Are you working with the right kinds of clients? Are you doing the work you love? Or is your business stuck in a rut, dragged down by unappreciative clients and projects that don’t suit you?
These were questions facing wedding photographer Chip Dizárd when he took a hard look at his business a couple of years ago. “Looking through my portfolio, I realized that a lot of the people on the roster were not ideal for me,” he says. “It’s not about the money. It’s about how they make you feel. You want your customers, in a way, to be advocates for your success. I reconsidered the question Who are we really serving?”
Dizárd determined it was time to push the reset button on his business and refocus his efforts on finding his ideal clientele. In the process, he came across some fundamental truths that could be useful to any photographer looking to pivot to a new working model.
The process of pivoting to a new, refocused business can be outlined in four steps.
Bad clients will raise red flags; it’s up to you to spot those warnings. Two red flags that are fairly universal:
A key point to remember: Just because you routinely have a certain type of client doesn’t make them your ideal client.
Dizárd recommends a two-step process to building your ideal client profile:
Your referral base may not be sending you the right referrals because they haven’t been trained on how to refer you. This training can be as simple as a short statement: “If you had a good experience working with me, I’d really appreciate your referrals. The types of clients I’m looking to work with are ….”
It’s also helpful if your referrers know your starting rate. Even if you don’t want to publish all your prices, make sure the people referring you know your base pricing so they aren’t referring people who can’t afford your services.
Additionally, you can shape your referrals through the way you portray yourself on social media. Use your social channels to talk about what you like to do and who you like to work with. Provide that profile of your ideal client in the work you share and the stories you tell about your projects.
If you feel you’ve gotten pigeonholed in a specialty you don’t enjoy or that has clients who aren’t great for your business, then it may be time to pivot. If you go this route, you’ll need to make some wholesale changes. Change your portfolio. Change your messaging. Change your social media. Ultimately, change what you show, and show what you want to do.
Also, think about your messaging. In your social media and your marketing materials (including your website), talk about your passions. Talk about what you love to photograph and why. Make videos, reels, and other content that shows you working on your passion projects. Share behind-the-scenes interactions with your ideal clients on your ideal projects.
And ask for help. “People love to help people,” says Dizárd. “When you’re pivoting, ask for help from your community. The people who are close to you want to help you succeed. Tell them you’re making a pivot, and ask for help. You may be surprised at what comes your way. Sometimes we photographers don’t get business simply because we don’t ask.”
It’s hard to say no to paying clients, but sometimes it’s necessary. To screen out bad fits for your business or repair relationships that aren’t working well, try these suggestions:
Ultimately, says Dizárd, you should look for projects that fit three criteria:
Finding those projects and shifting your business to help you land them is a process. Keep working at it, and keep working on what you provide. “The key to getting out of the rut is to continue doing a volume of your preferred work,” says Dizárd. “That’s how you get better, not bitter. That’s also how you find people who become clients for life and who will help you build a sustainable business.”
Jeff Kent is editor-at-large.