Because I’ve been around *ahem* a while I got a message recently from a photographer I know asking for my advice. After the normal warnings that my advice may be worth about what I charge for it (free) I said sure, hit me up.
His frustrations were this: Clients that tried to bully him into giving them stuff for free. Clients who had unrealistic expectations of the photography and gave him 14 page “must have shot checklists” on the wedding day. Clients who expected him to be available 24/7.
Whoa Nellie. After explaining that this is really about a dozen questions with the different layers and things that need to be addressed in his business, I broke it down to what I feel is the most simplistic question
Who is your target client?
I know who mine is.
She’s 25-29 years old, a year or two out of college. She’s a semi pro, meaning she’s probably just landed her first big time job that will be a real stepping stone in her career. She’s internet savvy, she has detailed likes and dislikes, she’s funny and doesn’t tolerate fools gladly and she likes to have a beer or two. She’s willing to spend money on things she wants but she wants you to make her feel like her choices were right by providing her with great customer service. She uses Facebook but generally does not post status updates about how sick she is and she most certainly does not ever vaguebook. Her wedding is important, but it’s not the only thing she thinks about. She envisions her wedding to be full of fun, laughter and does not want to spend hours doing portraits because she believes that weddings are about people and not things.
If she wasn’t already engaged and I wasn’t straight, I’d marry that girl.
Instead, the answer I got from him was “Anyone who is getting married”
Let me tell you a story from a few years ago. A bride walks into my studio and she’s what I like to call a “Binder Bride”. Sometimes it’s just your generic 3 ring deal, sometimes a prefab Martha Stewart kind of deal, doesn’t matter. She’s got The Binder and The Binder is her lifeline. Even with the advent of some really good online services like Google Docs some brides like something tangible in their hands. (It’s one of the reason print has not died for Bridal Magazines, btw)
In The Binder are her ideas, her spreadsheets, her vendor notes and some photos she’s printed off the internet and ripped out of a magazine. I know pretty much instantly that Binder Bride and I are not a great fit. She has tilted photos. Spot colored photos. Photos of the bride and groom kissing under the veil, which next the fake dipping photos is probably one of the shots I dislike the most. No, wait…I hate the bridal party jumping photos even more. Anyway, she pulls out one photo that she really, really loves. I see on the photo credit that it’s a from a nationwide studio. I won’t name any names, but let’s call them Stella Pictures.
This is Binder Brides money shot. The shot that she wants the most on her wedding day. And it’s a photo of a bride and groom with the Golden Gate Bridge in the back round.
I may need to back up a bit.
I live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
I look at the photo and thinking she’s kidding, let out a hearty guffaw. You guessed it, she wasn’t kidding. Trying to save face, I tell her well sure…if you want to fly me to San Francisco, I would LOVE to get that shot for you. She says “Oh no, this is here in Milwaukee, the people from Stella Photos told me it was”. I hardly know what to say.
She describes the location of the bridge to me. Having lived here most of my life I say incredulously “The Hoan Bridge?”
“Yes, that’s it!”
This, my friends, is the Hoan Bridge. Now I am not dissing the Hoan. Named after one of Milwaukee’s former mayors and located on a Great Lake, it has a rich history and in fact was featured very prominently in a very famous chase scene in The Blues Brothers.
But the Hoan ain’t no Golden Gate. Things did not go well for Binder Bride and I after that. She was humiliated that a sales person on the phone lead her to believe that it was the same bridge and she was embarrassed that she could not tell the difference in the photo.
Stella Pictures had the same qualifications as my photographer friend, they just wanted anyone who was getting married and they were willing to sell her a bridge to get her to sign the contract.
Before you can successfully sell yourself and your photography you have to define who your target market is. Hate shooting church weddings? Don’t show them in your portfolio. Show beach weddings, park weddings, same sex commitments, funky venue weddings.
Buuuuttttttttttt Kiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiim, I live in a small town and most of my weddings are church weddings.
Then don’t show that same shot that every photographer in your town shows from St Joe’s Holy Mother Mary. You know, the one of them kissing in silhouette in front of the stained glass window. And please note I didn’t not say don’t do that shot. I said don’t show them. Don’t piss off a current client who wants that shot and you have agreed to make it for them. You don’t have to show every expected photo from a wedding day. I don’t show a single posed family formal on my website but if they want to see them, I can show them dozens in a client gallery. The ones who leave my website because I don’t shot those I don’t want as clients anyway.
Show different angles. Shoot from behind the bride coming up the aisle instead of from the front. Appeal to that bride that is getting married in that church because she grew up there but wants something more cutting edge in her photography. You won’t book as many church weddings, but the ones you do you may actually enjoy shooting.
Age old adage: You sell what you show.
Stop right now and think of all the venues you shoot in over and over in your town. Make a list of your favorite photos that you made at that venue. And next to those photos make a few notes on the bride and groom. What were they like? What were their personalities like? What did you like about making those photos for them?
Why do you want to work with couples like them again?
Then begin to build your target market. Go ahead and use buzzwords, I won’t judge you…Fun, Emotional, Funky….and then personality traits…Laid back, sweet, totally into each other. Just keep writing.
You’re not looking for anyone who is getting married. You’re looking for ^^^that couple. They are out there, but if you can’t define them, how can you market to them?