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If you are a wedding, portrait, pet or generalist photographer and have been wanting to make a change with your business, and/or add an additional lucrative revenue stream, you may have considered offering your photography services to companies and small businesses (e.g. ‘commercial photography’).
You may have even been approached by some of these businesses to do work for them.
It’s exciting to think about, because the pay is often many multiples more than what you can charge private clients for the same time investment, but it can also feel overwhelming just getting started due to the lack of information available.
The good news is in this article I go over some simple steps that will help you get started offering commercial photography to clients on a scale that’s unintimidating, manageable and scalable.
Ready to get started? Let’s do it.
SIT DOWN AND BRAINSTORM YOUR NICHE AND IDEAL CLIENT(S)
This is a step that sadly many photographers overlook, but it’s also the most important one.
- Who do you want to shoot for?
- What do you want to be shooting?
- What kinds of people do you want to be working with?
YOU get to make those decisions.
How to find your ‘people’:
- Pick up a stack of magazines and tear out the pages of the ads that really speak to you.
- Make a list of the businesses that are local to you that have a style similar to what you love in those ads.
Maybe it’s the soft light and pastels in a women’s fragrance ad that really resonates with you, and there is a flower shop in your town that has the same aesthetics.
Or you dig the grittiness and masculinity in a liquor ad, and there’s a bar down the street from you that has the same vibe.
Or your heart sings at the bright colors and joy in a children’s clothing ad. And there’s a kid’s activity center in your city that has a similar feel.
When you are excited about working for companies whose brand you really love, you will produce your best work, which will make them fall in love with your work too. When clients really connect with your work, they hire you again, and also refer you to other companies they know.
Loving what you do is a win-win for everyone involved. This is why it’s important to decide ahead of time what kind of work you are passionate about creating, and who you want to create it for.
When creating your target client list, make a list of:
- Brand vibe.
- Type of customer that kind of company attracts. (Parents, pet owners, athletes, etc.)
- Businesses in your area that fit within those styles & customers.
The reason why defining the brand vibe is important is because you will inevitably come upon (or get referred to!) other companies in the same brand vibe, and you’ll want to be open to shooting for them.
Plan to spend at least a few days on brainstorming your target customer, as this work will create the framework for your marketing plan.
DRAFT A MARKETING GAMEPLAN
Treat your commercial photography as a whole separate business. Ideally you want a separate marketing plan to go along with it.
List all of the strategies you intend to employ to acquire your first corporate/business clients, the costs of each strategy, timelines and any deadlines you have.
Include the list of businesses you came up with above, and spell out how you will contact each one.
This will be easier to do after you finish reading this article.
ACQUIRE PRICING & BIDDING SOFTWARE
It’s very hard to provide accurate pricing for image licenses (the rights-managed ‘leasing fee’ you charge to clients for use of your images), without using any kind of pricing database/program. Many new commercial photographers resort to asking others what they charge, and then pull a number out of the air, which is never a good strategy.
So having software that you can use as a tool when calculating licensing fees can be extremely helpful.
Similarly, it can be challenging to bid on an agency job without bidding software. You really need both in order to provide fair pricing and appear to be the professional photographer that you are.
The two types of software that the majority of commercial photographers use are BlinkBid, and FotoQuote/FotoBiz X by Cradoc Software.
You can also use Getty Images’ pricing calculator for comparison but those suggested numbers cover every conceivable scenario/client size and are often significantly more than most commercial clients would ever pay.
CREATE A PORTFOLIO
Ideally you’ll have a separate website with only your photography that you’ll use to target and appeal to commercial clients.
Keep the branding simple, and include only your logo and galleries of your very best work. Your five star shots. Think: cream-of-the-crop. Plan to retouch every photo to perfection before placing it in a gallery.
Don’t be afraid to feature your best photos as full-screen photos. (If you don’t know what your best photos are, place a handful in a post in a photography group and ask other people which one is best!)
And if you don’t feel a photo is a high enough quality to display full-screen, then it shouldn’t be in your commercial photography portfolio. The key is to really impress a potential client with the quality of your work.
After you have some jobs under your belt, you will also place your ‘client list’ (a list of companies you have shot for), on that portfolio website. I go over the client list later in this article.
PM YOUR CONTACTS AND ASK FOR REFERRALS
Think of which friends and family you could reach out to to help you pitch your commercial photography services to the companies they work for.
Maybe you decide to do a corporate headshot day, and you ask your friend or family for an ‘in’ with their marketing team.
Or you mention that you are doing product photography, and ask them if they know someone at their company you can contact to send you product you can photograph for your portfolio.
Take time to go through your friend’s list and see if any of them work at/for companies you’d love to work with.
Look at the relationships they have with other businesses in your community. Maybe they are friends with the owner of a local children’s boutique or pet store, and can send over a glowing referral.
A direct connection and ‘in’ is worth its weight in gold, and this can be valuable even if it’s not your ideal type of client (see #1 above), since the experience you are gaining is valuable all on it’s own.
Don’t be afraid to leverage the connections you already have when getting started in commercial photography.
In fact, it’s really the best thing you can do. If you build a career as a commercial photographer, that career will truly be built on connections.
DESIGN AND PRINT A MULTI-PAGE PROMO
If you want to work with bigger and more established local companies, you’ll probably need more than just a simple email sent to their marketing department.
That’s where a fancy printed promo comes into place.
Hire a designer to make a nice single or multiple page letter-sized high-quality printed promo filled with a handful of your very best photos, introducing yourself as a commercial photographer who admires their brand and would love to work with them.
Include all of your contact information and a link to where they can see more of your work.
Type a personalized letter to the company, explaining why you want to work with them (remembering how their brand resonates with you- see above), commenting on other campaigns they’ve done, and include your contact information. Keep the letter brief, friendly and direct.
You can decide to either include ‘rates start at’ or not, it’s up to you. There are risks in doing this and not doing this. Not including a simple starting rate may leave them assuming that they can’t afford you, when in reality they actually can.
Including rates may have them assume that you are too cheap or too expensive, when they aren’t getting the full picture of pricing for their own unique needs.
If you do decide to include ‘rates start at’ I recommend keeping it really simple, like ‘rates start at $850 for a full day shoot’, but don’t list inclusions or exclusions or mention licensing. And mention that rates are flexible and based on the the work involved in each project.
The goal when reaching out to potential commercial clients is really to get the conversation started, which is the hardest part. Once you are already talking to the company you can get into the details of rates.
Once you have the promo piece and letter, place them in a nice envelope and address it to the marketing department and mail it. (Even better is if you can find the marketing director’s name on LinkedIn.)
Sometimes you won’t hear back at all, and sometimes you won’t hear back for a long time, but this is par for the course. Do your best to follow up within ten days of mailing your letter, and don’t feel discouraged if you don’t hear back from them right away. I
I’ve had art buyers at ad agencies hold onto my contact info for years before reaching out, and I received a referral recently for a huge ad job from a client I shot for in 2008 and hadn’t spoken to since then, so you never know.
Although sending a printed promo piece + letter is a small act, you never know what great opportunities can come from this small (and doable) effort.
PITCH TO LOCAL BUSINESSES YOU ALREADY KNOW
Think of the businesses you already patronize. Are you a regular at any of the stores, bars, restaurants, shops, etc in your area?
Do you have an established relationship with employees, servers, managers, etc?
If you answered yes, then pitch them!
Front line workers can be some of your biggest advocates, so don’t be afraid to sell yourself to them.
It could be something as simple as casually throwing in a “hey, do you guys ever work with photographers?” to your conversation, and gauging their reaction.
Be sure to have a polished portfolio on your phone and/or iPad with you that you can use to show them a few examples of your work. (Note- a few, not a hundred. Be respectful of the fact that these people are working.)
Since you are already familiar with the business, you can reference things in their marketing, like “I noticed the spring signage you put up in your windows. It looks great! I have a similar/even better/amazing idea I’d love to run by you if you are interested in hearing it.”
Pitching a local business in person can feel intimidating, but if they already know you and like you, you’ve won over half the battle right there.
REACH OUT TO LOCAL ASSISTANTS, PRODUCERS, DIGITECHS AND OTHER CREW
When you start doing the bigger jobs, you’ll need a team of people to help you pull them off.
You need a producer to tackle all of the little details and bring everything together.
You need a digitech to ingest the images to a laptop so your art/creative director client can preview them on set.
You need awesome assistants who can predict your needs, adjust lighting settings, hand you lenses and be your extra arms you wish you had on every shoot.
Be sure to locate and contact these people before your first big job, so you have established relationships already in place when that big job comes down the pike.
You may also need one or more of these crew members for some of your smaller jobs as well.
Although your team may not necessarily help bring you new clients, having any kind of connection in the commercial photography world is valuable, as you never know who you’ll meet through knowing them.
ADD CLIENT NAMES TO YOUR CLIENT LIST
Add the name of each business you have shot for to your client list.
This goes a long way when it comes to building trust with new companies that you have never worked for before, especially if you are asking them to pay you a fair market value daily photography fee + licensing fees.
You don’t need to get fancy and include logos of your clients, the majority of commercial photographers usually just include a bulleted list of client names on their about page.
And don’t feel bad if most of the brands on your initial client list are unknowns. The key is just to show potential new clients that other companies trusted you enough to work with you. And that’s huge.
PITCH BIGGER COMPANIES
After you have solid experience shooting for small and local companies under your belt, and feel confident in:
- Your photography abilities in a variety of different (and potentially challenging) circumstances, with different talent in different locations.
- Your pricing.
- Your processes.
- Your contracts.
- Your team.
You are ready to start pitching bigger clients for better and higher-paying jobs.
All of the work you’ve done up until this point is to that end- to make more money and do more fulfilling work.
And what photographer doesn’t want more of both?
Hope you found this article helpful for getting started in commercial