In the second instalment of his diary, our new wedding photographer, Mike Riley tells us how he’s been spending the winter months – and how his hard work is starting to pay off.
Over to Mike…….
Since I last spoke to you back in November of last year I’ve been hard at work on the new business.
I had two problems to overcome. Firstly lack of bookings and clients and secondly a very slim portfolio with which to attract them. Somehow I had to work out a strategy to use what I had to attract work and at the same time try to ensure that that work was the right kind of work.
Finding the right clients
Attracting the right kind of client is hugely important to me for two reasons. One of the reasons I’m moving into the wedding photography field is as a contrast to the usual studio work I do.
The studio work is very slow and painstakingly done and I want the wedding work to be the opposite. Fast paced and focussed on telling a story through a collection of images rather than creating single beautiful images. For that to work the clients that hire me have to share a vision of what the end result should look like. That shared vision is of paramount importance if the business is going to satisfy me and if the clients are going to get what they want.
One way to discover how to achieve this is of course to look at what others do and try and work out what strategies work for them so to this end I booked myself on another workshop at the beginning of December.
Investing in developing my skills
This workshop was a densely packed brain dump of information, business practice, strategy and general thoughts about wedding photography delivered by two of the UK’s best wedding photographers (Kevin Mullins and Neale James). There were roughly 30 in the audience with experience ranging from next to nothing through to photographers who have achieved a fair amount of success in their own right. At the end of the workshop there was an opportunity for further networking discussion with those who remained behind. There was so much information imparted over the course of the day that, to be honest, I’m still unpacking it all and rolling bits of it into my website, presentation and branding.
I would strongly recommend any one taking a similar path to me to look into what workshops and seminars are available in the field they’re interested in and when they find one that covers what they’re interested in book themselves on it. I found the experience very useful and I intend to attend more workshops if only to force myself to keep assessing what I’m doing and how I’m doing it.
The importance of Branding
One of the key things that came out of the workshop for me is the importance of branding. By which I’m not talking about logos and website layouts. I’m referring to the presentation of your business and how you position it in the market place.
The best way to attract the right client is through your branding. But to pull this off you have to know who your client is. I think it’s worth going as far as writing a description of that person on paper. As a photographer I’m thinking about the ideal bride and groom, more so the bride because it tends to be the women that do the leg work finding wedding vendors and sometimes but not always making the purchasing decisions as well. I started out thinking about the ideal bride rather vaguely, but over time I refined that and the pen portrait became more focussed. I still have more work to do on that but as the ideal bride came into sight and as I tweaked the website content to reflect a conversation with that person I found that the people I was meeting became more and more like that ideal client.
The right Branding can compensate for a slim portfolio
The website was working to attract the right people. Not only was that important in terms of making sure that the potential clients would get the kind of work that they wanted but for me with my very slim portfolio of wedding work it moved the focus of attention away from the lack of work and more towards me as an individual. Of course the work that you have to show has to be presentable and of good standard generally but people buy people and by creating a level of trust and a relationship with potential clients I have found that my slim portfolio, has not been a problem.
One thing I have been very clear about through the website and in conversation is that I am new to the business. This is important, I’m asking people to place a huge level of trust in me and honesty has to be the foundation of that. It’s also important because the junior status in the industry also has an effect on my prices, which are of course lower than some others.
Switching from SEO focus to Social Media
In the last article I mentioned website SEO and social media. I have over the last few months put a lot of effort into SEO mostly to no avail. My site doesn’t appear in google searches at all unless you search for my name but I was already there for those searches previously with my commercial business. However I think the wedding photography business is a very hard one to compete in with regards to getting on the front page of Google. I also think that it’s perhaps not the be all and end all. I have taken the route since last November of working on the website to include what I hope is good, useful and interesting content, which is not written with keyword searches in mind but for people to read, and on driving that content through social media. I’ve mainly used Twitter and Facebook, though I also use Instagram.
Getting leads from Facebook
Of the three social networks Facebook, although still the platform where I have the least engagement with an audience, has turned out to be the one I have had the most success with.
A mixture of driving my blog content in appropriate wedding groups and pages and a well targeted and tested Facebook ad running throughout January has been very successful for me in provoking enquiries.
I had nearly 30 enquiries over the course of the month. Of those enquiries, through a mixture of conversation via telephone and email, some meetings and directing potential clients back to the website to read more and allow the branding to take effect on them, I have converted 8 to confirmed bookings.
I expect 2 more to convert soon and I still have open enquiries which may convert to bookings yet. To be honest this level of success has exceeded my initial expectations. All the work done on the site and social media means my slim portfolio will be looking much more healthy at the end of the year than it does currently.
I have at least 8 confirmed weddings to shoot this year, I start in March and the work is spread across the year until October at the moment. I also have 3 enquiries and a booking for next year as well.
As I work my way through those weddings I will continue to update and tweak the website and blog, developing the portfolio and the branding. As I do that I can see that I will also have to think about and adjust both the pricing and the offer.
I’m thinking about ways I can increase the deliverables. I would like to include an album in the package as standard. I think it adds value and as far as I’m concerned the pictures are really meant to be printed and seen as a collection in a book not as a set of digital files on a screen.
Apart from working on the website and branding I’m going to continue networking with other professionals in the wedding industry. I don’t view people as competitors particularly rather as enablers. Though conversation and contact we can learn from each other and refer clients to each other. Viewing everybody as competition and adding them to the list of challenges to be overcome seems to be altogether too much hard work to me.