When you should NOT hire a professional photographer
I have a confession to make: I’m a woman of many strong opinions, though I may not seem like one at first sight. And one of the things I have a, perhaps controversial, opinion on, is the right timing for entrepreneurs to hire a professional photographer like me.
I very often read blog posts, or hear podcasts where design and photography professionals advise their readers to invest in their brand identity and custom photography from the get go, with sentences like “Once you choose a style, you’re stuck with it forever” , “People won’t think you’re professional if you don’t look professional” “Choose well from the beginning because it’s very hard to change later” and “If you want to stop trading hours for dollars, you need to look pro“. And it makes me sad, because I see that words like these cause paralysis and fear in many women, and stop them from building the businesses they’re meant to build.
Here’s the thing: I’m not in the business of taking money from people at all costs.
I’m in the business of helping, with my work, those who are ready, willing, and excited to work with me, so we can create photos that are a mirror to their soul and the greatness of their business.
I know that when I work with the right people, at the right time, results come easily. And that’s what I want for every shoot, for every client, for every business I have to honor to work for: the best results possible.
In order for brand photos to shield the best results, some things need to be in place before the shoot. \When they’re not, photos are an expense instead of an investment. Building a business is like building a house: each piece is important, but not everything is fundamental from the very first day. Just like you wouldn’t put a couch in a house without roof, I’d advise you to think about professional photography after the following things are well in place.
My goal with this blog post is to help you focus on the things that will help you grow your business consistently. To help you gain peace of mind, and put aside photos from your mind and your to do list without fear or guilt, if it’s not the right time…knowing that when it is, you’ll have a much faster return on investment.
Ready? Here they are:
When you shouldn’t hire a professional photographer
- When you don’t know how your business helps others
If life was a Hollywood movie, we would all be born with the clarity to know exactly who we are, and a strong knowledge of our Life Purpose, which we would of course easily fulfill doing a job that we love.
But life is not a Hollywood movie and, sometimes, we start in business with a very general idea of what we want to do, with no clear business differentiation. We swim in a red, bloody ocean, like the book Blue Ocean Strategy explains.
This was my case: When I started working as a professional photographer, I had no clue what I was bringing to the table for people to choose me. Photos? Yes, ok, but so did 1000 other photographers and most people with a DSLR or good quality smartphone!
It took me 2 years, tons of listening to my clients, and a lot of personal work to realize that my “secret sauce” was an ability to unveil, in a loving, gentle and intuitive way, that which makes my client’s work connect to their ideal clients and translate in into concrete objects and beautiful visuals. I have a knack for understanding which objects will evoque which emotions and who reacts in which way to different aesthetics. The psychology of commercial photos and advertising fascinates me and I have an innate understanding of them, probably due to my diverse background and how much I’ve traveled and lived in different cultures.
I didn’t know this was even remotely valuable when I began, it took time.
The reason this matters is because what I photograph is what makes you and your products or services special.
In order for your photos to become effective marketing instruments and selling machines you need to be clear about who you are as a business, what you stand for, what makes your products or services different from those of the competition, what problem you solve, why you do what you do, and why your customers or clients should care. You need to know your positioning.
Do you provide peace of mind and a sense of safety by advising your clients the best dates to do business according to Chinese Astrology? Do your products allow your customers to share precious moments around a breakfast table, without the hassle of spending hours in the kitchen? Do your recipes help women look and feel young, beautiful and vibrant without having to eat cardboard tasting foods for weeks in a row? Do your planners help entrepreneurs avoid procrastination, while having fun?
How about how you do it? How do your personality, values and beliefs affect what you do? Do you provide a safe haven for people to open up about their fears? Do you guide your clients with a firm hand? Do you inspire transformation, like a modern day Gandalf?
The energy and essence of all this needs to be present in a photo for it to work at its maximum potential. The more you your photos look, the more they’ll attract the right people.
And this brings me to the next point…
2. When you’re not sure who you want as a customer.
Sometimes, when we’re starting out, we want to help everyone. We think for as long and someone (anyone!) pays for our services or products we’ll be fine, because our only focus is to get some money coming in the door.
The problem is that, when it comes to aesthetics, different people often are attracted to very divergent things. Said in other words: there isn’t a single idea of beauty and different images evoque different emotions in different people. And the last thing you want is for your brand photos to generate the wrong feeling in your customers.
Let me give you an example about this: When I was a teenager growing up in Argentina, a horror house from the US came to town. You know the ones, those that consist of a dark alley where you walk and every now and then a hand comes out of the curtains to touch you, a skeleton appears hanging in front of you, etc. This particular house of horrors was using a scare tactic that, apparently, terrified Americans: they hanged dead cattle (fake I presume), with dripping blood. Assuming Argentinian society was similar, they used the same stunts…until they heard a woman say to her husband when the dead cattle was revealed: “Oh honey, this makes me hungry. Let’s have barbecue after this“. Epic fail. They closed for a few days, completely re did their scare stunts and opened again.
This is also the reason we’re starting to talk about flexible branding. Take a look at these findings:
“In fact, there’s never been a one-size-fits-all consumer. Back in the 1970s, the demographic survey company Claritas (since bought by Nielsen) identified 40 different lifestyle segments — corresponding to ethnicity, age, wealth, urbanization, housing styles and family structures — within the U.S. population alone. And today, that number has ballooned to 66.”
” For online shoppers, customization matters. A 2015 joint study produced by Magnetic and Retail TouchPoints revealed that more than 50 percent of Internet users preferred websites that catered to their interests, age, location and taste”
In order to make sure that my photos appeal to the right customers, I always walk my clients through a process of finding a muse and distilling the qualities that make that person ideal for their business . I also research their current customer base and the one they’re trying to reach, to understand their taste and aesthetics, so we can create photos that they’ll love to like, share, pin…and that will make them want to buy.
In order to do this, you first need to be clear about who you want, and who you don’t want in your customer seats. This step really is unavoidable, and will make your whole business much more successful.
3. When you’ve never made a sale before
If you have a clear idea of where you want to take your business, and who you want to help, but you’ve never made a sale, your idea is not yet validated and I’d advise you to wait until it is to invest in custom photos.
Let me explain: Many times we want to help people who 1) don’t want to be helped ( Yes, I know they they neeeeed it, but if they don’t want to, you can’t make them) or 2) want to be helped but are either unwilling or unable to pay. These are not the right clients, because a business needs sales to survive, and happy customers, willing to delegate, implement, and commit, in order to thrive. This is what Ramit Sethi calls ” the willingness and ability to pay test” and, if you target those who don’t pass the test, your business risks not being sustainable.
This is a mistake I personally made in the first year of business. I created a new website, took photos and promoted to a consumer base that did not value custom photos unless they were extremely cheap. Consequently, the only way to get clients was to lower down my prices to unsustainable levels. The problem is, that someone who doesn’t value the work you do, will not be a great client even at super low prices: you’ll need to convince that investing any money at all is worth the cost, they’ll likely to complain more and the minute they can pay more(because their business grows), they’ll go elsewhere. I even had a client hire another photographer to shoot the rest of her collection with the styling I had designed for her!
It took me a year (and enrolling in Ramit’s zero to launch) to learn this lesson, and to understand that targeting that customer base was simply not worth the effort. That I was better off targeting those who already wanted custom photos, understood how they could help them, were happy to pay for them and wanted me as a member of their team. These were the clients that keep coming back for more work and recommended me everywhere.
For this reason, I invite you to first validate your idea, and once you know for certain which clients help your business thrive and want more of them, come back for custom photos. Then we’ll make sure they’re not only gorgeous, but also hyper targeted to attract them.
4. When you’re going through a major business re-defining moment
You have a business that works, you have clients, you made sales…but you’re going through a bit of a crisis and are not sure whether what you wanted for your business is what you’re meant to continue doing. You feel an inkling of a doubt and are wondering whether it’s resistance because you’re ready to up-level, or a major sign from the Universe, telling you to pause and ponder whether this is the right direction for you.
In these cases, it’s very common to focus on a change in aesthetics. It’s like going to the hairdresser to radically change color and cut and buy new clothes when you want to change the rest of your life…but just as a life doesn’t change until we make the hard decisions, neither do we find clarity in our business or a renewed sense of direction by simply having better photos.
Or as my friend Marbel Canseco said to me once : ” You can’t brand yourself out of confusion. “
If you are unsure about what you want to do in your business, focus on that first. If you’re not sure whether your current clients are the right ones, solve that problem first. Those things need to be clear before we can take photos that will shield you the great results you deserve.
5. When your business finances can’t afford it.
I’ll go against the grain in this issue too, and tell you that if your business can’t afford to pay for your custom photos, if you need to go into debt to pay for them, it may not be the right moment to invest.
I know it’s a common saying, especially in the coaching business, that “you need to invest in order to make money” and that “you have to invest as much money as you expect to make” and this is correct…to a point.I believe that it’s great to invest and upgrade progressively and, that unless we continue investing in order to grow, our businesses risk stalling. But I also believe that the stress of debt hanging over your head might be overwhelming, and when we’re in a state of overwhelm and fear, we rarely make the decisions our business needs to move forward.
I also believe this is related to point 3 above, business validation.
This doesn’t mean that photos may not be a considerable investment for you at the right time, but it does mean that I consider it advisable to make sure your business is already profitable, so that they can help it become more so.
Take custom photos when you have the funds, so you can move full steam ahead with your plans, and feel the effects of the upgrade sooner.
What to do instead
If you’ve been through the list and checked some marks, here’s what to do:
- Celebrate. Now you can stop paying attention to those fear-mongering articles!
- Focus on your message and your mission. Go through the list of things you need to know about yourself and your business in point 1 and find your blue ocean.
- Focus on getting your first client, and then more, and then more. Validate your idea. Make adjustments as needed. Ask your clients why they chose you, then re-adjust your blue ocean.
- Focus on helping your clients to the maximum level possible, and analyze who you work best with, who you love helping and what they have in common. Make notes. Implement changes.
When all the above is clear, you’ll know the time has come to get custom photos.
Your business will ask for them to keep growing. And this time, you’ll be fully ready to make the most of them.
It won’t feel scary, it will feel like the coronation of your effort. And it will be wonderful.