Photographers – are you of value to your clients?

Do you know what your clients think of you?

blackjack - corporate event

Do you know what your clients think?

As a professional commercial photographer I’m acutely aware of changes in the way that photography is being viewed by existing (and future) clients.

If you read some articles on the business of photography, then apart from the fact that we now rarely supply images in the form of transparencies, you might think not a lot has changed in the last twenty years.

OK, royalty free (RF) and micro-stock have helped the bottom drop out of the stock photo market, whilst the advent of relatively cheap (or at least ‘affordable’ ) high quality cameras have removed many of the technical and cost barriers for interested amateurs to ‘have a go’.

However, if I look at some on-line discussions, I see calls for forms of regulation (imposed and voluntary), and a rigorous usage based pricing model.

If only we could educate clients, to properly value photography, is a the eminently reasonable sounding response I hear.

Unfortunately, whilst some professional photographer’s attitudes don’t seem to have changed much from those of the 1980′s, the views and attitudes of potential clients have moved on.

Good photography hasn’t (IMHO) become less valued in its broadest sense, but people just don’t want to pay what they once did.

Photographers are not a special case – the music industry has had to (belatedly) change its attitude in response to the significant ‘download for free’ culture.

All the photographers

coffee cups on a hotel bar

Why does the client want the pictures? In this case they were offering free business meeting facilities.

It’s important to distinguish what part of the business we’re considering, when looking at how photographers adapt to the changes.

For the top few percent of photographers, who’ve made it as a ‘brand’, the existing usage and pricing models will probably work quite well (I use them sometimes – depends on the client, the work and the business needs)

Look at the work of some of the top names – be honest, isn’t some of it pretty average? There is no shame in not appreciating someone’s work just because they are famous.  However, they are doing well in their field and meeting the needs of their clients.

What about the big ‘middle range’ of photographers – those who, whilst they might not like to use the terms, are competent and workmanlike – they get the job done, and produce good looking photos.

For a significant proportion of competent professional photographers (and I must include myself in this category), we need to address the commoditisation of much photography – not perhaps for the top 10-15% of the market, but for the vast majority of us.

How should we market ourselves in this market of more photos, more people taking them and easier ways to promote them?

What the customer wants…

Unwelcome as it is, many clients probably view your work as interchangeable with that of other pro photographers.

What clients want ultimately is value.

Some time ago I went to Scotland just to take some property shots for a local client – a 900 mile round trip.  Why did the client get me to do it rather than a Scottish photographer? They knew my work, they knew I delivered results quickly and on time, with a minimal need for additional briefing or involvement of their staff.

To find someone local to the area, they need to go through the whole process of sourcing a competent photographer again – time, effort and cost.

How do I know this? …I asked them.

When did you last ask your clients how well you did, and what you could do to offer even better value?

Selling the benefits

drinks menu for hotel brochure

A picture used as part of a promotional brochure for a hotel. It helps understanding the client's business and objectives.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that telling a client what sorts of photography you do is the same as telling them how you can be of value to their business.

Take trouble to listen to their problems – can you be of help?

Sure, impressive looking images will help your sales pitch, but remember to say why the image was of real benefit to the client.

Let’s say you’ve a prize winning picture taken in a factory making knitting machines. Let’s say I’ve a decent looking picture of someone at work in a quarry – it’s a technically competent picture of  a man next to a truck, many competent pro photographers could have taken it.

A mining company is looking for some shots of a new mine – you mention that you’ve won this prize for industrial photography, I mention that I used to be a geologist and that my pictures were used in company XYZ’s annual report and web site.

In this case I’m aiming at being the more useful and better value photographer – I’m personally wanting to produce some stunning shots and advance this aspect of my business, but that’s of no interest to the client. I’m looking for ways of becoming the person that springs into their mind whenever some photographic need arises.

Why me?

A few questions to ask about your own business

  • Does your advertising promote benefits or features?
  • Do you have an ‘Elevator pitch’?
  • When did you last ask a client what their problems are?
  • When did you last contact a client to ask if they were happy with your work?
  • Does your business model look forwards or backwards?

More of Keith’s Photo Business related articles