Growing and sustaining a photography business has never been for the faint of heart, but it is possible to do if you have an excellent, multi-faceted plan. I recently collaborated with Lancaster, PA based headshot photographer Richard Waine to compile a list of 20 steps photographers can take to get their phone ringing, and build a business that stands the test of time. These tips will be presented in four installments.
1. Website and SEO
Your website is either helping or hurting your business. If you neglect your site, it is costing you visibility and clients. If your site is confusing to navigate, loads slowly, and isn’t easy to use, people will click away almost immediately, as they have very little attention span and want to find what they need quickly and easily. Here are some things to consider:
Your website should feature your work in a clear, streamlined way. If you are a headshot photographer, for example, potential clients should not have to wade through multiple galleries of kids, engagement sessions, or sports photos to find samples of your headshots. If you shoot weddings, it should be easy for people to see wedding photos and understand that weddings are your area of expertise.
Although many photographers shoot a variety of genres, I believe that the “jack of all trades” model is a bad one. For one thing, it’s extremely difficult to become proficient at a specific style of photography if you are not laser focused on a genre. I have found that the best wedding photographers generally do not take newborn photos, and the greatest headshot photographers are probably not shooting real estate photos.
Now, there are clearly exceptions to this rule, and for those of you who work in multiple genres, your website still needs to be easy and clear for each potential client to navigate. So, if you shoot weddings, headshots, and engagement photos, make sure that each of these items is clearly marked and easy to access. Or, consider a separate site for each genre altogether.
Don’t upload every single photo you’ve ever taken. I’m always amazed by how many photos some photographers upload to their websites. There is no reason to have hundreds of engagement photos on your site, or hundreds of portraits, for example. Your website should be a testament to your very best work, and not a catch-all for whatever you most recently photographed. Avoid multiple images of the same subject, as this is not only unnecessary but signals to clients that you don’t have enough work to showcase, so you need to repeat the same people more than once. Overall, be extremely selective in what work you post.
Showcase diverse galleries that represent the population you serve. When people are shopping for photographers, it’s important that they can envision themselves as your client. Therefore, your site must be diverse when it comes to ethnicities, ages, genders, and body types. This not only makes it easier for people to see themselves as your subject, but it shows them that you have experience working with a diverse client base, and will know how to make them look their best.
Learn the basics of SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Even if you decide to hire an SEO specialist, it’s important that you understand the basics for yourself, as Google’s algorithms change regularly. People are highly impatient, and will click off of your site within a few seconds if they don’t see what they need. This is why, in addition to everything above, your homepage should have a clear call to action that makes it easy for people to book you. The most important part of your site is what visitors see “above the fold” (the part of your site that is first viewable). You must have a clear call to action, like “Get Pricing,” or “Book a Session,” above the fold. Give your visitors a reason to stay and scroll down by showing your best work right away, and employing text that grabs their attention.
Use Google’s Business Profile Manager (Formerly Google My Business). If you are not utilizing Google Business Profile Manager, it’s costing you exposure and ultimately business. The first step is to claim your business profile and add all of your information. Once it’s complete, it’s imperative to ask clients to write you reviews, as each review will help your search rankings. Rich has a QR code on a nicely printed card stock, which he presents to clients at the end of each session. When they scan the code, it takes them directly to his review page. This is an excellent way to get reviews, but be sure that they are not connected to your studio Wi-Fi when posting their review. I have had many clients tell me that they booked me based on my 5-star reviews, so don’t underestimate their importance.
You can also post updates about your business via your Google profile manager, and this is another way to help Google see you as an active member of your specific business community. Posting updates regularly is a great way to increase your local SEO.
2. Cold Calling and Emailing
Yes, it is annoying, and no one likes to do it. But cold calls or emails are a simple way to spread the word about your business. Often I will spend an hour sending out cold emails to local businesses offering my services as a headshot photographer. I am always surprised by how many people respond to these emails, and I have booked quite a few lucrative clients this way. I also connect with companies and individuals via LinkedIn, although I don’t directly solicit people via LinkedIn connection requests, and opt to send a friendly note saying that I want to connect with other professionals in my community. Remember, you might be the best photographer in your area, but if no one knows who you are, it really doesn’t matter. If your phone is not ringing, send out 100 emails today and see what happens.
3. Answer Calls, Emails, and Texts Right Away
It’s so simple to do, yet almost every week, I book a client who tells me that they called another photographer who never got back to them. One thing I’ve learned when it comes to headshot photography is that many people are looking to get their headshot done at the last minute. Often, this is because of a company press release or forthcoming newsletter/news article, and the clients themselves have very little notice that they need to submit a headshot. Answering your messages, in whatever form, immediately, is a simple and effective way to grow your business.
Additionally, make voice calls as much as possible. I prefer to speak with clients over the phone for many reasons. Even if I receive a text or email, I will follow up with a voice call if I can. Calling potential clients in a timely manner shows them that they are important to you. Also, it’s much easier to explain the benefits of what you do, how your process works, and why they should choose you, over the phone (in other words, your sales pitch). Another reason I prefer phone conversations is because it gives people a glimpse into my personality. Connecting with people on a personal level is one of the most important keys to growing a photography business, and it’s exponentially easier to do over the phone.
Once you’ve connected with someone, don’t forget to follow up. After your initial contact, it’s crucial to follow up with those who have inquired about your services. Some people like to shop around, and will contact many photographers before booking. Following up will show people that you are reliable, and care about their business. I like to follow up with potential clients using an email drip campaign, which sends a variety of emails that not only showcase my work, but address my clients’ specific needs and show them why I am the best solution for them.
4. Video Content
People much rather watch a short video than read a paragraph of text, so if you haven’t started yet, make 2022 the year you employ video content. I have video content on my homepage and also post regularly to my YouTube channel. The above video (created in collaboration with Pineapple Shirt Productions) is featured on my homepage just below the fold and provides clients with an overview of what a headshot session with me is like, making it easier for them to get to know me and see my space. I have had many clients tell me that they booked a session with me based on this video alone. The content on my YouTube channel is all photography based, but much broader in scope than headshots alone. I post gear reviews, business tips, BTS sessions, and anything else photo related that interests me and my subscribers. The beauty of this is that since Google owns YouTube, this content only helps my website rankings.
Perfection is the enemy of progress. I must have recorded and deleted my first YouTube video five times before finally just editing and posting something. I critiqued the lighting, my looks, my voice, the camera angle, the content, and just about everything else, but I just decided to finally post something. And I think that as I continue to post videos, each one gets a little better than the last. This is the best way to look at video content, especially if you are primarily a still photographer and the idea of recording and posting videos frightens you. Remember that everyone started somewhere, so make 2022 the year you begin to post video content.
5. Become the Best in Your Market
Even if you make it easy for a potential client to find your website, it doesn’t guarantee that they will book you. They need to know that you are the best in your market at what you do, and able to deliver consistently excellent results. Therefore, it’s imperative that your portfolio showcases top quality work that sets you apart from the crowd.
Embrace a growth mindset as a photographer. The more I learn about headshot and portrait photography, the more I realize how much I have to learn. One of my college music professors used to say, “there is no there,” meaning that there is always room to grow and improve, especially in a creative field. In order to continue to grow as an artist and business person, I regularly attend workshops, watch tutorials, and read books on photography, art, and business. In addition, I mentor one-on-one with photographers who create work that inspires me, in order to grow as a headshot and portrait artist.
Create work that inspires you and that you want to get paid for. Early in my headshot journey, I discovered the great Peter Hurley. His work spoke to me in a strong way, so I decided to join the Headshot Crew and learn Peter’s style. Later on, when I began to explore portraiture, no one’s work spoke to me as strongly as London-based photographer Ivan Weiss. So, I contacted Ivan and began learning from him via zoom lessons. As I began to refine my personal style (an ongoing process), I made sure the work on my site was representative of what I loved to create, and people began to seek me out and request photos similar to what I already enjoyed taking.
You must be confident to be successful in photography, but it’s crucial to remember that there is always something to learn, and someone who is better than you. I strive to be the best in my market, but always seek to improve myself and push the boundaries of what I accomplished in my last session and in my last quarter. Photographers who are stuck in their ways, and resist change, however, will ultimately lose in the long run, since people’s tastes and good business practices evolve over time, and we must be able to as well.
I hope you enjoyed part one of this four-part series. Stay tuned for the next installment.
Lead image by Illya Ovchar, used with permission.