The outlook for photographers is not all bad. In fact, I run into photographers (online) all the time who are doing well and their business is growing. One photographer I spoke with recently said his business was up 20% this year and has been up 30% on average each of the last 5 years. How is that possible? I asked him to explain why he thinks he has been so successful in a dour economy. Here’s what he said:
For years I have been doing all of the expected marking: advertise in sourcebooks, online, emails, using social media and blogging. You’ve got to have a little bit of everything going because eventually you will hit on something and you may not know what it was that stuck. I think of it more as brand building for the long run than any one job. I love working on my marketing and advertising, because for me it is a way to help drive the direction of my career and getting the work I want. Ten years ago I had a very specific vision of where I wanted to be and I really think that has been the key to it all. That and persistence every single day, if I am not shooting I am marketing.
Here are other key points to why my business is growing:
Easy To Work With
This means not only helping to solve problems, but also being passionate about the entire job and not just the creative side. It’s also, having a good time on the shoot or at dinner or even having a good time traveling.
Sure we’d all love higher fees but the reality is they’re not always there. It’s like dining in a restaurant, if you want Salmon and they’re out of Salmon, don’t you want the waiter to recommend something else or offer another solution? Clients are the same way. Photographers need to be problem solvers, they need to propose solutions to a roadblock, not complain about it.
I know this one is touchy because most people think lowering the price means lowering the fees. You don’t have to approach it that way, you can solve production issues in ways that are cost effective. Simply choosing a different location to shoot can reduce costs or going through the estimate with clients, because one shot out of 5 is really through the roof on the budget. Explain that and maybe that shot is the least important so they drop it. Give the ideas and alternative solutions based on the brand and what they want to communicate. That is why they hired you.
Other solutions include: reducing your crew, doing without the motorhome, using real talent, shooting close to home, finding more local crew. If you have to travel with a big crew, costs really add up so you can negotiate group rates, stay in less expensive hotels to reduce them. Also, watch extras like overtime, shoot an extra shot or 2 a day or shoot gorilla style. Clients appreciate when you are looking out for the budget and it’s possible to reduce the budget without lowering your fees.
Many times things change once you get to the location and start shooting and I completely understand when clients come up with new ideas and want to change things at the last minute because I was an art director for 5 years before I started my photo business. If you do your pre-production before and everything is set you can adapt and make it happen. Sometimes this effects the cost of the shoot and sometimes I do not bill additional for it but not every decision I make is financial.
When clients ask me what I think or if I think something is headed the wrong direction on a project I tell them and give them my reasoning. They appreciate it as long is it is coming from an honest place and you are be constructive and not just complaining.
If you work with a staff and or a rep make sure they have the same integrity and honesty as you. This was the biggest decision for me in getting a rep and I have an awesome rep.
Being a true part of the creative process
Be a part of the creative process from the first phone call to the last, not just during the shoot. I have many clients now that involve me in initial concepting even if they do not know who the photographer will be yet. I get those jobs 95% of the time. I also have many clients that ask for feedback on the layouts after the shoot. I give my honest opinion.
I do not just shoot what clients ask me to shoot, I shoot it with my vision and my creativity. But, this is not about creating fine art, I am taking all the info I know about the brand and what they are trying to accomplish and then I apply my vision. At the end of they day the client appreciates it and understand my value as more than just a technical person that understand how to work all the fancy lights and equipment.
for those times when you just can’t make the budget work no matter what, or you don’t get the job, be gracious. I turned down several jobs last year for budget and schedule reasons. I always leave the door open for future work.
People are really responding to my vision
I think the slower economy has made clients re-evaluate all the excess over the last several years and want to get back to the basics. My style is more honest, direct and real feeling. That is just a suspicion of mine and not really justified by specific examples.
If you have nothing new to promote that you’ve shot for a client, promote yourself. Clients like to see what else you’re made of and chances are if you pour your heart into it you’ll ignite a new passion. Creative Directors, Art Directors and Art Buyers love talking about personal projects. I find these to be great conversation topics with clients I am working with or have worked with because they can feel your passion.
I have actually increased my marketing and advertising this year. I am religious about doing marketing and do it every work day I am not shooting.
If you have a rep remember it’s a partnership. They need you to participate in the process, they need new work to show. My rep also supports and understands my creative goals beyond the pure business side and I think that is invaluable for any creative.
Surround Yourself With Good People
I have a great producer/assistant on staff and it has really freed me up to focus on the bigger picture aspects of my business. She also has honesty and integrity in abundance. I never have to give a single thought to how she will interact and work with clients.