The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming e-book - Basic Wedding Photography Sales: Simple Lessons for Selling Better. The book will focus on getting photographers over their fear of sales and building more sustainable photography businesses.
For most photographers it’s the dirtiest of the four-letter words, but it doesn’t have to be. For the photographer hoping to build a business it must not be.
Photography is a romantic profession. Our understanding of the photographer is as an artist perfecting a craft to create these beautiful moments stolen out of time. Pursuing art is supposed to be a lifestyle, not a job. Wedding photography is by its nature then, doubly romantic. The belief that art should speak for itself - that art should sell itself - pervades.
Art history is laden with counter-examples. Vincent van Gogh died penniless and Thomas Kinkade - painter of bland nostalgia pieces - has made millions from prints and licensing. It has never been enough to simply make art, successful artists have always been schmoozers and salesmen often with as much ability to find the right client as they have to produce the right work.
Just like you couldn’t become an artist overnight, building sales skills takes time and starts with a few basic building blocks.
Be Confident in Your Product
It might sound like patent business-guru speak, but the biggest proponent of your business needs to be you. If you are not excited about your work, how will you get anyone else excited? If you’re not willing to evangelize about your work, then no one is going to buy it.
How confident are you in your product? It can be hard to measure how much faith you really have in your business, but there are a few questions you can ask yourself to get a good idea of where you stand.
1. How do you react when someone criticizes your work? Do you get defensive or do you listen to the criticism and learn?
Photographers who lack confidence tend to view even legitimate criticism as a personal attack. Confident photographers can separate negative comments about their works from personal attacks. Of course with the internet it’s not always so easy to separate the personal attacks from the professional criticisms, so it’s generally safe to take everything you read there with a few grains of salt (unless it’s in book form).
2. Do you seek out praise and adulation for your work?
There’s nothing wrong with winning awards or receiving praise, but photographers with less confidence often fish for compliments to reassure themselves. Usually this means that a photographer will put up only their very best images in front of a very friendly audience inclined to say nice things and stifle any criticism.
3. How soon are you willing to cut your prices to land a client?
Your pricing is in part a reflection of your confidence (as we’ll discuss in Chapter X), and how quickly and deeply you’re willing to discount. A few dollars here and there is nothing, but throwing out your whole pricing plan to land a single client happens a lot to new professionals. With the right sales techniques and business plan, your prices shouldn’t have to change dramatically to attract customers.
If you are not sure about your business, you need to take time to think about what’s holding you back and how to overcome those obstacles. Often the simple act of writing them down can make them easier to grapple with, but sometimes you’ll need to take further action. In my first year as a photographer, when I was plagued by doubts and showing many of the signs listed above, I found that finally putting together a real business plan made it easier for me to stand up for my business and my products.
Be Confident in Yourself
By the same token that you should be confident in your business, you should be confident in yourself as well. Running any small business involves taking a lot of risk and putting yourself into new situations in order to push your business to the next level. Without confidence in yourself it’s going to be hard to ask for the things that your business will need to survive and thrive.
It’s not just a matter of seizing opportunities, but seeing them at all. Confident people embrace the idea that every challenge is just an opportunity seen from a different angle. It’s that power of confidence that you’ll need to embrace to maximize your sales potential and ensure that you’re not leaving money on the table that could otherwise be headed into your pocket.
Confident people also inspire confidence in others and that leads to sales. Would you buy anything from someone who won’t stop apologizing for existing? No, because the sales person questioning themselves will make you question their product.
Part of why we shudder at the thought of sales is its association with prevarication, obfuscation and outright lying that accompany high-pressure sales situations. The prototype is the oily used-car salesman who runs back odometers and keeps tossing out numbers until a bewildered customer wanders out with keys in hand and a very unfavorable financing deal to boot.
It works for some salesmen because they’ll probably never see those customers again. As a wedding photographer you’ll not only see your clients again, but you’ll be shadowing them on one of the most important days of their lives. Needless to say, leaving your clients second-guessing themselves won’t make them happy.
Honesty should be your policy.
Your clients are being marketed at almost every moment of their lives, and most of it is incredibly aggressive. Being straightforward with your clients, treating them like people rather than consumers, is refreshing and that makes building your relationship easier. If you and your business are easy to understand, people will be less likely to think you’re trying to pull one over on them and will be happier to become your client.
That’s not to say that you tell everyone straight off that you’re horrible at photographing hands though. Here, honesty means presenting an authentic version of yourself and your brand to your clients while still putting your best foot forward.