The Barrier Between Your Photography and More Clients Might Not Be Technical

The Barrier Between Your Photography and More Clients Might Not Be Technical

I've written often on the need for more focus on areas outside of the technical photography skills and equipment, but some areas I see a lack of interest in could be significant barriers between you and more clients.

Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the industry will be aware that in photography, there are highly talented artists who can't find work, and there are average and below-average artists who seem to have too much. A lot of this can be put down to the uncomfortable marriage of business and art — an unholy union that too many shy away from. If, objectively speaking, you believe your photography or videography is where it needs to be to attain work, but you still have a lot of spaces in your calendar, then it's time to look outside of gear and technical ability. Here are some of the areas you may want to check your performance on.

Salesmanship

Do you know how to sell your services? Unlike some other shortcomings, this one is easier to unearth. If you're discussing working with people, couples, brands, companies, and so on, and aren't securing much work, you're probably not very good at sales. Sales is a dirty word these days, conjuring images of overweight, sweaty, middle-aged men standing in front of dents at a used car lot. But sales isn't disingenuous by definition, and if like most photographers, you love what you do, then it's about conveying your passion and dedication to the prospective client.

The issue could of course instead be your quote being too high or low (both potentially terminal for different reasons), but this tends to be reasonably apparent early on, so if it isn't, I would work on sales. There is a plethora of books, courses, and podcasts out there to help you with this.

Presence

Do the right people know who you are? It's not an easy task to build a reputation and presence in your area of photography, but it's one of the most important. You should be trying to be involved in every facet of whatever niche you populate and be as visible as possible. An easy way to test if your presence could and should be improved is this: what percentage of your work comes from inbound leads? That is, you haven't reached out to the company via cold contact, and instead, they find out about you in some way and get in touch. If it's a very low number, then you need to work on getting known. Write for industry publications, advertise, attend events, go for coffee with companies and people in your desired area; most importantly, build relationships.

Active Growth

Are you expanding and growing in measurable ways? Growth is trickier to gauge than some might think. Your income from photography is of course an excellent metric, but it isn't the only one. On multiple occasions, I have been doing well and have stagnated. In fact, it's something I have to proactively counter as soon as I become comfortable. If you're settled in how much you're making and the sort of clients you're working with, the chances are you aren't standing still, you're slowly moving backwards. Take a look at your long-term goals and make sure you're still working towards them and actively growing in that direction.

Client Experience

Do clients come back to you for more work? Anyone self-employed in any industry will tell you that reoccurring work is a blessing. Working again with somebody you have already completed a job or campaign for is much cheaper than finding a new client. The amount of time, effort, and learning necessary to make the job a success is less across the board; you can produce exactly what they want without all the fluff that goes with new clients. New clients are exciting, but repeat clients are invariably your bread and butter. If you're not getting repeat work, you need to look at the work you did for them first, but assuming it was what they wanted, look at their client experience with you. Many jobs us photographers do could be done by other people — we're just not that special — but if you're punctual, polite, direct, honest, and easy to work with, you'll win the contracts.

A few years ago, I asked my then most regular client what kept them coming back to me. They said the photos were great and exactly what they wanted, but it was really just a precursor to say the real reason: I'm reliable. If I say I'm going to have something done by a certain date, it'll be done without the need to be chased;, something this PR agency said is rare with photographers.

Niche

Is your target market too diffuse? This is an area I've written on extensively, but I'll keep pushing it: you need to narrow down your desired clients to one or two areas. If you're trying to secure work as a wedding photographer, sell landscape prints on fine art websites, shoot sports for the local paper, and corporate events whenever you can, you'll be Jack of all trades, master of none when it comes to your career. This doesn't speak to the quality of your images — they might be masterful — but you'll be on the entry level of all routes, and your income will reflect it. I've yet to meet a photographer who does a bit of everything and makes a decent living (I'd love to be proven wrong, though one counterexample won't change the trend.)

I work in a couple of niches, usually related, but some areas are very niche indeed!

Conclusion

Getting work as a photographer is tough, and it can take time to start getting the results you crave. But if you're disappointed with how things are going for you, don't chalk it up to your technical ability or equipment; more often than not, that won't be the reason. Make sure you're firing on all cylinders as a business owner as well as an artist. Analyze your photography as a small business and assess its merits and pitfalls as you would any startup or one-man band.

What are the changes you made that had the biggest impact to your career?

Lead image by Kyle Loftus on Pexels

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7 Comments

Jason Lorette's picture

I find it VERY hard to generalize or focus on one or two types of photography, I don't care if it's a flower to a portrait, a piece of cake to a landscape, a concert to a wedding...I love shooting all of it. I'm struggling to narrow that field as I've seen many, many accomplished photographers advise. I just find myself pulled in many directions. That's my biggest hurdle I think and am not sure how to step beyond it.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Find your niche and keep doing the other things you like at a different level.

Robert K Baggs's picture

I get that. I should point out: I don't love photographing things outside of my niches any less than before I had niches; I might even enjoy it more now. However, I don't push them commercially. I know the areas that make me money and those are the ones I pursue professionally, but I still love taking pictures of everything. You're in a stronger position, not a weaker one. You can choose any direction based on what rewards you the most, rather than be pigeonholed in to one area you love and trying to make it work financially.

Jason Lorette's picture

Makes sense, in my market the only thing that 'seems' to make money is shooting kids (which I don't do), weddings which I do but it's crazy hard to get the client (a crap ton of wedding photographers here in a small market, as that is one of the money makers) and some corporate stuff (events, headshots, etc.). That's what I "see" making money here.

Ravi Rane's picture

Hi Robert, I feel your observations and suggestions are very apt! one has to re-calibrate strategies, reflect on what's working and what's not working. It's one thing to say I am waiting to grow organically and another to initiate steps necessary for growing organically! thank you for your insights very helpful.

Precisely why I went back to school for business instead of photography. Highly recommend considering part-time or full-time business courses if you want to push beyond your current state.

Ravi Rane's picture

Makes sense, even I enrolled in university to do a course apart from my master's. Starting my photography and trying to create a brand definitely takes time and has to be one step at a time approach! Thanks Ctiz 1