How do people know you’re a professional photographer?

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on October 28, 2014

in This is Business

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“In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.” Ecclesiastes 11:6, The King James Bible

“Er’ry day I’m hust-a-lin'” – Rick Ross

If you’re not getting any business, it may well be because nobody knows you’re a photographer.

[Geez, it’s the little things that get us sometimes, right?]

Okay, your mom knows, a few Facebook friends have seen your announcement about going pro, but shaking hands with someone at the PTO meeting, or stepping past someone on the sidewalk – how do they know you’re a professional photographer?

We all fall into the passive marketing trap: “I’m just going to quietly hang my shingle over here and see who wants to book.”

We feel safer this way, as though each booking is a pleasant surprise.

But with the competition the digital age has brought, getting those first (and continuing) paid shoots is a hustler’s game.

You’re gonna have to work for it.

Let me focus here on just the “How would they know?” question.

When it comes to marketing, you never know what will work at all, much less work best (if you did, you’d be busy counting your money instead of reading this) – you truly never know which seeds will grow.

I’m a fan of planting lots and lots of seeds.

When someone calls or e-mails to book, you want them to say, “I see you everywhere!”

Not you personally (though there’s some of that)…

Your art. Your name. Your business. Your brand.

When people see you on the street, how do they know you’re a professional photographer?

Does your clothing tell them? Do you have an embroidered shirt or hat? A nice magnetic name tag? A lanyard with your business card, photographer credentials, or press pass (from your freelance work for the local paper)?

Are you carrying your camera? Not your smartphone, not your point and shoot – I mean the big one that says, “I’m serious about my art.” (if you’re still sporting the P&S or even smartphone camera, no disrespect – you know I believe like Chase Jarvis the best camera is the one you have with you – if you’re sans-dSLR, work what’cha got; be seen taking interesting photos, no matter what you use to capture them)

Are you being seen taking photos? Have you considered incorporating a high-traffic location into your free / portfolio-building shoots so you can be seen shooting in public? What about doing a shoot in a high-traffic area just so you can be seen? A weekly shoot at the same public location (a friendly cafe, a scenic downtown sidewalk), same time, every week?

How about a custom-printed camera strap? Or strap cover? With your business name, or your web portfolio address (especially if it’s the same as your business name!).

Do you have an elevator pitch? A tagline? A short and intriguing, 30-second introduction to your photography business and how you differentiate from everyone else? When you meet someone, do you share this with them? Do you tell people you’re a professional photographer? I tell folks, “By day I’m a journalist, but by 5 o’clock I’m a senior portrait photographer.” Then I can expand: “I love the energy, excitement, and bold personalities of seniors. I’m just a big kid, and I love getting to be creative in making photos the seniors and their parents can enjoy forever.” It doesn’t even have to be a great shpeel – but know your honest talking points ahead of time.

How do you feel about your business cards? If you’re not excited to hand them out, go back to the drawing board – or better yet, hire a designer (through Fiverr, through 99designs, trade-out with a designer friend, by whatever means you can) and let them do the design work for you. Put those business cards everywhere. Those It Works! reps we all know and love from Facebook? They’re masters of putting their business cards on every bulletin board and counter top in the county.

Where do your people shop? Where do they get their hair done? Where do they take their kids for play dates? Where do they stop for coffee? Are you there? Are you shopping, eating, drinking, and frequenting the places your target market does? Whether you do or don’t, do you have a flyer there? A partnership? A display? Portraits hanging on the walls? If you’re a children’s photographer, does your local pediatrician have your portraits of his patients hanging on the walls of his waiting rooms and exam rooms?

Are you a sponsor of the events your people attend? Are you a volunteer with the charities your people support? If you’re a senior photographer, are you the official photographer for the prom fashion show fundraiser? Are you on the after-graduation church lock-in party committee? If you’re a pet photographer, are you a volunteer with the local welfare society? Are you showing your alignment with your clients’ interests and values?

Do you donate gift certificates to the silent auction fundraisers supporting the organizations that are important to your people? Are you a Friend of those organizations online? Do you sit on their boards or committees? Do you Share their important posts, and help get the word out? Do you offer your unique talents as an artist, designer, or marketer to support their campaigns?

Are your photos appearing in the newspaper from the events important to your clients? Have you contacted the newspaper to offer your services in covering those events in exchange for a byline? Maybe even, eventually, for advertising credit? Explore the same opportunities with your nearest metro or regional magazine. If you’re located in a large metro area, is there a nearby county or town with a small newspaper that would be excited to work with you?

The same with your local radio station – have you offered your services (typically personality headshots and event coverage) to them in exchange for a shout-out on air, and on their website and social media channels?

Do you have any local bloggers who serve your market? Can you write a guest post with photo or produce a photo story on their topic? Trade out headshots for a mention? Check around in your local artsy and craftsy circles for great artist bloggers to do cooperative work with.

Your local chamber of commerce, convention and visitors bureau, business association, historical commission, and event planners are always looking for great promotional photos for their marketing materials and web sites. Focus here on producing art for their local materials, such as the tent cards that go up on restaurant tables a month before a big event – and asking openly for referrals (most chambers of commerce are just referral businesses anyway).

This is just a spotlight on a few ways you can F8 and Be There in your community; to be where your people are. I’m sure you have an explosion of your own ideas right now.

Brainstorm, make a big list, and make it happen. Don’t by shy; don’t hide the fact that you’re a working, professional photographer.

Put it on your calendar as part of your quarterly, monthly, even weekly review: proactively and consciously answer the question, “How would they know I’m a professional photographer?”

Next Steps

  • Start with the tips above, and make your own list of ways you can F8 and Be There for your clients. Today, how would people you meet or see on the street know you’re a professional photographer? What are the times or places they should know, but don’t, because you aren’t prepared – or don’t yet have a way to tell them? As always, start with the low-hanging fruit (shooting in public, a magnetic name tag or lanyard with photo / press card, knowing your tagline and elevator pitch) and work your way through your list.
  • Brainstorm session: get out your pen and paper. Are there any businesses or business people in your market whom you see “everywhere”? What can you learn from their example? Who do you believe are the best marketers in your community (as a business or individual)? What are they doing that you’re not (yet) to earn that position in your mind? Now let’s pretend: if you were that good of a marketer, the best marketer in your community, what would you do? How would you be marketing your business? What creative, fun ideas would you come up with? Often just disconnecting your Self from the equation frees up the creative juices. File this away in your Brainstorms folder.
  • Those ‘best marketers in the community’ you just identified? Get on the horn and ask each one to a lunch or coffee. Learn from their success (and they’ll surely talk about the failures in their journey), and skip the learning curve.
  • My writing at 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.
  • What’s the biggest struggle holding you back right now? E-mail me your answer (yes, right now!), and let’s make a breakthrough today.
  • 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 these ideas to better your part time photography business!

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Haris Nikolovski October 29, 2014 at 8:36 pm

Great article. This is good /slap for me how I need to work more on self marketing 🙁


Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor October 30, 2014 at 5:52 pm

Thank you for your comment and kind words Haris!

I greatly enjoyed visiting your portfolio today; you create beautiful photographers!

You’ve got the salable art, you just need to get it in front of the right people – your people. They’re out there waiting to be blessed by your talents!

Thank you again for your readership! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!


Terry Jones October 29, 2014 at 11:18 pm

Hello James, I wonder if you spend time crawling around in my attic space/mind, spying on my fears, hopes, desires, etc? I don’t know how many times I’ve gone into a place like a coffee shop and seen the business cards and/or stand up brochure displays and said, to myself, I need to ask them if I can do that. Have I gone back to ANY of them and asked that? Not as a rule no. I haven’t even been carrying that stuff in my car so I can do something impulsively some day. So I end up reading your posts and being amazed that it’s something I’ve been thinking about but not taking action on. I’m a member of the Chamber of Commerce and they send a lot of info out about networking. I’ve been to a few meetings, I’ve handed out my cards and given my elevator speech and felt good about it. SOOOOO, why doesn’t this happen on a regular basis? I know that at some point I get lazy and fearful about success that’s why. Again, thanks for picking up where my thinking leaves off and my dream slows down a bit. I simply agree with Haris, great article and I will also say inspirational to boot. Take care my friend and keep it coming:)


Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor October 30, 2014 at 6:04 pm


Thank you so much for your kind words! Always a pleasure visiting with you.

Life and work and marketing take on a very interesting color when you say to yourself, “What if I completely flipped the switch? What if instead of staying paralyzed and stagnant not knowing what I should do, to doing absolutely everything I can think of?”

It sounds like you’ve already seen some great opportunities to grow your marketing – rock on! Recognizing this is the first step – the next step, the big one, is taking action based on what you now know.

You are blessed with talent, opportunity, and capability. Don’t let it sit and waste! Every shoot you’re missing is an artistic blessing your potential client’s won’t receive, and a stack of dollar bills that won’t make their way to your wallet – it’s a lose-lose. Marketing and Sales aren’t boogeymen – marketing is making the connection between your art and experience and those people who would most benefit from them, and sales is making the connection between the art you’ve created for your client and the best ways for them to get the most enjoyment from it over a lifetime.

There’s no manipulation, illicit persuasion, or smarmy gaming involved. If you had a pizza and a friend who you knew was hungry, you’d make the connection. If you knew a great massage therapist and a friend had chronic back pain, you’d make the connection. If you knew a great photographer and had a friend needing family photos, you’d make the connection.

Look at your marketing efforts not as a selfish pursuit of obvious monetary greed, as a blessing – go fishing where the fishin’s good, where you can find your ideal clients and bless them with your art. Make the connection.

Sometimes we fear success as badly as we fear failure – we’re either suffering imposter syndrome and fear if we book more shoots we’ll surely be found out as no-talent hacks, frauds; or, we’re afraid of realizing our potential, and it being way, way less than we thought it could be. Both are forms of Resistance in full, ugly, manipulative, discourage form. Recognize the enemy for what it is, and power through. Persistence will pay. Focus on your passion, your Why – and focus on the ideal clients you want to book yourself solid with. Focus on helping, on reaching out, on service, on compassion, on caring. Market yourself as much for your clients’ benefit as yours – it’s not arrogance, it’s an opportunity to create real, wanted, welcome value.

I truly appreciate your support and readership Terry! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!


Steve October 30, 2014 at 5:41 pm

Excellent post, James! And not just for photographers. Anyone who has a service business can benefit from these tips.

I especially love how your list gives a strong example of what “hustle” really looks like, to those of us who need it (and need to do more of it!).


Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor October 30, 2014 at 6:11 pm

Thank you so much my friend!

I love hustle; I respect it. A sales trainer I know from Chicago calls it chutzpah.

A few favored synonyms:













I need a word cloud of these words painted on the wall behind my computer!

I love the exercise of asking, “If I couldn’t fail, what would I choose to do?” If you take bold action on that answer, you’ve got all of the above inside of you. Do it over and over again, and you’ll change your world.

Thank you for your friendship and readership Steve!


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