Successful pro photographers Sarah Petty and Erin Verbeck know how hard it can be to break into the photo business. However, as former Fortune 500 marketing executives, they have the experience needed to not only launch photography careers but also make them incredibly successful without the frustration of wasted effort. Erin is busy promoting their recently-published NYT Bestseller Worth Every Pennybut took the time to share her best photo-career building tips with us (thanks Erin!). Don’t miss ‘em:
Advice – What are 3 things new photographers can do to build up a client list?
1) Speak. As a professional photographer you have skills that others don’t have and are interested in learning more about. If you’re a children / family photographer, get out there and speak to new mom’s groups, play groups, groups of mompreneurs who are running businesses and the PTA. What do they need? You can share tips / demonstrations on getting great snapshots of their kids on Christmas morning, during birthday parties, day-to-day celebrations at home, etc. When you show how you’re the expert at what you do, you become less of a commodity in the eyes of potential clients and more of a valued business owner who can charge what they are worth.
2) Co-market. Look for opportunities with other businesses that share your target market. Sure, it’s obvious when you’re a children’s photographer to try and hang a display in the local children’s clothing store, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Get to know other business owners in your community who may share your target audience – your stock broker, banker, real estate agent, accountant, dance school owner, etc. Find out what their challenges are and how you can help them. Don’t just approach them with a self-centered proposal. Instead, look for ways you can boost their business first. Sit down and talk to them as a fellow business owner and community member with open minds of how you can help them grow. Maybe you can co-host a small top customer appreciation event or a charitable fundraiser, or maybe instead you could look at gifting your best clients with something from them, and vice versa. There are many opportunities that exist when you get to know what the needs of your fellow small business owners are.
3) Volunteer. When you volunteer in your community you not only meet other small business owners, but also potential clients. When I decided to open the doors of my first studio, I had already spent years as an ambassador for the Chamber of Commerce. Because of that volunteer work, I knew many of the small business owners in my community. They had witnessed my work ethic, dedication and commitment to my city as an ambassador. I didn’t have to tell them I was creative or that I was trustworthy. They had seen it first hand.
How should new photographers set their prices – should they just try to match the competition?
The most important thing a photographer needs to do when it comes to pricing is to understand their own numbers, including the cost of each sale. Now before you glaze over, I promise it isn’t that tough. We’re talking simple grade school math here, for the most part. What I most often see happening with new photographers is they are only looking at hard costs – the print costs me this much, the packaging costs this much, etc and they don’t value their own time and attach a dollar figure to their time to submit the order, retouch the print, package the order, the framing appointment, etc. At bare minimum, you should pay yourself what you could make in a minimum wage job for your time to put together that order, and hopefully more than that. It doesn’t mean you have to actually PAY yourself that amount, but you do need to account for it in your costs. PPA’s Studio Management Services offers a great, cost effective service help photographers learn what all goes into their numbers. Judy Grann at Successware is a genius at helping her clients with financials as well. Once you have your arms around this part of your business, you’ll be on the expressway to success because you’ll make smart pricing decisions.
Every business experiences ups and downs – can you give us 3 actions a photographer can take to get through slow periods without discounting?
This is why building a database and really knowing your clients is so important. When you’re slow you should always go back on your database of clients first. That database is a gold mine.
1) Start by reaching out to those clients who haven’t been in for a while and see what is new with them. Pick up the phone and call them. Talk to them about what is new in their life. If you’ve noticed on Facebook that their youngest just started school this year, talk to them about that. Then bring up any new products you may have introduced since they were last in (new image blocks, fun new lighting or back drops, holiday cards, etc) and let them know you were thinking of them. See if they are interested in getting a session on the books.
2) Reach out to any of your top clients who may also be business owners and are your database. Brainstorm ways you could help them in their business. Remember, this should be about you helping them – not just about you helping yourself. If business is slow for you, lend a helping hand to others that you’ve done business with. I’ve found that it always comes back to help me in the long run, but it’s also just the right thing to do.
3) Offer payment plans! Not only do payment plans help your clients, but they help you with cash flow during slow periods as well. Just by doing a little planning ahead, you can avoid the devastation of the slow months. When you get into October, November and December which are the busiest months for most photographers, see if any of your clients would increase their order if they could spread out payments. This will help you get through the slow season. I always take two forms of payment in case one fails, but rarely does that happen.
Tell us what’s next for The Joy of Marketing?
We’re hitting the road, with Sarah stopping in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Dallas and California this summer to teach about building a boutique photography studio that enables you to attract the right clients. Check out our schedule and tour info! Also in the next couple of months you’ll be seeing another free online event for photographers brought to you by us and White House Custom Color. It’s a bit different than anything you’ve previously seen from The Joy of Marketing but like everything else, you’ll learn a ton and come away inspired. To make sure you’re in the know, friend us on Facebook or Twitter.
One more thing! Tell us about your first camera.
My first camera was a Pentax K1000 and I received it for my 15th birthday. My dad and I took a camera class together at a local K’s Merchandise mart. I would still have it but an over-achieving employee was cleaning closets a few years ago and sold it on e-bay. Needless to say, she is resting in peace (haha!). I shot mostly flowers and a silver poodle named Skeeter. A friend of my dad’s who taught with him at a local college, found a print I had taken with this camera when I was 15. He sent it to me with a note, of course, taking credit for my career. The photo was sadly out of focus but did I ever think it was the greatest thing!
Read Worth Every Penny for fantastic advice on living your passion through your photo business.
Find more tips for creative success in our Art of Success category – featuring interviews with Laura Brunow Miner, Dane Sanders, the Shutter Sisters and many more!