LTR! Podcast Episode #24

How To Run A Successful Retouching Business

After asking other retouchers what they struggle with, the topics of marketing, sales and making a stable income were top of the list of answers. In this episode, I will talk about what it takes to run a successful retouching business.

Picture of <span style="font-size:1rem;font-weight:200">In this Podcast:</span> <br>Daniel Hager

In this Podcast:
Daniel Hager

After years of working in a stressful IT environment and combating mental illness, Daniel finally found fulfillment in the creative field. By using the process of retouching as therapy and drawing from his technical background Daniel grew to become an award-winning, internationally published retoucher, and Adobe Photoshop Certified Expert in less than two years. His retouching agency, BOUTiQUE RETOUCHING, offers both professional retouching services for high-end clients as well as professional education in an effort to help others reach the same results that Daniel takes pride in. Daniel will happily answer any of your questions!

Guest Website

Marketing tipps to run a successful retouching business

Hello, my dear retouching friends! Today’s episode of the podcast is all about running a successful retouching business. Just recently I have asked people on my email list what they struggle with. My intention with this was understanding you guys better and offering help. Therefore, I asked not only to respond with retouching related questions. You can imagine some responses to be quite personal, and for that reason, I have already replied to every single individual with a very personalized email.

Looking through all the questions, I found a few to be asked multiple times, ultimately leading me to make this episode. And interestingly enough, this non-retouching-related topic seems to be more popular, or let’s say, people, struggle with these topics more than with retouching.

So, today’s episode will be about the business side of retouching and what is involved with running a successful retouching business.

Surely the list of topics always can be enhanced and tweaked, but I am confident to provide some valuable information to everyone listening. We all struggle and at the same time grow and learn from our experience. I’ll share my experience, hoping for it to be beneficial to all of you. Shared experience and knowledge let us all grow and become better retouchers and better humans.

To give you a brief overview of how I will structure this episode topic-wise, this is what I will be talking about:

  • Getting retouching jobs and getting new clients
  • How can you keep existing clients?
  • How to market yourself or your retouching business
  • Pricing your retouching services
  • Tools to run a retouching business (hardware tools and software tools)

Getting New Clients And Retouching Jobs

One of the most asked questions I can think of is from people new to the retouching industry asking hot to get new clients or how to land their first paid retouching job. We have already done an episode on this, so maybe check out episode #008 How to find retouching clients and how not to. But of course, I will mention a few things hopefully helping you in the process of acquiring new leads.

Solid Retouching Portfolio

My first recommendation and a first step on the way to getting retouching jobs is to have or to build a robust retouching portfolio. But what makes an excellent retouching portfolio. You need to start working on reasonably good source material. Starting with crappy images, that are badly lit and a model that is just a girl from next door won’t do you any good. You can surely practice a few basic techniques on any image; however, freelance retouching is a very detail-oriented job. You need to be on top of what is going on in the industry that you are working in. If you retouch beauty, you need to know what retouching companies expect to see, what they want to have fixed. Getting proper source images helps you to understand what to expect from such a job as other members of an already established team will work towards what clients want to see. If you have no access to good images, you can download some free raw files from our website to practice your retouching. To get to the free resource, head over to
There ‘s no excuse for you not to have a retouching portfolio matching today’s standards. Just make sure to work on your portfolio, keep updating it with recent work and cohesively showcase images.

Advertising where potential clients can find you

A logical next step of gaining clients is to market with your killer portfolio. This can be paid or free advertising on various platforms. The question always is whether you advertise in the right places. Or let’s say if your investment in time and/or money results in any qualified leads. This would be more of a measurable approach to judging your marketing/advertising efforts. While likes and “fame” is good for one’s ego, it does not always translate well into making money.

First, you need to decide between a regular budget or investment. The key here is regularly as most potential clients might see what you are posting and what you are advertising with, but on the contrary, they will not always be in the position to hire someone. Therefore, it is vital to be present in the right places regularly. Again, sometimes, paid advertising can get you in front of the right people, sometimes it is mass publicity through blogs and press publications, sometimes it might be social media posts, or you can attract new clients by working for exposure in collaboration with companies in your niche. We have just recently done an episode on the why’s and the how’s on working for exposure, so check out episode #23 for more information on this topic.

Outreach Strategy

The third component of getting new clients is to have an outreach strategy. Or let’s better call it a process. Outreach means, making sales! Hear me out before you switch off. With sales, I do not mean sales like you imagine it from someone randomly knocking on doors just to get one idiot willing to pay what was offered. With sales I mean you need to actively build a network of potential customers. Of course, marketing and running ads can lead to a sales process but it will not close deals for you. As a service provider, you will still have to do sales.
Knowing many of you fear the process of selling, let me explain what this means and that it actually is not too bad, does not have to be pushy or anything like that.
When I talk about sales, you need to work on establishing relationships and maintaining them by educating or helping people by offering a solution to their problems. At the same time, you have to be cautious about your work-time and making things as easy for you as well as for your client to make a (buying)decision. Before you even reach out to clients you should have an outreach strategy and all the processes and software in place to be efficient and consistent.

We are using the HubSpot CRM and sales tools as our foundation. It helps you keep track of client conversations, deal stages, and tasks connected to a project. Further, HubSpot can interconnect with your email and calendar, making it easy to schedule client calls/meetings, creating email templates, snippets and attaching informational documents you might want to send potential clients.

The goal here should be for you to get valuable information in one place to have a better overview of project progress, when you reached out to someone, how often; what you have discussed with a client in previous emails, and so on. Streamlining the process is key here helping you to save time and to make the experience of connecting with you a breeze!

Download Sales Outreach templates

Keeping Existing Clients Long-Term And Getting Hired Again

Let’s transition from getting new clients in your retouching business to keeping them long-term.

Many jobs you will get at the beginning will be one-time gigs. Nothing sustainable in the long run. It is your responsibility to evaluate how much of these irregular clients you want to keep or decide if they are keeping you from actually growing your business. Let me get to some more practical advice on how to keep your clients long term.

Be Nice!

My first tip is: Be nice. Always!

No matter the circumstances, always remain calm and professional in your communication. Things may go wrong down the line but being polite and professional always helps to keep conversations on an objective conversational level.

As a bonus: people always like to work with nice and likable people. There is nothing worse than working towards a common goal and having someone spit into the soup of others involved.

Produce Good Work

Tip #2 and this should be a given: Produce good work. Just because you have worked with someone a couple of times you should not let them down by working sluggish and cutting corners just to make another quick buck. The quality your clients get the first time working with you should remain constant. Your clients and even their clients rely on consistent, predictable results.

Do More Than You Were Asked To Do (go the extra mile)

Most professional clients will send you a markup, signaling their wishes on what should be changed and fixed. However, you can always expect certain tasks as a given and required for every job. People hire you as a professional retoucher to make these decisions on your own. On top of that, it might be a great idea to evaluate how much creative input you can bring to the table. Sometimes it’s a nice touch to surprise your client with options/variations on a project for them to decide what they prefer. Such positive surprises demonstrate your dedication to both, the project and your client.

Ask Questions Proactively

Another tip in terms of client communication is to proactively ask questions. The more questions you ask, the better your understanding will be about your client’s vision. Clients will appreciate your interest and professionalism. The more you know about a project, the better you can serve your client, the fewer revisions you can expect which leads to happier clients and them wanting to continue working with you. You can also cut down on time and as a bonus, make a little more money on each project.

Give Feedback

Another tip to help you keep existing clients and how you can differentiate yourself from the competition is to give helpful feedback on the projects. Make it part of your project to send a thank you letter after successfully finishing a project. Not only can you thank your client for working with you but also give valuable feedback on the project. If you have not yet established rapport with your clients, it might be more appropriate to ask if your client wishes to receive feedback on the project. With such feedback, you can give input on the process of production and possibly give tips on tightening up your processes with that client or you might suggest changes that eventually would save your client money.

Regular Client Outreach

Lastly, if you have worked with your client and then just sit back and wait for them to come back, in most cases, nothing is going to happen. Surely there will be clients sending you work regularly, but at the beginning of your career, it is more likely to have clients who do not outsource every project to a retoucher. If you have not heard from them for a while, it does not mean they won’t work with you again but might be busy with other things. Make it a goal to reconnect with clients and ask how their projects are coming along with if they are working on anything interesting. Don’t make it about asking if they have any work for you, make it about connecting, showing interest in what they are doing and thus stay top of mind with them. Then, when they’re in a position to hire someone, you will be the first they reach out to.

Market Your Retouching Business

Now, more on marketing and this one is related to getting clients, more so the right clients and the proper work that suits you and your business. And that my friends can be done by finding the right niche.

Finding The Right Niche In Retouching

Many folks have not “niched-down” in their service offerings when they started their business. If you are new to the business, you probably find yourself saying yes to every job that comes your way. Even more, you find yourself inclined also to advertise serving clients in every field just not to exclude someone and potentially lose some work.


On the flip side, this will always keep you in the lower range of retouching work, and it will only get you lower-paid jobs. Compare it to doctors; you have generalists and specialists. Who do you think potentially makes more money? The one that does everything or the one who is a specialist in his or her field? You guessed right; it is always the specialist who can demand higher pay if the market he is serving is big enough.

But it is not only about the money you can charge! When you have a website or portfolio with no clear message, you will inevitably scare people away without even getting the chance of money to be a deciding factor. Imagine a photographer offering “sexy model shoots” along with maternity sessions. That won’t work, and people will simply not give that person a shot. Specializing is very important to market your business to clients and to clearly communicate what your offerings are.

Specializing in Retouching

I would suggest specializing in the things you love doing first. If you, however, find yourself getting a lot of other and better-paid work in another niche than the one you originally picked, then it might be worth considering transitioning into that different niche. But really don’t start sending mixed messages when doing so. Make a cut and stick with one thing. (might be worth to list out different niches)

Buyer Persona

After finding the right niche for you to work in, the next step is to define your ideal client. In marketing terminology, this is called the buyer persona. A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.

Buyer personas provide structure and context for your business, making it easier to map out content, and allocate your time and resources.

Create a Buer Persona 


Collecting demographic information about your buyer persona allows you to paint a brighter, more personal picture of your customer. More specifically, factors such as age and education can help you better position your marketing messaging to ensure it resonates

Industry / Business

Want more qualified leads? Knowing details about your buyer persona’s business will come in handy when you’re building fields for your landing page forms. Factors like industry and company size also help you understand how many hats this person might be wearing on a daily basis or how competitive their market is.


A focus on your buyer persona’s career and seniority level will help you determine what makes them successful — and what they might be worried about. Use these details to provide content solutions that are catered specifically to them.





Understanding your buyer persona’s goals, challenges, and day-to-day responsibilities inform what you can do to help them overcome obstacles and simplify their workflow. It also enables you to develop empathy, which is a powerful force when it comes to driving them to take action.

Tools / Preferences

Understanding what tools your buyer persona loves to use can help you identify commonalities in your own product or service. It also provides insight into their operating system — both internally and externally — which is useful when positioning your marketing messaging and selecting which benefits to highlight.

Habits / Information

If you’re going to market and sell to your buyer persona, you need to understand how and where they consume information. In an effort to meet them where they are, you can use these insights to determine where your business should have an active presence.

How do they gain information

Which resources do they consume

Which social networks do they belong to

Tool to create a buyer’s persona

How Much Does Retouching Cost And How To Price Your Services?

One of the most asked questions I get from clients is how much retouching costs. On the contrary, many beginner retouchers ask how much to charge for retouching. To both I would respond: Well, it depends!

And the truth is, there is a market for everyone as there are different retouching projects which will lead to more time or less time spent. All of this is reflected in pricing.

Generally, one can spend from $1 all the way up to $1k per image.

Why is the spread so vast? Well, retouching is an international market and money is not always a critical factor. The price can range vastly depending on where someone is living and how that person’s work and life situation is.

Someone working from a country with a low cost of living can ask for less than someone who must spend more on food and accommodation. And then, we must factor in the value of currencies, too! If you are living in India (for example), being paid in USD can be quite an advantage over someone like me, living in Europe and makes a loss in getting paid in USD rather than in Euros.

When deciding on pricing in your own retouching business, you can potentially use this information to your advantage and price your services very competitively. Or if that won’t work for you, you can always specialize your craft and services to ask for more money and for delivering a quality, level of service, and so on which your competitors can’t offer.

What Tools Do You Need To Run A Retouching Business?

Generally, more of an issue among photographers, yet gear acquisition syndrome can affect us all! The reality is, we all need a minimum amount of gear to get started and throughout our careers need to upgrade along with the level of work that is expected from us. I wish I can tell you that gear does not matter, but that would be a false representation of how heavily retouchers rely on some hardware to do their magic.

Gear every retoucher needs

Let’s quickly go over the minimum requirements to get retouching work done and then jump up in what will help you to pump out high-quality work consistently.

If you were to ask me what to buy in 2019 to get started with retouching, I would suggest the following:

  • A windows computer or laptop (mainly to save cost). And yes, saving cost is a thing if you want to run a real business.
  • An entry-level Wacom tablet / Bamboo or Intuos photo/art
  • Additional monitor with a minimum coverage of 99%-100% sRGB
  • Color calibration device / I recommend X-Rite
  • Basic backup solution

Gear Upgrades For Pro Retouchers

Down the line you will have clients with higher quality demands and your demand on gear will most likely change as well. Reliability, ergonomics, and some other features will come handy in your professional day-to-day lives.

Software And Software Solutions for retouchers

As we have already discussed hardware solutions necessary to run a retouching business, let’s jump into what software is needed to do retouching. You might be surprised; it will be more than just photoshop!

Editing Software

Let’s start by discussing the software you might need to do retouching work, as I said, in a professional environment you will not just be using Photoshop do get work done. The retouching business involves many more tasks than just retouching. But let us start with editing and what the industry standards are.

Adobe Photoshop / Lightroom

By far the most popular tool for image editing and retouching is Adobe® Photoshop. We all know the expression “photoshopped” originates from the software’s popularity. Photoshop is, for good reason, the number one tool we retouchers use as it offers us a flexible workflow and equips us with tools and techniques for a modern way of retouching. Photoshop’s strengths over its competitors are layers, masks, and an outstanding brush engine.

Capture One

The second tool you will have to invest in is Capture One. Not only is it photographer’s tool of choice for tethered shooting but it has a very powerful raw engine, superior to the Adobe camera raw process by Adobe. Aside from quality, if you are working on higher end productions, you might have to work with medium format files. Hence, it is always better to use the raw converter from either Phase one, which is Capture One or Hasselblad’s raw processor to process these high-quality medium format files.

Capture one is one of the standard tools, and as a professional retoucher, you should know your way around it!

Hasselblad Phocus

Next on the list of must-know tools is Hasselblad Phocus, Hasselblad’s proprietary tethering and raw processing software. The software itself is free if you are using it to process Hasselblad files. For tethered shooting or 3rd party files, you would need a license or a Hasselblad camera, which for us retouchers is an excellent situation as we do not have to pay just because a client is using their system. I want to point out you can put Hasselblad or Phase One files through Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw, but I want to stress that it really is not going to help the quality. I have never seen a more realistic and spot-on color rendition than Hasselblad files have out of the box. Even better as they have a color profiling engine included and it just takes about 5 seconds to create a custom profile with any color checker card you have at hand.

Luminar 3

A company aspiring to grab a huge chunk of Adobe’s userbase is Skylum. With their latest offering of Luminar 3, they might be interesting to have a peek at for those of you who like working with Lightroom. That said, there is no way to do a full retouch yet without Photoshop. But try out different raw converters and see how they might fit into your workflow.

Darktable [freeware]

If you have to use freeware, then maybe Darktable is an option to replace Lightroom. I am not very familiar with the tool, so, I am not going to say any more about it.

Portfolio / Website

Some might consider the next point on my list as debatable: having a portfolio / website

People might argue that to get a lot of clients from social media, having just Instagram as their portfolio is sufficient,… That might be true, but it will only be true for now. Using another company’s system puts your destiny in their hands. Whenever they decide to make a change and to charge, you will be forced to move along. This is partially true for all of us as we use social media to market, but you need a reliable space you can call your own to build a brand with long-term value. With your own website, you own the traffic, you can do retargeting ads which are much more valuable than just sponsoring posts on Facebook or Instagram, and you have ultimate control over how people contact you.

To build your website you can either go with systems like Squarespace, Wixx or other less tech-savvy options, or you are building your website on your own, e.g., based on WordPress.

Domain and proper email

Speaking of websites, no matter which route you take or if you consider building a website, you need your own domain! Most offers come with either one, or a bunch of domain hosted email addresses. There is nothing that looks more unprofessional to me than people using their private Hotmail or Gmail email for business. It just screams: I have no money.

But then, it actually is not that expensive to get your own email accounts. If you do not want to spend too much money, I would check out IONOS / 1and1’s for Domain hosting and Cloudways hosting as a fast-loading server base for your portfolio website to be built on. They are affordable and easy to use/administrate.

Get a custom domain and custom email for your business

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Storage / business apps

Then you say, sure thing, but I like Gmail and such. Yeah, I get that, and it leads me to another topic of software products which you should consider buying if you can afford it.

I am talking about either Google’s G-Suite or Microsoft Office 365 For Business.

And then you might say, oh, I do not need Office, and I am fine using google docs but hear me out, it is not about these tools primarily.

The business offers from both companies have a vast variety of benefits to make it easier for you to store valuable information safely. It makes your scheduling more comfortable and will allow you to grow the system if you want to hire a virtual assistant in the future, e.g..

Both companies offer relatively affordable cloud storage, data protection, and file recovery. For us freelance retouchers this is a precious service and an asset! No more lost files, easy client access, and so on.

Aside from the file transfer, you will enjoy using all the added scheduling, meeting and collaboration features provided with the business tools of each company.

G suite

The G-Suite is Google’s bundle of professional services for smaller or even more substantial business operations.

You can get started on G-Suite for $6 per month. G-Suite is easier to get started with, but there are not many pricing tiers or flexible license booking. The higher tier with data security and more storage will cost you $12.

Microsoft office 365 services

Compared to Google’s offerings Microsoft 356 for Business comes more as a pick-what-you-want offering. You can either pick just storage services or a full suite of business tools that are flexible to either upgrade or downgrade down the line to suit your business needs.

Microsoft offers a Business Essentials package including exchange server, 1TB file storage, task and project management tools for only $5 per person and their premium bundle is currently for $10.63 per license and month.

I highly recommend checking out these options even if it is just for the storage. You can get. 1TB cloud storage for five bucks is not a lot.

CRM / Sales Tools

So, what is a CRM and why would you need one?
CRM stands for customer relations management. Partially it is similar to an email client, but it is more about additional features for your contacts. An email client generally just does that one thing, sending emails. If you are using outlook or the G-Suite, you have a calendar and tasks, which is fine. But a CRM gives you an option to store much more information about your customers and business partners. When you contacted them the last time, how you have done business with them and if that approach was successful or unsuccessful. With HubSpot you have an option to track email reads, schedule meetings, you also have a schedule calendar, it allows you to make phone calls from your browser and have all the relevant information about a deal at hand when talking to your contact. It makes it super easy to see what you discussed previously, take notes of conversations, include/attach documents and save time by using mail snippets and templates. The possibilities are endless, and I cannot possibly address all functions a CRM can have.

Hands down I recommend HubSpot. It is what I use and what I have grown to love. The best thing about their offering is that there is a free version to get started with right away. The free option will most likely cover all your needs for a while.

Invoicing / accounting

Lastly, get help with your invoicing and accounting. Don’t just use spreadsheets and at the end of the year, start looking where you have put which document, what you have scanned as a digital file, and what you have just put in a drawer hoping and wishing you would never have to look at again.

To me, accounting means nothing but headaches, and I do not want any! So, it is just logical to use tools to help organize our creative brains and to help us with what we are not good at. I am only mentioning two providers here that you might want to have a look at
One is Freshbooks; the other is Quickbooks. I am using another one as I need some functionality specific to the country, I live in. But, if you are living in North-America, these two might suit you well.

If you, however, happen to live in Germany, I can recommend using either Debitoor or Fastbill.

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