beginning what I wanted to use it for in the end.”
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“On the one hand, it has been an interesting balancing act. Especially in Germany, there’s a lot of uncertainty about photography and what is allowed due to data protection laws. Because of my education as a lawyer, I was always able to offer a unique perspective on this.
At the same time, I have learned many other skills through the website. How to write well, find keywords, and optimize for SEO. I think both areas have complemented each other well and have allowed me to learn a variety of skills.
My business is essentially a social media business – at least, that’s the lifeblood through which I generate reach and attention. The combination of Google and YouTube, the two largest search engines in the world, works wonders for being found by different people.
I’ve just not warmed up to short-form content yet. Since I neither consume Instagram nor TikTok myself, it feels inauthentic to be active on these platforms. I also don’t enjoy creating content for them. I’m probably leaving a lot of marketing potential on the table, but my focus is more on larger content pieces, like blog posts and long-form videos.”
Starting From Scratch
“I think the biggest challenge was initially learning these skills. No one in my family was particularly entrepreneurial, and I’m the first to delve deeper into how to make money and build a business.
Therefore, I had to start from scratch at many points and I made a lot of beginner’s mistakes. For example, the navigation hierarchy of my website – I’ve actually wanted to optimize it for months because it’s not good and is based on one of these beginner’s mistakes, but I’m still procrastinating on that issue.
I’ve made several mistakes like this, so the hardest part was to keep pushing through and continue working on the business when immediate success was not forthcoming. But I have learned that skills come first, and the rest follows automatically sooner or later.”
A Dream Come True
“The first month when I had four-figure earnings was the proudest moment for me. That was the point that made it clear to me that I don’t necessarily have to work as an employee, that it is not “just a hobby” and that having a business doesn’t have to be a dream, but that what I’m working on can actually be something.”
“The best part about my daily work is that it’s incredibly flexible. I hate having the same routine over and over again; it makes me unfocused and I start to get bored very quickly. I always need new things and problems to work on. Therefore, there isn’t really one fixed daily routine. But, generally, my day involves taking photos/videos, editing them, and creating posts for my websites.”
“So far, I’ve always found it to be incredibly cumbersome to deal with clients and have only had a handful of traditional “client assignments”. Probably because I haven’t learned the necessary skills in this area yet. But, normally, I have an intermediary marketplace. Photo licenses can be sold without customer contact; the website is monetized with affiliate links. I also have my own photography YouTube channel, but even there, there isn’t really a direct customer relationship.
However, I have also photographed weddings in a more traditional sense. Here, I pursued the approach of being brutally honest. In the beginning, I had no portfolio and I told the bride and groom that. But I offered a significant discount in order to use the photos for further advertising and, if they were satisfied, they could give me a good review.
In the end, I did not pursue wedding photography intensively, but honesty has always led to both sides having a common level of expectation.”
“The business has always been profitable, and I haven’t had a single negative month as I use only my own time and organic marketing measures.
In the beginning, the earnings weren’t significant, more like pocket money. Now, it has grown into a good, solid secondary income.
The business currently generates low four-figure sums passively.
However, I have so far offered my own products and services very minimally. Through the connection between the YouTube channel and my website, a certain personal brand has now grown.
I have hardly monetized this community at all yet. I’m currently working on various products but have not yet published them. I assume that I could double the revenue through this, but I want to make sure that I offer real added value and not just make a quick cash grab to avoid damaging my brand reputation.”
Deploying AI Assistance
“After I started understanding AI and creating use cases for my business, I optimized existing content on my website, among other things. For example, the structure of articles, missing points and topics, optimization for keyword density, etc.
Within five months, traffic has increased by approximately 325% and is now, according to Google Search Console, in the low five figures per month.”
“As a photographer, building a website seemed like the logical next step to me at the time. You just need some kind of web presence, be it as an SEO hook or just to display your portfolio and handle bookings. When I started the website, it wasn’t entirely clear to me in which direction I wanted to go, but I thought it was sensible to have my own little place on the Internet.
Squarespace advertises heavily in the photography community, and many photographers use it for their own websites. Since I had no clue about websites, hosting, etc., I was simply inclined to follow the crowd and set up my website there as well.
It was definitely an advantage that I could build my website in their builder without having to pay for hosting or domains until I wanted to take the site live. This allowed me to experiment a lot before it actually cost me money, which further convinced me to go with Squarespace.”
I chose the Basic plan. I upgraded some time ago to include a shop on my site, but I found the features too limiting. So, I only used it for a few months before switching back to the cheaper Basic plan.”
Timo Nausch Gallery
The Pros of Squarespace
“The best thing about Squarespace is how easy the setup is. Many things can be arranged simply via drag-and-drop, or you click on a specific location/button/navigation bar, and Squarespace automatically jumps to the menu option, where I can make adjustments to functionality or appearance.
As an absolute beginner, this was very logical and easy to understand, allowing me to build my website the way I wanted.
Also, for those who have no idea what their website should look like, there is a huge selection of visually high-quality templates available. And, unlike other website builders, these templates are completely free. Had I been looking for a simple page to showcase my portfolio, for example, I would’ve found a template for it right away. Or, if I wanted to be booked as a photographer, there’s a template for that too which I could have preset, thereby already having a site that looks 90% the way I want it to.”
“You have to rely, to some extent, on Squarespace having the features you need.
Another one of my biggest criticisms is that there’s no way to insert tables. Almost everyone needs a table somewhere on their website, even if it’s just to compare different services/offers side-by-side. Third parties do offer add-ons, but these are often not free and, even then, not really that good.
Therefore, it can be somewhat limiting if the feature you need isn’t offered by Squarespace’s editor.
I think a stronger focus on the plugin store would also be helpful. As someone who is building their new website with WordPress, I notice how large the selection of plugins for WordPress is, from SEO, website speed optimization, and affiliate stuff like AAWP, to inventory and order systems that can be integrated.
Squarespace does have a small plugin store, but 90% of all things relate to order management if I have a shop integrated. Otherwise, there are hardly any official plugins that I could install via the plugin store on Squarespace itself, and I always have to resort to third-party sites where I have no idea if these are good or bad products.
An expansion of the plugins would be helpful if Squarespace doesn’t want to do certain things themselves due to resource constraints.”
A Long-Term Solution
“I’m sure one could scale with Squarespace well. I will continue to use Squarespace for my photography website. My advantage is that I can script for YouTube videos and then turn that into a blog post, before finally including the YouTube video in my blog post.
This way, I have a kind of funnel directed towards the YouTube channel, which currently is the easiest way to actually build a brand.
So, for that purpose, Squarespace works just as well as any other website builder.
However, I’m building my new website on WordPress. This is my first WordPress website, and initially, I was overwhelmed by how “complicated” certain things are compared to Squarespace, but the functionality is much greater in WordPress.
Since I monetize both websites mainly through affiliate links, I can say how much easier and nicer the display of reviews is on WordPress compared to Squarespace. So, if I wanted to write more reviews on the photography website and put less focus on the YouTube channel, I could imagine that I would have switched away from Squarespace in the short or long term. But currently, due to my strategy, this question doesn’t arise.”
Advice for Beginner Builders
“Find someone who has a website like the one you want and see if you can find guides or tutorials on how that person built their site.
Or, in other words, I thought to myself back then that I would just start and build what I thought looked good. I’m not advocating against starting; I think that part is very good and you should do it too. But, if you build a website by just winging it, you’ll make almost every mistake you could possibly make.
However, if you have a model or role model that you replicate and then gradually individualize so that it eventually meets your own needs, you’ll have fewer problems and a smoother start.”
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“Find a mentor. After you’ve googled the basic questions to get started, it’s incredibly helpful to know someone who has already walked the path you’re trying to walk and can show you how to best implement things and where the pitfalls are.
At the same time, I know how difficult it is to find a good mentor, and often it’s more a matter of luck. Therefore, I’m not sure this is the best tip – but, for me, it has been the insight that has brought the most leverage so far.
You should also take what interests you and make it your subject, your niche. You love landscape photography and nature? Then start there. You prefer working with people? Then consider whether you want to photograph portraits or weddings. Fashion fan? Fashion magazines – or, increasingly, influencers – constantly need photos of new outfits.
Regardless of whether someone tells you that a niche is too crowded, or you convince yourself that something else might work better and be in higher demand, the photography market is highly competitive either way. That means it won’t be easy at any point. But, if you’re interested in the subject itself, then the setbacks won’t bother you as much, and the likelihood that you’ll persevere is higher.”
The Importance of SEO
“I think one last important tip I want to give everyone is that you should learn SEO, and ideally create the website with SEO in mind.
So, think from the beginning about how you want to direct traffic to your site and what you need for that.
The most beautiful website in the world won’t do you any good if no one ends up seeing it.
I’m not saying I’m an expert in SEO, but as soon as I started optimizing things, I saw a noticeable increase in Google traffic. These things often take weeks or months to have an effect, so it’s particularly challenging in the beginning to not lose motivation when you’re putting a lot of work into the site that seemingly goes unrewarded.
By the way, I didn’t pay anyone for these services. Everything I’ve mentioned, you can teach yourself using resources you can find on YouTube/Google. The learning effect and the understanding of things that I’ve built up by deadline with these topics myself are probably invaluable because I can benefit from them for decades to come.”
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“Due to the bankruptcy of my employer, I now have significantly more time to focus on my business.
Therefore, I hope to produce even better content – not necessarily more, but higher quality – to continue growing my brand.
At the same time, a few months ago, I created another website on a favorite topic of mine: dogs. On hundundhaustier.de, I’m applying all the lessons I learned while creating and building my photography website, but this time in a niche that is broader and larger.
Also, as I mentioned, I’m working on several of my own products, which I primarily want to offer to other photographers.”