Is setting yourself apart from the competition really about taking the best photos, having the lowest prices, or using the latest camera gear? This is always on the minds of most photographic entrepreneurs. Whether you’re a full-time or part-time photographer, or seriously considering making a career in photography, you think differently when 100% of your income is derived from taking photos. Don’t get me wrong, we all love the latest camera gear; however, the real question is how can we set ourselves apart in this heavily saturated world of photography? Below are some quick tips for keeping yourself ahead of your competition.
Prospective Client Contact and Follow-Up
This tip has to be my all-time favorite. How often do you hear people say they contacted a business either by phone or email and no one got back to them until a week later, or not at all? Yep, it happens all the time! This is where you can take the upper hand. Every time I receive an inquiry, especially by email,
I respond within minutes if it’s during our normal business hours and I’m not with another client at that moment. Even if it’s after hours, I tend to get back to them the same day. I also follow up the next business day with a phone call to see if they received my information and if they have any immediate questions I can answer for them. Many think of it as bugging or soliciting the potential client; however, remember that they’re trying to reach you and appreciate your quick and personal response.
Is It Really About the Best Prices?
Offering clients the lowest rates never guarantees they will purchase your goods or services. Instead, offer them the best value. For wedding photography packages, add additional coverage, a couple extra album pages, an extra enlargement for the parents, or maybe even offer them thank-you cards for their guests. The point is to not worry about giving them the best or lowest price, but to add value with some type of low-cost product.
Create a Photographic Style that Stands Out
At a certain point, most photographers think creating the best photos will give them the upper hand over the competition. I’m all about educating yourself and learning the fundamentals of photography (lighting, posing, and retouching techniques) and new techniques to advance yourself to improve your craft, but it’s more important to create a style or a body of work that has a signature look. It could be images with high color saturation, or maybe a monochrome look. It could be your work has a more relaxed style of photography versus an elegant and formally posed approach. Whatever you do, keep it consistent. We all love our favorite Lightroom presets and Photoshop plug-ins, but don’t overdo it. When people click through your portfolio, do they see that you have a consistent style and look, or do they see that you’re trying out all of your favorite filters and each image has a different touch or effect? If the answer is filters and effects, that’s not good.
Create a series of images that look uniform so when prospective clients view your body of work they can quickly see your style.
How does your website look? More precisely, what message are you sending to prospective clients when they browse your website? For example, if you’re a portrait photographer, are you showing only a dozen family portraits and then the rest of your portfolio is a mixture of travel or street photography? If you’re a wedding photographer, the same thing applies. What message do consumers get when they look at your online portfolios? Do you come across as an expert in your field?
There are two points here: Display fewer images so you’re only showing your best work, and focus on the area of photography that you want to photograph. On my website, I concentrate on showing wedding photography and engagement portraits. Yes,
I love all of types of photography, but I want a prospective client to see me as an expert in my field and not a jack-of-all-trades. By simply applying this technique, it has helped me edge out other competitors who do it all.
I see many websites that look the same. How will you stand out if your website has the look and style of other photographers? Be different and look outside the photography world in other industries for inspiration. Ask yourself, “How can I make my website different than my competitors?”
Network in Person
This is an area that many of photographers shy away from or perhaps they’ve tried it once a year and gave up. Do you ever hear people say that others are successful because of who they know? Well, I’m here to tell you that without knowing people it’s hard to get the word out about how awesome you are. For example, as wedding photographers, we’re out networking with wedding planners, wedding venues, and other vendors that to-be brides and grooms visit. The competitive advantage here is that you’re unique and there’s a good chance that you will stand out by introducing yourself to new people. Your competitors are doing the same thing, so why shouldn’t you be there side by side to show what you have to offer.
On that same note, consistency is key. Every month, go to some type of meeting or mixer. It can be an open house for a new reception location, a florist having a grand opening, or the local wedding magazine having their annual event. Make sure you mingle, shake hands, and say hello because your competitors might stay away because they feel it’s a waste of time to meet and greet new faces.
Social Network Online
We just touched on the physical, in-person approach to getting noticed, so now let’s discuss the online method that most of us prefer to do. Our blogs were one of the main sources of online communication, but now we keep up with each other on a daily basis on Facebook and Instagram. It might seem like it’s not worth the effort you put in, but the question is, are there any immediate or long-term returns?
I add both my clients and the wedding vendors I want to work with to my Friends list. I don’t use my social networking sources for keeping up with friends. I mainly concentrate on my professional relationships, so the posts I make are related to that. After every event or photo session, I immediately post an image and tag the clients so that everyone on their network can see the image. Doing this the same day or the next day is the key, especially after a wedding. If you don’t do this, you’ll see all of the images the couple’s friends have posted before you, getting all the attention, even though their iPad or iPhone photos aren’t great. This is certainly nothing new, but how many of you are taking the time and doing it? One last tip: Make them a Facebook Timeline cover. I always email a collage of photos with my logo that they can use as their main Facebook Timeline cover.
Sell a Product
If you’re among those who only shoot and burn a photo session and are wondering why you can’t get top dollar for your time and talent, here’s why: Consumers like value, as we mentioned before. Sure, it sounds great to just take their photos, and the thought of them making their own prints even sounds better. Or does it?
How much can you charge and is that rate a good enough reason for them to hire you over your competitors? My solution is to sell prints, albums, and a product. You must first invest in sample albums, enlargements, and any other products you think will get people excited to hire you instead of the photographer who only wants to offer a $0.15 DVD with his or her images. You’re inspiring them with your beautiful images, and you’re educating them on how to display and share those images with family and friends.
My biggest sellers are albums. The current norm is to create hundreds of images during a session, but how are clients able to keep and show all of your amazing work when the only option in their mind is, “Can you burn them on a DVD for me?”
Finally, look and act professional. We’ve all heard the saying “dress for success.” Position yourself like the people you want to attract. First impressions are everything. I’m not suggesting you wear a suit, but keep in mind they’re comparing you to other photographers and you’re the one they will introduce to their families and friends at their once-in-a-lifetime event. Be kind and courteous to all and simply keep smiling.
This article originally published in Photoshop User magazine, January, 2015. All images by Frank Salas.