It’s a dream for many—making a living doing what you love. Indeed, despite the emotional highs and lows that can come with the terrain, turning your creative passion into your profession can feel exhilarating, satisfying, and empowering.
But if you’re a professional photographer, you might find that it can be challenging to balance your artistic goals with your business’s bottom line. That includes growing your client base.
For insight into how to attract new photography clients, read on below. We’ll take a look at photographers who have successfully leveraged digital marketing and give you the tips you need to grow your business.
Find your target audience(s)
The first step toward a thriving small business is identifying your target audience and developing a strong photography business plan. This is an important first step as it gives a clear picture of exactly who your business will serve. Identifying this audience helps you spend all your money and effort marketing to a targeted group, ensuring you are capturing the attention of people that are the most likely to pay for your services.
For high-school portrait photographer Sean Brown, identifying his target client meant taking a step back and realizing exactly who he needed to connect with to continue expanding his clientele. Faced with the heady task of pleasing two very different clients—parent and student—Brown quickly realized that he needed to understand both mindsets in order to book the job.
Empathizing with each side of his client base has helped him hone his marketing and stand out in a crowded field. For Brown, success comes from engaging in a targeted marketing campaign that uses various social media channels—those popular with teenagers as well as those more popular among parents—as well as bridging both sets of needs whenever possible.
“My job is focusing on the commonalities between both of these personas.”
While your client base may be less inherently contradictory than Brown’s, you’ll benefit from thinking deeply about your target audience. After all, just like in Brown’s case, your dream clients are likely to inform your marketing strategies and social outreach.
To hone in on your target audience:
- Embrace your niche – To focus your client search, think about your niche. Consider the following:
- Relationship Status
- Pick a lane - Choosing a focus or specialty will help you to narrow down your client base. As a professional photographer, you don’t need to tick every box to find an audience—just one box, really well. Honing in on a specific discipline can help you fine-tune your photography marketing, improve your craft, and tap into a self-selecting, receptive audience.
- Wedding and event photography
- Newborn portraits
- Fashion photography
- Editorial photography
- Landscape photography
- Real estate photography
- Practice restraint – If you’re eager to flesh out your client base, it might be tempting to accept each gig, even if they don’t align with your expertise or aesthetic. But when it comes to business growth, restraint may be key to longevity.
When Atlanta-based fashion photographer Leslie Andrews struggled to find new clients, she responded by taking on any project that came her way—even when they weren’t good fits. Years of experience taught her to take a counterintuitive approach. By narrowing her focus and turning down work that wasn’t a fit, she was able to plant seeds for steady, sustainable growth.
Andrews says, “There may be jobs that you should turn down in order to focus on what you really do well.”
Make time to market your talents
As an artist, it can be tempting to put all of your focus into creating and editing your work. But according to Andrews, commercial artistic success is born not just through the quality of your work but through your business acumen and marketing know-how as well.
“I just assumed that if I was passionate and did good work, the business would come. That’s not true. You have to focus on the business to be successful.”
Devoting your energy to marketing your business will help you build buzz around your brand and book future gigs.
Compelling marketing thrives in part thanks to an aesthetic wow-factor and creative know-how.
Studies show that nearly half of small business owners credit design for their success. And While these may be stumbling blocks for some, as a photographer, this is probably your wheelhouse.
So, where should you begin? Your portfolio.
Put together your website portfolio
One study shows that 63% of the decision to hire a creative professional comes down to their portfolio. When it comes to their photography needs, your clients have a big decision to make. Much of that decision comes down to your existing body of work or your portfolio.
Building a strong portfolio website definitely deserves a healthy portion of your time and care.
What do you need to know to create your portfolio? It might help to think of it as a one-stop shop for your prospective clients, displaying a curated set of photos that speak to your technical skills, artistic style, and niche interests.
As you select your portfolio photos, consider the fact that you likely won’t need to post every image—even every fantastic photo—in your collection, just the shots that capture your aesthetic and specialty.
Here are some tips for creating a stand-out portfolio:
- Cater to your target audience – If you specialize in engagement shoots, select those images that might draw in couples. If food photography is your niche, you might entice restaurants and chefs with vivid kitchen shots and light-dappled portraits. Think about who your ideal client is and showcase work that they will gravitate to.
- Cull your images – The task of creating a portfolio often involves a bit of restraint and willpower. You probably don’t need more than three photos per shoot or event, and you don’t need to include every photo you’ve ever shot.
While you might have an occasion in the future to make portfolios that showcase your other interests and aesthetics, try to focus your selections, championing your niche above range.
- Keep organized – Try putting yourself in the headspace of your prospective clients, overwhelmed by options and unsure what to look for. Present a clean, easily digestible gallery that’s thoughtfully arranged by specific events or clients and communicates your vision.
Other items to include in your portfolio website
As a top resource for attracting clients, it might make sense to equip your portfolio website as more than just a gallery. Consider including:
- A contact form – By making it easy to get in touch with you through a featured contact form, you can take some guesswork out of your prospective clients’ day and smooth the communication process.
- Links to social media – You can either embed your images with links to social media platforms or link to your accounts on your home page. Doing so may help your prospective clients to find even more of your fantastic content—and help them settle on your services.
- An informative blog - Publishing engaging, illuminating blog posts on your portfolio website can help flesh out your brand identity and drive traffic to your site. It might be useful to brush up on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) best practices for blogging, like answering relevant questions and delving into keyword research.
Encourage testimonials and recommendations
Word of mouth can be an extremely effective tool for growing a large client base. To build buzz and establish trust, try reaching out to past clients and asking them to leave testimonials for your work.
Photography is collaborative — if you loved working with a particular client, there’s a strong chance they loved working with you. Let your clients know how much their experience means to you, and your business. Then, make sure to respond to any feedback with grace, good humor, and humility.
If you’re hesitant to solicit feedback or anxious about soliciting referrals, you might broach the subject by offering special rates and discounts as a thank-you for their loyalty.
- Reward clients who refer friends with 10% off their next session
- Offer discounted prints to clients who post and tag their photos on social media
- Create a contest in which clients who leave testimonials enter the chance for a free shoot
For new photography clients, stay local with Nextdoor
When freelance photographer Tony Drewry saw COVID-19 clear his calendar, he was forced to grapple with a whole lot of free time and a whole lot of restlessness. But despite the challenges of the time, he was able to capture the historic moment and keep his business alive with a burgeoning client base, thanks to Nextdoor.
By sharing his services on a Nextdoor post, Drewry was able to make his dreams of shooting socially-distanced portraits—or “porchraits”—of his neighbors come true. Today, with over 140 pandemic photoshoots for his portfolio and a surging client base at his fingertips, he’s proven the importance of tapping into his hyperlocal community.
A snapshot of small business success: Nextdoor
If you’re looking to expand your local reach, just follow Drewry’s example. Your clients are out there, and they might be even closer than you think. Find them on Nextdoor.
Claim your free Business Page and instantly connect with your neighbors through Business Posts, recommendations, and even promoting an ad.
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