Building a Brand that Books More Business with Sal Cincotta
Want to book more business and make more money? We all do. But success is about more than just your photography. It’s about your brand. This is one of the most misunderstood realities most photographers and small business owners miss.
I make the best cupcakes. People will come and we will be rich! Nope. Sorry. That’s not how it works. Have you ever watched a TV show about a restaurant and then visited the actual place only to be let down? This happens every day. It doesn’t mean that a powerful or high-profile brand is going to let you down, but it should drive the point home on the power of branding.
So, how do we translate that to photography? It can be as simple or as complex as you choose to make it. In a nutshell, it’s all about the brand. You could be the best photographer in the world, win awards and accolades, and be dead broke. I have seen it over and over, all these amazing photographers in our industry with breathtaking imagery, and they have nothing to show for it. No retirement plan. No savings. Just their art. Well, congratulations. But I want more than just my art. I want to know I can live the life I want. I want to know I can retire someday, to buy the gear and toys I want. I want to know that I am working toward a secure future, not working to live day to day.
These are big and lofty dreams, and they require an understanding of what makes for a successful, powerful brand.
You Are the Brand
The minute you accept this and make the adjustments, your business will thrive. We are not a commodity product or service. We are artists. Our view of the world is unique. There is more to it than just the photography. It’s about you and the way you carry yourself, the way you dress, the car you drive, your studio and many other personal traits.
This is what people buy into when they book you. You can deny it or not give it the weight it deserves, but that would be at your own demise.
I never understood photographers who show up to meetings or shoots with wrinkled clothes or looking like they haven’t showered or brushed their teeth in a week. Yep. I just went there. Welcome to reality.
Oh, and the shitty, condescending attitude we can have as photographers and artists—also incredibly bad for business. No one cares that you went to art school or that you are the master of light. They want great family and portrait and wedding photos. They can get something on Groupon for $69, so they don’t want to deal with any of your nonsense.
Be your brand. Be an ambassador of good will for your brand. And at all times, protect the brand. Think about the things you say and do and how they impact you, your business and the perception of your brand. There is always room for improvement for all of us.
Build a Luxury Brand
It used to be that in order to be a photographer, you needed a mathematics degree. This is why the industry was dominated by males for so long. That’s not the case today. Anyone can slap that bad boy into P and take pretty damn good photos. Now, before you start losing your mind, see the point here. It’s more than just the photography.
Think about your own life and spending habits. Are you not willing to spend more for something you see as a luxury item, something that is considered to be the best? Of course you are. Then you have to realize your customers see the world the same way. They spend money on something they see as best of breed.
In order for that to happen, you have to build that brand as a luxury brand. Do you know what that means? No Groupon specials. No shoot-and-burn. Instead, offer your clients a full-service experience. Offering them high-quality products, high-quality albums and a host of other products will create lust in your clients that leads to bigger sales and more profit. I guarantee it!
Everything you do and everything you deliver to your clients should be completely branded.
What are you doing to stand out from your competition? I have news for all of you. Competition is not going to end anytime soon. Photography had been shielded way too long because it was complicated. Well, not so anymore. Everyone is a photographer now. Perception is reality. Don’t forget, I am an active photographer, I face the same fierce competition you do. Day in and day out, my team and I work on ways for us to stand out from the crowd.
There is no silver bullet here.
Coming up with ways to be original includes your photography, albums, products, client experience and everything else you do for your clients. Every day, look for new and unique ways to stand out in a sea of photographers. Not everything you do has to be expensive. It can as simple as not taking three months to show your clients their pictures. We show our clients their images in two weeks.
There are many ways for you to stand out. Now go implement them, and you will see those results in your bookings and sales.
Embrace Your Strengths
Stop trying to be everything to everyone. It is setting up yourself and your business for failure. Instead, figure out what you are damn good at and embrace it. Show it off. Let the world know.
Here are some of the strengths we exploit in our business.
- Turn time. Clients see their images two weeks after their wedding. We highlight this during the initial consultation. Why? Because I know they either know someone or have read horror stories online about couples not seeing their wedding pictures for more than six months after the wedding. This is our strength, and we show it off.
- Big dramatic portraits. This is our signature style. I am not trying to be a photojournalist. I suck at it. There are photographers out there who are incredible at it. When clients come to us, I know they were drawn in by our portfolio, which is filled with nothing but these dramatic portraits. Again, I embrace our strength and showcase it.
- I have a very outgoing personality. Many photographers are introverts, and there is nothing wrong with that. Rather than trying to be something I am not, I am me. When I meet with clients, I bring all my energy and passion into that meeting, and they either love it or they don’t. If they don’t, they usually don’t book. The ones that do tell us the one thing they love is how much energy I have and how vocal I am about things.
Figure out what you are good at. Market that and use it to your advantage. Embrace and exploit your strengths. Stop worrying about what your competitors are doing, and do you.
Create an Experience
Think like a consumer. When you spend money, a lot of money, don’t you want something more? Your clients do too. We offer so much more than photography. You will often hear me say that we don’t sell photography, we sell an experience.
Most of our clients are with us for up to two years when it’s all said and done. There is a lot of time here to make an impression. When they book with us, we send them a bottle of wine and a thank-you note. After their wedding, we send them a handwritten thank-you card. When they receive their prints, they are wrapped like a high-end gift.
During every step of the process, we want to make a better impression on our clients and leave them with an incredible experience. This experience is one they talk about to everyone they know. This has ensured that we are one of the top wedding brands in our market. As a result, we charge a premium.
What can you do to create a better client experience? It doesn’t have to be expensive. A thank-you card is not expensive. It just says you care. Stop taking from your clients and start asking how you can give back.
Here is a perfect real-world example. Recently we had a client go an hour and a half over the agreed-upon time. I could have walked out at the scheduled time, told them they would have to pay me for the extra time or absorbed the time and let them know in a classy way that we did this for them at no additional cost.
The result of choosing option three is a client who appreciated that we were probably the only vendor around that was cool enough to not charge them for staying later. The post-wedding sale was $3,000. Did I know this when I made the decision? No, of course not. I did it because it seemed petty and I knew it would not be good service. Would they have spent that money had we charged them for the extra time? We will never know, but I suspect the bad taste in their mouth would have probably impacted that sale.
While your skill as a photographer does matter, it is not the only thing that matters. There is so much more to running a successful studio and business. I encourage you to think a little differently about what you are doing and why you are doing it. Invest time in these other areas to create a powerful brand and experience for your clients.
The result will be a business that is constantly growing and generating better profits than you ever thought possible.