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Start-up Advice for New Photographers: Competing For Business & Wowing Clients!

Updated on April 6, 2017
JohnPLyons profile image

John has been a professional social and commercial photographer since 2004. He's also a Qualified Business Mentor. He's a "Brain For Hire."

Perhaps you want to be a Wedding Photographer?

Displaying non-standard/fun wedding shots will get your business noticed and remembered.
Displaying non-standard/fun wedding shots will get your business noticed and remembered. | Source

What I'm going to be covering here:

I assume you're starting out as a Family and Wedding Photographer, wanting members of the general public as your clients. I assume you don't know how to find these people, convert them to clients and then persuade them to bring you even more clients, for little effort or cost to your business. Read on. This article is specially for you.

In a nutshell, the important areas we'll be looking at are:

  • Know - Like - Trust
  • High Powered Conversion Portfolios (Family & Wedding)
  • Who is your Client? Creating a Wow-Factor!
  • The Client Multiplication System
  • Summarised To Move Forward, Thrive and Enjoy!

"People Buy People, Before Products or Services."

The phrase above is a common mantra of business, relating to the psychology of selling. It's a catchy little phrase to print out and keep above your work desk. It keeps your mind focussed on the fact that your business is entirely dependant upon serving people and that we all prefer to work with people we like to be with.

Few people have a permanently cheerful personality. We all get tired and irritable at times. However, when you are dealing with clients, or people you want to become your clients, you have to be the nicest person they have met that day. It may be that you have to consciously create a pleasant, client-centric personality for that time with them and though it may feel false to you, so long as they enjoy your company it is an effort which will eventually benefit your bank balance.

Not only do you have to be cheerful but you also have to dress and act like a healthy, happy and professional person. What you wear will be denoted by the business community where you live. One area might require a shirt and tie, whilst another will be comfortable in smart-casual. Whatever you wear ensure it is clean and tidy. You never want to blend in to a crowd. You are a creative and as such, want to stand out from a crowd. This is worth remembering. You are your own brand. Constantly sell yourself, you never know who else is watching or listening.

It actually helps to appear quite wealthy. The general public feel more confident with a businessman who looks successful. I always try to wear nice clean shoes, a good belt and cuff-links. I'm constantly surprised by how many of my clients notice and comment with positivity about what I'm wearing.

As a photographer of people it was said to me early in my career that I will sell myself to women but the men in their lives will pay for my services. I have noticed this to be true in many, many cases. This further strengthens my resolve to appear "well turned out" to the women I interact with and sell to. Women, more than men, notice the small details of a person's dress and as a salesperson you can play this to your advantage.

Nowadays, relatively few photographers can afford the luxurious space of a High Street studio or Office space, especially when just starting out and money is tightly controlled. You will be conducting most of your business, selling and even photographing inside the personal living space of your potential clients. If you can make it such that they look forward to your coming, then you will find it far easier to convert them to paying clients.

Thus how you dress, the clean car you arrive in, how you smile and chat easily are all really important features to work on as you get used to working around people. People who are liked are talked about and when people talk about you it's all free advertising. Encourage people to talk to their friends about you.

Here is another "Business Mantra" for you to inwardly digest. It is vital that the people you meet quickly come to Know, Like and Trust you as this is the fastest way for you to get them to pay you money.

In this section I've shown the importance of being liked and known, now I move on to how you can rapidly establish a sense of "Trust" in your prospective client.

Portfolio Conversion Power

Before being able to trade as a photographer and charge fees for your skills, you have to be able to show you are capable of producing fantastic work. You have to be able to show a selection of your best images, that absolutely prove to potential clients that you are an amazing photographer, you know what you're doing and that they may totally reply on you as a photographer.

Re-read that paragraph above. Do you believe that you are a "fantastic" and "amazing" photographer? When you want somebody to pay for your services you have to totally believe in yourself. If you are unsure about your capabilities, it will show in your body language and you risk putting-off your client. You've put a lot of effort in to being "known" and "liked", now believe in yourself and command their "trust"!

The pictures you show now are the "conversion factor" between when you're just chatting with a member of the general public, to that time when they want you to be their photographer. The deciding factor should NEVER be controlled by your price. (More on this below)

Always Convert your Clients on your "QUALITY" (never price!)

In the past a photographer's portfolio would have been an expensive bound album of high quality printed pictures to show to potential clients but nowadays it is quite acceptable to have an online gallery of pictures to show via the internet, a slide-show on YouTube, pictures to show on a tablet or even just on the screen of a smart-phone. Generally, the larger the picture available to view, the greater the impact on the person viewing it.

Making Your Family Portrait Portfolio

When you are showing your portfolio to prospective clients you are showing them what you can do. Ideally you want to be showing them pictures of previous clients. But since you're just starting-up, you don't have any previous clients to show.

Thus, until you "do" have real clients to show you need to create realistically looking pictures to show. These pictures needs to be of a similar style and subject matter to the pictures you want to create for your clients.

Perhaps you have photographs of your own family or the families of your friends that you could use? Always seek the permission of the people in the pictures first. Although this is a courtesy on your part, you can find that people will be proud to be involved in the creation of a first portfolio and will talk about you at length. When you're just starting out you want as many people as possible talking about you, showing off your pictures and saying great things about your photography without having to pay anything for all the free advertising you're getting.

With non-creative businesses it would be normal to buy "stock" photographs to use to market a business. This is hugely frowned upon in the photographic industry, as we should be capable of creating these for ourselves, this is the nature of our business. If we use pictures supplied by a third party, our potential clients could think we were being less than honest, if they were to discover what had been done.

I have seen photographers use stock images in their portfolios and on websites that they did not create and have observed the negative impact on their businesses later as a result of it. Please don't do this as an "easy option". It could easily damage your business reputation, when you are just starting out and only want good things said about you locally and online.

Wishing to maximise the exposure of your pictures and message, maybe consider using free software to create a simple slideshow and upload it to YouTube. Remember YouTube is a powerful search engine and you should be getting your work on to as many search engines as possible as you start to get clients. Linked below is a short sample portfolio of my family and portrait work that I put together yesterday, just to show how simple it can be. Any video portfolio should be between 15-90 seconds long. Longer than this and you risk boring your viewers.

Sample YouTube Family Portrait Portfolio (as described above)

What NOT to include in a Family Portrait Portfolio

This is as important as what you put into your portfolio.

The people who buy family and portrait photography "tend" to be middle/high income, stable families and can be conservative in their social outlook. If you are serious about making money from this population group do not show anything in your portfolio that may take you out of their social norm. Although it is quite normal for photographers to enjoy photographing beautiful women for fashion and beauty photography, this style might be considered too sexualised for the population group you are targeting. Be careful not to show too much flesh in your portfolio.

In the course of time you may develop different portfolios and brands to target different population groups. However, for this article I'm suggesting you keep to Family, Portraits & Weddings to start a client base and income stream, as this is a well practiced business model.

As an example of a mistake I made, when I first started. I enjoy creating fine-art photographs of pregnancy and showed these images on the same website as I advertised for Weddings and Family work...the enquiries for my services fell off dramatically until I removed the pregnancy photography and all reference to it. Be warned! Your clients may not be as broad-minded as you are. Learn to think as they do. Service their needs to be successful, not yours!

Still awake? How about a bit of Market Research?

What Make is your Camera?

See results

Creating a Wedding Portfolio - without a Wedding Client

This requires a bit more imagination to achieve than the family portfolio. There are a couple of ways that come to mind:

  1. If you are a guest at a wedding where other guests are snapping photographs, as well as the official photographer, you may be able to take some photographs of your own at this time. However, you must NOT stand behind the official photographer, shooting over his shoulder. Depending on where you are in the world, he may own the rights to photographs taken, where he has used his skill and expertise to pose the people appearing in the picture. At a wedding of this nature you may get a small number of good photographs. I would always advise asking the permission of the organisers of the wedding before doing this and showing them any resulting pictures afterwards whilst asking their permission to use them in your portfolio. It is always a good idea to give them copies of the pictures for free, as a thank you for inviting you to the wedding.
  2. Ask another professional photographer if you can assist them at a wedding in order to get experience and some pictures for your own wedding photography portfolio. You may have to pay the photographer to do this, as they would be providing you with a Training Opportunity to witness them in action at the same time as you are helping them. You may have to give them copies of all your pictures too. Please consider a local photographer could find your enquiry quite threatening to their own photographic livelihood and they may not be keen to help you. I did do this when I first started out and approached a well established photographer who lived over 100 miles away from me, in the knowledge that I would not pose a commercial threat to his business if I were to start-up as a wedding photographer after shooting with him. I have also accepted and trained assistants wanting the same from me in latter years.

Wedding Photography - Capture Emotions & Love

In any wedding the Bride has to be the primary focus of the photography.
In any wedding the Bride has to be the primary focus of the photography. | Source

Who is Your Client? What are You Worth to Them?

I'm going to write down here who "my" client was for a typical family photoshoot (mom, dad, 2-3 children). Look at how I'd thought about this and whittled down the information, can you see the value of this information to my business?

"Most of my clients were business owners. Business owners are used to making decisions involving large sums of money. They understand the value of products and services, rather than just seeing the cost of production. As company directors/owners they have a higher income than the general public and more cash-to-spend on luxury items. They are generally more educated and polite in company, as are their children, which makes them easier people to work with in a photo-shoot. Business leaders are used to being creative in their own businesses and thus enjoy doing whacky things in shoots. Business owners are usually quite forgiving when occasionally things go wrong."


Most photographers in my area sold a photoshoot for up to $90 (many charged a lot less than this) then digital images on top of this, or some small prints. For a couple of hours work they took $200-300. To make good money they needed to be shooting many clients per week.

I charged $150 for the shoot (payable in advance). I didn't sell any digital downloads, these were my negatives and I kept hold of them. I sold large framed, unique wall-art to decorate my clients' houses and offices. A framed picture "started" from $1000. Only after they had committed to buy a large picture would I offer to sell them small, desk-top framed pictures for $250 each.

With my method of working, I didn't need to work a lot of hours in the week to create a good income for the business. My profit margin was high but the "perceived value" I gave my clients was also high and comparably much greater than my local competition. By charging proportionally more than my neighbours, I selected for the higher-spending client base.

I also established something of a reputation for "quality" and had clients travelling great distances to come to me for photography. I had one client come from Canada to the UK for me to photograph her! Does it not interest you, that the only people who thought of me as "expensive" were the very people I intentionally didn't want as clients.

Clients who pay very little for a service "tend" to complain more than those who may more for the same service. No business enjoys clients who are difficult to manage or who complain.

When you're first trading it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking you have to charge less than your local competition to get the business. This is a mistake! no client, of any worth, decides whether to hire you or not on your cost but on the quality of your service and how nice a person you are. Look around at the famous, celebrity photographers...they are all generally known as being nice people to work with and they are all hugely expensive!

If you ever doubt your relative worth, look at the cars your clients are driving and ask how often they change it (in the chit-chat before a shoot). This is a way by which you can assess their relative wealth and how often they spend significant sums of money.

How To Pose Children

Source

My "Client Multiplication System"

You have astounding portfolios, people talking about you (only saying good things),a magnetic personality with highly polished shoes, a confident pricing structure and an identified group of people you want to deal with as clients. Without doubt you will get a first client or two. Don't doubt it, with constant positivity it will happen.

Then you are going to have done exactly what they wanted and they will be very happy to pay you. At the moment they are paying you...

  1. Give them your pre-prepared "testimonial" book and a pen (preferably to the woman, as women use more emotive language) and ask them to sit and write good things about this shoot experience. Note: they may not have even got the finished pictures at this stage but still ask. People usually have a greater emotional reaction during the shoot and when seeing the proofs, than when receiving their finished products.
  2. Ask their permission to use their words of testimonial online in your portfolios
  3. Ask them to write down the names, addresses and phone numbers of 3 of their friends or relatives that they think would enjoy the same photo experience that they have just had. Ask if these people have children, what are their ages etc. Take an active interest in these people. Never act as if these people are just the next catch for your charms, on the way to your bank balance.
  4. Write a letter to these people, stating that their named friends have just been photographed by you and that these friends think you might enjoy the same. There are various ways of drafting letters of this nature.
  5. Thanks your clients profusely for their help and tell them you really value all the help you can get.
  6. Print out an EXTRA print and give it to them in a frame, when you deliver the products they have paid for (remember, your pictures are expensive to buy, thus your client has a high perceived value for this "thank you" gift)
  7. NEVER give a discount....ALWAYS give something EXTRA and unexpected i.e. always "exceed their expectations"...people talk about this! (cover the cost of this extra in your pricing policy)
  8. K.I.T.E. (Keep In Touch Evermore) with these clients. Send them a Xmas card, birthday cards etc. Keeping-in-touch means keeping in the forefront on their minds such that if, one day, somebody asks for their help to find a good photographer...yours is the only name they think of. Plus, if they have another child, they automatically think of you to photograph it.

Work the system above for EVERY person you photograph (whether or not they buy additional products from you) and your business should grow. Even though I have moved out of an area, I still keep in touch with my old clients because I don't know who they know, or who they will talk to about me. These people continue to generate interest in my business even though I no longer advertise my services.

Wedding Groups are Great New-Client Generators

Although the Bride & Groom may be your clients, remember each of their guests could be your NEXT client. Treat them all with great respect.
Although the Bride & Groom may be your clients, remember each of their guests could be your NEXT client. Treat them all with great respect. | Source

To Summarise:

  • Be your Client's Best Friend
  • Create "Wow Factor!" with your Portfolios
  • Spread your Great Photos on YouTube & Social Media
  • Get People Talking about you, saying Great Things
  • Identify who your Best Client could be and Sell to them, don't just sell to "anybody"
  • Have a High Self-Worth
  • Create High Perceived Value in your Products and Services
  • ALWAYS Exceed Expectations
  • Ask for Testimonials and Referrals to more New Clients
  • Keep-In-Touch-Evermore (KITE)
  • Grow your Business & Enjoy the Life your Success Brings!

© 2017 John Lyons

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    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 4 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for this in-depth lesson on the various aspects of wedding photography. Forward to my son.