We're Erica + Jon, professional photographers, Mr + Mrs and Mom + Dad. We like to share insights into our industry, behind the scenes and stories about our life and chips + salsa obsession.
One of the most common questions we hear from other photographers interested in the brand photography space starts at the very beginning – getting started. We’ve heard you – you want to know how to get going and gain clients in brand photography, so today we’re unpacking our Three Strategies to Build a Client Base in Brand Photography. But first, a disclaimer! We have to be honest with you, there is nothing inherently special about what we will unpack below, except for one thing: it’s exactly what we did when we got started and exactly how we got to where we are today! Oftentimes, our instinct is to overcomplicate or romanticize a specific process or path to a hopeful end result, but these three strategies are simple and it’s likely you’ve used them before – especially if you are a wedding or lifestyle photographer. Ok, enough of the disclaimers…let’s jump into it!
Ahh….I know exactly what you thought about when you read this section heading! But we’re not talking about social media! We’re talking about networking with real people in real life! It’s one of the most basic but often overlooked things you as a business owner can do! It’s tempting with the ease of accessibility through tools like social media, email, etc to rely only on those connections to build your business, and while they are important (we’ll get into that next!) you simply can’t replace good old fashioned human-to-human interaction.
We get it. Time is money and you have to maximize your valuable time by investing it in things that will catapult your business to the next level. We’re not advocating for you to go all Uncle Rico and sell Tupperware through door to door sales here though! There is as much strategy involved here as there is real, meaningful connection. You need to identify those who are in a position to bring value to your brand and bring them value instead. Think of your ideal client and seek out a brand that matches that description, then reach out and offer value! <— See, we told you this isn’t rocket science, but how many of us actually do this? We’re not talking about styled shoots here, we’re talking about intentional, one-on-one interaction with your ideal brand photography client.
Let us show you this in real life. When we were getting started we took the time to identify our ideal client and Erica fell in love with a brand that we just knew we wanted to shoot for. But we were new to this side of the game, why would they hire us? Truthfully, at that point, they probably wouldn’t have! Instead, Erica worked up the courage to send a DM and offer to bring them value through some photos for….free! Huh!? Yep. Free.
“But Erica + Jon, I’ve spent so much time doing work for ‘free’ or ‘collabs’ and I’m so burned out! None of it has brought me any additional opportunities or real exposure.”
We hear you. We’ve been there too. But ask yourself, how many of those collabs have been initialed by you because you identified the brand or person as an ideal client? Likely, it’s been the other way around. A brand or person identified your skill and talent and dangled a carrot of their influence in front of you. Enter lots of effort and very little return here.
When we reached out to that brand, she took us up on our offer. We shot products for her shop and received some healthy social media love to their huge audience in return. But we also met someone else during the shoot – the daughter of a family that owns restaurants in Arizona. That connection led to a working relationship with their family restaurant. The brand we offered free services to became a paying client. The work we created for the restaurant continues to bring in new business for us as other brands see it and ask for the same. In all, that ‘free’ hour-long photoshoot resulted in over $30,000 in sales, exposure for our brand to multiple new audiences, and an expanded social network of real people – all because of intentionality.
Told you we’d get here…YES! Social media is such a great tool for business today, isn’t it!? Your answer to that probably reflects your current level of frustration with the platforms, but we promise you – used correctly, they can be real powerhouses! The biggest difference we see in effectiveness is between business owners who are on social media versus those who use social media. Again, we’re not talking about new ideas here, are we? Jasmine Star preaches this constantly! But how many of us apply the strategy we learn about social media consistently enough to allow for real results?
Social media growth can seem slow and painful, but as our pastor said regarding growth in anything, 1% growth every day (1% doesn’t sound hard, does it?) results in being 37X better at the end of the year! Real effectiveness on social media doesn’t come down to a follower count. It comes down to intentionality.
We have over 75% of our new business leads come through Instagram. We’ve booked household brand names like Soft Scrub and Snuggle through Instagram! And all with…drumroll please…only 3,664 followers as of the date of this blog post. There are others out there with exponentially more followers, but a follower count doesn’t equal business. Connecting with the right people and building real engagement is what drives those results.
Use social media to connect with your ideal client. Show them what you do and how you do it. Show them how you can bring them value. Make them aware of the problem they have and how you can solve it. Use the tools built into the platforms to their max! This is free marketing and reach, exploit it!! But not with the end goal of growth. We honestly don’t care about our follower count. We care about bringing value to our followers whether we have 1 or 10,000 because that is what drives new business to our front door day after day.
If you post your highlight reel, you’ll do great getting likes, but likes don’t equal paying clients. Figure out what your ideal client wants to see and double down on that! We were so excited to show a final image to our audience when we first shot for the Chicago White Sox. We thought our tribe would go nuts with us! We hit post and heard an overwhelmingly loud **golf clap**. No one cared! Why would they? How do fans of other sports teams relate to the White Sox? How do people who don’t like sports at all relate, period? It wasn’t until we posted a behind the scenes picture of us working with the Sox that we saw our community engagement go off the charts. Figure out what makes your audience tick and be intentional.
All the social networking and social media work you do will mean nothing unless your process and product live up to the hype. One of the most integral parts of a successful business is having a great, unparalleled experience. Even when your business makes a mistake, the experience you create can still be your saving grace. Too often, we try to mirror what we see another business do and hope that we will be able to repeat their successes. What we’ve found is that if the process isn’t true to us and who we are, it doesn’t matter how good the idea is, it won’t work long term.
You are what’s special about your business. You are the reason people choose to do business with you. So how do you go about creating a client experience your clients will fall in love with? Start by thinking about your interactions with other brands. What did you like about the experience? What did you despise? How can you carry over those things into your own business, or be sure to prevent them?
To take things a step further, what can you add to your experience that no one else is doing. What touch point can you introduce to your process that will speak loudly for you? Here’s an example: how long do you look at the ‘junk mail’ flyers that arrive in your mailbox? Likely, just long enough to identify it as ‘junk’ and toss it in the recycling bin. Everyone sends flyers through the mail and we’ve learned to quickly notice them and filter them out. How different would that experience be if you saw an envelope that was addressed to you by hand? How much more would you value a letter from a brand you had done business with that arrived in that way? A great client experience is all in the details.
It’s all about doing what no one else is willing to do – actually, all of this is. We all like to talk about networking, using social media, and creating a great client experience, but do we actually do it? Or do we settle for a carbon copy of strategies, canned systems, and ideas that we’ve seen others use? Could that be the reason we haven’t seen measurable success from our efforts?
We said it plainly at the beginning, none of these ideas are inherently unique – you’ve heard them before in one way or another. So it’s really up to you. Will you nod in agreement at the end of this blog and move on, or will you commit to the process in a way that is 100% uniquely you and start seeing real growth happen in your business? It’s up to you, friend.