If you sometimes find yourself frustrated, confused, exhausted, or befuddled because of clients, you’re not alone. The gap between client and photographer seems to have grown over the years. Lots of fantastic image makers enter the profession and become dismayed at how difficult it is to create a sustainable business.
Most photographers begin making photographs for the love of the art. They acquire education to enhance their technique and build their skill set. And those two things, the love and the education, lead them to their clients, which allows them to create a business.
For most of us, the attraction to photography was powerful and offered an outward expression of inward creativity. I experienced this as a 12-year-old in a middle school photography class. The assignment was to use a roll of film so we could learn how to process and print it. While taking photos in a unkempt area of town I came across an old gentleman sitting on the porch of his one-room home. He allowed me to capture his image. I raced to the darkroom, where my teacher guided me through the printing process. My favorite part was seeing the image appear in the developer tray as if by magic. The words my teacher uttered are etched in my soul: “You have a gift.” I was instantly in love with this medium.
Shortly after falling in love, our game plan typically turns to creating more and better images. This stage might be referred to as filling the toolbox. Any fine craftsmen would agree that learning the tools of their trade is essential. There are so many resources to obtain that knowledge. My track started in middle school and went through a college degree. This was fundamental for me; although much of my success came after discovering PPA and the affiliate school programs, where I could study under a successful master.
For many of us, clients are an unintended consequence of the first two steps, love and education. We need people to photograph in order to support our passion. Somewhere along the way there was money being exchanged but without an understanding of value. I think this is where most of us end up creating work on speculation, hoping the people who see it will love what we do.
Break the Cycle
What if there was a way to stop the madness of using your love of art and education to create something you hope your clients will love? I suggest you hold tight to your love of photography and the tools you’ve cultivated and throw the rest out. Design a business where you are creating a product that solves a problem for the type of client you identify with—a product that when a client has a need they immediately think of you. One they can easily identify as yours and clearly describe to others.
What I’m suggesting is that we flip the script and start with the client in mind and the product they’re going to be looking for. When we do that, clients start commissioning us to solve their needs.
As photographers we can do work from one of two vantage points:
Which sounds better to you? Admittedly, speculation is sometimes part of the deal, especially in the beginning as you build your brand and reputation. But it should never be part of your long-term strategy. Start thinking in reverse. What is my client base looking for and how can I create a unique artistic experience that will lead them to commission work from me?
That’s where you want to be.
Gregory Daniel is the owner of Gregory Daniel Portrait Artist in Titusville, Florida.