Gavin is a wedding photographer based out of Orange County California and the founder of Cloud Spot, an online photo delivery platform for photographers.
In this episode, Gavin and I talk about how he went from being a fitness consultant at Taco Bell, to a successful photographer in less than 18 months. Gavin shares how he was able to make the transition to full time so rapidly, as well as how he uses online photo delivery to form relationships with vendors and grow his business.
Note from Ben: This is a guest post written by Brendan from the Photo MBA
So that’s a heck of a headline, but I’m serious.
And if you’re going to read this, I hope you are too. This is because doubling your photography revenue means you are going to need to take twice the amount of action you’re taking now.
But, odds are, that if you’re searching the internet for articles on dominating your wedding photography business, you’re the right kind of photographer for what I’m about to tell you.
The fact of the matter is that when you show up regularly, speak to your clients and learn deeply about their needs, you’ll provide better service and value. This means more referrals, more partnerships with other service providers, and more revenue.
The reason that this will double the revenue of new and veteran photographers alike is:
It’s going to open you to new ideas to sell your clients and gaps that currently exist in your local market.
It’s going to let you know what really gets you hired as a photographer so you can cut out all the guess work.
Think about it: If you could get rid of all the risk of trying a new business idea, would you take it?
I thought so.
This May Be Life or Death For Your Business
I’ve worked with a lot of photographers and, so far, I’ve found that 100% of them haven’t done this work before working with me.
According to Dane Sanders, only 15% of photographers make it to their third year of business.
In The E Myth, Michael Gerber says that the number one reason that businesses fail, and likely a large contributing factor to only 15% of photographers making it to year three, is that they confuse skill proficiency with business proficiency.
Photographers think that because they take great photos, they know how to run a business.
In addition to taking great photos, you have to do the business side of wedding photography: pitches, sales, marketing, and networking.
You have to SHOW UP EVERY DAY.
Day to day, this looks like answering endless emails and meeting with clients, and potential clients, face-to-face or on the phone.
The 15% of photographers that survive are the ones who show up. Here’s what I mean…
Why Photographers Don’t Show Up
“If you build it, they will come” only applies to life and death products. – Steve Blank
Talking to people is hard. They might not like your ideas or your work. Maybe, like when I started my first business, you think that if you just do great work, people will show up to buy it.
So it’s a struggle when they don’t. And photographers lose motivation, stop answering their phone and stop returning emails quickly.
I know a few photographers that start almost every email with “Sorry it’s taken me a bit to get back to you…” If that’s how you’re starting emails and phone calls regularly, something is broken.
Even Cole Joseph of Cole’s Classroom struggled mightily during his start as a wedding photographer. First, he tried assisting other photographers, but when that dried up he tried the Craigslist hustle and showed up again and again and again for six straight years until he went from $550 weddings to booking 20+ weddings per year at $4800 each.
How to Show Up as a Photographer
Everything I’ve learned about showing up has come from Jason Zook. In addition to giving great advice, Jason outlines the five things that people who show up in business do:
They promptly communicate (or outsource to someone to do it for them)
They manage expectations and don’t over-promise anything
They get their work done and deliver exactly what they said they would, when they said they would
They are honest and treat people with the respect they want
They get the majority of their clients/customers from word of mouth
What ends up happening is that people like them a lot and buy from them again and again.
But, this means being an expert at your craft AND:
Delivering everything when you said you would
Being early for every meeting
Never missing a scheduled phone call
Oh wait, but you also have to:
Answer every email
Reply to every request on Tumbtack
Reply to every Google review
Reply to every Wedding Wire request
Reply to every blog comment
Call every client back in 24 hours
And do all of this in a way that is so genuine that every (existing and potential) client thinks they’re your only client. In all of those interactions, they should feel like they’re getting some sort of special treatment.
The best wedding photographers, including Ben, always advise clients to reply to everything and reach out to every potential lead, investing time and energy into learning about them and what they need during that call.
Wondering what that means and how it’ll double your revenue?
Don’t worry, we’ll get super tactical here in a moment.
Before we dive into the client interviews that are going to double your revenue in 2017, let’s make sure we don’t make the three HUGE mistakes I see so many photographers make when they try to dive into them without planning ahead.
These are the kind of mistakes that people would be making if all you read was the headline.
You really need to READ the details below if you want to do this right. Don’t make these mistakes:
Mistake #1: Treating your conversation like a pitch for your idea
With our client conversations, we’re trying to find out what they want and need from a wedding photographer, not ask if they want to hire you.
Don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself, either. This should be really fun.
For many photographers, these types of conversations start with, “So here’s what I do. Are you interested in that?”
First, you end up with confirmation bias by asking about your main service right away. When people know exactly what you’re trying to sell them, and they care about you, they tend to agree with you.
How many people in your life love and support your photography, but if you asked them to pay for it, wouldn’t give you a dime?
That’s what I’m talking about. When I started my first business, an apparel company, everybody said they’d buy something from me. Product came in and I asked people to buy… crickets.
By instead talking to clients with the focus of learning about them and their needs, you’ll be infinitely more equipped to serve them, often being able to provide more value (and make more money!) than if you saw it as a pitch.
Pro Tip: By really listening, you'll also be able to tailor your website to language you've heard your clients mention. Like Shane Cleminson does here:
Mistake #2: Thinking There is a “Right” Answer
As a veteran classroom teacher, I can tell you that students love getting questions right.
Adults are the same way. We want to make the question-asker happy by getting the right answer because, in turn, we feel good.
But with these conversations, there is no “right” answer, so we have to be careful not to lead the conversation in that direction.
San Francisco photographer Misti Layne says the goal of your conversation isn’t to get them to confirm that what we’re doing is right by hiring us. We want their answers to be so honest, so raw, so real, that we get incredible insights into the mind of the people who pay us for what we do.
If they take the conversation in a different direction that you anticipated, stay there. That’s where the real treasure is.
Mistake #3: Going Wide and Not Deep
A lot of times, we confuse the most common answers with the most important. Additionally, we don’t want to use a ‘scattershot’ approach where we ask 50 random questions.
Both of these lead to the eventuality of having a very wide, but not very deep understanding of what your clients really want to pay you for.
Now that we’re going to be able to avoid the biggest mistakes that photographers make in these conversations, let’s learn how to create an approach that allows us to do it again and again.
A Fail-Proof Approach to Showing Up
We most often sabotage ourselves in business not because we have no options, but because we have too many.
Photographer’s aren’t showing up because they have a lack of time, but instead have so many options that they’ve packed their schedule full of them.
By removing our freedom of choice, there is no other option BUT to show up. As a photographer, creativity is bred through restraint.
When I give myself the whole morning to write, it takes me the entire morning to get my writing done, but when I give myself 30 minutes to complete something, it magically only takes 30 minutes.
Accountability and Changing the Game
If you want to show up more, and better, for present and future clients, in a manner that will double your revenue this year, you’re going to need some accountability.
My business didn’t take off until I joined my first mastermind group. The accountability that I had there was life-changing for me and I recommend it for everybody who has a business, but especially for photographers.
Partner Accountability – 1 on 1 accountability with another person. I let myself down all the time, but I hate looking into my wife’s eyes and telling her I failed. Moving beyond that, I have a buddy that I check in weekly with on specific goals. Since he has no problem letting me know when I’ve messed up, I’m much more likely to show up so I don’t let him down.
Public Accountability – Now you have at least one other person (bonus points if it’s somebody outside of your immediate family), but be public about your commitments. If you don’t show up for your clients, you’re going to let down your partner, but also your public audience. As a wedding photographer, your word is EVERYTHING. Your clients trust you to photograph the most important day of their life. This is the reason that I fired my first wedding photographer. If I can’t trust him to show up to an engagement session, would he show up to my wedding? I couldn’t take that chance.
Personal Accountability – We don’t mind disappointing ourselves because our brains are (mostly) hard-wired for survival, not success. What’s awesome about this third type of accountability is that once we’ve pushed hard enough with #1 and #2, we reach a place where we only need to be accountable to ourselves.
Final Steps (Let’s Do This!)
If you’re serious about this, then be serious about it. You’re trying to double your revenue and that’s hard. You’re looking for the tiny nugget of gold, the diamond in the rough, that no other photographer in your market has seen before. Don’t expect it to be easy because it won’t be. But it WILL be worth it.
Get in there and really learn about your customers. Schedule it, get accountability, and make the time. If you want to double your revenue this year, it’s the best way to do it.
I read each and every comment, so leave a comment below with any questions you have. Better yet, make a public commitment in the comments to follow through with showing up and having conversations with clients and I’ll follow up with you down the road to help, personally.
Six Figure Photography
My name is Ben Hartley and I'm an award winning international wedding photographer. In less than two years I built a six figure photography business and now I want to show you how I did it.