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Three Failing Business Practices of the Professional Photographer

Three Failing Business Practices of the Professional PhotographerI’ve written a couple times before about photographer A (artsy fartsy) and photographer B (‘B’ for all business). If you’re going to have a successful photography business and not be a starving artist, it’s essential to fuse these two qualities into one artistic and business minded brain. If you’re photographer A, you’re going to get creative in your business ways. You’re going to be artsy in your pricing (are you a minimalist who ends all your prices in 0’s? Or are you quirky with prices that all end in 8’s?) You’re going to artsy in your presentation. And you’re going to be artsy in your you-and-them practices. It’s these practices where use group A’ers can find difficulty.

So here are 3 business dont’s I learned from experience.

{Making yourself sound too busy}

When I started taking bookings for my pre-arranged studio dates, I would stress to the clients that my my diary was extremely booked so they needed to book early and take their booking seriously. We confirmed via phone/email. Sometimes I took a deposit. What was wrong with admitting that I was really booked up? They thought they could just not show up and it wouldn’t matter. I had a (hold onto your seats) 80-90% no-show rate for about 6 months. Even from friends. And when they did text (sometimes 30 minutes after I started sitting there waiting for them) they’d say things like ‘oh, it’s ok we’ll make room for someone else’. And when it was a no-show-no-call, the only thing I could imagine was that they were thinking that I’m so snowed under with work that I wouldn’t notice. What they didn’t take into account is that by ‘extremely booked’, I was saying that the 5 sessions I opened on this one day a month was filling up. This was utterly infuriating and very damaging for my productivity and cash flow. Lesson? Don’t make yourself sound so busy that your clients think they can just tip toe out the back door and you won’t notice. Solution? Say whatever you want about your calendar and just get a substantial deposit (I take the whole session fee on booking) when you make the date. I make it very clear: you don’t have a booking until I have a financial commitment.

{Making your schedule sound wide-open}

Something I learned quickly was not to say “oh my diary looks like a snowstorm, pick any date you want”. What does that say to your client? No one wants me. I’m not popular. I’m not in demand. My time is worth nothing. When you get an email or phone consult, give them a choice of two dates. Say, “I have a opening on such-and-such date how does that work for you?” This lets them know from the get-go that you are in demand and your time is precious. Now, this isn’t lying to your client. I wouldn’t take the extra step of saying, “Oh gosh I’m just so booked up” when you’re really not. You could run into the first problem mentioned and not actually have any other work to fall back on or just look like a snob. Solution? Don’t post things on your Facebook page that say “gee nothing booked for ages. Who wants a session?” Let everyone know what you’re up to. “Another wedding today”. “Photographed gorgeous newborn this morning!” your busy-business will speak for itself if you’re truly working up a storm.

{Being overly professional}

Going back to that first point about making myself sound too busy. In my effort to sound busy, I also sounded a bit to…I guess…corporate. Like Glacier Cake was some big photo studio and not just little old me sitting in a rented room waiting for my no-shows to not show up. If you can produce the quality of work your clients expect, it’s ok to have small beginnings. But if you’re just a girl with a camera, be a girl with a camera. You can be business savvy without sounding corporate or overly professional. When clients let you down on the session or show for the session but don’t buy a single photo, maybe it’s because they don’t remember that you’re a person. They don’t feel like they’re letting anyone down or wasting anyone’s time. They feel like they can slip out the back door without anyone noticing. Lesson? Don’t make your operation sound bigger than it is. Don’t write ‘we’ on your website when it’s really just you. And pleaseforgoodnesssake don’t write about yourself in the third person (“Elizabeth Halford is a photographer in Hampshire, England…”) Solution? If your business is just you, then be yourself! Make a personal connection. Meet your clients and tell them a little about your kids, too. Laugh with them, have a tea when you sit down to talk. This is a business about people. And people connect with people. And if you just shoot landscapes? Well I wouldn’t really suggest sitting down for a cup of tea with a mountain. That might just be weird.

{A few extra tips}

  • When you make a date with someone in person, write the time in your diary but hand it over and let them write their name and phone number next to it. Psychologically, they’re committing to the date and sort of signing on the dotted line.
  • Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. If you can learn from a successful business person the practices that have been tried and tested, make them your mantra. I highly respect folks like Alicia Caine who is sharing her utterly invaluable pricing information. It has transformed my business because she put the blood, sweat and tears into testing it and – I’m telling you – it just works.
  • Say things over and over. Confirm the booking on the phone. If you do everything by email, you’re just a voiceless, faceless person who they might not take seriously. After confirming the date over the phone, confirm via email and request that they reply. Then a couple days before, kindly remind them of their reservation via phone, email or text.

Photography has been an intensely rewarding career and I enjoy everything about it, even the nitty gritty business bits. It can be exhausting to figure out what works and what doesn’t but once you do and you get things running fluidly, photographer A can resume as usual.

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Elizabeth Halford

Elizabeth Halford is a photographer and advertising creative producer in Orlando, FL. She wrote her first article for dPS in 2010. Her most popular one racked up over 100k shares!

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