It would probably surprise you to hear that as a photographer, there is one email I dread having to draft a reply to:
My family needs photos! My husband and I have 3 kids, ages 6, 4, and 2. We really love your style and were thinking we wanted to have our family portraits taken at XYZ Park in a few weeks. Are you available?
Every single time I got this email, I cringed. Don’t get me wrong, I am really good at taking formal family portraits–especially when there are children involved. But the more I worked with families, the more I fell in love with the “in-between” photos. As time passed and I had my own children, I realized how much the day to day photos meant to me as their mother. I discovered that any portraits that required “posing” and “carefully chosen attire” were just not what made my heart skip a beat. (I’m also great at giving traditional what to wear advice when needed and did just that for Vend Raleigh. Check out my advice here.)
I knew in my heart that in-home portrait sessions that focused on relationships, the home itself, and its occupants were where I needed to focus my energies. Kids playing with their toys, in their messy rooms, under their kitchen tables.
Easier said than done. See, I had a period of transition where I’d go in, intending to shoot a session in a more documentary style and still end up with pretty formal portraiture in the end. It took me a while to realize what the issue was: My branding job sucked. I was doing a crappy job of setting expectations for my clients. Of course wonderful mom of 3 shopping for a photographer was asking me for formal portraits. That’s what all photographers do, that’s why MY website showed, and that’s what MY site copy discussed.
Starting From Scratch
I had no choice but to wipe my website clean of nearly every posey photo and replace it with the kinds of photos I wanted to shoot. In other words, I needed to show my clients the kind of photography I specialized in. Easy peasy, right?
Not exactly. Most people who need a photographer are looking for a person that clicks with them. (See what I did there? Click? No pun intended.) They assume that anyone who can take photos of a family in a park can also take wedding photos, newborn photos, senior photos, or baseball photos. And to a degree, that’s true. A skilled artist with a professional camera can produce high-quality, versatile imagery! Because of these assumptions, clients were just seeing my site, loving the photos, and asking for their vision–photos in the park with matching outfits.
I realized that marketing myself as a photographer was working but that marketing my niche was failing miserably. I took down nearly all of the photos that I had worked so hard to create for years and re-built my galleries using the type of imagery that really set my heart on fire. (If you wonder if specializing your business is best or if you worry that it will make your business tank, I’d suggest reading up on it’s benefits! Two excellent bloggers write about this topic here and here.)
The Magic of Video
I hired Janice to create a promotional video for me last year because I could not think of any other way to convey my vision to potential clients. We came up with a rough, two-part plan. The video would involve footage of me actually shooting a session in someone’s home and it would involved an interview with me. If the client was up for it, maybe they would say a few words. I had written precisely zero words down for a script.
In retrospect, this is probably a terrible strategy but we both had a clear vision in our heads, as nebulous as it was. She asked me questions as they came to her and I answered them on the fly and that spontaneity infused such an authentic feel to the final product. (True story: I kicked my family out and made them go upstairs and turn on music to drown out my voice because I was so self-conscious on camera.)
Was it “expensive”? Yup, you betcha. But the term expensive is relative, as we all know. Have I reaped the benefits by investing my resources wisely? Yes. Unequivocally, yes.
The Final Cut
So How Has The Video Worked?
1. Email inquiries are higher quality.
When you create a website with the information that clients need to differentiate you, the clients who contact you are almost always a good fit. The emails asking about weddings, large family reunion group photos, and posed family sessions dried up quickly. I successfully integrated a few tools into my website to incentivize these clients to subscribe to my email list.
Most of all, I’m spending less time answering emails!
2. Clients can meet me virtually.
It’s hard to hire a photographer because you are initiating a pretty intimate relationship with someone. Most of us (even us extroverts) hesitate to make these important decisions. By having my interview on my website, clients can see what I look like, hear my talking, and watch me work. It’s comforting for them to feel as if we’ve met before they reach out.
Plus, it differentiates me from my “competition.” (I use that word loosely because the local community of photographers here in Raleigh feel much more like friends than competitors.) Most photographers provide a short biography, a background on their love for photography, and sometimes a photo. When clients see a video of me, I’m entered in their memory in a more permanent way.
3. Quick and easy marketing.
This was the most surprising benefit! Sure, I’ve added my video to my website. But I’ve also added it to my email signature. I use it in all of my inquiry reply emails. It’s been linked in guest blogging articles or in sponsorship pieces. I even use it when I post to “business” threads on Facebook.
There isn’t a web link out there that does a better job explaining what my business is all about than the letters and numbers that make up my video! More people are spending the time getting to know me and I’ve noticed that even friends of friends know what I do now.
If you want to chat about business stuff, Jess is always up for coffee. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She’s got a few more slots for family photo sessions available this fall if you would like a family session of your own.