It feels a little crazy to be writing this. It's February of 2016, which means we just got started in what will be our 8th year of business. Over the last few years, we have, on occasion, received messages and emails asking for guidance from other photographers. Do we mentor? Do we ever put on workshops? I know there are business owners who start selling workshop classes a year after opening their doors. I'm not sure how they do it. I've long felt that you can't and shouldn't be teaching anyone until you've really put in your time in your field.
I can never be a teacher. It's simply not in my skill set. I also have no desire to make my living selling to photographers. That's not my thing. There are plenty of other people who do that (if you've been doing this for any length of time, you already know who those people are and they've probably already taken some of your money!) and are very good at it. So, you'll never see me put on a workshop or sell mentoring sessions.
However, I'm an open book. I remember when I did my very first bridal show. I was 22, Victor was deployed, and I was extremely intimidated. But another husband & wife wedding photography team, McCardell Photography, was exhibiting at the show and were warm and friendly toward me. They looked at our work, asked about our pricing, and then offered me their own price list to give me an idea of what the industry standard was. They told me we were worth more than we were charging and that we had great potential. I never forgot how kind they were, and we even went on to hire Jonathan to photograph our own wedding a year and a half later.
So here we are, over 150 weddings later, and now folks are seeking us out for guidance and help. And we are more than happy to help lift others up. So, on occasion we will use this platform to share tips and information for anyone who might find it helpful. For free. We only ask that you take the bits that you find most useful and apply them to your own business in a way that works for you. And work hard and know that making a living as a photographer is not easy, nor will it just be handed to you.
But enough of my rambling. Let's get into our 5 quick tips for newish photographers who may be struggling. Maybe you're not making as much as you'd like, maybe the inquiries aren't coming in, maybe you're not sure where to go next. Here are things we learned and implemented that have helped us tremendously.
When you're first getting started and you're just excited to shoot whatever people are willing to let you shoot, you take every kind of session imaginable. There was a point several years ago we even did team & individual photos for youth sports. Yes, the kind parents pay $30 for and get a photo of their kid fake-smiling holding a baseball bat or a soccer ball. Let's just say it wasn't our thing and we never did it again (not that there's anything wrong with taking these photos, they just weren't for us). You do not have to be all things to all people, and it's actually better for you and for your clients if you're not. In order to provide the best service and the best product, it's absolutely important to specialize in one or two areas of photography. You do not want to be a jack of all trades, master of none, and you do not want to spread yourself so thin you're unable to give your best to each client.
There will always be someone who charges less than you do. There are photographers out there charging so little for their work that by the time they calculate all of their expenses, they actually find they're not making money, but rather paying to shoot a session. Determine what your costs are, then price yourself according to those costs, your talent, time, level of service, and experience. There is such a thing as charging too little and there is such a thing as charging too much. Most photographers who consistently stay booked and are able to make this their living have found their "pricing sweet spot." Just stop thinking you need to discount everyone or constantly offer mini sessions. You want to work with clients who are hiring you because they love your work and not because you're the cheapest they could find. One thing we've heard and read is, "I want to be affordable for everyone." We may have even used that phrase ourselves at one point early on. It's an absolutely lovely sentiment and it's an understandable one, but it can't drive your pricing or else you'll find yourself closing your business doors sooner rather than later. If you want to fulfill a desire to give back, do a yearly giveaway of a free session for a deserving family or couple.
If you're struggling with marketing, it's wise to first figure out who your client is. How old are they? What do they like to do? What do they all seem to have in common? Where do they like to shop? What major brands appeal to them? Is it women you're selling to, or men? Who are your residual clients (for us it's parents of the bride and groom, for instance)? Look at the big picture and it starts to become clear.
That word is daunting because it sounds like it's expensive. There are branding and marketing companies who do an amazing job, and you can certainly hire someone to help you (and if you're completely lost about how to do this yourself, I do recommend looking into hiring someone). We've never actually hired someone to help with branding. There are ways, early on when you don't necessarily have the funds to hire someone, that you can create a brand for yourself. First and foremost, go back to #1 & #3. And then build all of your marketing around that. Aside from word of mouth (which in my opinion is the best and #1 source of marketing for photographers), online marketing is absolutely crucial. I'm talking about your website, your Facebook page, Instagram, blogging, everything. Almost all of our clients are first contacting us through the contact form on our website, which means our website is SO, so important. This topic could be an entire blog post of its own, but just quickly, here's what needs to happen when someone visits your website:
- First, buy your own domain name. YourNamePhotography.com. No more free-website style domain names.
- Your website should load quickly and all links/pages should be working properly.
- A visitor's very first glance at your home page should tell them what you do.
- A visitor should be able to quickly find your pricing. Whether a full price list is readily available is something for you to decide. I like to provide a starting price and a range clients can expect to spend so they can determine whether we're in their budget.
- Where are you located? Please have this on your very first page. There are a surprising number of photographers who, whether on purpose or not, fail to make it clear where they are.
- Have a contact form, but also list your email address and phone number. Most clients will use a contact form, but some prefer to email you through their email client or actually pick up the phone and call.
- Be mobile friendly. If a visitor can't access your site on their tablet or phone, you're shooting yourself in the foot.
If you're having trouble with this, it would be wise to have very objective, honest friends or acquaintances take a look at your site and give their frank feedback. Sometimes it takes a fresh set of eyes and feedback from folks who haven't invested so much time and energy into designing the site.
None of anything else we've said will matter if you're not completely genuine, if you're not in love with your genre of photography, if you're not 110% committed to your business, and if you don't treat your clients well. Answer every email with enthusiasm and helpfulness, be willing to go a step further than any client expects you to, never stop working to become a better photographer. Being a small business owner is all-encompassing. You have to be all-in. Not half-in, not in whenever-you-feel-like-it. We answer emails on vacation and edit photos while we're sick, and we overcome the low moments and the exhausted moments because it's worth it to us to be our own boss and to make our clients happy. If you've made it this far in this long-winded essay, we believe you feel the same.
We hope you've enjoyed our first "For Photographers" blog post and hope that you'll let us know if it's helped you in any way. Leave a comment, write us an email, and please ask questions. And we also don't mind suggestions for future blog topics. :)