PTM 001: Making Money to Fund an Adoption with Freelance Photographer Justin of One Smile Closer

Part Time Money PodcastIn this first episode of the Part Time Money Podcast, I talk with my friend Justin, who started a part-time photography business (on the side) to help fund the international child adoption process.


Justin has a great story and has earned around $5,000 towards his family’s goal in just six months. He isn’t a classically trained photographer and so he talks a lot about:

  1. how he gained the skill and confidence to do this;
  2. how he developed some ninja marketing tactics on Facebook;
  3. his beginner technical tips.

Justin’s Story: How to Start a Photography Business on the Side

As a husband and father of 2, soon to be 3, Justin Bufkin needed extra money. He and his wife were adopting a child from Africa, and it was going to cost around $30,000, much more than his salary as a media director in a church afforded him.

Justin knew there were a lot of ways to make more money, but he wanted there to be value in what people spent their money on. He wanted to offer a service that families were already seeking, not add to the list of things people didn’t need to spend money on.

“That is kind of why we came up with photography, kind of reallocating money that people were going to spend somewhere else but to use it for a good purpose we thought.”

While working as a media director, he picked up some basic photography skills alongside the videos he was producing already. Once he got good at photography, he decided to begin One Smile Closer and offer mini-sessions on the side at the price of $100 each. With each session, the family would be ‘one smile closer’ to bringing their daughter home.

Justin said as his business grew, his confidence did too. He got better and faster and sessions which originally lasted over an hour were eventually honed to 45 minutes flat. Within 6 months, he had raised $5,000 towards their adoption goal.

Tips for Growing the Photography Business

Relationships = referrals. Another contributing factor to the growth, Justin said, was building relationships with his clients. The more confident he became in photography, the more time he could devote to interacting with them. This led to repeat customers. Several months later they would call again for another session. At the beginning, friends and family were Justin’s primary clients, but that quickly moved beyond his own personal network.

Creating a blog and Facebook strategy. Justin set up a blog to showcase photography sessions and used Facebook as a primary tool for getting the word out about One Smile Closer. Justin’s Facebook marketing method was simple: Soon after the session, he would post his 5 best photos from the session, tag the family in the photos, and link to the blog in the comments. He didn’t want to overwhelm people with large albums of photos to click through, and he wanted to showcase his best work. He never set up a business Facebook page; he used his own profile. This allowed him to bypass the problem of limited audiences without paying Facebook to boost a post. To find out more about setting up a blog to make extra money read this article.

Keeping things simple. Many photographers know that there is substantial money to be made in allowing customers to order printed photographs through their company. Because this was a part-time gig and Justin had a limited amount of extra time, he opted to give his clients a CD of images. It prevented him from being consumed with tedious tasks that can take too much time. If you’re trying to balance a full-time job with a side hustle read this post.

Have a story to tell. Justin also believes that the story of what he was doing was an important part of the success of One Smile Closer. He said that through his work, people could see they were investing in the life of a child.

“I went to a conference and got to hear Donald Miller speak, and he talked about you need to not just give people an idea of a product but give them a story to latch onto. Not that I am trying to peddle our adoption as being something artificial that we need to cling onto, but I really wanted people to be able to see what they are investing in, and they are investing in a child.”

Questions I Ask Justin on the Show

  • How did you get into photography and how long has the business been up and running?
  • Has this side business been able to help you achieve the adoption?
  • How did the first couple of photo shoots go? How did you gain confidence?
  • How did you get your first clients and how do you market your services?
  • How exactly do you market your services on Facebook?
  • Talk us through some of the technical parts of taking and editing the pictures.
  • When did you find time to do this?
  • Anything else that you do to maximize your efforts?
  • Any resources you can recommend for beginners?
  • How are you going to structure this business to make it ideal for taxes and the adoption?

One Smile Closer - Justin and Family

Links from the Show

Visit Justin’s site: One Smile Closer

See Justin’s camera: Nikon D40

See Justin’s Software: Adobe Photoshop CS5, Adobe DNG Converter

See Justin’s Educational Resources: Pioneer Woman Photography

Read the transcript of this podcast: just click show

Bear with me as I learn to do this podcasting thing. I’m a horrible interviewer. Need to work on my questions. But if you can fight through me, you’ll get some good insight into this popular part-time money making business.