Paris

by Jon

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Like I believe many photographers, I started my professional work doing mainly lower priced gigs to (maybe) foolishly get my foot in the door, earn experience, and a full portfolio.

Now once I start to look into my finances, it is quite obvious that I can't operate profitably at these levels any longer, otherwise my business becomes more of a hobby(drain on finances) and less of a sustainable business model.

If I am already in the industry, shooting weddings currently, how can I convert to a more "middle of the ground" studio? This is in regards to price, perceived and literal quality, perceived and literal experience, etc. Some ideas I had were around "flipping over" my pricing model for a upcoming year eg 2013, rebranding, and marketing more expensive packages and "selling" them harder.

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I can't really claim this as an answer, but Scott Bourne's written some good stuff on topics like this: goingpro2010.com/2011/08/05/how-to-price-your-photography photofocus.com/2010/01/25/and-you-call-yourself-a-professional –  D. Lambert Jan 18 '12 at 16:20

5 Answers 5

Changing one's business to fit into a new market price segment can be difficult but not impossible. Here are some things to implement or keep in mind:

  • Make sure that directories, websites, and other sources that might be sending referrals your way are categorizing you appropriately. If you've listed yourself in a "Cheap Wedding Photographers in [Location]" directory, it's time to kill that listing.

  • A total brand refresh isn't a bad idea. Yes, you'll pay for updating your logo, materials, website, etc but if you want to make a clean start you can't keep doing business with the same image.

  • Network and market to your new ideal clients. This might mean less Craigslist ads and more bridal shows. If you want high-class clients, you'll need to be found in high-class locations.

  • Realize that moving to a higher-priced market segment will make referrals from existing clients difficult if not impossible. When a bride you've photographed talks to her friends and mentions that you were a great deal when you photographed her wedding for $500, they're going to be a bit taken aback if your new prices are three or more times that amount.

  • Being a successful photographer is often more about the business/marketing angle than it is the technical aspects of photography. Yes, you need to be able to take well exposed photos, but don't expect to increase your revenue simply by increasing the quality of your images.

  • Learn how to sell. Instead of simply selling your bride a CD of images, sell them an album and some nice large framed prints for the wall. David Ziser's Digital Pro Talk is a great resource; he's a very successful photographer and businessman who often shares his secrets for selling high-end wedding photography to his clients.

  • It's not specific to a particular price range, but be sure your portfolio is only showing your best work. It's better to show off 10 great images on your website than 50 mediocre ones.

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If you are looking to move up a bracket in your business (i.e., if you want to earn more during a given shoot), you need to devote some time to figuring out what makes you different from your competition. This is something Bambi Cantrell has done a nice job with. She was facing much the same problem you seem to be and determined that people are willing to pay more for a desirable product they can't find for less elsewhere.

Once you have figured out what that "secret sauce" is and can tell the story convincingly, you have to adopt a thick-skinned attitude when you raise your prices -- and raise them quite a bit. The attitude is sort of, "if this isn't in your budget, I understand, but you get what you pay for." Some people may blow you off as too expensive -- others will want to understand why you are better. Those are your target market. And their friends/family are as well.

Many, if not most, higher priced photographers have some spin or signature style. You may want to look at your favorite work to determine what yours is so you can explain it to prospects.

Several other points:

  • You'll want to hook into affinity promotions and/or groups. If there's a Mom's group, see how much of that business you can get. If you shoot a wedding, make sure all the single women in the bridal party are treated well and make darn sure the wedding planner and facility love you. Anybody from bakers to florists are your friends here.

  • Consider offering multi-day shoots for events like weddings. It's common to try to get as many weddings into a Saturday as you can and call it a week. But few people are at their best in the heat of the moment. Try to set up studio or location sessions you can control either before or after the event with the bride and groom.

  • Polish your image if you feel there is something missing but don't get carried away. A new web site ... a new lens ... hmmmmmmmmm...

  • Social media, if used well, can totally rock. You have to be interesting, post only images you have permission from your subjects to post, and say nice things about them. Ask them if you can tag them in Facebook posts. There's a potential to reach lots of people this way.

More than anything else, do what you do well -- if you like doing portraits, don't go out on an architectural shoot. If you prefer weddings to head shots, then do those. The more focused you can be, the easier your job is when you tell your story. It's not about making up a story; it's about encapsulating what's special about your talent into a short blurb with easy examples to prove you're the real deal. And... stop taking the low-paying gigs or you will always have negative cash flow.

Hope some of this info is useful.

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Step one: join your national/regional professional photographers' association (in your case, Professional Photographers of America; there are similar allied organisations in other countries, such as PPoC in Canada) as an Associate (full membership is generally juried) and take advantage of all of the information and business tools they offer -- and they offer a lot. There is a cost involved, but you will find it well worth it if you take advantage of everything the community offers, and adding a PPA certification, which will allow prospective customers to verify your basic photographic ability and business practices, to your marketing materials will give you some credibility when you go up-market.

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I can think on 3 different options you can choose from:

  1. Increase earning from current customers - offer a more expensive album option, sell large prints, offer to have another photo shoot before the wedding and in general upsell like crazy.

    You may even be underpriced for your existing customers (they are willing to pay more than you are asking for) in that case raising prices a little can help - just be careful not price yourself into a position where you lose your existing customer base but still get only cheap customers.

    Pros: upselling to your existing customer base is easier than getting whole new customers. Cons: there's only so much money you can get out of people who come to you because they're unwilling to pay more.

  2. Get richer customers - raise you prices by a lot, get a new logo, new businesses cards, redecorate wherever you do business from to look more "high class", change you advertising - basically drop everything you're doing and copy the business of an expensive photographer.

    Pros: this will make you much more money per shoot. Cons: you are starting over from scratch (but at least you have your portfolio)

    If you go this way remember there will be some hard time with very little work ahead until you can establish yourself with your new audience.

  3. Develop a unique style - if you do something no one else does you can charge more - much more - from people who want your unique style.

    Pros: if you pull this off some people will pay any price to get you. Cons: a) developing a unique recognizable style is hard, b) brides tend to want classic wedding photos and may not appreciate your new style.

Just remember you have to pick up one option and commit to it, for example raising prices by a bit to try to keep your customers and get higher paying customers at the same time will fail because you will be too expensive for the cheap market but too cheap for the rich people.

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First I have to confess that I have no idea about photograph. I just have experiences in marketing sector. In the point of marketer as me, I think that the most important asset of of a photographer is the "reputation" of your name. People buy you for their album because they believe in your name promise base on your experiences. Most of people find information about photographer from their friends/family, the internet and magazine. Words of mouth should be a good way for you to use in the marketing strategy. In order to use this tool effectively, you have to provide customer the reason to talk about you. I give you some tips:

  • You try to do some album for famous people (models, singers, actress...) on printed paper or internet.
  • Do any contract with those famous people (their wedding, their birthday....)
    • ...I mean something related to showbiz/famous people can help people recognize your name easier.

Good luck

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