In my last article “Photography marketing: preparing the ground for your business to flourish” I pointed out how we can do our best to market ourselves and how — occasionally — coincidences or serendipity play a much bigger role than marketing.
Now I want to go through the habits that could significantly improve the chances for your photography business to flourish. Easy things that can be done to encourage those potential clients to work with us. You want those tips that are going to boost your photography business, don’t you?
Ready? Here we go:
1.Have something unique to offer. It could be your very distinctive style, your capacity to work on very big (or very small) sets, your problem solving ability, your competence in shooting large numbers of photos in a short time, your talent in photographing a given subject in a captivating way (it doesn’t matter if it’s a fridge or a person), your experience in a specific niche market…
2. Identify your potential clients. They might already be working with your competitors or just have a latent need for pictures and not thinking about hiring a pro. That’s where your marketing strategy plays a big role: you want to let them know in a non-intrusive but effective way that your services are what they need to improve their business. Look for their contacts on the net, in directories or ask your friends and their friends for contacts. Then prepare a database. If you are approaching a big company, make sure you get more than a generic email. Call them and tell the operator that you want to send a presentation email to the right person and ask them to give you the specific address.
3. Be a specialist. Hyper-specialization pays off, so does a good presentation. I know of a young photographer who owns ten websites: on each one he features a different area of expertise. His photos are not the best I have seen, but the clients that come across one of his sites have the impression that he is super specialized in that particular field. If you have different specializations, consider building different websites. Maybe different identities. Pick a niche and work on your presentation. By doing so, you might find out that you don’t have what it takes. What a better opportunity to study and prepare yourself to sell a new and improved version of your services? Because if you present yourself as a specialist, you’d better be really good at it!
4. Double check what you have to offer. Ask yourself “why should they want me and not my competitor?” Your answer could be: because I offer better quality, I am more specialized, my prices are competitive, I am the only one doing this… If you don’t have an answer, maybe you are not ready and you might want to spend some time figuring out what you lack and take steps to improve your position.
5. Make sure you have what it takes to prove that you could really be valuable to them. You are the real deal and you have to make that obvious to them! If your target are yoga teachers, you want to have plenty of beautiful yoga pictures. It will be easier for them to imagine how your portrait in their promotional materials would benefit their business. If your target is creative agencies, you might want to be sure that you have a good online reputation in that field and that you have some good examples to show. You want to publish in magazines? Editors and photo-editors are busy people, they don’t like to make any effort trying to spot some hidden potential in you. You need to have it out there ready to show, so have some well organized quality pictures on hand.
6. Find a quick and impactful way to get your message across. Getting an appointment with the right person can be impossibly difficult, make sure to introduce yourself in an appropriate way. Normally, that means sending a short and poignant email. Remember: not every potential client is the same. If you target picture-editors or art-directors, there is a good chance that they won’t even open your mail (that’s why a strong title is so important). If you target, let’s say, a family-run Bed & Breakfast business you will probably find more attentive listeners. Your short email will include a teaser of what you want to propose and a link to your website.
7. Follow up. Wait a day or two. If you get an answer, perfect. If you don’t, try calling them and asking if they got your email. Try to get an appointment. The worst that can happen is that they say no.
If you manage to get an appointment, go there READY. Bring a well organized portfolio. You might start showing an essay and see that it is not generating much interest. Have something else handy. If you want to talk about a project you haven’t developed yet, make sure you have at least one image that suggests its mood. It might be that you show them something that they are looking for. In that case be ready to negotiate a price. If it’s a magazine, ask how much they normally pay and see if you are happy with that price. Don’t give your pictures away for free or they will always expect the same from you! Certain wanna-get-published photographers, in their attempt to break in, don’t care about getting compensation for their work. You don’t want to be one of them.
8. Be reliable, precise, professional. If you walk away from your appointment simply knowing that they want more details about a certain proposal, that’s already a good outcome. Send them an estimate. Let them know more details about what they are interested in.
9. Don’t be pushy! The door only opens from the other side. They have your contact info and will contact you as soon as they need you. If the client doesn’t get back to you to accept your offer, you can send them an update from time to time (hey, now I also do this and this…), but don’t flood them with proposals.
10. Be creative. If your emails have been ignored and you really really want to contact that specific client, try something different. Here is an example: in order to beat competition, a 25-year-old guy, determined to land a position as marketing specialist, disguised himself as a delivery service courier and visited 40 prospective employers in San Francisco. He brought them boxes of donuts with his résumé taped inside: “As you have noticed, I approach things in a different way,” he stated in the cover letter. “I am a marketing guy with 5 years of experience, I admire your company and I would love to work for you…” Needless to say, he was soon offered 10 interviews. A box of donuts is not the only way. Find your own Trojan Horse, sometimes a postcard or a booklet is enough.
Another way to express creativity is in your choice of words when describing your services. I recently came across the website of a portrait photographer. Her clients are professionals, artists or craftspeople who need a headshot when they present themselves. She also photographs teenagers who want Facebook or Instagram pictures. On her website she publishes different styles of portraits and… she never uses the word “portrait”. Why not? She doesn’t introduce herself as a portrait photographer, but as a personal brander, a consultant who creates a public image and identity for her clients.
11. Ideally, you let your clients find you, you don’t go looking for them.When you look for clients, more often than not they don’t seem to be very interested in what you have to offer. When they come looking for you it obviously means that they are considering your services. That’s why being included in directories or having a profile on multiple websites can help. Sometimes, also being active in Linkedin or similar groups might help you get found. I have been treated with the greatest respect by people who happened across my work on the net, in an art gallery, or saw my pictures in a magazine. Some photographers find new clients through intensive socializing and networking at parties or events. Connections and relations do help. If you work on your online and offline reputation, it’s more likely that people will know you and will look for you.
Now that you have been exploring the many things that can be done to boost your business, I want you to remember one last very important thing: your work has to be good. Really. If in doubt, whenever a client gives you an assignment, do a test before shooting the real thing. It helps. It gives you the opportunity to find out what might be missing (a lens, a prop…) and recognize what your weaknesses are before it’s too late.
Can those clients really live without you? No? Get out there and make sure they know it!
About the Author
Enzo dal Verme is an Italian portrait photographer based in Milan. He’s been in the photographic industry for over 15 years and had his work featured in various magazines like Vanity Fair, l’Uomo Vogue, Vogue Sport, Glamour and many others. If you would like to see more of his work, visit his website and follow him on Twitter. If you prefer paper to digital formats, you can read his book Storytelling for Photojournalists. This article was also published here and shared with permission.