36 ways to better your photography business today

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on August 16, 2011

in This is Business,This is Life

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Photography Business Vision Workout: Men’s Health, September 2011

Just as you strive to improve your artistic vision as a portrait photographer, you need to develop your business vision as a professional and business owner. Consider this, my Photography Business Vision Workout series, as us hitting the gym together for some much-needed exercise. With time and practice, you’ll learn to see business and marketing inspiration all around you, just as you see artistic inspiration in everyday scenes.

The September 2011 issue of Men’s Health magazine is on the shelves at your local bookstore and newsstand. Grab yourself a copy, and let’s thumb through all 190 pages together to see what nuggets of business wisdom we can glean!

Cover: First of all, check out the cover of this or just about any other magazine – see how Aussie actor Sam Worthington stands in front of the Men’s Health logo? It’s simple, requires just a little zoomed-in time with the lasso or extract tool in Photoshop, but it has a powerful and graphic effect to engage viewers. Consider this trick for a future marketing piece, or the best of your senior photography.

Cover: Your marketing pieces should always try to speak to what your target market wants or needs. What gets the biggest play on the cover of this issue? “Strong & Fit: See Results in Record Time” – is there any man who doesn’t want to be a walking example of these attributes, and quickly at that? Consider the same focus in your marketing. When you want to grab people’s attention, speak boldly to a subject they actually care about (hint: it’s not the size of your hard drive).

Cover: Note the repetition and focus on the word “Your” – Your Nutrition, Your Health, Your Fitness, Your Money. This is good – when you ‘talk’ to your clients via your marketing, speak to them, not around them. “John Smith Photography wants to help its clients to experience an enjoyable and fun photo shoot. Clients can expect glorious, life-changing, heart-rending artistic photos from their session with award-winning photographer John Smith…” does not engage readers what-so-ever. Don’t let the About page on your web site read like an good review of a bad art house film on Rotten Tomatoes.

Cover(s) : Note the cool factor of the reversed and upside down style guide. Slip a little something unexpected into your marketing pieces now and then, give people a reason to ‘flip over’ (interact) with your business card / web site / e-mail newsletter / Facebook page.

Pages 2, 3, 6, 7: We’ll just blow past the minimalist (and completely boring) car and shoe ads…

Page 8: I like this Holiday Inn Express ad. I’ve flipped through this magazine about three times now, and it catches my eye each time. What’s a secondary aspect of your photography business that might make an interesting subject to feature in your marketing? Photographers are always blasting their portraits, their end products, in their marketing – what about featuring your post-processing touch-up skills? Your great humor and talent at making clients laugh? Your extensive collection of props for baby shoots? Your access to beautiful, exclusive locations on private property? Your location Strobist lighting setup? Your buy-what-you-love pricing? Your digital image offerings? How do these features benefit your clients, how do they improve their experience and enjoyment through working with you? Instead of pimping the obvious, your end-result art, consider picking one piece to feature from within the puzzle that makes up your overall value offer.

Page 18, From The Editor: Men’s Health Editor David Zinczenko (what a name!) outlines five adjustments you can make in your life (or business) to find Your Big Break: 1. Attack the clichés; 2. Ask why; 3. Collaborate across borders; 4. Think big about something small; 5. Step outside yourself. Great advice, with specific examples of how the magazine has applied these adjustments to better itself over the years. Study the advice here, ask yourself how each nugget could apply to your own business, and as I’ll suggest at the end of this post, add the resultant ideas to your Brainstorms folder.

Page 18, The Tweet Life: “What Winners Knows – You can’t control everything. Sometimes giving up is the best way to achieve command over chaos.” I’ve written before about how you’re going to run into bad clients over the course of your professional photography career. Shake the haters off, and sure as hell don’t let them dictate your customer service policies – don’t treat all your good clients like criminals because of a few nincompoops.

I’m a fan of almost all the health tips in Men’s Health, but I won’t touch on them here. Just keep in mind: a sound mind and sound body are invaluable tools in growing as an artist and business owner – enough so that I highly suggest you spend as much time learning about and practicing good health and fitness as you do your photography. Happiness, the arguable goal of all this work, will increase commensurate.

Page 20, Our Advisory Board, 1. Stay in great shape: – Winning is motivational. If you’re struggling to “do what’s right” with an aspect of your photography business – practicing your art regularly, talking to potential clients, discussing co-op marketing campaigns with other business owners, reducing your post-processing time, turning around proofs quickly – accept where you are, and set a goal to improve by some small measure. If you’re only practicing your art on occasion, set a goal to practice every week. If it’s taking you seven days to turnaround proofs for clients, set a goal of six days. Achieve these, then improve by another measure. Within just a few months, you will have improved your business in tangible, important ways, which you and your clients will enjoy the benefits of for the rest of your photography career.

Page 22, Ask Men’s Health: Pay attention to “What’s the fastest way to eliminate a crick in my neck?” and “I often work late. What’s the best way for me to reboot mentally and finish strong?” These tips will be immediately useful after any marathon post-processing session in front of your computer. (Takeaway: escape your desk every 50 minutes for 10 minutes, indulge in a brisk walk and deep breathing. I set a timer on my iPhone for 50 minutes, then 10 minutes, then repeat for as long as I’m working in my office. With a sort-of deadline, you’ll find yourself working faster and with more focus. Efficiency is definitely a good thing when you have a wife, kids, and/or friends waiting for you.)

Page 34: I first saw this graphic informational juxtaposition in Sports Illustrated – feature a big number, then explain what that number means. It’s like Jeopardy, where you give the answer then make the viewer wonder what the question is. Slip this well-worn but effective visual trick into one of your future marketing pieces.

Page 37: If you ever do any marketing with the word “FREE” in it, I beg of you, don’t put a big ol’ asterisk right after – you just deflated any momentary intrigue your viewer may have felt. : market on your value, your personality, your customer experience, not your freebies.

Page 38, Wake Up A Winner: Just replace “athlete” with “photographer” and you have the exact same insomnia many artists face the night before a big photo shoot. My best tip: when you catch yourself losing sleep over tomorrow’s shoot, calmly promise yourself you’ll obsess over the details in the morning when your alarm goes off. Until then, you are absolved of any responsibility whatsoever.

If You Do Nothing Else, Do This – Page 40: Want a fun challenge? Write a page of marketing copy for your photography business in only 123 words. No photos, no fancy layout, just a small version of your logo at the end (perhaps a phone number and web address would be prudent). If you had to convince a potential client to book with you based on these 123 words alone, what would you say? Now purify down to 60 words. Then 30. Then 15. Then just 10. Call your local newspaper, and place a classifieds ad featuring these 10 words, your web address, and phone number. It’s a cheap and fun experiment, and likely the best, most effective classified ad you could ever place.

Page 42, The 2-minute Office Workout: I love ‘office workout’ tips. We photographers spend way too much time in front of our computers, and often suffer pains and problems because of it. Here, Men’s Health shares that two minutes with an inexpensive resistance band can relieve tension. Add this into your 10 minute every-hour break. Office Yoga is the absolute best method I’ve found to reenergize during a long day of photo processing and Reddit…I mean, research!

Page 46, Build Your Own Breakthrough: As always, you’ve got to Do the Work. Actor Sam Worthington shares wisdom learned as a hard-working bricklayer turned hard-working actor. The takeaway: work hard, and cherish the opportunity to do the work. That you’re reading this now says you hold enough talent and tools to become a successful professional photographer; be thankful for the opportunity before you.

Page 52, Your First-Date Playbook: First-date advice is almost always good advice for your first shoot with a new client. From what you wear, how you smell, where you take your client, to what you talk about – forethought and thoughtfulness will go a long way toward making a great impression. Outside our home studio is a sidewalk where my wife will write “Welcome, <insert client name here>!” in bright, bold chalk before a shoot. It’s the little things.

Page 56: That photo of a foil-wrapped brick sitting atop a grilling chicken has a ‘what the heck is this?’ effect on viewers. Add something quirky or irreverent to a future marketing piece and make your potential clients do a double take. Cultivate curiosity.

Page 59, bottom: I like the “Win This!” graphic with a photo of the prize. Try this graphic trick next time you run a contest.

Page 61: The old comparison chart isn’t a bad format for a marketing piece. If you’re feeling cocky and want to fire a shot across your competition’s bow, and you can back up your claims, use this format to highlight why your offerings are superior to an “unnamed but obvious” competitor. Just make sure your proclaimed advantages are benefits people actually care about. If you have a popular photographer in your market who has draconian customer service policies, this is where you want to highlight the differences between your business and theirs.

Page 64, Major League Muscle: Are you keeping your photography muscles trained, even during the ‘off season?’ You will multiply the rate at which you grow as an artist if you simply shoot more often. If you spend more time reading about photography than you do making photographs – practicing what you’ve learned – you’re out of balance. Pay attention to where you’re investing your time, and divvy it up evenly between learning (both photography and business), marketing, and shooting.

Page 68, Wet T-shirt Contest: Grognards act as though there’s only one respectable market or goal in the entire professional photography industry – boutique portraiture. Everything else, from their perspective, is ruining the industry, especially you. Just as this rundown of T-shirts for athletes shows, there’s a wide spectrum of clientele and options in any industry, from best bargain to best overall. And note, the best overall is not the most expensive option.

Page 68: Related to the above, look to the left side of the page; this is a great format for a marketing piece. “The Problem: … The Solution: … The Question: Are all photographers the same? …” Identify a specific, common problem clients have faced with other local photographers (especially the chain studios), then the solution you’ve created with your business.

Page 70: Great photography in this ad, beautiful dog. Strive to capture such variety in your own subjects, canine or otherwise, and watch your sales grow accordingly. Variety = sales.

If You Do Nothing Else, Do This – Page 71: Great layout and concept for an ad. Just replace the dog with one of your photo clients who has an interesting back-story (firefighter, military, police, volunteer, mom, dad, daycare Valentine’s Day king and queen, etc.). None of your clients are very interesting so far? Find someone who is, ask them to tell you their story, take notes, and photograph them. Don’t forget the model release. Tell stories, feature great people from within your community – in your marketing, on your blog, in your portfolio. “Bring out the extraordinary” in your subjects. You could put together a wonderful and buzzworthy marketing campaign with this idea alone. Ask your local community newspaper if they would be interested in running these photos as a weekly series in exchange for a byline: free, and exceptional, advertising.

Page 73, The iPad Hot Spots: I don’t know what else to say about the iPad – it’s the best, most engaging portfolio a photographer can carry. I use mine exclusively for presenting my portfolio and proofs to clients, and they eat it up with a spoon and a canary-eating grin. I picked up a first-gen 16 GB iPad for $300 used. As always, earn it before you spend it, but it’s one of the best investments you’ll make in your business.

Page 79, The Sportsman: Be thoughtful, but you don’t have to over-think your portraits. All you need is a prop and some backlighting (and perhaps a reflector or white wall behind you) for a book-cover-quality portrait of a young athlete.

Page 86, The Bulb, Three Ways: Beautiful layout. Do your price or product lists look this good? If you proof online, does your digital sales presentation look this attractive?

Page 89: Busting myths is a fun way to put a twist on your FAQ page or a marketing piece. Look back over some of the misconceptions your clients have expressed about getting professional portraits done, and do a myth-buster post for your blog, web site, and/or e-mail newsletter.

Page 94: The layout of this article reminds me of the great ‘Table of Contents’ pages Merlin Mann and Leo Babauta have on their blogs. Most photographers’ blogs are a waterfall of photos, marketing, how-to’s, event and sale announcements, studio news, and personal anecdotes. Be a good host and provide your clients a separate and obvious page on your web site which helps guide readers to the best of your blog; photo posts by category, your currently-active or pending events and sales, all of your educational how-to’s, etc. Don’t force your clients to read your blog in reverse chronological order to find what’s interesting to them. (I am remedying this fault on my own blog post haste!)

Page 112, Give Fear The Finger: Willpower. If you’re a human being, you’ve probably struggled with a lack of it. Probably today. Probably in the past hour. Especially for struggling photographers, this article will show you six roadblocks to progress and how to break through them. My tip: the best day to do the right thing was yesterday; the second best day is today. Don’t let negative self-talk stop you from doing something better today, that’s the easy way out and a poor excuse. Try. Fail. Try again. You’ll learn; you’ll get to where you want to be with time and persistence. Kaizen: small daily improvements lead to big changes over time.

Page 120, Tip No. 11: Listening really is proof that you care. With clients, as it is with significant others. Yes – even if you have to take notes. If you show your clients that you really were listening during that first phone call and during your shoot, you will enjoy the rewards in both sales and loyalty. Listen. Care. Take notes, on even the little things. Three years ago, my wife photographed the newborn baby girl of a client named Becca; last week, she photographed Becca’s second-born, and also remembered the first little girl’s name. Because of this one act of attentiveness, Becca posted to Facebook glowing praise for my wife, and recommended to all her friends that they come to Bandera for their baby and family photos. You can’t buy advertising that good.

Page 124, Upgrade Your Whole Life: Being in the startup phase of professional photography is wildly exciting, and it’s wildly easy to obsess over art and business and marketing and forget to live a life outside of your new adventure – at least until you exhaust yourself, emotionally and creatively. If you feel you’re in a rut or have hit a motivational wall, open up your magazine to this list of “little leaps of progress.” By letting your mind focus on something other than your business for a while, you’ll reboot your enthusiasm and refresh your creative spirit.

Page 136, Be a Better Buyer: Look at the statistics down the left side of this page to get an idea of how men think during the sales process. Especially take note of the following stats, and consider how they relate to professional photography: Percentage of men who studiously read reviews before buying (where are the testimonials on your web site?), number of men who say they make their family’s big-purchase decisions (are you asking that Mommy bring Daddy along for the proofing and sales session?), percentage of men who prefer making big purchases in-store rather than online (are your proofing in person or online?), number of online shoppers who’ve been suckered by limited-time offers (if you proof online, do your clients have a deadline to buy at best rates?), percentage of men who say shopping is almost always annoying (what are you doing to make your proofing/sales session more fun for male clients?).

Flipping this month’s Men’s Health to the backside Guide To Style, I won’t lie: I love good-looking clothes. I get lost in style guides like this. Besides taking inspiration from the photography here, consider offering similar style tips for your clients. Create a Style Guide similar to my Client Pre-shoot Cheat Sheet to share with your newly-booked clients.

Post a tip a week to your blog, and compile these tips into your style guide. If you have no good fashion sense, ask a friend who does to help you out. Great wardrobe can really make a photo shoot sing, so do yourself and your clients a favor by providing them the informational tools they need to look their best. Remember, you’re the expert – your clients trust you to guide them in the photo-making process. When your clients feel prepared, they’ll be more comfortable in front of the camera and throughout the shoot.

You can expand this series in your blog to also offer health and fitness tips. Talk with a local personal trainer and feature their advice on your site. Visit with a local nutritionist. Always add value to your clients’ lives. Help them lose weight, get fit, feel better, look great in great clothes, and your clients will go from appreciative photo buyers to unwavering zealots for your business.

If you’ve made it this far, bless your heart, your eyes must be exhausted. But congrats on making it through 190 pages of business and marketing inspiration with me!

Next Steps

  • This post is full to the brim with over 36 tips on how to improve your photography business, inspired by the contents of just one issue of Men’s Health magazine. Don’t be overwhelmed – just pick one or two tips that inspire you, and run with them. When you’ve exhausted the benefits of one tip, reach out and grab another. Doing any one thing is far and away better than doing nothing at all.
  • If you need a place to start, take action on this tip first: Scroll back up to the Page 40 tip, create that action-packed classified ad, and run it on Craigslist or in your local newspaper. It will cost next to nothing, and you could well score some great bookings with it.
  • Brainstorm session: Your mind is probably overflowing with ideas for your business right now. Just start writing things down, stream of consciousness; let it all flow out onto a notepad or into Notepad. Empty your mind onto the page. File this in your Brainstorms folder.
  • My writing at PartTimePhoto.com exists to serve your needs as an amateur photographer making the transition to paid professional. I appreciate and welcome your readership, and invite you to subscribe to my e-mail newsletter at the top of any page of this site.
  • If anything in this post has spoken to and inspired you, please comment below, drop me an e-mail, or call or text me at 830-688-1564 and let me know. I’d love to hear how you use the ideas here to better your part time photography business!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Craig Cislo August 17, 2011 at 11:20 am

Another GREAT and well written post! I have this months Men’s Health, and when I have time later – I am sitting down with it, and your blog. I am sure I will comment again after reading 🙂



Outlaw Photographer James Taylor August 17, 2011 at 8:40 pm

Thank you for your kind words Craig! I look forward to hearing your impressions, and what ideas you think might help your business. Thank you for your readership!


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