10 Tips for Photography Business Growth

A portrait photographer for more than 38 years, Jeffrey Shaw, Cr.Photog., has seen just about every twist in the road to entrepreneurial success. After years of serving an affluent clientele, he transitioned to sharing his collected Awisdom as a business consultant, keynote speaker, and the author of the book “The Self Employed Life.”

Here, Shaw shares his top tips for business growth for photographers based on nearly four decades of practice. He categorizes these tips under four topics: customers, marketing, sales, and mindset.


Jeffrey Shaw
CUSTOMERS

1. Know your customers’ details. Record key details about your clients and bring them up during your interactions. Show that you understand them and are thinking about how to work with them on a higher level.

2. Don’t leave money on the table. What are the simple things you can do to increase sales or reengage good clients? Do you reach out to past clients regularly? If you don’t, you’re likely leaving money on the table. Consider your customer loyalty rate, which is the percentage of customers who come back to you. The higher your customer loyalty rate, the fewer new clients you need to attract every year. And since repeat customers tend to spend more money, you’re leaving money on the table by not reengaging them.   

MARKETING

3. Figure out your unique perspective. The way you stand out in a crowded field is by letting people know how you see things differently. Your perspective is yours alone, based on your outlook and past experiences, and it makes you distinctive. People will be drawn to you when they share or are intrigued by your unique perspective.

4. Treat your website like it’s a cocktail party. Make your site feel like it’s all about your customers. Display images and other content that relates to them. Help them feel welcome and understood, the way you would a guest at a cocktail party you’re hosting at your home. Do this before you start talking about yourself and how great you are.

5. Don’t rely on your images alone to sell you. Too many photographers treat their websites like an online portfolio. Images can stir emotions in your audience, but on their own, they won’t motivate people to hire you. Be sure to include supporting messages and defining statements that help potential clients conjure specific thoughts about the experience of being photographed by you and motivate them to take action. 

SALES

6. Know the prices of the things you most want to sell. If you want to sell 40x60 wall art but you have to look up the price when a client asks about it, you are signaling that you don’t sell many of that item. You should recall that price instantly, which implies to your client that you sell it all the time and that purchase is what’s expected when people book you.

When you realize the extent of the average expenses of your customers, you may also realize that you’re underpricing your offerings. What you consider a big expense may be a relatively modest amount for the people in your market. You could be stretching further and earning bigger sales.

7. Know your customers’ real discretionary income. In a service business, you are almost always serving people who are more affluent than you. That causes a problem when you project your sense of what’s expensive on your clients. To get past this and to put your prices in the right context, try to determine your customers’ real discretionary income. One way you can do this is by determining the average mortgage payment for the market you serve. Look at the average home price in the area. Assume that people are financing about 80 percent of the price of the home. Then take that amount, put it into an online amortization calculator, which will determine the mortgage payment. That payment amount gives you a good idea of how much people are comfortable spending every month without pain. Use that amount to put your pricing into context. When you realize the extent of the average expenses of your customers, you may also realize that you’re underpricing your offerings. What you consider a big expense may be a relatively modest amount for the people in your market. You could be stretching further and earning bigger sales.

MINDSET

8. Don’t waste your time trying to change the inevitable. The world changes, life changes. Better to change with it than try to fight forces you can’t stop. It’s wrong for people to download your images online. It’s annoying when people take cell phone pictures at an event you’re photographing. But you can’t stop them, so channel your energy into things you can control.

9. Focus on only doing what only you can do. What’s the best use of your time? What makes you the most money? Focus on those things and outsource the rest. When you apply that type of focus, your business becomes scalable.

10. Hire experts as you expect to be hired as an expert. Photographers tend to be DIYers. If you want to be seen as an expert in your field, then you need to train yourself to hire the experts in their fields to help you. Doing this helps you understand the process of hiring an expert and how to position yourself as an expert in your field.


THE EMOTIONAL JOURNEY

Purchasing photography involves an emotional journey. Photographers should consider what inspires their customers, then lean forward and engage with that journey. The inspiration isn’t just nice pictures. More often than not, it’s the combination of imagery and a shared philosophy.

When sharing their images, a lot of photographers neglect to share what people really want to know, which is why the work is important—both to them as a photographer and to their clients. Understanding and sharing your underlying philosophy helps people learn more about your values, your inspiration, and what unique perspective you bring to your photography. It makes your photography relatable.

“People need to be compelled emotionally before they will take action,” explains Shaw. “From that point, it should lead to a conversation about what you are hirable for.” This isn’t always obvious for photographers because they’re busy sharing a portfolio of images without the context of the services they provide. On the flip side, some photographers jump straight to telling people what they’re hirable for before those potential customers are emotionally hooked. In that case, they missed the vital connection and leapt straight to the pitch, which is considerably less effective.

This process demands that you establish yourself as an expert, which requires a shift in mindset from being a service provider to being an expert. The definition of an expert is knowing what people need without them asking for it. When you’re in the company of an expert, you feel calm and safe, and you open yourself to their guidance. That is the role that photographers should take on, says Shaw.

“I would like to see more photographers step up to an expert mindset and lead their clients by suggesting what they should be doing,” he says. “That means helping, guiding them with your expertise, exhibiting the appropriate assertiveness to lead your clients to a solution that will work best for them. No more sitting back, gritting your teeth, and silently knowing that the 24x30 is a better choice than an 8x10. Guide them with confidence to something that will work better. That is true service and that’s how you really take control of your business.”

Jeff Kent is editor-at-large.