When we hear the word ‘branding’ the first thing we think of are logos, Pantone numbers, and serif fonts. But it takes more than a beautiful website to create a brand that gets noticed and remembered.
If you want to build a successful, sustainable photography business that fits in with your lifestyle, instead of running you ragged, you have to understand the key elements that make up a memorable brand.
So, other than a website, what does branding involve exactly?
Let’s start with a definition of branding. Seth Godin sums it up perfectly:
“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.” -Seth Godin
It’s all about the value you can provide for your client. You don’t have to be a CPP or Master Photographer to pick up a camera and say you’re open for business. Just about anyone can say they’re a professional photographer and start charging accordingly, which is why building a strong brand is more important than ever in an overcrowded photography market.
Aside from having strong photography (and people) skills, your ability to create a solid brand that people can connect to (and want to spend their money on), will determine whether you stay in business for the long haul.
But how do I start building a solid brand?
There are three key elements that you MUST know inside out before you can start building your brand. They are:
What you do (services)
Who you do it for (clients)
How you do things differently to your competition (unique selling proposition).
Ideally, you should know your who/what/how inside and out, before you open for business, but it is still possible to turn things around even if you’re an established business. Understanding these three crucial elements, and the subtle changes you can make to things like your copy and the way you structure your pricing will help position you for success.
How do I decide who my perfect client is?
Start by doing your research. No doubt you’ve heard the term “demographics”. It’s how we group together particular types of markets based on common factors like gender, income, relationship status, and geographic location. This gives us a general picture of where our clients live, work, and play.
But demographics alone isn’t enough to get inside the head of our ideal client – which is where we need to be in order to craft a clear message that connects and gets them excited to work with us. Remember, photography is an emotional buy so, in order for your ideal client to make a connection with you, you have to understand their core values and beliefs.
In my online program, Brand Brilliantly, I show photographers how to position themselves strategically and attract clients they love to work with (you know, the ones that make work feel like fun!). We start by creating an ideal client profile or avatar. We give them a name, job, age, etc. and really dig into who this person is and what they value most when it comes to purchasing photography services.
One of the core values of my pet photography clients is that they value those who are like-minded and don’t judge them for their relationship with their pet.
Aren’t all clients good? Money is money after all…
No. All clients aren’t created equal. Some will work you to the bone and beg for a bargain if you let them. You’re in charge of YOUR business so you get to decide who you work with!
To help narrow down your ideal client conduct an audit of your past clients. If you’ve been in business a while, or even if it’s only been a hobby up to now, then you’ve no doubt got a reasonable size pool of people you’ve already worked with.
List the traits and characteristics of those you liked working with (and those you didn’t). This will give you a better understanding of who you want to work with and why.
How do I get my ideal clients to notice me?
Having clear, consistent messaging on everything you put out there via your website, social media platforms and emails will help build up the like, know, trust factor and allow you to connect on a deeper level with clients before they’ve ever met you. (Note: This also works to repel the kinds of clients you don’t want to work with – which is exactly what you’re after!)
In my own business, my USP, or unique selling proposition, is: “I’m an intimate photographer for babies with and without fur”. Sounds simple, right? That actually took a long time to craft, but it speaks directly to the type of client I want to draw in, while turning off the ones I don’t.
Only once you’ve honed in on your ideal client and crafted a message that resonates, can you then start to build a solid brand.
How do I become the right photographer for the right people?
You can’t (and shouldn’t try to) be everything to everyone. Get yourself known in the industry by first finding your niche and then putting all your energy into becoming the best. Being fantastic in one or a few specific areas of photography is always better than being a jack-of-all-trades – and that goes for any industry!
One of the best things about becoming known as an expert in your field is that you’ll be able to command higher rates. This has the added benefit of allowing you to do fewer sessions while earning more money.
I specialize in pet photography, so my clients want to work with me because I get incredible results and they are willing to pay more for my expertise. Making that distinction in my business has allowed me to go from shooting 100+ sessions per year to only shooting around 50 sessions while making (a LOT) more money.
What should I focus on to build a solid brand?
- Your photographic style: If you have something that sets you apart, everything trickles down from there: choose products that compliment your style.
- Product focus: your products should be a reflection of your photographic style and compliment the way you shoot.
- Studio environment: your studio, or the way you present yourself, should be a reflection of your personality and style – even if you don’t have a studio.
- The experience: this is such an important piece of your brand because it’s what gets clients talking about you (good or bad). In our industry, the customer service we provide is a huge aspect of how our business is perceived and valued by customers.
- Cohesive marketing identity: every piece of marketing you put out to the world must have a similar look and feel. Use the same colors, fonts, style elements in all marketing materials including website, social media, and anything associated with your studio or services.
There are literally thousands of photographers to choose from, so it isn’t enough to be great at what you do. If the photographer down the road is doing the same thing, for around the same prices, then people can only make their purchasing decisions based on intangible factors like trust and credibility. Of course, these things don’t happen overnight, they take time to build. You can start by explaining in your copy how you work and setting the expectation up front so there are no surprises.
How do I get clients to trust me before they meet me?
When we’re talking about our brand, it’s not just our business, we’re branding ourselves too. The best way to build trust is to share who you are on your website or social media.
That doesn’t mean sharing every little detail on your Facebook page, but keeping things real, and being authentic in everything you put out will make you more relatable and likable.
I’m a very private person, but I do share some fun facts about myself on my About Page and through social media, like my kids ‘helping’ me on shoots, or that time my little bro wore that crazy Christmas suit to a family dinner :)
Giving glimpses into who I am as a (real-life) person, allows people to connect with me on a personal level. If I only share my photographic accomplishments, talk about myself in the third person, and constantly bang on about how super passionate I am about photography, I’ll not only bore everyone silly, no one will be able to connect with me on an emotional level.
Remember, people want to work with other people (not businesses) so sharing sneak peeks and glimpses into your own life will help potential clients feel like they already know you. Just be careful not to over share – keep your underwear, marital woes, and political views, out of it!
How do I create a memorable client experience?
I’ve already mentioned that the client experience is a vital element for building a solid brand, but it’s so important to set you and your studio apart, that it deserves some more discussion.
The experience we provide for our clients is what gets them talking about us, referring us to their friends, and keeps them coming back as happy customers. Think about how you can go above and beyond to wow your clients. Maybe it’s as simple as answering your phone instead of letting it go to voicemail, or writing a handwritten note thanking them for their business. It may seem small, but it’s the small details that count the most.
Building a solid brand based on mutual respect and trust is no easy feat. It’s something that takes time, money, and planning. This is NOT something you can change overnight (and branding is not *just* a logo!)
If you want to build a career as a photographer and actually make a good living without burning out, or having to work a second job, then you need to focus on your branding, there’s no other way.
Spending the extra time in the startup phase of your business, or putting things on hold while you do a review of your existing brand, will mean you don’t ever have to hustle to get new clients or run endless promotions that only attracts price shoppers and deal seekers.
Have you got a solid brand for your photography business? Is your booking schedule waitlisted with people you can’t wait to work with? If you answered no then it could be time to review your branding so you can position yourself for success in a busy market.
At the end of the day, I want to have more fun at work and have the freedom to spend time with my young family without having to work crazy hours just to make ends meet. If that sounds good to you too, then I urge you to take the time to invest in yourself, your business, and start building your brilliant brand!