A few years ago I decided to go from being an “Amateur” to being a “Pro” with my photography. Alot has changed from when I took my first photography classes in the early 80’s but some things have stayed the same. I learned about David Hobby and the whole “strobist” movement. I learned about flash, overpowering daylight, composition, posing, the business of photography and more recently, selling.
Selling? selling what you ask? Isn’t that the same as the photography business? Not so much as it turns out. To be a professional photographer is as much or more about selling than it is your images. Sounds a bit off doesn’t it? I mean images are my stock in trade, it’s how people judge me, right? Not exactly as it turns out. When you are trying to sell a wedding for example, you are selling something of a dream to the bride. She wants her day captured in the best possibly light and in a style that she likes. But what she does not understand or at least most dont, is that she is also judging you, the photographer. How well you relate to her, how well you two can talk and laugh and most importantly, how much she trusts you in order to pay a fair amount of money for something she wont see till after the wedding is over and the guests have gone home.
Yes, you are selling yourself to her and to every other customer you meet. How you present yourself and your craft will have more of an impact on your business than how much cool equipment you have or even how your pictures look. This selling of yourself is not just your clothes or how you talk either, it is where you meet and how the overall package of “you” is presented.
Let me share a story about something I saw just the other day. I’m in a Starbucks on my way to an OpLove shoot and I see a young woman looking at wedding pictures by herself at the next table over. The whole situation caught my eye and I placed a bet with myself if she was meeting someone there. About 10 minutes later, here comes the photographer who apologized right off the bat for being late as he pulls out sample albums and they start talking.
So what is wrong with this? I mean there are alot of photographers who use Starbucks as a cheap office space. They have coffee, wireless and tables. It’s also not your home with the kids, the dog, the cat and so on, sounds perfect right?
Not so much for really getting that sale or even the best type of sale. Let me explain a few things here.
- First the photographer was late, that is one of the worst things to do with a potential client. It will leave a lasting impression that says you are somewhat unreliable.
- Meeting at Starbucks with loud music playing so you have to yell over the sound is not professional at all, not even in the slightest. In this story, the added joke for me was the song that was playing, Mr Mojo Rising was playing as the bride started to look at albums. What kind of comfort level does she have looking at your albums? Remember, your photographs push emotional buttons and that emotion is what will sell your images. If the emotion is overwhelmed by a desire to get the hell out of the Starbucks, then you are not going to sell nearly what you could.
- What is this client going to tell her friends about you, the photographer? that you are not really a professional because she had to meet you in a Starbucks? I know of people that can make their business work this way but I really wonder if they are having to work even harder than they should be to overcome the presentation of meeting in a noisy, crowded public store front to conduct your business?
- I know of several high end wedding photographers that meet in their house or they own/rent a house that they use for a studio. Why? because it works people!! Selling a 10,000 dollar wedding is not going to happen in Starbucks or Dennys but it will happen in the studio with good light, quiet music, someone being attentive to the customer and the customer feeling very comfortable. Ever wonder why the Mercedes dealer is more like walking into a fine house than the Chevy dealer with the tile floor and the tasteless cubicles? Now if you like booking 800 dollar weddings, do what you like but if you want to really book the good stuff, start raising the bar for yourself and really think about how you want to present yourself and your craft. I know of another photographer who can not afford a studio yet but rents one that has a very nice area to present the albums, videos and slide shows. Why? because it makes his upselling alot easier. He rents for a block of time and runs one or two clients through it during the rental time. It’s a lot of work but it pays off for him.
- Read!!! Read about selling and marketing. I’m doing this now and I really feel that I should have done it three years ago before I upgraded any equipment I had. Get a copy or the audio book by Seth Godin called Purple Cow, New Edition: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable. Another really good book on marketing is by Robert Provencher and called Exposed: The Naked Uncensored Truth to Running A Successful Photography Business. There are more, many more but these two I have found to be very helpful.
With all this said, do I have studio space? Not yet, I’m looking around at commercial sites right now and have been for a month or so now. I do rent space when I need it and Robert Provencher made a point about leveraging what you DO have and not whining about about what you DONT have, in this case, professional space. I do have a house and I do have toys everywhere but he had some interesting things to say about marketing something I thought of as a liability and flipping it to be an asset. When I need to sell right now, I try to meet at the clients house where they are the most comfortable and so far it works. What I will not do is to meet a client at Starbucks and try to sell high quality photography in that type of environment. It’s not the way I want to sell, it is not how I want to be known and I do not want my art presented in that fashion.
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