If there’s one topic that crops up in almost every coaching call I do, it’s this one:
It’s tough to succeed as a professional photographer today, when there are so many others doing the same thing. Everyone thinks they’re a photographer these days, and the real pros lose clients left and right because the market is simply over-saturated…
If that sounds like you, I get it.
Seriously, there’s no doubt you might be having a terrible time getting people to hire you, but I hear the same thing from almost every photographer I talk to, which raises a big red flag.
Well, in an industry where EVERYONE struggles to make a living, is it truly fair to say that other photographers ALWAYS beat you to clients who should rightfully be yours?
I don’t think so.
After all, someone is getting these clients, but I rarely ever get to talk to them. Maybe they feel successful enough not to need help, but they can’t be earning all that much given that most of them compete mainly on price.
Maybe there’s something else at fault here.
Perhaps these other photographers aren’t actually “stealing” your clients—the real problem might be you’re inadvertently giving them away.
Are You Giving Away Your Clients?
All those people who hire photographers for portraits, weddings, commercial jobs, or who buy fine art photography are going somewhere for the work, but no one is stealing them from you.
In fact, it’s much worse than that.
It’s far more likely you’re giving them away without even being aware of it.
Ouch, I know.
But bear with me here, and you’ll see what I mean. Plus, I’m not going to leave you out in the cold wondering what to do about it because I’ve got some ideas on where things might be going wrong and how you can fix them.
A few words of caution, though.
There are no “magic secrets” or “super strategies” in here. If you’re looking for shortcuts to success then you’re out of luck. You won’t find them here because they don’t exist.
What you will find are ways to overcome the many reasons why people aren’t hiring you right now, but it will take work to put them into practice.
Sorry, but there’s simply no way around it.
If you’re willing to open your mind to some new ideas, and you’re prepared to roll up your sleeves and put everything you’ve got into your business, then you’re already ahead of 90% of your competition who stopped reading this to go back to Google in search of an easier shortcut.
Ready? Okay, let’s jump in…
Why You THINK Other Photographers Steal Your Clients
When I ask photographers who are having a hard time why they think they’re not getting enough clients, I see a wide range of answers.
- People want to go for the cheapest photographer…
- There’s no appreciation of true quality in photography these days…
- Folks would rather take their own photographs…
- The availability of good technology has damaged the industry…
- Other (perhaps less competent) photographers enjoy more exposure…
- The other photographers have nicer-looking websites…
- Everyone has a photographer friend or family member…
- No one in my town can afford to hire a photographer…
I’m not saying these perceptions are all false because they’re very real, and it’s true that some people do satisfy these conditions.
However, these problems do not apply to every possible customer out there—far from it.
Not even close.
Here’s the truth:
Regardless of where you are, there are people who WILL invest in the photography you have to offer because they value photography, love what you do, and you provide the kind of personal service they’re looking for.
Now, if you don’t believe that’s true, there’s not much I can do for you and my best advice would be to stop reading and go find something else to do instead because you clearly believe the professional photography business is already dead and there’s nothing we can do to change that.
On the other hand, if you still believe in yourself and the power of your photography to positively enhance people’s lives, keep reading because this could dramatically transform the way you see your business.
The REAL Reasons Why People Aren’t Hiring You
What follows is not an exhaustive list by any means, but fixing these will put you far ahead of your local competition, making it much less likely that you’ll lose clients who should be yours to other photographers.
1: You Haven’t Identified Your Target Market
How deeply do you understand who it is you want to work with or sell your photography to?
This is critically important. Otherwise, how will you know which of your potential clients are going elsewhere if you don’t actually know who they are to begin with?
How To Fix It
You need to build a profile of your ideal client in as much detail as possible.
Focus on the personalities of the people you most like to work with, or who are most likely to buy your photography. What traits do they share, and what personal qualities do they value the most? How do they see the role of photography as part of their life or work?
The more you know your ideal clients, the more you’ll be able to communicate with them through your marketing in ways that actually resonate with them.
2: The Reasons WHY You Do What You Do Aren’t Crystal Clear
Simon Sinek, in his great book Start With Why, pointed out the fact that people don’t care about what you do until they fully understand why you do it.
Only then can they emotionally connect with the core purpose of you and your business.
How To Fix It
Ask yourself some probing questions, such as what gets you out of bed in a morning to pursue a career as a professional photographer? Why did you become a photographer?
What is it about the creative process and your chosen subjects that inspire and motivate you? How do you feel when you present the finished work to your clients?
Answering these kinds of questions, and evaluating your beliefs and values about photography and what it means to you, personally, will help forge stronger connections with your chosen clients.
3: Failure To Demonstrate Your Unique Factors
There are many thousands of professional photographers, all claiming to do the same thing you do, so how will you rise above the crowd and demonstrate where you differ from the competition?
For example, in a world where every photographer looks just about the same to potential clients who don’t know anything about the business of photography, what else can they base their choices upon except for the price?
If you can’t show prospects how and why you’re different from everyone else, you become nothing more than a commodity.
That’s not a position you want to be in, and can only lead to a race to the bottom.
How To Fix It
This isn’t a case of showing how you’re a better photographer than the competition, but about how you’re a better choice for the people you want to serve.
How can you create a different experience for your clients? How can you create and fulfill different expectations?
Don’t be tempted to fall into the trap of making this about what they get in terms of prints or products. Instead, make it all about the intangible elements and how you make people feel—you can’t put a price on those things so easily.
4: Failure To Highlight Areas Of Alignment With Your Ideal Clients
Business has evolved a great deal since the dawn of the Internet, and especially since the explosion of social media. Today, people like to work with businesses they can relate to, or with people they like and who are like them.
For this to happen, you need to align yourself as closely as possible with your ideal clients, which is another big reason why it’s important to know them in detail.
You might have come across this idea in the form of the “know, like, and trust” factor, and getting this right is critical to forming a productive bond with your potential clients.
How To Fix It
You’ll need to put every piece of your marketing arsenal to work on the goal of helping people get to know you in more detail, like you as a personable business, and to trust you to do an amazing job for them.
This means opening up more in your blog posts, writing in a conversational and personal style, demonstrating the strength of your existing client relationships, showing testimonials, and taking the risk out of hiring you with strong guarantees.
5: Your Website Lets People Leave Without Expressing An Interest
Having a basic website is nowhere near enough these days to get the clients you want because the vast majority of people who land on your website are simply not ready to hire you or buy from you on their first visit.
They’ll stop by, take a look around, and then leave…
Most likely, you’ll not see them again even if they liked what you had on show!
This means there’s every chance they’ll end up on another photographer’s website the next time they go looking.
How To Fix It
This one is simple. You need to implement a robust lead-generation system. Basically, you want to collect their email address while they’re still on your website, usually in exchange for something of interest, such as a PDF report or another lead-magnet.
For example, this document you’re reading right now is one of my lead-magnets, which you got in exchange for your email address so we can stay in touch.
Obviously, there’s a lot involved in making this work, and I go over the entire process in fine detail in the Get More Photography Clients course.
6: Prospects See Your Prices Online At The Wrong Time
Most people looking for a photographer have no idea what questions to ask, but the one obvious question they can think of is “how much?”
You hear it on the telephone, and you see it in emails.
It’s also in their head when they land on your website, except you can’t physically be there with them to help them understand the rationale behind your prices or the value they represent.
If they can find your prices on the website before they fully understand the intangible elements of working with you and the true subjective value of your work, you’re back in the unenviable position of being a commodity, which they can then compare with the other photographers in the area to see who’s the least expensive.
How To Fix It
The key is to make sure you have enough content on your website to show them the value of what you’re offering and to get them emotionally involved with your work before they can see your prices.
My personal preference is to remove pricing information from the website altogether, but you can always put it on a special page that’s hidden until you send them to it on purpose and at the right time in the conversation.
Further reading: Should You Display Prices On Your Photography Website
7: Your Prices Might Actually Be Too Cheap!
As silly as it might sound, you could very well be losing some clients because your prices aren’t high enough.
I know this to be true because it happened to me more than once when I first opened my portrait and wedding photography business.
How To Fix It
Take a good look at your fees and make sure they’re priced appropriately. For example, do you have a good understanding of your cost of sales with a profitable markup applied to those so you actually make money?
You might not think so, but being the cheapest photographer is usually not the answer to getting more clients (unless bargain hunters are your target market).
8: Lack Of Representation In The Search Engines
Everyone loves SEO (search engine optimization), right? Yeah, right!
Love it or hate it, being found in Google is still an effective marketing channel, so you do need to optimize the content on your website and blog to help your pages rank higher in the search results.
The problem is, most photographers stink at SEO and are not doing the best job they could of it.
How To Fix It
SEO is a big topic, but it’s a lot easier than you might think to do yourself. To help with that, I’ve got the SEO For Photographers Made Simple guide, which walks you through everything you need to know.
9: Failed To Establish Credibility With Potential Clients
As I’ve already mentioned, trust is a huge factor in whether or not someone hires you as their photographer, or decides to buy fine art from you.
A big component of that trust is establishing your credibility as someone they want to do business with.
Of course, you can say anything you like about how great a photographer you are and the amazing experience you provide, but will anyone actually believe it?
Probably not, right?
Your potential customers want a bit more social proof than just your word before they’re going to trust you.
How To Fix It
This one is simple to fix by collecting and using valuable testimonials from the happy clients you’ve already worked with.
Further reading: How To Get Testimonials From Raving Clients Who Love You
Basically, while people won’t necessarily believe everything you have to say about yourself, it’s a different story altogether when someone else says it for you.
10: No Clearly-Defined Photographic Style
This isn’t about how good you are as a photographer, although you obviously need to know your way around your camera well enough to create consistently good work.
Rather, this is about your body of work as a whole, and the subtleties of the underlying message it conveys to the people visiting your website.
Ideally, there should be a consistent style such that someone can immediately identify your photographs as being yours.
How To Fix It
This comes down to how well you can edit your own portfolio.
I’m not talking about retouching here, but about selecting the images you choose to show on your website and elsewhere in your marketing.
The aim is to create unified collections of your work where the individual images work to create something bigger than the sum of their parts. In short, the style you create will project the essence of who you are as a photographer and the way you see the world through your camera.
11: Your Website Doesn’t Convert Visitors Into Prospects
The purpose of your website is simple: To convert anonymous visitors into leads you can follow up with to turn into clients or make sales to.
Anything that gets in the way of that goal will reduce the effectiveness of your website and result in lost clients.
For example, slideshows might seem like a great idea, but if all they do is provide eye-candy for your visitors they might be hurting more than helping.
Likewise, unnecessary links to external websites can send people off in unwanted directions.
A cluttered design obscures the real purpose of the page, leading to confusion and early abandonment.
How To Fix It
Look at the design of your website and prune out everything that isn’t absolutely essential to your goal of lead-generation.
You’d be amazed at how much you can eliminate, resulting in a cleaner design that lets your essential message shine through and helps guide visitors to the point you want them to, which is to convert themselves into a lead.
For example, I was able to completely eliminate the sidebar from the Prime Focus Lab website by removing the clutter and finding new homes for the remaining elements.
12: Distractions On The Website And Lack Of Purpose
When someone first lands on your website, is it immediately clear where they are, what they can do, and why they should do it?
You have to answer these questions in about 7 seconds, or else risk losing the visitor.
Because you’re so familiar with your own website, this may be one of those “hidden” problems secretly sabotaging your goals, so be extra-vigilant for potential issues.
How To Fix It
Have someone else look at your website to give you some feedback on how well it answers those three questions. You can then see how to tighten up your messaging and the way you present it to make things simpler and clearer for the visitor.
13: Intimidating (Or Missing) Contact Forms
Another way that photographers lose clients to their competitors is simply by making it hard or intimidating for people to get in touch with them!
You’d be amazed at how many websites I review where the “contact us” form has more in common with a passport application than a simple “get in touch” form!
The fact is, people are wary of sharing too much information online, and they worry about being trapped into an unwanted sales conversation when all they want is to ask a simple question.
When presented with a form with too many fields, most people will abandon the page altogether, especially if they’re pressed for time.
How To Fix It
Keep the number of inputs on your your contact forms to an absolute minimum. Usually, a name and email address are the only things you need, other than space for them to ask you a question.
Adding your headshot to the page can also help lower resistance, and it makes people feel like they’re getting in touch with a real person.
14: Your Content Fails To Inspire Or Capture Their Imagination
As a professional photographer, you’re in a wonderful position because the work you do carries with it emotional extras that people just don’t experience with, say, getting their taxes prepared or ordering a sandwich.
I’m sure you’ll agree, there’s an artistic component to the work you create that transcends the physical act of pressing the shutter or making a print.
However, too many photographers make the grave mistake of assuming their potential clients will instinctively know this already, which they don’t.
This often results in websites heavy on images and slideshows, but light on text.
Worse still, I often see websites where the only text present was written purely for Google.
Prospects disappearing off into the clutches of the competition.
How To Fix It
The answer is to tell the stories of your work in words.
You’ll probably notice this is a common theme here because it’s really that important!
Your job as a marketer of your photographic services is to inspire and motivate your website visitors so that they’ll want to take the next step towards working with you.
If you’re truly passionate about photography then this is your chance to demonstrate your passion through the words you use to tell your photographic stories.
15: Missing Email Marketing System
If you’re not actively maintaining and growing an email list of potential prospects (not just the people you’ve already worked with) then you’re likely seeing a lot of clients who should be yours head off to your competitors.
I already mentioned that the majority of your website visitors are not ready to hire you on their first visit, yet most photographers seem to be content with letting them leave in the vague hope they’ll come back.
At least not enough of them.
How To Fix It
The simple answer is to use your lead-generation system to capture the email addresses of those visitors who are at least interested in learning more about what you do.
You can then keep in touch with them periodically, sending them information they’ll find interesting and helpful, until the time comes when they are ready to hire a photographer, in which case you should already be at the top of their mind.
There’s a great book on this topic by Ian Brodie called Email Persuasion, which I highly recommend you read, as it goes into a lot of detail about how to make email marketing work for you.
Also, if you’re looking for a reputable and dependable email marketing company (essential if you’re going to do email marketing), I personally use and recommend ActiveCampaign.
16: Wasting Too Much Energy In The Wrong Places Online
There are only so many hours in a day, and it often feels like we have a million things to do, right?
One major culprit responsible for losing clients to other photographers is spending too much time being distracted by things that don’t contribute towards the goal of actually acquiring clients.
In other words, if you’re spending all afternoon on Facebook, or checking email every 15 minutes, that leaves you less time to work on more profitable marketing activities.
For example, you could better spend that time writing a blog post or networking with people who could refer more clients to you.
How To Fix It
Keep your workspace neat and empty of distractions. Easy to say, I know, but it’s well worth the effort.
When working on something important, such as writing a blog post or creating other pieces of marketing, close off all non-essential tasks on your computer, such as email and social media browser tabs.
It also helps to silence your phone to avoid being interrupted while working.
But, don’t overdo it!
For example, I’ve found from my own experience that working in 20 minute chunks with breaks in between has really helped my own productivity, but everyone is different and you’ll need to find the system that works best for you.
The important thing here is to prioritize your work so you focus as much effort as possible on those tasks directly affecting the bottom line of the business.
17: Your True Personality Doesn’t Shine On Your Blog
A static website on its own, with its service pages and other business-related content is like a robot—it has no real personality to speak of.
Your blog, on the other hand, is where the personality of your business (i.e. you) can really shine through.
Unfortunately, a huge number of photographers either don’t have a blog, or their blog posts are devoid of any real personality at all.
This translates into visitors who are unable to make a meaningful personal connection with the photographer, resulting in lost opportunities for new clients, so they lose interest and off they go to someone else.
How To Fix It
While you can’t flip a switch and fix this one overnight, you can invest time to improve your writing skills for your blog.
Instead of stuffing a bunch of photos into a blog post, think about showing off just one or two and then telling the stories of those images in actual words.
Yes, I know your first thought might be to dismiss this because the photographs should speak for themselves, but the fact is, they don’t tell the whole story.
If you only take one thing from this, please make it this one.
It’s really that important!
18: Poor Communication Skills
Sadly, the art of interpersonal communication in business seems to have taken a hit in recent years.
Whether it’s the apparent informality of email and social media, or that folks are just not as polite as they used to be, there’s something lacking in much of the communication we see today.
The problem also extends to the timeliness of our client communications, and the simple act of keeping clients in the loop about the progress of orders or even responding quickly to general enquiries.
It’s true, but hard to believe, that so many photographers still lose out on getting clients simply because they failed to return an email or phone call in a timely manner.
How To Fix It
The upside of this is that politeness and good personal service have become so rare that people really appreciate it when we use it.
The solution here is to simply up your game in every possible client interaction, whether they’re an actual client or just someone asking for more information.
19: No Emotional Ammunition To Justify Hiring You
There’s a saying in the sales world that people buy for emotional reasons but they use logical factors to justify their purchase.
For example, we know we want the latest iPhone because it makes us feel better and up to date with the crowd, but we justify it by listing all the new features and benefits, many of which we’ve already lived quite happily without so far.
Your photography is no different.
Someone might understand the emotional needs to have a family portrait created, but they must be able to express those needs in normal language to themselves, and perhaps to a reluctant spouse who doesn’t quite understand why it’s more expensive than they imagined it would be.
How To Fix It
Make sure you focus as much of your website content and blog posts as possible on the emotional or subjective elements of what you do. This gives people a way to connect with the deeper reasons for hiring you or buying art from you.
20: Disorganized Website Structure And Attention Leakage
Capturing the attention and interest of your ideal clients is where your website starts the process of turning anonymous visitors into leads you can follow up with (assuming you have a good lead-generation system in place).
The problem is, most photographers end up losing potential clients because their website is hard to navigate, poorly structured, or simply has too many attention leaks in the form of unnecessary links etc.
How To Fix It
Take a look at your Google Analytics data to see if you can identify any potential problem pages where people are leaving the site (“exit pages”) unexpectedly.
Look for possible ways to improve those pages. For example, are there elements on the page that might be competing for their attention or interest? Is there enough information on the page, and is it interesting to read?
21: Inadequate Business Promotion
Even after you’ve spent hours creating articles and posts on your website and blog, your job is only just beginning!
Most photographers will write a blog post, for example, hit “publish”, and call it done. They’ll maybe post a link to it on their Facebook page, or send out a tweet about it, but then it gets left to its own devices.
Yes, there might be an initial spike of activity, but it soon trails off and the piece of content you labored so hard over fades into obscurity.
And then you start all over again with the next post, and the next, and so on…
Not much of a promotion strategy is it?
Then there’s the big question of “how can I get more exposure?”
One thing is certain, you won’t get it by hiding behind your computer screen…
How To Fix It
The key to the success of your website content and especially blog posts is to promote them as much as possible through every channel available, and to do so repeatedly (depending on the platform).
You should also work hard at building up a network of other business owners or influencers in your community who can help to share your content to a wider audience.
This is where offline channels and getting out into the community to meet people personally can work in your favor because it’s all about building relationships with the right people.
Over To You
I made all of these mistakes in my own business at one time or another, how about you?
Do share your experiences, thoughts, and questions in our Facebook discussion: