Being passionate and believing in yourself are important elements in building a successful wedding photography business. But you shouldn’t rely on the off-chance that prospective clients are going to inquire or even book on that alone.
We all hope that our business is going to be a success, particularly when we’re just starting out, but it takes a more objective approach to build a solid foundation and achieve your goals.
In this episode, we’ll chat about the importance of not getting too comfortable in just being hopeful that your wedding photography business will take off. There is no blueprint for success, but being able to critically analyze what is working (and what isn’t) is more important than just counting on pure luck that clients will find you and trust you enough to book.
Building a successful wedding photography business requires a methodical plan of attack that takes into account facts and data while addressing your failures and being transparent about what you are capable of.
Rather than just hoping you will achieve greatness, you need to continually develop your wedding photography and business skills, striving to be better each and every day.
Are you building your wedding photography business on chance or on luck? Maybe crossing your fingers or a little prayer here and there? Are you in that mindset of wishful thinking?
Having some kind of optimism is healthy and I’m not saying you shouldn’t have that. But it’s important that you’re building your business on facts, on data. Having a game plan with attainable goals and deadlines. This is going to give us a higher chance of being successful.
For example, if I do these certain things by this certain time, then I will have a higher likelihood of booking this many weddings and making these earning in the coming year. It’s never too early to have this type of mindset. I want to burst that bubble of just hoping that the success with come and instead, build your business on something that’s more tangible and quantifiable.
I’m often asked by those in the SIWP community, "Henry, should I do this or invest my resources in that? Should I advertise here or should I attend this workshop? Should I buy this camera gear or which lens do you think I should invest in? Should I have an Instagram account and how often should I update it? Do I need to have a blog and do I need to post every single wedding I shoot there?"
While I’m honored that people are looking to me for a valid answer or assurance, it’s important that you do your research on how that particular thing will affect your business.
Just because I’m doing it or one of your colleagues are doing it doesn’t mean it will necessarily work 100% for your situation or business. You have to determine yourself if investing your time or money into something is going to have a positive impact on your business or help to grow it in the way that you want.
Maybe one photographer suggested you should do something and another says that they’re not doing it. You’re getting all sorts of different opinions and don’t know if it’s actually going to work. You’re building your business on some kind of chance that it worked for someone else so it’s going to work for you.
You need to have objective, clear, concrete, actionable goals with deadlines. You should be doing your own research. Ask the representatives of these companies you’re thinking of advertising with to see some data. How many inquiries or how many visits to your storefront might you get in a given month in your target area?
For example, if I advertise on WeddingWire for Los Angeles, I like to know, on average, how many visits or views can I expect to my storefront page? I want to know that and compare it to how many I actually end up getting and I’ll know if I’m below average or above average. Am I doing better or worse than all the other photographers in that area?
If I’m doing worse, then I can determine whether there’s something going on with my storefront. The cover image, my starting out price or the lack of reviews might be turning prospective clients away.
If you’re going to be investing hundreds or thousands of dollars into advertising, you need to know with high probability and likelihood that you’re going to get a great return on your investment. It’s not going to be guaranteed, it’s definitely not 100%. But it needs to be more than 60 or 70%.
I’m actually asking questions to the representatives of these companies. I’m asking for data and stats. I want to know what the facts are. I want to track this information through Google Analytics and Search Console. I can see on a monthly periodic basis how well my advertising is performing and if I’m getting a good return on my investment.
Another example is camera gear or lenses. Should you invest money into purchasing the 5D Mark IV or should you get a 70D or a 7D? I’ve been on a 5D Mark III for over 5 years and they still work wonders, so I’m not really about having to have the latest gear on the market.
You want to make sure you have the best tools you can budget for to get the job done. It’s not all about what gear you have. There’s a saying: you can give the best gear in the world to an amateur or you can give the worst gear to the best photographer. Who’s going to take better photos? It’s more about the photographer than the gear.
I believe that having quality gear is absolutely important. It’s definitely a means to get high-quality images. But you need to have a good reason if you’re going to spend $3,000 on a new camera body or upgrading a lens. Or maybe you want to get a speedlight so you can photograph with flash in low light.
But there’s a reason. It’s not because everyone else has it or somebody told me I should get it and I’m hoping that if I purchase this gear, if I have better equipment, I’m going to become more successful.
How is having this gear the wisest investment of your money? Maybe it is, maybe it’s not. You have to decide that given your business situation and what’s the best use of your resources.
If you’re getting opportunities to second shoot or maybe even take on some weddings but the lack of quality gear is compromising your photos, then perhaps it is a wise investment. To have a camera body with better high-ISO performance or being able to photograph in low light conditions.
If it enables you to capture better quality photos that fit your brand, your style of photography, and being able to showcase that on your website, a blog or social media...perhaps that’s going to help attract the clientele that you want and is a valid investment.
So if you invest a few thousand dollars, it may be the gift that keeps giving. I’m using the same lenses that I started out with back in 2007 (some of them I upgraded to a Mark II version). But I know exactly why I’m investing in these cameras and these lenses because it’s going to help me achieve the quality and style of photos that are going to help me book the weddings I want.
You don’t want to start a social media account and just update it because somebody told you to or everybody else is doing it. I’m not the biggest fan of being on Instagram and I wish that I could spend that time doing something else. But I know that a lot of prospective couples are on Instagram and are looking for not only wedding photographers but other vendors that way.
It’s also a great way to connect with other wedding professionals through tagging and mentions. And with behind-the-scenes stories and images that I post, a prospective client could get a good sense of me and my style of photography.
That’s where Instagram helps for a variety of reasons. It’s not because it’s something fun that I just want to do for the sake of it. There is a means to it and that is to further my reputation and, hopefully, get inquiries and some bookings through that.
You can see with all these different things, I’m not leaving the result to chance. That’s just dangerous and you’re going to be spending so much time and/or money doing those things, without knowing what the results could be. You’ve got to have a game plan. You need to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Whatever metrics or small milestones you have, you need to track those and if they are converting to visits to your website and inquiries. Maybe a prospective client decided to visit your website because they found it on a particular advertising site. Your SEO is working because they Googled a certain venue or set of keywords and they found your website that way.
Maybe because of the gear you purchased, you were able to photograph better photos at your recent weddings and, therefore, you’re able to share that on your website and other places online. That’s what got some prospective couples to contact you who otherwise might not have.
Maybe you took some courses or a workshop and because of that, you became a better photographer. You’re taking better photos and because you invested in a quality website, you’re able to show those photos. The whole package all comes together and that leads to prospective couples contacting and wanting to hire you.
You can see with all of these things, there’s a method to the madness. There’s a reasoning behind them. It’s not that you’re throwing darts to the board and hopefully, a few of them will hit the bullseye. That’s the difference in the mindset. Always understand, as much as possible, why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Now it doesn’t always have to have a metric, even though I love numbers and quantifying things. Sometimes it can be something more qualitative. Perhaps you just wanted to connect with your wedding photography colleagues and talk about photography business because it’s going to enrich your life.
It’s good to have a network of close colleagues that can count on each other. If I need help, they’ll be there to step in. If they needed something, I’ll be there to help them out.
So not everything always has to be about bookings, inquiries, and earnings. But if you’re looking to become successful and sustain that, you need to use your limited resources wisely.
And it’s really easy to get distracted these days. You’re on Facebook to check up on something and you end up spending 15-20 minutes. Or you turn on the TV and lose another hour. You really have to stay focused, disciplined, and mindful of how you’re using your limited resources.
Other things are going to come down the pipeline, so always aim to finish things within the timeframe you set yourself. What if there was a prospective couple looking for a photographer that has experience photographing a certain style or faith and I just captured that type of wedding. But because I didn’t push myself to finish the blog or slideshow, that couple never saw it and ended up booking another photographer.
So having a sense of urgency and that commitment to work on your business and build it, rather than just hoping the inquiries and bookings will come. Having goals and deadlines and making sure I meet them. Doing everything I can to achieve my goals. That’s what I’m building my business on.
And of course, quality photography and customer service. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Not just to prospective couples and upcoming ones but also past couples. I’m going to give the same level of attention and service to a bride and groom that got married two years ago and are finally getting ready to put together their album as to one that just inquired 5 minutes ago.
So I’m building my business on these building blocks, not on chance. Another building block of my business is making sure that i have various means of getting inquiries. I’m not counting on only one avenue. I talked about that back in episode number 102 - what I’m doing right now to get bookings for 2018 and 2019.
I’m not just counting on advertising or SEO or word of mouth in case one or two don’t work. There’s going to be a few potential avenues so I am covered if WeddingWire goes down or Google changes their algorithm or I’m not being referred by wedding coordinators or family and friends at that time. I’m not putting all my eggs in one basket. It’s just way too dangerous and I don’t think it’s the best way to run our business.
At the end of the day, you need to do things with intention and be deliberate. You have a purpose, you have a reasoning. But you’re really increasing your likelihood of that success.
Maybe you do have 4-5 things that you could be working on. Do you decide to just pick one of those 5 things and stick to that for the next couple of days until you feel you got it just right, instead of trying to do all five things at once?
Or maybe you have to do these five things in a certain order. For example, it’s pointless to advertise when you have a poor website or a limited portfolio. Or if you’re just starting out, you’re not going to get any consideration from wedding professionals and venues that will put you on the preferred vendors' list.
Say you have $5,000 and you’re wondering how to spend this money. Should you first get all the gear in the world? Perhaps you would need to pay to be mentored or coached by a wedding photographer. Spending money on educational purposes and connecting with other photographers might be the next step.
That’s going to have a higher likelihood of you getting weddings down the road than just buying all the gear in the world while having nothing to shoot. So the order that you do things is very important.
If you do A, B, C, D, E, maybe it’s 50% that you’re going to meet your goals of getting a certain number of bookings and making this amount of earnings next year. But if you do D, then C, then A, then B, maybe the chances are higher.
Maybe in order to do C, you really have to do A first. If you want to fast track your business, maybe it is signing up for a coaching session or a workshop where you’ve seen the success of other photographers that went through them and the success of the photographers themselves.
Ultimately, it’s making sure that you have a goal, you have a deadline and you hold yourself accountable. So don’t base your business on chance. That’s not the way to go about it. We need to raise our game to a point where we have a much higher chance of being successful.
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