As a wedding photographer, Abby Liga was accustomed to collaborating with a variety of small business owners and entrepreneurs. And as a commercial photographer, she routinely took assignments to photograph lifestyle images for agencies. One day those experiences coalesced into inspiration: It’s not just big companies with large advertising budgets that benefit from branding photography. Thus was born Liga’s new business niche.
Whether they know it or not, entrepreneurs and small- and medium-sized businesses need personal branding content. “The only way they can set themselves apart from their competition is by telling their story—what it is that makes them different from other people in the same industry,” says Winter Park, Florida-based Liga. She knew she could work with them to strategize how to tell that story on social media and their websites through photography, which she’d already been doing as part of her wedding cross-marketing with other small businesses.
In 2018, with Instagram gaining popularity among consumers and businesses, she told her husband: “I think this is the next big thing—branding photography.”
That year, as she wound down the wedding side of her business, Liga leveraged her 15 years of commercial photography experience and an online course to develop a business model for a new personal branding niche. Her aim was to write yearlong contracts to provide clients photography on a quarterly basis. The idea is to sit down with a client, map out the stories they’d like to tell over a year, and develop the visual strategy for their marketing calendar, Liga says.
When she meets with clients to address their visual storytelling needs, they discuss analytics and social media goals. What keywords or phrases are their target clients looking for? Which social media posts or blog posts have proved most popular and effective? What seasonal content is important for them? How often do they post, and how often would they like to post? Based on those discussions, she creates story session ideas to provide them with a library of photographic content they can draw from over the quarter. “The net is them posting consistently, and the imagery is cohesive,” Liga says.
She offers three packages:
She also offers single sessions for those who want to get a taste of her work or who need headshots or other professional images. Her ultimate goal is to have 10 to 12 contracted clients a year so she’s doing one shoot per month.
What’s great is that you’re still telling stories as you would for a wedding or advertising shoot, she says. “But you’re really allowing yourself to flex your creative muscles with these companies and you’re helping these companies get better. And ultimately, they are making more money,” she says, not to mention saving time.
Many small businesses don’t know where to begin with personal branding and social media photos, so Liga takes on the role of visual brand strategist for them, which saves the client stress.
Liga’s client list includes diverse small-business people who are typically looking to better connect with clients and demonstrate a personal commitment to their community:
Need: Connect on a more personal level with clients and show her community involvement and personal interests.
Solution: Liga did two story sessions. She photographed the client in various historic spots in the local area—“fun photos of her laughing, some looking away from the camera,” she explains. Then she photographed the client engaging in her favorite activity: running. “It has nothing to do with dentistry, but the point is the commonality with your clients. So they think, I run that same trail,” Liga says.
Client: Interior design firm
Need: Show the three designers happily at work and enjoying their community.
Solution: Liga provided three story sessions. First, she photographed them at a beloved coffee shop in their town as they went over notes, discussed projects, and enjoyed this aspect of their community. Second, she photographed them in a retail store sourcing for a client. Third, she photographed the trio in a client’s home, styling, organizing, and adjusting furnishings.
Need: The client had acquired the candle business from a prior owner with a strong social media following. She was concerned about retaining followers in the transition and wanted to make sure her social media conveyed her love for the brand.
Solution: Liga did two story sessions: One was simply product photos. For the other, she made portraits of the client with her candles, including some photos of the candlemaking setup in her dining room, “really showing her respect and love for the brand,” Liga explains.
Client: Financial advisor
Need: The client’s family owns a wealth management company, an industry that’s perceived as buttoned-up and corporate. The client wanted a library of photos showing her softer side as a mom and philanthropist.
Solution: Liga provided three story sessions. The first was a session with her kids where Liga photographed them cooking and getting ready for the day. The purpose was to show her balancing work and family with a bit of relatable chaos. The second session showed her engaged in the community, so she photographed the client at a local boutique spotlighting various outfits. The final session focused on the client’s philanthropic endeavors with Easterseals and featured her reading to children.
Client: Orlando Regional Realtor Association
Need: Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the association wasn’t able to reward its Top 20 Realtors Under 40 winners with the usual awards ceremony dinner. Instead, Liga was hired to do personal branding photo shoots with each of the award recipients.
Solution: Liga conducted a two-day mini branding shoot in a local mansion that included hair and makeup and a video interview. “They were so happy and thankful to receive this rather than a plaque and a dinner,” she says, telling her they were excited to use these photos for their Instagram accounts. Liga also set up phone consultations with a couple of the realtors who were interested in producing further branding photos.
Since the personal branding photography niche is new, the biggest challenge Liga has faced is explaining its value to potential clients. “The first year to year and a half I was educating people on what it is, why you need it, and what the benefits are,” she says. It can be challenging to convince someone like a dentist or a financial advisor that personal branding could enhance their business. But it absolutely can.
“It’s really blending the personal with business,” she says, something some business owners aren’t initially comfortable with. They may not see the value of showing that human side. But in constantly talking and posting about the power of personal branding, Liga has been able to make a convincing argument. “Once the conversation starts, they get on board pretty quickly.”
Amanda Arnold is associate editor of Professional Photographer.