Developing Your Personal Style with Lori Nordstrom
If you want to know the real secret to what matters most in business, just look in the mirror. That’s right, it’s you. When all things are equal, and in the competitive world we live in today, things almost always are, people buy you. —Jeb Blount, People Buy You
I often hear questions like these from photographers: How do I know when I have a style? How do I get people to recognize my work?
We all want to be known for something. We want our work to be recognized. Developing a recognizable style takes time, but it starts with simply diving into your own personality and who you are as a human being. You’ll know you have a style when you start seeing “you” show up in your photography, marketing, communication, your overall look. This style represents your brand, and your brand is what people think about when they think about you, or think about working with you.
In People Buy You, Jeb Blount reminds us that the real secret to what matters most in business is what we see in the mirror. In the competitive world we live in, most things in comparable businesses are equal. And when all things are equal, potential clients will choose a small business based on the personality of the person they will be working with. In a small service-related business like photography, this couldn’t be more true. Potential clients will choose to work with someone they know, like and trust, someone they connect with.
One of the first steps in developing your style, and in turn your brand, is to figure out who you are and what message you want to project to your marketplace.
Ask yourself these questions:
What are three to five words that describe my personality?
What are the values I want myself and my business to be known for?
What do I love to photograph?
What do people tell me I’m good at?
What am I passionate about?
What are my strengths?
What can I do differently that my target client has never seen?
What parts of my background will connect my target client to me?
Don’t try to be all things to all people. A niche market is not only a focused market, but a targetable market. As soon as you understand what your style is, you can go through the process of finding and developing your niche and defining exactly whom you want to work with—whom you want to attract to your business. Remember, even large vendors can’t meet all the needs of all the people. Successful businesses have identified a previously unmet need in their area—in other words, they have developed a niche market and are profiting by meeting needs that no one else is meeting.
Don’t worry that defining your style and niche could be limiting for you. It doesn’t mean you are barred from doing a variety of things as a photographer, but having a specialty will attract those clients you get the most joy out of working with. If you are trying to do it all, you just become a blur. Being a generalist sends no message at all. Specialists stand out.
We have to create an identity and niche for long-term business growth. Our clients are on information overload, and photographers are everywhere. All photographers can do a little bit of everything, so how are you going to stand out in the minds of your clients and potential clients? You must be very clear in your area of expertise. The majority of successful businesses succeed by following a narrow focus in their market, product, service, benefit, location, category and marketing methods.
“No one wants to work with a cookie-cutter,” said personal branding specialist Meg Guiseppi. Your clients need you to specialize in the exact thing that they need. They want to deal with an expert. You’ll be able to charge more for your expertise, and you are going to get opportunities to do the work you want to do. In short, define your niche and describe your uniqueness; be an expert, and you can achieve success.
Case Study of Two Children’s Portrait Photographers
Personality: “Outrageous, bold, life of the party, animated”
Values: “I want my clients to have a ton of fun during their sessions. I want kids to leave with happy faces and stories to tell. I want parents to remember the giggles and excitement every time they see their portraits.”
Passions: “Loving life, trying new things, making people happy, living every day to the fullest”
Nancy’s photography is colorful and saturated, and shows kids running and jumping. She is not into posing or telling kids to stay still. Nancy plays games and always has a fun surprise for kids to be photographed with and take home. Nancy loves to photograph kids at play, and her favorite locations are the park and playground.
Nancy’s logo is a fun font with bold colors. These colors are carried throughout her marketing; everything is bright and cherry. Phrases such as let’s play, giggle and laugh out loud are used throughout her website and printed pieces. When communicating with parents, Nancy tells them their children will have a great time, and to prepare them with that expectation. Nancy gives the parents specific cues, like, “Tell your kids that you’re going to meet a friend and have a great time together.” She makes it clear that she will let them be themselves and will capture all of those happy moments with her photographs. She helps parents understand her fun style by sharing testimonials from moms whose kids didn’t want to leave or who begged to have their picture taken again.
Personality: “Soft-spoken, sweet, caring, loving, personal, insightful”
Values: “I want clients to know how much I care about them and their family. Family values are very important to me, and I believe that each stage of childhood should be captured beautifully and treasured. I want my clients to feel appreciated and to communicate to them through words and images how important their children and their family are.”
Passions: “Truly getting to know people, deep conversation, the smell of babies, long walks, quite moments, and alone or one-on-one time”
Mary photographs primarily in black and white. When she chooses color, the colors are soft and hazy. The eyes make the statement in the images—you seem to see right into the very soul of a child. Mothers trust her, and never hesitate to hand her their baby or allow her to leave her sight when photographing their child. When photographing families, she asks them to lean in, to whisper to each other or to think about all of the reasons they love one another.
Mary’s logo has soft colors and a scripted font. Her marketing talks about cherishing each moment, remembering the love and telling a story. Moms feel instantly comfortable around her. She uses testimonials from mothers who trusted her and felt nurtured after spending time with her.
As you can see, Nancy and Mary have two very different personalities, and neither is right or wrong. You may be drawn to one over the other based on your own personality (and so will potential clients), but you can see that each can be successful by drawing from her own uniqueness, by developing her own personal style. By being clear about who they are, they have learned to weave themselves into all aspects of their business.
When you clarify your own personality, strengths, values, uniqueness and passions, you’ll have a much clearer vision of whom you want to work with and how you’ll do business. Be true to your personality in all aspects of your business. Be thoughtful and deliberate in the language you use, the marketing you create and the experience that your client has working with you.
By basing your business around your uniqueness, you’ll not only develop your style and niche, but it will be easier for you to avoid the extreme burnout that businesspeople often experience, because you are always being true to who you are, and always doing what you love. There is only one you, so be all of you that you can be.