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How to build your Business as a new Photographer

Updated on January 5, 2013
Some of my photo's from a shoot with my great neices
Some of my photo's from a shoot with my great neices | Source

A while back I wrote an article on the website CreativeLIVE called A-Great-Website-For-An-Aspiring-Photographer-CreativeLIVE. If you have not yet checked it out please do so if you have any interest in photography as a business. There is a wealth of knowledge on this site. I have had the opportunity to view a lot of their live podcasts and have learned a lot of great ideas.

Building Your Clientele as a New Photographer

One of the toughest things’s for me as a new portrait photographer is building my clientele. I’ve got a ton of wildlife photographs to show but no portraits. So how do you show the quality of product you are giving or build your clientele if you don’t have a portfolio or a studio?

First off I think you have to really tap into your creativity on ways to expand. One of the things that I have started doing is asking friends and family to let me photograph them to use in my portfolio to start to build. This benefits them and you because you can use them in your portfolio and they get a free setting plus I usually throw in a 10x20 FREE. I also give them a discount on their photo’s that they buy but I make sure that they know the true value that they are getting by telling them my original prices. The one thing that you want to be careful of with this is that they now know how much it would have cost if they were a real client. The reason this is important is because you don’t want them to go around and tell people the discounted price that they were given and not tell that this was a discount. This could cause problems with future clientele because then the expectation of the new client may be that they will get that same price. This also can help you build their sale when they know that it will cost them more next time.

With using your friends and family you already have a relationship built with them typically they will be one of your best avenues for free marketing. They want to see you succeed as much as you want to succeed. So why not use them to your advantage? What about setting up a program for life with them? What is a program for life? Each year that you are alive their setting is FREE. What does this do for you? Well, first off as I already mentioned they are going to be one of your best vehicles for advertising. You will be able to update your portfolio yearly. Plus you will build in a yearly base for your business. Business that you know will always be there. You are building stability into your business. The one thing that I would caution you on when using your family for your portfolio is to remember that this IS your business. There are steps that you need to take in business to protect yourself. Always make sure that you have your friends and family sign a model release. For one this will not only protect you but will also send a message that this is a serious business for you.

Building Relationships

Some of the ideas in this next portion I have learned from the website CreativeLIVE. I had the opportunity to watch the podcast instructed by Bambi Cantrell who is a world renown portrait photographer. Bambi really shared a wealth of knowledge in this podcast on not only marketing but also on how to sell the finished product as well.

One of my biggest takeaway’s for me was on marketing. Earlier I talked marketing with family and friends because you have a relationship already established. But how do you build a relationship with someone you don’t know. Well as Bambi pointed out on her podcast one of the easiest people to build a relationship with is the styling salon that you get your hair done with. Here is what she suggested:

Make an appointment with the shop owner to go to lunch to get to know him or her. You already have a connection because one of her stylist does your hair. Make your conversation personal. You want to get to know them as a small business owner. So make it about them. Ask them questions about how they choose the field they are in? How did they build their clientele? What struggles you can expect as a new business owner.

On the first visit I would just keep your lunch as a relationship building mission. And yes you should be the one to buy lunch. How will this benefit you in the long run? Well, think about a salon business. Who is their biggest clientele? Women. Who is the primary decision maker when it comes to having the family photographs taken? Women. When someone is getting married who is the prime decision maker on the photographer that is chosen? Women.

So when you think about the salon business, yes the majority of the clientele is women and they are interested in looking beautiful. But not only that, they are brides, mothers, wifes, mother’s to be and students. Do you see where your business is in a salon? Right there you have prom, senior photos, engagements or save the date, wedding, maternity, baby and family photography.

So what is your angle?? You want to partner with the salon owner to trade services. You will take photo’s that she can display in her salon for free for her to give you a space to advertise free.


So now that you have built up a relationship with the salon owner what do you do next?

The salon owner and you set up a “day of beauty” makeovers. The stylist offer free services to selected clients or offer or advertise for someone who is NOT a client. The purpose of the “Day of Beauty” is to take photographs for the salon of their work. So each stylist that participates will have a photograph hanging in the salon of their work that will not only show but will have the stylist’s name that created the style and give credit to the makeup artist if you use one. It will also have your studio name on it. Once the client is made over you take their photo’s focusing on their hairstyle. The client will get their hair and makeup free plus you will give them an image of their choice free. So how does this benefit the salon or stylist or for that matter you?? If you are using a new client the salon will benefit because hopefully they have had a great experience during their makeover and photo shoot. This should encourage them to rebook with the salon. Even using an existing client they are going to be talking about their wonderful experience to everyone. What is that going to do for you?? Give you free advertising and the salon free advertising.

What do you do after the shoot is complete?

So you’ve had your “Day of Beauty” shoot and now you have a bunch of beautiful photographs. Now you have to set up follow up meetings with the salon owner and all of the models. I would do these meetings separately. Yes this will take up time but remember you are building your future business.

What to do during your meetings

So during your meeting with the models you will want to first have them sign a modeling contract. And secondly you want to present them with their photographs from their shoot and your pricing. You don’t necessarily have to give the models a free print because they are getting their hair done for free. But to me I want them to talk about their great photo that you took. This is where you sell yourself and the value of your prints. Just assume they are going to buy and they will buy.

During your meeting with the salon owner together you and her will pick out the free photographs for her salon. You want to give them to her free. This sounds really expensive but in all actuality you are only paying for the paper to print them and a frame if the salon does not already have them up. This doe not have t bean expensive frame but you want the prints to have a finish. This may be something that the salon owner will even pay for. But the value you will get in return will be huge.

More ways to cross promote with a Salon Owner

One of the other ways you can cross promote is to ask the salon to give you free certificates for a percentage off in return you could give a free sitting or a percent off certificate on your photos. What a great avenue to pick up a wedding where the bride has not already picked a photographer.

You can also use this in any situation with other businesses. Think about who your clientele is and how they relate to other businesses. Some suggestions would be bridal shops, formal apparel and even florist’s.

I hope that this has made you think of other avenues to build you Photography business And I hope you will check out my other blogs. Check back for more ideas on building your business. As I discover new avenues I will be sure to share them.

A Little bit about the author:

Rhonda Humphreys has worked in sales for over 30 years and has owned and operated many businesses. Her last business was Store Manager of a big box retail store, Managing a multi=million dollar high paced business.

Read other articles from this author:

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    • RhondaHumphreys1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Rhonda Humphreys 

      5 years ago from Michigan

      Hi Teaches, I wouldn't call me a professional yet. That is my goal. So hopefully we are both on track!! :) Thank you for the feedback

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      5 years ago

      My son is a photographer and has followed some of your suggestions listed here. Good to know he is right on target with a professional such as yourself. Best wishes to you in 2013!

    • RhondaHumphreys1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Rhonda Humphreys 

      5 years ago from Michigan

      You are welcome Aviannovice. These are all stumbeling blocks for me as well

    • RhondaHumphreys1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Rhonda Humphreys 

      5 years ago from Michigan

      RW,that is some great ideas. I may have to look into doing something like that locally. You sparked an idea of going to the local boys and girls club.My area that I live in is very small so we do not have much in the way of Childrens hospital. But there are many Charitable organizations here. Obviously I would have to have parental permission first.

    • R W Bobholz profile image

      Richard Wayne Bobholz 

      5 years ago from Durham, North Carolina

      Oh, I wasn't clear. Your family being biased is only in the minds of future customers. I meant to say a stranger referring you has far greater weight, so the saloon owner or other customers and those you network with will yield far better referrals in the long run. If you can, join a few referral groups that don't have photographers, partner with graphic designers and other saloons, and offer to do some charitable, yet high visibility photo shoot. (Like go to a children's hospital or camp for kids with illnesses and put on a photo shoot day for the kids, let them dress up and act like models. Feel good and great future referrals.)

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      This are sure necessary questions for one beginning a business is portrait shots. Thanks for taking the time to bring these things up.

    • RhondaHumphreys1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Rhonda Humphreys 

      5 years ago from Michigan

      the girls,thank you for stopping by and leaving feed back. I appreciate it.

      Pavlo, you are very welcome. When your just strating out you have to be creative. I had to figure out some way of getting a portfolio together to show so that I can get "real" clients.

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

      Pavlo Badovskyi 

      5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      I like the idea of using friends os models to create portfolio! Great advice

    • the girls profile image

      Theresa Ventu 

      5 years ago from Los Angeles, California

      Interesting article on marketing photography. The decision makers are "women" indeed. I grew up in this business (my father's livelihood) and most of his portraits on display are beautiful women. Left angle, right angle, retouched photos and all other ways to make the subject beautiful :-)

    • RhondaHumphreys1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Rhonda Humphreys 

      5 years ago from Michigan

      R W Robbins,while I agree with you comment in some aspects that partnering with your family is a bad idea,if you are putting out a good product they shouldn't put out a poor referral. Let's face it,you run that risk with any of your clientele. Its just a part of doing business. And so if your family sounds biased?? That is to be expected don't you think?

      Hey,thanks for stopping by and leaving me feed back.

    • R W Bobholz profile image

      Richard Wayne Bobholz 

      5 years ago from Durham, North Carolina

      I like the part about partnering with a salon, but partnering with your family has frequently been cited as a bad idea. You never want your family recommending you. They either give you a poor referral, or they seem biased. I look forward to seeing other tips for upstart photography businesses.


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