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The Truth About People That Endangers Photography Businesses

The Truth About People That Endangers Photography Businesses

You’re sitting at your computer and suddenly you hear a strange “whooshing” sound.

You follow the noise into the hall and your feet start squishing the carpet.  Dread grows, and then you see it – a burst pipe underneath your bathroom sink.  Your brain starts pumping red-alert adrenaline and you slosh into action, dialing a number on your cell phone with one hand while trying to stop the flow with the other, yelling at the top of your lungs for the other household occupants to grab towels.

Your mind flashes back to 24 hours earlier.  You were sitting at your computer, and the doorbell rang.  Behind the screen door you saw a cheerful salesman.

“Did you know that pipes can burst without warning?” he said cheerfully. “My Flood Prevention pipe system is easy to install and includes a free inspection to make sure…

“Not interested, thanks” you recited without thinking and closed the door, rolling your eyes.  Man, just when you were getting comfortable, he interrupted your train of thought, these people shouldn’t be allowed to sell door-to-door, grumble grumble.

Now as you sit there getting sprayed in the face with rusty pipe water, you wonder:  Maybe listening would have been a good idea.

Here’s the problem we face in business:

People are more motivated to solve problems than to prevent problems.

We leap into action to deal with a broken pipe NOW.

But preventing a broken pipe?  Pssssh…..why pay $500 for a problem you don’t have yet?  The pipe didn’t break yesterday, why would it break tomorrow?

This is Flood Prevention guy’s main sales problem.

You, dear photographer, are also selling prevention.

While memories, relationships, and love are the highest prizes of all, their preservation tends to matter most years down the road.

You’re asking someone to do something expensive today that they’ll probably be really happy about later.  That’s a tough sales position to start from.

Clients say they’ll “do it later” because they’re counting on there being a later.  You and I know that NOW is the time to do it to prevent a regrettable “later.”  But they don’t.  They’ve already got problems today, like that bill that just came or those beautiful shoes that are only on sale for another 24 hours.  They want to deal with that first.

So what you need to ask yourself is:  How can I also solve a problem my client has today?

If you can combine prevention with a serious dose of “plus it helps you right now solve this burning problem,” you’ll have more success.

Two questions to find an answer for:

1) What are the biggest problems on my clients’ mind right now?

If you don’t know, find out.  Interview past clients.  Hang out on message boards where your target clients congregate and see what people complain about.  Pay close attention to what your client is talking about when she gets out of the car at a photoshoot, and what her mind immediately turns to when the shoot is over and it’s time to go home.

How can you align your services with solutions to those problems?  How can you re-frame what you’re doing to go along with another solution they’re already willing to pay for?  If you can answer those questions, you’ve struck marketing gold.

2) How can I show my client problems I’ve solved or prevented for people just like him/her?

Maybe you would have listened to the Flood Prevention guy if your neighbor or best friend had just had a pipe burst. Because then, the possibility of having a problem is at the forefront of your mind.  Suddenly, prevention doesn’t sound like that bad of an idea.

What if you gave your potential clients the chance to hear from people who had crises averted by your services?

Flip back to your client list from 6-12 months ago (or better yet, 12-24 months ago).  Send them a quick email and ask something like:

“Hey Janie!  I’ve been thinking about you!  How is little Johnny?  Still afraid of ladybugs?  😉  He must be getting so tall!

I was looking at your images today (still remembering that animal noise contest that ended in a major giggle fest) and I was wondering something.  I find a lot of potential clients hesitate to have photos taken because it seems like a lot of money to spend now for something that’s most valuable later.  So I’m wondering, now that it’s “later” for you – how do you feel about your photos?  Are you glad you took them?  How do you use them now?  I’m just asking because hearing how other people feel about their photos a year from now can help them feel more confident in making a decision.”

Boom.  Not only is that an instant blog post (that someone else writes!  just get their permission to share it first!), but you’re helping clients peer into their own future more concretely.

People are generally terrible at guessing what will matter to them in the future.  So SHOW them.

You have to be careful here.  I’ve seen many photographers write well-meaning but ranty, preachy, and judgmental posts about having photos taken, or about hiring real photographers instead of those other guys who will ruin your wedding and you’ll regret it so much that you might as well have not gotten married at all.  These posts may be true (or partially true), but they don’t market particularly well.

If people feel like you’re judging their choices, they will resent you and probably not buy from you.  Brazen fear-mongering rarely works the way you want it to, even if you’re right (just ask anyone with teenagers).  Show them the future, but don’t threaten them with it, okay?

No need to abandon the prevention angle altogether.

Our strongest argument for photography usually is, indeed, a message of “you’ll be so glad you did this.”  Just swirl it in with some ideas about how it helps them today, not twenty years from now, throw in a little social proof from past clients, and they’ll find the cocktail far more irresistible.


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  1. Dani on April 10, 2013 at 11:14 pm

    Everyone wants a discount… or they want me to shoot for free! It’s only been a year now that I’ve stood up for myself, my time and my time away from my Honey to actually get paid EVERY time I shoot.
    For many years friends and family have asked me to shoot their family, their kids, a birthday, and even weddings for free. I’ll admit, I’ve shot my share of family photos, kids, and parties because they were family or close friends.
    I just captured my Ex-husband’s daughter’s Senior Session and offered a 50% discount on the shoot. (reg $250) They ordered grad cards, announcements and a signature album. When I quoted him the price he said what about my discount? I told him, “this is my job, how I make a living, how I pay my bills, I need the money to keep my website up, my software up to date and to continue my learning.” He said ok and sent a check.
    Seriously…. why does every fool think photography is a hobby?
    Sorry for the rant, but this happens ALL the time!

    • Amanda on April 27, 2013 at 3:55 pm

      People don’t take the arts seriously. It’s the same way with Graphic Design careers. Way to go for standing up for yourself!

  2. Nicholas Fiennes on April 11, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    I’ve just placed an ad in the local school newsletter using the ‘prepare for the future’ idea, so this post is perfectly timed for me to amend that to be more effective.

  3. Philippe Monthoux on April 13, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    Thanks for the great insights. I was about to write one of these “You’re an idiot if you don’t hire a professional photographer” blog post, and reading your article just saved me from embarrassment later. I’m completely re-framing my post following your “you’ll be glad you did this” suggestion. Thanks very much again.

  4. Ali Peterson on April 23, 2013 at 2:14 am

    Many of my clients hire me to photograph their pets because they either want to capture the puppy/kitten phrase before they grow out of it, their pet is getting old or sick and not expected to live much longer, or they lost a pet and realized they had no good photos of them. I think I could book a lot more clients if I showed them WHY others decide to hire me. This just goes to show why word-of-mouth is the most influential type of marketing for photographers.

  5. Judy on April 23, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    My late husband and I were both photographers. We had many pictures of our children, but only two family pictures of all of us together before he passed away one night from a sudden heart attack. We should of known better and taken more pictures together, but like a carpenter whose house is never done, we did not. I use myself as an example to all my clients how important it is to take a family portrait. You never know what is around the bend in life- But in order to have a cherished family photo you have to have one taken.


    • Jenika on April 23, 2013 at 6:28 pm

      Thank you for this well-articulated comment, Judy. I appreciate that you took the time to share your story – I’m sorry for your loss, and I’m sure your clients are blessed through you. Best wishes.

  6. Celia G. on April 25, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    Just stumbled on this post and it was sorely needed… I’m getting all KINDS of sob stories from folks wanting discounts, and I can’t seem to find a gentle way to tell them I charge a pretty reasonable rate for my work. And, seriously, I am obsessive about details because I always have in the back of my head, “How do I want these to look in 20, 30, 40 years if they were mine? Trendy, classy, posed, formal?”

    Also, generally, having unreal expectations (wanting me to Photoshop out “my arm fat” or “make my nose smaller”) or wanting to do cheesy CHEESY nonsense (set up a chincy “camping” or picnic themed shoot… mehhh?).

    Anywho, I loved this, and I’ll be taking the survey if it’s still open!

  7. Fortune McLemore on July 12, 2017 at 2:46 pm

    I know about the freebie crowd! I do portraits in Washington, DC, and one of my specialties is musician publicity portraits.

    For nearly two years, I tried to help them with portraits to promote their careers. All I got was a lot of poor-mouthing.

    Long story short, I changed some things.

    For one thing, I got away from the main target market I was going for: the indie/alt-rock/punk/beginner market – or the “begindies,” as I now call them. They don’t respect and appreciate the art and craft of photography – so they don’t want to pay for it. They think their buddies can do my level of work with their cell phones. Or they literally can’t afford it, period.

    I’m done with that crowd. Now I work with genres with actual grownups, like jazz, country, cover bands, etc. – genres with experienced adults who know they have to pay.

    Second, no more freebies, or spec work. Period. For anything. People in the music industry tend to think they’re going to be stars. The problem is when they expect you to shoot them for “exposure” because of that. I’ve also stopped trying to work with publications, too, because of they think photographers should “shoot for exposure.” The only “exposure” I want to worry about is for the picture.

    Third, I don’t make friends with prospects or clients now. I thought doing that would bring me business, since so much of the music business is about relationships. It didn’t work. The only way for people to see me as a professional and not merely a fan is to keep my distance. I’m “friendly but not friends” with them.

    Being friends with people in this industry segment leads to people expecting freebies from you because you’re friends. Which is another reason to keep my distance.

    So my lessons have been basically stop trying to be nice and “help people.” I have to aim for a more profitable market segment, stop doing free work expecting to benefit later, because I won’t, and stop expecting real business from “friends.”

    I don’t have to be nasty and unfriendly; that’s not my way at all. I just have to make it clear I’m running a business…not a charity.

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