An influx of talent naturally creates more competition and offers your client more choice. That choice ultimately leads to lower odds of you landing any given job. It would be very easy to look at the current state of photography and blame it on a numbers game, but then, you wouldn’t be entirely correct.
There is a lot of competition in the marketplace and I hear photographers always complaining about the decline of rates in the industry. While it is true that the barriers to entry are lower than ever, the problem isn’t with the sheer volume of new comers, but rather the client’s perception of your value.
What the potential client sees is a watered down industry. They have an entire buffet of choice at their disposal when it comes to hiring photographers. It seems everyone is a photographer these days so it would stand to reason that photography isn’t very hard. Clients are not stupid, and they realize that good photography and presentation are crucial for their business, but it is hard to convince them what that is actually worth when it appears just about anyone can help them.
Those who are successful in this industry are the ones who know how to go the extra step to show the client some value. That’s not to say the value has to be created; it was always there in fact. In an over flooded market however, clients have a hard time understanding that value, and so it must be shown and explained to them if you wish to get any business.
What Is Perceived Value?
Perceived value is simply what something appears to be worth. Perfumes are a classic example. They only cost a fraction of their MSRP to create and yet people eagerly pay the suggested price. The perfume industry has created an aura of luxury and expensive culture that “justifies” the price in the consumers mind.
Similarly in your industry, if you want clients to spend money on you, you need to position yourself in a way that justifies your cost to the client. You cannot rely on your client to justify the expense for themselves. This is why photographers such as Peter Lik can sell multimillion dollar photographs. They have done their job at justifying the cost to their clients.
Get Them Involved
Do you know how many times I chat to a prospect that has absolutely no idea what goes into the kind of photography I do? This shouldn’t be too surprising; after all they are not in the business of photography. They are used to seeing pretty pictures but have no clue what actually goes into making one.
It took me a while to figure out that the real issue was that they did not perceive any value in what I was showing. Sure, they were looking at my images and they liked what they saw, but for all they knew it took 5 minutes to complete. When they hear my rates it is very hard for them to imagine exactly how that money is being spent. They have a hard time rationalizing my value.
What I had to do was not only show them my work, but also show them the process of my work, because it put a sense of context on the images they were receiving. My clients now receive a presentation that shows them my entire catalog process; from casting, to prep, to shooting, all the way through post and delivery. When potential clients come my way I make sure that they understand they are well taken care of and that every step of the job is thought through. That’s not to say other photographers don’t do what I do. Its about articulating what you do to the client because the other photographer doesn’t.
Whatever your niche and market is, make sure to get the client involved. Make them feel part of the process so that they understand and appreciate all the work and effort that goes into it. You want their hard earned dollars to feel justified.
Highlight Your Strengths. Everywhere.
Don’t let people draw their own conclusions as to what you are good at. Spoon feed them that information. You need to be constantly talking about the niche you are in and focusing your efforts on that. Make sure people immediately associate you with a certain criteria.
As a recent experiment I let the world know that I have a mild obsession with cupcakes. I would talk about it in my studio, I would talk about it in front of clients, and I would put it out on social media. Sure enough after a bit of time the idea caught on and I was being flooded with all sorts of cupcakes and cupcake paraphernalia. I even had instructional art being gifted to me, which I now proudly hang in my studio for all to see.
The point is that in the mind of my network, whenever they thought about a cupcake, they immediately thought about me. This is the EXACT same approach and mentality you need to take with marketing your photography. What you put out into the world is what the world will consume and if you are expecting to reap anything in return you must plant the right seeds.
Packaging and presentation go a very long way. Companies spend enormous amounts of money on entire marketing teams to help them figure out logo’s, design, color schemes, and many other attributes to their packaging. There are very real psychological triggers that cause us to be drawn to products.
Given the exact same product, clients are more likely to choose the one that is packaged better, simply because of perceived value. A product that is presented better subtly implies the company puts more time and effort into their product. It shows a sense of pride and professionalism.
The same holds true for photographers looking to present their work. Your work, first and foremost, has to give that impression. When a client looks at your work they should immediately think of quality and high standards. When you are being pitted against others whose work is on par the difference can really come down to who is simply perceived as having better value and in that case every effort to present your work in a better light will count.
It will be crucial for you to build a solid website that is easy for clients to view and navigate across various platforms. Find designs and templates that complement your photography, color schemes, and overall branding. Remember, it is not just about the picture, it is how you SHOW the picture.
Social Proof Yourself
Show off your accomplishments and make sure your milestones are seen by the industry. The best way to build perceived value is to constantly tackle and embark on new projects. In the eyes of your potential clients you want to be seen as always creating and always working.
Social media is a powerful tool which can connect you with some very powerful networks. Find ways to connect with several of these networks and make them a part of your story and brand. Get them talking with you and about you. Do not underestimate the value of public conversation and collaboration. You never know who is watching on the sidelines.
Last but not least, good old leverage. Do you have a unique bargaining chip in your pocket? Do you have anything your potential client might be interested in? If so, talk about it just as much as you talk about your photography!
If you have a huge social following, leverage that as promotion for their brand. If you have special access to people or networks your clients might benefit from, leverage that as part of your negotiation.
I once successfully leveraged my current roster of clients to secure a potential client. The potential client was in the fashion industry and wanted to break into online volume sales. Since I shoot for many of the big volume retailers I was able to introduce them to the right people and get them on the path to expanding their business. In that instance, I was not just providing them a photography service, but introductions they needed to further grow their business. That was my unique bargaining position. Everyone has something they can offer, so find what that is, and use that to show some extra perceived value.