Hello friends! It’s Thursday, I’m moving beyond a very, very stubborn case of bronchitis, and hoping the coffee just to my left doesn’t dry out my already arid throat. I need my caffeine and it’s been days, y’all! I mean, that figures, though, right? Beautiful weather finally arrives and BAM! I’m sick. But, you know what, enough about my Spring-time sickly woes because this post is for my fellow photographers, specifically those in the wedding niche. Today I am writing with intent to provide some general, but helpful information for those of you who might be having some struggles with getting your footing. I won’t pretend that anything I am sharing with you is the gospel, far from it. It’s simply the way Whit and I have done things and it’s what has worked for us over the past six years. So what I share with you, it’s only from my experiences and observations, but I do hope that it might be of use to others.
So let’s talk a bit about some general aspects of business that I really believe can be beneficial to all of us!
Branding & Online Identity:
I believe that first and foremost, YOU are your brand.
While it’s never a bad idea to have a cohesive and defined aesthetic for your web presence, and you should, you’re so much more than a logo. I can’t even stress that enough. YOU ARE MORE THAN A LOGO. Identities such as owls (Hey! We use owls!), florals, mountains, cityscapes, etc, while all totally awesome visuals and can certainly be indicative of geographic locations, quirkiness, and even interests, they’re not inherently unique. Truthfully, they’re ubiquitous, and that’s OK because it’s not about the sketch that rests upon your website header. It’s about who we are, WHO YOU ARE as individuals. And we show people who we are by always being ourselves and giving our real personality freely in our personal interactions, in our site bios, the way we write about our couples and our wedding day experiences in blog posts, social media posts, etc.
In terms of brand, you are your greatest asset now, in the future, always. That’s what attracts people – Your work, your authenticity as a person, and your reputation. Couples don’t hire you for your masthead. No, they hire you because what you envision, what you create, speaks to them. They hire you because they can see themselves in your art and for who you are as a human being. That’s why it’s paramount that we not only always work harder than hard for our couples, but that we always exemplify who we are individually. Never be afraid to show the real you. In fact, that’s all you should ever show.
Website Navigation & Accessibility:
The important thing we all need to understand is that we have such a limited amount of time to catch a prospective couple’s attention. It’s probably less than two minutes, honestly. That’s why it is paramount to get both your work and who you are across in as little time imaginable. When it comes to your site, it should be readily available, easy to find, and more than anything, easy to navigate. You want your work and personality front and center. Whether you choose to do that through a series of images like a slideshow in addition to a succinct, but accurate and attention-grabbing bio, or you decide on a large static image with a collection of accolades from previous couples, you want people to be intrigued and you want them to stick around to learn more. Think of it like fishing – Your work is the worm, your personality is the hook. The two work together so you can reel in the metaphorical fish.
When it comes to showing your prices, this is really a personal choice you have to make. Do you take a sales approach to business? Meaning, would you rather get someone in the door and use your work, your personality, and your offerings to book them? Or would you rather people know what you offer as to potentially save yourself and the potential couple time? There’s no right or wrong way to do this. And, really, is has a lot to do with your level of comfort in a sales capacity.
Social Media Activity/Engagement:
When it comes to social media practices in a business sense, it helps to have a steady routine. It’s so important to stay consistent and be yourself. Remember, social media is overtly public. It is an extension of ourselves in real life and we should treat it that way. Like I mentioned previously regarding your brand, the same practice holds true with how you share pieces of yourself and your content on sites likes Facebook and Instagram. No one wants to pretend to be someone they’re not, so don’t do that. Be unabashedly you because you will reach the folks that relate and that’s what you want!
It also helps to understand your audience’s engagement habits as a way to maximize your reach. Unfortunately, with the implementation of algorithms for Facebook business pages, and now, Instagram accounts, things are constantly evolving. But it does help to have a general idea of when your posting will have the most reach, and thus, the most potential to be on display for couples who are in the market for a photographer. A good way to gather these metrics is using a site like Iconosquare or even Instagram’s analytics for business accounts. While Iconosquare costs money, it’s a relatively low fee for such concise feedback regarding your content and engagement habits/trends among your followers. The important thing is to never let that influence what content you should share because you should always share the work that moves you, the work you’re passionate about. Curating and messaging absolutely matter, but you can be mindful of both while not sacrificing your personal creative integrity.
The choice to advertise is wholly personal. And it takes time to discern where your advertising dollars should be spent and where they will yield the most results. So many factors are at play here from geographic location, to shooting style, and your work’s final aesthetic. Generally people will spend approximately $1200-$1500 a year to advertise with one channel (wedding blot/website). You want to make sure you’re not throwing money away and that you’re getting a return on your investment. So take your time and educate yourself about your region, what sites, if any, couples in your market, or niche, frequent. And, again, your aesthetic and personality absolutely plays a role here as well. Think of it like this: Are you a Green Wedding Shoes shooter, a Style Me Pretty shooter, a Junebug Weddings shooter, or none of the above? Figuring out these rudimentary aspects will help you navigate the world of advertising for your services.
Clear & Concise Business Practices:
Have A Routine:
Having a steady routine, especially if you’re full-time is very helpful when it comes to productivity and output. Set hours for yourself and stick to them. And, if you have the willpower, avoid social media, or at the very least, set timers for yourself. For me, personally, social media is a huge distraction when it comes to my productivity. That’s why having a routine makes it so much easier for me to stay focused on my task at hand versus being perpetually sidetracked. The reality is that this is a job with deadlines and we have to treat it that way, especially if we want to maintain a blissfully happy client base. Not only does a routine keep us adhered to the timeline we set for turnaround to our couples, but it helps us work relatively stress-free, which let’s be real, less stress is always best. Sorry for the corny near-rhyme.
You are your own boss, which comes with positives and negatives. It’s very easy for us to just say, “Ahh! I’ll get to it later!”, but the procrastinated mindset can become rather burdensome in relatively little time. This is especially true when you’re in the throes of busy season, handling taxes, or dealing with communication with current and potential couples. I’m not saying to be hard on yourself, but I am saying to hold yourself to the same high standard you’d expect of anyone else in your position.
Email & Communication Habits:
I cannot stress this one enough, but put a phone number in your website’s contact form! This comes from a sales approach, but it can make all the difference in a couple booking. I understand the fear of calling people on the phone, especially in this capacity, but if you can get over that fear, give it a try. I promise you, it will make such a difference in your booking potential!
Canned responses can be a great timesaver, there’s no doubt about that. However, nothing beats honest interest and real authenticity in your communication. When we use a canned response, it’s generally out of necessity because we are lacking the time to really give an inquiry the full thought and consideration it deserves. And, sometimes, that’s just the case. We all have our moments where we are swamped! Another time we resort to canned responses is when it’s late in the evening. Say, for example, it’s 9:30pm, I’m in my sweats, and kicked back on the couch watching Better Call Saul. An inquiry comes in and my phone buzzes. I’m not going to ignore it, even though it’s after hours, because this is my livelihood and response time matters. In those cases, I will kick over a canned response and continue watching my show. It takes no real effort and certainly isn’t any sort of inconvenience. And, hey, the difference in sending that email then versus waiting until the next morning might be the difference in another wedding booked or another wedding missed. When you’re self-employed, the hustle really never stops. If anything, it just recedes a bit at certain points in the day, but it’s always still there.
Follow up with couples! People get busy and planning a wedding takes a ton of time, energy, and mental stamina. It’s easy for people to forget things. So if you received an inquiry and you haven’t heard back in a few days, follow up! Show your interest to those couples. It’s so important that we let both potential couples and our current couples know that the privilege in working together belongs to us. It is a privilege to have this job and provide such a profound service for what are hopefully once-in-a-lifetime moments for our couples. They’re not privileged to have us shooting for them. We are privileged to be shooting for them. Always making everyone feel like they matter because they do!
Last on this section, full wedding galleries! I understand some photographers have reservations about sending full galleries, and if you’re one of those photographers, then ask a few couples if they don’t mind. I am telling you, this is such a valuable practice to participate in. Our portfolios and blog posts only show so much, and generally, they only show what moves us, the photographers, the most. Providing a full wedding gallery helps build confidence in your ability to adequately document an entire wedding day. And since couples generally want to see full galleries, it’s best to preempt that inevitable request in the initial communication as a great way to create a foundation of trust and assurance in your work. This can only help you!
This is a personal decision, but your level of accessibility can potentially be helpful. I understand having set hours of operation and that boundaries are totally necessary. However, making yourself accessible to your couples is never a bad thing. It makes them feel valued and important. And, let’s be real, that’s exactly how they should feel. All of our couples have my number and they know they can call or text me anytime they need some help or have a question whether it’s during the planning process or after their images have been delivered.
This is where I should really just insert the Shia LaBeouf “DO IT!” video because that’s what it boils down to. Blogging is free to us and it is so beneficial. In fact, taking a content driven approach is what’s contributed most to Whit and I’s success. A steady flow of content with thoughtful consideration for wording is not only great for your site’s SEO, but it’s great for those couples who are in the process of finding their photographer. This is another opportunity for you to show people who you really are and how much you care about the privilege of doing this job for a living. The more often you do it, the better. And, look, I understand that if you’re just getting started the work might not be there, but the solution to that is simple: Self-initiate your content if you’re in the process of getting your business of the ground. Our first year of business was in 2012. We only shot four weddings. That’s basically one wedding per quarter, which clearly isn’t much content at all. So we chose to make our own content. I can remember blogging a series called “Kitties and Cookies” and it was simply the documentation of a lazy Sunday at home. I shot some pictures of our cats and then I shot photos of Whitney baking cookies through the whole process. It actually generated a lot of traffic for us. We continued this practice of self-initiated content for the next year and it kept our site’s traffic moving. You can do this with anything! Shoot your vacation, a trip to the store, portraits of your family members, friends – Holler at some of your “couple” friends and see if they’ll let you do a session with them. The possibilities are endless. We just have to make them come to life.
Wording is also important and I briefly hit on this in the above paragraph. Giving careful consideration to what you write is necessary. You want to use keywords that are applicable to the photos. This includes things like the city and state you shot in, the venue’s name, other landmarks or locations you may have hit during the session or wedding day. These are the things Google loves when they’re scraping sites for content. And, again, it can only help you!
Networking is one of those things that many people think is really complicated, but the truth is, we are doing it all of the time already. When you’re communicating with other photographers in an online community like Looks Like Film’s Facebook Group, for example, you’re networking and you didn’t even know it! When you attend a workshop or conference? Same thing. You’re networking. Brush off the apprehension that it’s a difficult task because it’s so easy. It comes down to helping others and offering yourself, your voice, your content, and your help in measure with other industry professionals.
Vendor relations are a huge boon to our sustainability as business owners as well! Having a solid relationship with the planners, florists, DJs, and venues in your market will only benefit you. Always be nice, always be respectful, always be helpful, and always be easy to work with. When you finish editing a wedding and deliver the gallery to your couple, make sure to send the link and download PIN to the other professionals who made the entire day possible. They will appreciate you so much for it, and they’re even more likely to recommend you to future couples. Whether you choose to send a full gallery, or curate one consisting of the content pertinent to the vendor – Example: Only sending detail shots to the florist. However you choose to do this shows the other people involved that you care and that you’re a team player.
Here’s the big kicker though: DO NOT feel like you’re entitled to compensation for your photos from any vendor you’ve worked with. Not only is this just in really bad form, no one is going to pay you for those photos. I don’t mean that to come off harsh, it’s just true. They will laugh at your request, toss the email in the trash, and ask another photographer who will share their content with them. It’s just the way it is. So much of what we do with other wedding professionals comes down to reciprocation and mutually beneficial relationships. So remember those two words: Mutually Beneficial.
Look at starting referral groups on Facebook. They can be a wonderful source of booking leads, but also great for community and building friendships with other photographers in your market. And if you want the group to be really beneficial for everyone, the smaller the better. Consider a cap of around 30 people, especially if you’re in a larger market like the Northeast that is swelling with opportunity. Diversity in styles is also a great consideration. The group we are a part of not only consists of a few different styles and approaches, but different personalities, too. This means that when someone has a potential wedding they’re unavailable for, there’s someone else who can adequately jump in their place and provide a stellar experience all the same. I love our group and the people in it with all my heart. These groups are also resources for brainstorming and bettering our business practices, learning new approaches, tricks, tips, etc. Start one, they’re great!
Last, look into opportunities for second shooting, or offer opportunities for second shooting. Having friends in this industry is the best. Shooting under someone who’s a seasoned veteran can be such a valuable experience. Take part in, or offer them, if it makes sense to your business.
Alright, y’all! That is it! I truly hope this was helpful information for some of you. Whether you’re a veteran or a newcomer, I think we always have something new to learn. There’s always a new spin on an old trick, a different practice or approach, and something worth adopting for our business. And, in this industry, the learning curve is never ending. It’s a constant evolution and work in progress. So, yes, I hope this was helpful for you today.