Featured Contributor Kat Gill shares his early lessons learned in this installment of our “What I Wish I Knew” series, chronicling the mistakes and revelations creatives made during their first years in business. We hope you find inspiration (and we’re sure you’ll find some commiseration!) in these stories. Here are Kat's top tips to maintain a consistent brand.
Reflecting on my first year as a photographer, I distinctly remember all too often feeling that I wasn’t shooting what I wanted to be shooting, and despite how much my clients loved their photos—I myself, was not in love with what I was producing. I wasn’t attracting the kind of clients I wanted, and I definitely wasn’t in the driver’s seat when it came to my shoots. It was the all-too common story of insecurity and inexperience that I know many new photographers struggle with. But fortunately I’ve learned a ton over the last 7 years, and here’s one of the things I really wish I knew back then: The importance of maintaining a clear and consistent brand. Essentially— attracting the right clients for you, shooting them within your style, and sharing the photos afterwards with intention.
There’s so many aspects that go into this—from your editing style right down to your business cards, but I’m going to focus more on the ways to do this right from the time a client books you and then to the time right after the shoot.
Tip #1: As soon as a client books me for an engagement session, the first thing I do is email them an electronic Welcome Package that includes information to help them prepare. This PDF touches on the types of locations I prefer to shoot at, tips on what to wear, and makeup and hair stylists I recommend. Throughout the PDF, there are photo examples from some of my favorite past shoots that show off great locations, outfits and styling.
What I’ve come to learn is that most clients have no clue what they actually want and are really looking to me to guide them in the right direction. They love my work and depend on me to help them achieve the same kind of look and feel that they’ve fallen in love with. Leading up to the shoot date, I also encourage them to text me if they need any second opinions on their outfit selection. I used to fear this would be the worst idea ever (forecasted nightmares of 2am texts) but that’s never been the case luckily! I’ve instead found this to be a really great way to not only help steer my clients in the right direction with what will photograph best, but it’s also a nice way to start developing a more casual, friendly relationship with them. I think my clients also really appreciate the personal care I’m giving them and they feel that I’m committed to making sure their shoot goes just as well as they’re hoping it will.
Tip #2: Let’s now touch on the powers of social media and how you can turn it into your most effective marketing tool. More than ever, clients are using social media to discover and research everything.
In order to ensure that the right kind of clients are finding you, make sure that what you’re posting and sharing is geared towards showing what you love to shoot and what you’d like to shoot more of.
After every session, (even the trickier ones) I pick out my favorite couple of shots-- they can highlight anything from a great location, to creative composition, to what they were wearing, to the sweet way they were interacting. And when you’re not getting the kind of bookings you want, set up your own creative styled shoots. So many of my clients will reference shoots I’ve done and will use them as inspiration for their own shoot. A lot of thought is put into every teaser or blog post I share-- if it doesn’t represent what I want to be shooting, I don’t post it.
The objective here is consistency. Consistency breeds trust. You’re taking the guesswork and gamble out of it for them if they can see quickly by looking through your feed exactly what your style is. I’ve seen so many new photographers establish themselves quickly because they were able to recognize and apply this early in their careers.
Stay tuned for more Q&A posts from our wonderful contributing photographers.
Are you a contributor (or interested in becoming one) and would love a feature? Contact us here!
Design Aglow's Wedding Welcome Packet will leave you feeling assured that your studio will be see as one that realizes details and expertise is evident in every aspect of your business. Check out our Wedding Welcome Packets here!
It’s that time of the year to implement your business goals for success in the new year. And I think we can all agree that eliminating all business problems and disagreements with clients is a worthy goal. While we can’t promise you’ll never experience another issue again, we have created a simple set of best practices that will likely help prevent 99% of potential business problems. If that sounds like exactly what you need in 2016, keep reading for our ten best tips.
Pre-qualify your clients
You’re bound to create problems for yourself if your clients don’t know how much they have to invest in your photography before they hire you. We understand why you may be uncomfortable listing your pricing right on your website. If you’re not going to make your pricing publicly available on your website, you need to make sure that you share your pricing with each new inquiry during your first conversation, whether that’s over email or phone. You can also pre-qualify new clients with your contact form… simply ask them to share their story or share why they like your photography.
Bottom line: You want to work with clients who value your artistic eye and are willing to invest in your photography. Pre-qualify new clients before they hire you and you’ll eliminate so many problems down the road.
Pay attention to red flags
You know that feeling in your gut that says “do not take this job! run away from this client!”? That’s called a red flag, friends. When a client emails you twenty times a day or tries to negotiate your prices or bullies you into accepting terms you don’t feel comfortable with… these are not the kind of clients you want to be working with. And we know it can be so tempting to take on these jobs… maybe you could use the extra money or you’ve always wanted to work with a specific vendor or shoot a destination wedding. But there’s a reason we get that sinking feeling in our gut and it’s because we know these clients will cause more trouble than they’re worth.
Bottom line: Nightmare clients will actually cost you in time, money and emotional well being, so just say no. It’s okay to turn down a job that doesn’t feel right you. In fact, it’s just good business. Pay attention to red flags and follow your gut. It never lies.
Create solid studio policies
Oftentimes, we create potential problems for ourselves because we don’t have proper policies in place ahead of time. We can’t always think of every possible scenario ahead of time, so when it takes a portrait client three years to order their album, there are bound to be problems. You’ve changed album companies, prices have gone up, you no longer offer a specific album cover… These things happen in a business, but your client will not be happy about it. Creating solid studio policies helps you avoid misunderstandings when situations like this arise.
Bottom line: Having professional studio policies in place will help you eliminate problems by communicating guidelines and expectations ahead of time. Need help getting started? Our Essential Portrait Studio Policies for Success has everything you need to get effective policies in place immediately.
Utilize legal contracts
It’s an industry standard to use a contract when you’re hired to photograph a wedding, but many photographers don’t bother with contracts for portrait sessions, birth photography, commercial jobs and associate shooters. Things go wrong and miscommunication happens, but having an iron-clad legal document with your terms and policies written out will help you decide what to do when that happens.
Bottom line: Legal contracts not only protect you, they spell out the terms of your agreement in precise language, which helps eliminate any disagreements on what happens next. Get your contracts up to speed and incorporate them into your workflow for every session and client you take on.
We can’t say enough about proper communication. So many easily avoidable client problems start with poor communication. Explain the process of working with you, let your clients know the timeline of your workflow and make sure you communicate any issues and delays with them right away. Our clients are people just like us and they will understand that sometimes life happens, especially if you have made the effort to develop a professional and respectful relationship from the get-go. Editing takes longer than expected, prints get damaged in the mail and sometimes you put the wrong image in an album and have to send it back to be corrected. If you let your clients know what's going on and keep them updated, you will avoid a host of extra problems and upset clients.
Bottom line: Keeping your clients in the loop doesn't take much time but it has a huge impact on their satisfaction level and the amount of problems you have to deal with. If you struggle with what to say when something goes wrong, our Studio Success Guide on Client Communications will be your new best friend.
If the phrase ‘under promise, over deliver’ comes to mind when you think of exceeding expectations, you’re on the right track. We create unnecessary problems for ourselves when we can’t keep up with the timeline we’ve given to our clients. We can exceed expectations by delivering edited images and finished products ahead of schedule or by sending a handwritten note or prints of our favorite images.
Bottom line: When you make ‘going above and beyond’ a staple of the way you do business, you will have happier clients and fewer problems.
Sell quality products
The saying goes ‘you get what you pay for’ and we couldn’t agree more. You’ve worked hard to position your brand as high quality, so it follows that you should sell high quality products to your clients. Selling cheap products to boost your profit margins will come back to haunt you later and trust us, the extra money you’d make today isn’t worth the problems and reputation damage it will create down the road. See our post on selling quality products here.
Bottom line: Nothing will upset your customers more than seeing the products they purchased from you fade, warp and fall apart. Sell only high quality products and you’ll never have to worry about problems with them or, your reputation for excellence.
Keep your business legal
We know that filing your business license every year, collecting and remitting sales tax, completing accurate bookkeeping each month, paying quarterly tax estimates and all the other things you are required to do to run your business are probably your least favorite things to do. But they also happen to be the most important tasks, so do not skip out on them.
Bottom line: Not paying your taxes or filing a business license will cause you way more problems (and headaches) than anything else in your business. If you absolutely can’t sit down and get these things done, hire a CPA to do it for you.
The answer is not always ‘more’. Shooting 48 weddings a year or 72 senior session in one season might mean more money in your bank account, but it will probably also mean you’re burned out. And you can’t do your best work or give excellent service when you’re that burned out. You’ll make more mistakes, be more forgetful and create more problems for yourself.
Bottom line: If you’re burned out at the end of busy season, you took on too much work. Adjust your goals accordingly for the next busy season. And, consider raising your prices to work less and make more.
We all have tasks that we really don’t like to do. It might be bookkeeping or color correction or answering emails… or all of the above. It takes a lot of work to run a business and one thing we’ve learned over the years is that we can’t do it all… unless we want to work 80 hours a week. Often times, the very tasks we dread the most cause us the most problems, simply because we put them off.
Bottom line: Outsource your least favorite tasks and you’ll have more time for taking photos… and you’ll eliminate all of the issues that arise when you procrastinate.
To the local photographer who copies everything I do,
Everybody says, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” But I’m pretty sure that whoever started that saying was a copycat themselves… because I’m not flattered. I’m mad as hell.
I work so hard to separate myself from every other photographer in town. I invested in custom branding from a talented graphic designer. I spent days deciding which website template I should choose. I wrote my bio and then rewrote it and then rewrote it again. And then I scrapped it and did exactly twenty three more revisions until it was absolutely perfect.
And lo and behold, not three weeks later, you launch your new website. And you used the same template I did. Your branding looks eerily similar. And even your bio… it sounds like a knockoff version of mine. And we live in the same city! So yeah. I’m not flattered. I’m mad.
I mean, I know my new website looks fantastic, but you had to know that you had literally a thousand other options for website templates, branding and yes, even your bio. But you didn’t stop there with your copycat ways.
I’ve noticed that every time I offer a promo, you do too. When I started shooting a lot of my sessions at the local dairy farm, you did too. You aren’t just content to copy my online presence, you want to copy everything about my business, from my website to my style to favorite poses and locations. It must be exhausting for you. (Seriously though, how do you find the time to copy everything I do and still keep up on editing?)
I’ve been photographing kids for seven years, working hard to develop a style all my own, so I understand why you’re drawn to it. But running a successful photography business isn’t about following a formula. It’s about finding yourself as an artist and creating a business around your style.
You need to step away from the internet and do some soul-searching. You won’t figure out who you are as an artist and a photographer on someone else’s website. You won’t find it in their bio. You won’t discover how you best connect with your clients by copying someone else’s posing or going to the same locations. The beautiful thing about photography is that it’s personal. But the only way you can find out who you are is by looking inside.
See, I know you just want to make your mark. But you’re going about it all wrong. You should be trying to build a business based on your style, not mine. The sooner you figure out who you are as a photographer, the better. Because every day that you spend copying others is a waste… instead of moving your business forward, you’re moving backward. It’s time to stop copying and figure out your own style. I promise it will be worth the effort.
the photographer who is tired of being copied
Letters From a Photographer is a brand new, original series by Design Aglow. Articles are meant to spark thought and conversation and be shared within our industry.
Featured Contributor Dan DeWaard shares his early lessons learned in this installment of our “What I Wish I Knew” series, chronicling the mistakes and revelations creatives made during their first years in business. We hope you find inspiration (and we’re sure you’ll find some commiseration!) in these stories. Here are Dan's top lessons learned from managing his own photography business.
I often think back to when I first started photography and question myself why I did what I did. One of the first things I wish I would have done was to work with an experienced wedding photographer, one that I admired at that time.
I feel so blessed and fortunate that I was able to work hard and pursue my photography business over these past few years, but I do wish I would have been a little smarter in how I have arrived at this point. It has been a journey of trial and error, and lots of errors there were.
I also wish I had had a clearer vision and idea of what type/style of photographer I wanted to be. I knew I had passion, which of course is a must in any art that you are wanting to create a business from.
I am one of those typical self taught photographers, who started by taking pictures for family friends and their babies etc. I purchased a cheap studio lighting kit and some plain solid color backdrops and tried doing the whole home studio thing. Right away I knew this wasn’t for me and I continued to search for what kind of photography I wanted to pursue.
I wish I would have been exposed to more photographers and their work so I didn’t have to go through some tough and embarrassing lessons, but then again, it has also shaped me into who I am as a photographer today. For me, getting to know how to use a camera and gear has been pretty easy, my biggest struggles have always been on the mental side of things, mostly confidence. I still struggle mightily to this day, I like to think it’s humility, but in all reality I’m deathly scared of what people think of my work. When I receive a compliment, I still tell myself well, they have to say that…they're my clients or they're just being nice.
I have made several poor decisions these past years because of my confidence issues, such as pricing and branding. I feel I have a decent website and Facebook page, but I know I could be/should be doing it a whole lot better. But for some reason, I purposely don’t give marketing too much time or money. I’ve always been afraid of failure and other’s opinion of me and my work.. and photography, like any art form, leaves you vulnerable. So I figure if I don’t spend money or time then I can always hide behind the excuse that if I fail it’s because I did a poor job on marketing, not because of my terrible work.
But slowly, with the help of Design Aglow, I have been putting myself out there more by using products in packaging and marketing opportunities to get my name out there. When I receive encouraging emails from fellow photographers, mostly new or aspiring ones, I tell them that they have no clue how encouraging their email is to me. I’m deathly afraid of coming across as an arrogant photographer who cares more about themselves than their work that they do for their clients, but at the same time I know we all need to have confidence in our talents and style. It’s not only great for the soul but great for your business as well.
I wish I had someone early on that could have helped and encouraged me on the mental side, it’s just as important as knowing your gear.
Tip #1: Ask yourself why you want to pursue photography as a career and be completely honest with yourself. We all love the compliments on our images from our friends and relatives (especially on Facebook). You’ll even get a few, “Hey you should think about doing this as a career…” which is all super flattering and feels good to know that your work is appreciated, but it shouldn’t be the reason why you want to start a photography business.
We live in a day where honesty is a taboo thing, especially when we fish for compliments on Facebook or Instagram. Of course people will tell you how lovely your photos are and we want to believe that becoming a professional photographer is all about having a “good eye” and a decent camera. But that’s just the beginning of it, there is way more to that, just like any other professional career. The most important advice I can give to any new photographer, is a question, Why?
Find an established photographer that you admire and ask them to be honest with you about your work and if they wouldn’t mind giving you some constructive feedback. Yes, I know this sounds terrifying, but it’s so important to get true feedback from someone who is not personally invested in you, such as an aunt or sister, and will help you to decide if you should pursue a career or just enjoy photography for your own personal self.
Tip #2: Learn your gear and start with just a couple of lenses. The best advice I ever received about golf is to start with just a few clubs, once you start getting to know how to use them, then go ahead and start using the other ones. Same with photography. Don’t overwhelm yourself with 3-4 lenses, and several different camera formats, lighting and more. Start with a decent DSLR and a 35mm and 50mm lens. Shoot the heck out of those two, and learn their strengths and weaknesses, then you will know why you really want that 85mm or super wide lens because of application reasons not because how pretty or big the lenses may be. Let your gear grow with your style and career. Also, probably the best technical advice I have would be to shoot correctly in camera, don’t rely on post processing to correct it.
Tip #3: Follow and admire a couple photographers, don’t overwhelm yourself with following many different ones, all that will do is confuse and frustrate you more on your own style. To have your own style you need to have confidence in your own work. Shoot the way you see this world, not how you think Benj Haisch or Jose Villa would shoot it. Yes, of course be influenced by them and learn from their work, but when you are actually shooting, let your left brain take over and trust your experience to take care of the technical side of photography. Lighting is the most important element, followed by composition. Do your homework so when you’re out shooting, you're shooting with a purpose.
Tip #4: Create a simple but solid business plan. Just like any successful business, you need to set some current and long term goals for your career. Don’t set goals such as getting so many likes etc., but personal goals such as working on the use of lighting, or areas of weakness in your photography. Put together a financial plan on how much you’re going to charge over the span of the next 3 years. Don’t do “mini sessions”, you’re basically telling your clients you are not worth the full price.
It’s just as important to have a solid business plan as it is to be a great photographer. And lastly, enjoy what you do. Don’t let the money dictate your career path, let your desire and passion do it. I got out of photographing families because I don’t like dealing with over controlling Pinterest moms with unbearable kids. It’s been the best move for my career and has helped my branding as a business as well.
Stay tuned for more "What I Wish I Knew" posts from our wonderful contributing photographers.
Are you a contributor (or interested in becoming one) and would love a feature? Contact us here!
Networking. It’s usually at the bottom of our to-do list. You know, the part of your list that never gets done so you just keep moving it to tomorrow’s list. We tend to think of networking as old school and no longer necessary, but that couldn’t be further from truth. Networking is all about cultivating authentic relationships with vendors and other photographers.
Building a good business is mostly about cultivating great relationships. When you own a small business, you are your brand. The more you let people get to know you, the more they will get to know (and love!) your brand. This industry thrives on word-of-mouth marketing and networking is an inexpensive way to promote personal referrals.
It can be tempting to do all of your networking online. And using social media can be a great way to stay in touch with people you already have a relationship with. But building relationships requires real connections, and often our best opportunities for really connecting with other people happen in person. Social media often encourages superficial interactions like “liking” a post, but real conversations that build connections happen in face-to-face conversations. Now that we can agree that in-person networking is still valuable, let’s talk about how to be effective at it. Below, we share our tried-and-true best practices for networking.
1. Devote time to networking every single week. Networking is not something that’s going to bring you lots of business immediately. If you want to create meaningful relationships with other business owners, it takes a consistent time investment. So move networking from the bottom of your to-do list to the top and remember that stepping away from your computer for a couple hours a week will be good for you in so many ways.
2. Follow up a first meeting with a coffee date. Networking events are great for meeting new people, but there’s not usually enough time to make a genuine connection. Invite your new friend to meet you for coffee or lunch in the next couple of weeks. If you’re nervous about a one-on-one meeting, it’s okay invite a few people. Just limit the group to 3-4 people so you can foster good conversations.
3. Get personal. Building good relationships is all about making connections. And often times, we connect with people best over things that have nothing to do with business. Bonding over your shared love of pumpkin spice lattes, your upcoming travel plans or the new Star Wars movie are great examples of how getting personal can strengthen a relationship. Sharing financial problems, marital drama and political rants are great examples of how getting personal can ruin a business relationship. Get personal, just not too personal.
4. Find ways to serve. When you’re building relationships with wedding vendors, one of the best ways you can serve them is to send them images of their work for free, before they have to ask. Florists, cake bakers and wedding planners work hard to make the details of every wedding perfect for your clients, but they often don’t have the photography skills to do their work justice. Send digital images to all of the vendors from your weddings and consider sending prints and even an album (we recommend ProDPI’s press printed albums) to your favorite vendors. They’ll be delighted to have fantastic images of your work and you’ll get your photos in front of more people because you know they will be showing those photos to everyone. Simplify your workflow and take the guesswork out of creating gorgeous printed pieces for your vendors with our Vendor Marketing Kit.
5. Be a good connector. Networking is all about making connections, so anytime you have the opportunity to help other people make connections, you should always take it. Your new friends will benefit from your introductions and your relationships with them will be strengthened too. Odds are your new friends will look for helpful connections for you too.
6. Focus on quality over quantity. You don’t need all 82 wedding planners in town sending you referrals. You can’t shoot that many weddings anyway and you can’t recommend 82 wedding planners to each of your clients. When it comes to networking and building good business relationships, choose quality over quantity. You’ll find yourself drawn to certain people more than others and we’re willing to bet they’ll attract the kind of clients you love working with. So spend more time cultivating those relationships because they’re the ones that will pay off in the long run.
7. Utilize social media to stay in touch. Social media is a great networking tool when used with actual real, in-person interactions. Follow your vendor friends on Facebook and Instagram and interact. When you share images from a mutual wedding, tag them too and mention how much you love working them. When you’re not working together, use social media to stay in touch and build better connections.
When it comes down to it, networking is not a get-business-quick scheme. It’s a long term effort that will help sustain your business over the years. Photography is a word-of-mouth business and the more people who are talking about your business, the more often you’ll get hired. But at the end of the day, people will refer you if they like you (and your work). And the best way to make that happen is to be genuine about building a great business relationship, serving them as best you can and staying in touch. Make a habit of doing these things consistently and you’ll start seeing the benefits of networking in your own business.
Five places to network:
- Local photography get togethers - find on Facebook or Meetup.com
- Small business owner networking groups like 1 Million Cups
- Wedding venue open house events and parties
- Industry networking events sponsored by companies like The Knot and Perfect Wedding Guide
- Workshops and conferences