After being in the photography business for one year now, the most important thing I’ve learned about achieving success is this: If you want a lot of business, you’ve got to do what others aren’t willing to do.
This flies in the face of what most people think makes a successful photographer, like having outstanding technical skills or owning amazing gear. While those certainly help, they’re not required. Things that are far more important however: knowing your worth, having the willingness to put yourself out there, and the ability to move past rejection.
Before I get into how I find clients for my business though, I want to talk briefly about the flawed mindset that prevents many photographers from building their business.
The paradox of shooting for free
Photographers are notorious for undercutting themselves. Not only will many of them charge less than they’re worth, but they’ll find reasons not to charge at all. A common rationalization that I hear which seems to be the industry standard: “If someone approaches me to do a shoot, I’ll charge them. But if I’m the one reaching out, I’ll do it for free.”
There are many cases where this might make sense, like if you’re trying to work with an established model who would be a great addition to your portfolio. But the reality is that many photographers aren’t exclusively contacting professional models. They’re reaching out to a wide variety of people whom they’d like to shoot with. And because they’d like to shoot with them, this is somehow justification for providing their services pro bono.
But here’s the problem: Where do you draw the line?
These same photographers complain that people don’t value their work — that they aren’t willing to pay their rate when they do decide to charge. Yet they continue to do shoots for free to gain “exposure”, only to attract more people who are only interested in free work. Where does it end?
This vicious cycle will continue forever if you allow it. But there is a way to put a stop to it and finally build the business you’ve always dreamed of.
If your close rate is 100%, you’re not pitching enough
Before Facebook and Google ads, the best way to get your product or service in front of people was by hitting up the customer directly. Remember door-to-door salesmen? The strategy was simple: Get in front of as many people as you can and one of them is bound to buy. And it worked, people used to make a living selling products by soliciting houses one by one.
When getting started with my business, I soon realized that other photographers didn’t have the guts to message people and ask if they were interested in paying for a photo session. But when I thought about it more, I realized just how much business they were missing out on. Think about it. Companies use commercials, direct mail, and online advertisements to get their products and services in front of customers. Why should photography be any different?
I decided that the best way to find clients who were willing to pay for my services was to simply adopt the old school door-to-door strategy and message people one by one on social media and ask. So I did. Imagine my delight when the first few people I messaged responded with an enthusiastic “I’d love to!” Lo and behold, it worked.
Of course, it didn’t take long before I was met with people who weren’t interested. There were plenty of “I don’t pay for shoots” or “I don’t have the money” kind of replies. But after a few of these, I realized something: if the worst I could expect from reaching out to prospective clients was mere disinterest, I had quite an effective marketing strategy. After all, it was costing me nothing to message these people.
This continues to work for me today. For every five people I ask, one person schedules a session with me. That’s a twenty percent close rate for something that takes literally just minutes to do. And the four people who aren’t interested? I wish them well and thank them for considering me anyway. Not everyone is meant to be your client.
For the past year, I’ve used this strategy to find clients for my business with fantastic results. Messaging just a few people a week on average, I’ve generated thousands of dollars of revenue that I otherwise wouldn’t have. Some might think this method is too mechanical or impersonal, but it’s not. I’m genuinely interested in shooting with every person that I contact, and they can sense that when they read my message. Reaching out to people like this has provided me income that I use to reinvest in my business so I can continue to learn and improve my craft while providing my clients with images they’ll treasure forever. Everybody wins.
If you’ve been struggling with building your photography business, ask yourself: how much is my work worth? You always have the option to shoot for free, but that doesn’t mean you should. Stop settling for less than you deserve. Recognize your worth and charge accordingly. Remember, the clients who respect and appreciate your art will be more than happy to pay you for it.