What better way to wrap up a money series for photographers than a guest post to help you hit your numbers!
Melissa of Brand Sweet Co is a strategic brand and web designer for photographers on a mission to help you attract your ideal client with a strong brand to fill your books so you can hit all those numbers we crunched over the last 2 weeks here, here, and here. Without, further ado, here’s all of Melissa’s genius-ness.
Branding. It seems like it is the hot new “must-have” item for creative businesses lately. But so often, I see the focus simply on the visual aspects of branding. I’m sure you’ve all heard that branding is more than just your logo, which is 100% true. It’s also more than your colors and fonts.
Building a solid brand is what makes your business unique, valuable and desirable. It is consistent throughout your website, social media, marketing materials, client experience and product delivery. When you’ve been able to define your business in a way that makes clients willing to wait weeks or months to work with you, happily pay whatever prices you charge and turn into raving fans who refer their friends, that’s when you’ve nailed your branding.
I’m pretty sure by now, you’re thinking, “Yes please! How in the heck do I make that actually happen?”. Well, I’m pretty darn excited to walk you through how to do just that!
BUT FIRST, AN EXAMPLE!
This is how strong branding can mean charging big bucks. Let’s compare shopping for a silver necklace at Tiffany’s versus Claire’s.
Tiffany & Co
Their website homepage is simple, but draws attention to four specific product offerings through very strong, branded images and copy that lures you in conveying value and exclusivity. It’s easy to navigate and find what you’re looking for quickly.
When you visit a store, you’re immediately greeted, addressed by name and lead to a sales associate who personally assists you with selecting items. All purchases are carefully hand packaged in their iconic Tiffany Blue boxes with a perfectly tied crisp white bow and placed in a matching gift bag with white tissue paper. Your receipt is nicely folded into a small folder along with care instructions and warranty information.
They position their items as high-quality luxury items that are classic styles you can wear forever. If a necklace clasp breaks, people happily pay for repairs because they value the item. People buy from Tiffany’s based on the perceived value, the shopping experience, and the quality product.
Their website homepage is visually overwhelming with 14 options you can click on that lack any visual consistency and focus on price rather than value. You may be clicking for a while to find what you want.
When you visit a store, you may or may not get a generic “welcome” from an employee, are left to wander around wall after wall of jewelry on your own with little to no assistance in selecting items or getting questions answered. All purchases are tossed into a plastic shopping bag along with the receipt.
They position their items based on low prices and trends. If a necklace clasp breaks, people just toss the necklace because it’s cheap and already out of style.
People buy from Claire’s based on price.
Big difference, right?
HOW THAT TRANSLATES TO YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY BUSINESS
The Tiffany’s of the photography world are photographers like Jose Villa, Jasmine Star, Katelyn James and that one photographer in your area who everyone wants to book and leaves you wondering “How on earth do they book so many clients and charge that much while I can barely book weddings at lower prices?!”
The Claire’s in the photography world are the photographers who are struggling to figure out how to stand out from the 10 other photographers nearby that have similar work and prices, who don’t have a visual brand identity or have an inconsistent look across website, social media, etc .
SO HOW DO YOU GET TO TIFFANY LEVEL VALUE AND PRICES?
Instead of just giving you vague, high-level info, I’m breaking it down for you using a real life example of a recent photography client, Beth. These are the 9 ways making your brand stronger can actually help you stand out, attract the right clients and charge higher prices.
1. KNOW YOUR NICHE
Generally photographers considering their niche to be something along the lines of wedding photographer or newborn photographer. While those are super easy for a potential client to understand, they’re pretty broad. Try to narrow it down even further.
Getting more specific on your niche lets you stop trying to be all things to all people. Let’s face it, you can’t photograph weddings, sports, and newborns and please everyone. It leaves you stretched thin and starting to resent the things you don’t enjoy photographing, but feel like you have to in order to stay in business.
When you get super specific about your niche, you get the opportunity to excel at what you’re passionate about, become easily recognized for your work and provide more value to clients by being the expert.
Beth was photographing newborns, families, and sports. But she dreamt of transitioning into JUST dance photography. But that’s way too broad. Her work is gorgeous and screams fine-art. So her niche became fine-art dance portraiture.
2. KNOW YOUR TARGET CLIENT
I honestly think this is the hardest part in nailing your branding and charging your worth. Lots of blog posts about “ideal clients” floating around on Pinterest will tell you to get so specific that you name them and describe what they’re wearing right down to their undies.
I take a simpler and way less stressful approach to this. I call it your “client clique”. Think about it, if you have the most perfect, dreamiest of dreamy client ever, there’s a solid chance that their friends will be great clients as well.
You’re not trying to find all of the brown hair, blue eyed Betsy’s in the world who love travel and Anthropologie. That’s way too specific, almost impossible to find and would leave you with a handful of potential clients. You just need to know what they want, what they need and what has enough value that they’re willing to pay more.
You’re trying to find all the clients who value photography, desire a premium experience and product and are willing to pay for it. Or whatever your client clique looks like. While slightly broad, it’s still specific enough that now you know WHO you’re trying to market to. It’s takes a lot of anxiety off of figuring out the whole ideal client thing and leaves you with a great number of potential clients!
Because Beth’s focus is on fine-art dance photography, her ideal clients obviously value dance, want high-quality, and appreciate the hard work and precision of her craft. They are serious dancers with dreams and plans to become professionals and are willing to save and work extra, if necessary, to afford premium items or services related to dance. (Y’all, dance is crazy expensive at a competitive level!)
3. KNOW YOUR COMPETITION
This one seems kind of counter-intuitive right? We always hear we should ignore what our competitors are doing and not sweat how many more Instagram followers they have than you. Believe me, I’m a huge advocate of ignoring my competitors, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know everything about them.
Here’s how to approach it:
1. Narrow down who you consider the top 2-4 competitors in your area based on similar style and pricing.
2. Identify the key areas where they may be a bit stronger AND a bit weaker than you. Maybe they have a more consistent editing style than you (strength), but they don’t offer a pre-session consultation like you (weakness).
3. If you were a potential client looking at their website, what is the value they offer to you?
4. What is included in the sessions and packages they offer?
Beth only has a handful of competitors in her market, but they are very connected already in the local dance community (their strength). However, the style of dance photography they offer is a bit outdated and very cookie-cutter (their weakness).
4. HOW DO YOU STAND OUT FROM YOUR COMPETITION
Now that you know all about your competitors, it’s time to figure out how to outshine them in the minds of potential customers so you’re the Tiffany & Co. in a sea of Claire’s. This is your unique value proposition (which is just a fancy marketing term for “this is what you need to focus your marketing and copy around to stand out from the crowd).
Figure out the areas where you outshine all of them. This could be how quickly you turn around a wedding/session or maybe your session includes professional makeup. Use this to your advantage!
Because Beth’s competitors have a lot of the market share in such a small niche, focusing on her strengths was critical. So, we focused on where she outperforms them: her fine art photography degree, past work for professional dance companies, a more modern style of dance images and more session options.
5. WHAT VALUE DO YOU DELIVER TO YOUR CLIENTS
I know, this one sounds basically the same as #4, but it’s not. When you dig into who your target client is, you start to understand what is valuable to them. What will they pay more to have? Do you include/offer/deliver that? Maybe you do, but you realize you don’t ever talk about it.
The added value you offer may include things like professional makeup with each session, a pre-consultation to select the perfect location and provide ideas for wardrobe styling, hand-delivery of orders, assisting in the selection and placement of wall art.
This can also be as simple as taking what you already offer, but making it seem more valuable by describing the item in a way that solves a want or need of the client. If you already offer a client welcome guide, you can add more perceived value by saying you provide each client with a welcome guide that helps them prepare for their session, explains the session experience and answers any questions they may have. If you already help your client pose during their session, try saying you provide individualized posing guidance for each session.
Beth offers a selection of outfits that dancers can borrow for their session that highlight the movements of dance in photographs beautifully, but normally never mentioned it until after a client booked. By incorporating this into her marketing materials, potential clients view something that she already does as added value.
6. HOW DO YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS
Raise your hand if you’ve ever been asked what you do and your answer is something like “Oh, uh, I photograph weddings”. Technically, you answered the question and now you’ll probably be asked to photograph their cousin’s wedding at the rec center for $300.
That’s because that answer doesn’t describe what makes you different, who you photograph weddings for or the value you bring. What’s your elevator pitch – or one-liner – and is it hooking your audience, speaking to what they value and highlighting your unique factor? A great one-liner becomes a starting point for more conversation about your business and gives you the chance to sell your value and uniqueness.
When I first asked Beth how she would describe to someone what she did, she replied “I photograph dancers”. After going through steps 1-4, the answer became “I’m a fine art dance portrait photographer specializing in capturing the skill and grace for aspiring and pre-professional dancers”.
7. CHOOSE YOUR WORDS CAREFULLY
If you forget everything else in this blog post, remember this one. The words you string together to talk about your services, your packages and the client experience you offer is probably THE most important of being able to charge more. This is also one of the most overlooked parts of website, pricing guide, and social media posts.
Pretend you’re a potential client. Which one of these below show enough value that you would pay more?
1. “20 digital images” OR “20 hand-retouched digital images on a custom USB drive”.
2. “(3) 5×7’s” OR “Three 5×7 gift prints on matte finish archival paper”
3. “2-hour session” OR “2-hour personalized portrait session experience”
Try to be descriptive of your business, services, and products in a way that shows their value and appeals to the wants and needs of your potential clients.
Throughout Beth’s website and marketing materials we focused on what made her unique and what was valuable to her target client by consistently using the same language and words. Things like “Fine art dance portraiture”, “skill, movement and grace”, “passion for photographing dancers”, and “dance session experience” are littered everywhere because they speak to her target client, while highlighting her value and separating her from her competitors.
8. WHAT KIND OF EXPERIENCE ARE YOU DELIVERING
The experience your clients have from the second they find you on social media or google until the second you’ve delivered their final order is an incredible opportunity to make your brand Tiffany & Co. level memorable. The goal is for every touch point to be branded in some way or provide a higher level of service that stands out from other photography experiences.
This can include things as simple as having the same social media profile photo and bio on all of your social channels, having a branded email signature or making sure your logo and colors are the same everywhere you use them. Taking it up a notch further can include things like a branded client welcome guide, custom packaging, a stellar in-person sales process and branded thank you notes.
After years of DIYing and not being happy with the overall outcome, Beth was craving consistent and on-brand everything. We went through every touch-point in her client process and found at least one small way to make it a branded experience. A few easy examples include her welcome guide being totally in sync with the language and information on her website. Her social media channels all got a makeover. And we created matching gift cards, thank you cards and packaging tags.
9. AUDIT YOURSELF
Look at all your brand through the eyes of your target client including social profiles, website pages, email signature, marketing materials, etc. Are they consistent in logos, colors, design style and copy? Is it clear what you do, who your do it for, and how you’re different? Does it appeal to your target client and show the value you provide for their wants and needs?
I know this one might feel a little bit daunting, because you know the more you find, the more there is to fix. But look at it this way instead, a few hours of your time tightening up your brand will land you more of the right clients who are willing to pay your prices. Grab some coffee (or wine!) and tackle it one thing at a time.
Beth did a complete brand overhaul, so the audit was one of the first steps of that process. Lucky for her, the complete overhaul also meant I got to do most of the heavy lifting for her. ????
If you’ve made it this far, I’m giving you a virtual high-five! I’ve also put together a sweet little workbook to help you figure out and implement all of the information in this blog post.
Guest post by Melissa of Brand Sweet Co.
Melissa is a brand experience designer for creative entrepreneurs, combining drool-worthy visual design with kick-butt brand and marketing strategy. After her first failed attempt at a film photography business ten years ago, she made it her mission to learn everything she could about marketing, branding, and business which lead to a successful corporate career as a Marketing Director and a successful senior portrait photography business. AsMelissa went from struggling to thriving, her passion shifted to inspiring the same journey in other creative entrepreneurs. Today she combines her experience, skills and knowledge to help creative entrepreneurs build and grow their brands.