At Hone Feb 2016 cover

Cover image Feb 2016

The Three-legged stool: Branding strategy, Marketing and Sales

The most ridiculous blog I’ve read this year was titled, “How to Price Photography.” It started out advising photographers to decide how many days a year they wanted to work. Then, based on the number of days they wished to work, it explained how to calculate what they should charge in order to make a living that would put a coat on their back and feed their children.

Complete absolute rubbish!

The lunacy is thinking that photographers get to decide how many days a year they’re going to work. If you’re just starting out, you’d love to have the opportunity to work even one day a week. It would be ridiculous to arbitrarily say you’re going to work three days a week for 50 weeks out of the year so you can have a two week vacation. That is 150 days that you “decide that you’re going to work.” I could just fall over dead laughing right this second!

Just because you’re the most talented photographer in the room doesn’t mean you’ll make a living. As I’ve told every assistant that’s ever worked for me, “Talent only let you play the game. It doesn’t determine if you win or lose.” Of course, you could try to rely on luck. Meanwhile, your spouse might support you and the family. If you don’t have a spouse or significant other, you could live out of your car. A few photographers do hit the jackpot on their luck and talent alone, but personally, I think the odds are better playing the lotto.

Kim Rice Interior Designer Kansas City KS

Kim Rice Interior Designer Kansas City KS Photographed Feb 2016

Now, let’s get back to reality. If you read any blog that suggests that you should calculate how much money you charge by how many days you decide you want to work, please turn the page. Don’t even bother to read further. It’s a waste of your time.

Here’s the reality: I work a minimum of five days a week, and many times on part of the weekend as well. That doesn’t mean I’m shooting five days a week. The reality is that you’re only getting paid when you are shooting. For a photographer, however, shooting is a very small part of the job.

The truth of the matter is that branding strategy, marketing, and sales represent the largest portion of my professional life which, in turn, generates my shooting jobs.

Branding strategies

Schering-Plough’s Corporation. You may not recognize the corporate name, but you will recognize the brands that are underneath this corporate name in a heartbeat: Maybelline, Dr. Scholl’s and Coppertone.

This was a $10,000/month client of mine that I lost to a competitive photographer, not because his work was better than mine, but because his brand strategy was better than mine. Oh, I still handled a large chunk of the work for the Corporation, but I got the day-to-day stuff and the other photographer got the glamour work.

Did I mention the other photographer was charging double my day rate? (Before everybody jumps up and down about the use of day rate, at the time that was how photography was sold.)

I did get to have a conversation with my client and asked why I was losing work to this other photographer who was charging double my hourly rate. My client told me, “He gets the work done in half the time you do, so bottom line to bottom line is equal.”

Some years later I was having lunch with the extremely talented photographer who had won my client over, and I had the opportunity to ask him about his brand strategy. He told me, “My strategy is to be the most expensive photographer in town because people think that if you’re the most expensive photographer you must be the best photographer.”

So here’s how it worked out in the real world. On the day-to-day jobs where he was charging double my hourly rate, he cut his time to reflect only half the amount of time that it actually took him to do. I was charging for the full amount of time at half the rate. Therefore, the two bottom lines cost were equal and reflected the fair market value of the assignment. So then it comes to the glamour jobs that should go to the most talented photographer. Since he was the most expensive, he was perceived as the most talented, and he would get those assignments. But he wouldn’t cut his hourly time element and he raked in the double rate. This is brand strategy at work.

Anna Lattimore Interior Designer Memphis TN Photographed Feb 2016

Anna Lattimore Interior Designer Memphis TN Photographed Feb 2016

This is only one example of brand strategy. There are tons of them out there. There are custom strategies that you should build to reflect your personal style of how you work and what you want to be photographing.

What if you don’t create a brand strategy? Well, a conversation I had with another photographer just two days ago reflects the end result. He said, “Clients understand purchasing a photography service the same as scrubbing the floor. It’s a service they have to pay for.”

Photographers working without a brand strategy are only providing a service, a commodity, simple content, or space fillers. This type of photography has very little perceived value. Secretaries can handle it with an iPhone. Then why should clients pay for a professional if it’s only content?


So you have figured out what your brand is. Step one is complete, but if you don’t market your brand you’re still sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring.

Marketing means advertising and presenting your brand strategy. The more creatively you can get the word out and present your brand, the more likely you are to get an opportunity to close the sale.

Here are some of my marketing strategies:

  • Websites
  • Blogs
  • Social Media: Posting in LinkedIn groups and Facebook
  • Teaching seminars
  • Editorial work
  • Direct mail to a list of potential clients
  • Free listings in professional source books like the Workbook
  • Cold sales calling
  • Guest speaking engagements talking with small groups about professional photography. Local groups are always looking for guest speakers.
  • Hanging art exhibits of my work at local banks and any other public facility that has rotating art shows.
  • Offering occasional pro-bono work for worthy nonprofits that I wish to support

Hint: Don’t get so caught up in your marketing that you turn away paying work when it knocks on your door. The purpose of the marketing is to build the paying work so you have to do less and less marketing. You can never eliminate all of your marketing efforts, but you should try to streamline it to be most effective to bring in work.

Another Hint: One marketing effort that has had absolute zero return on investment for me was an email blast … even to a paid, targeted list.


The sad truth is you still have to make sales calls. Even when the phone rings and a potential client is calling you, it’s still a sales call. The deal hasn’t been closed yet. Until the deal is closed, you’re selling.

If you think “sales” is a nasty five-letter word, then I would say you have the wrong attitude. I suggest that you read any or all of these:

  • The One Minute Salesperson by Spencer Johnson and Larry Wilson
  • Dig Your Well before You’re Thirsty by Harvey Mackay
  • The Art of Negotiating by Gerard Nierenberg
  • anything written by Earl Nightingale

Sales, with the appropriate attitude, is looking for what’s best for your clients, going for a win-win, solving a problem for your client, or providing solutions. Once you’re actually in a sales call, the most important thing you can do is listen. Listen for the problem. Listen for the issue.

Heidi Dawson Interior Designer Memphis TN Photographed Feb 2016

Heidi Dawson Interior Designer Memphis TN Photographed Feb 2016

Photography that’s a solution to a problem is never considered simple content. It’s the reason why professionals are hired. The bigger the problem is, the greater the value. I also heard one photographer put it this way, “I produce art, and art doesn’t have a commodity price tag.”

Another photographer I had the pleasure of listening to at a seminar shared one of his sales strategies. It was brilliant. When in a sales call with a potential new client who was already using a photographer, he would ask, “If there’s one thing you could change about your current photographer, what would it be?” For example, the client may say, “I wish he/she was more prepared, or more punctual.” Then the pitching photographer would say, “I guarantee you I’ll always be prepared and I’ll always be punctual, or you do not have to pay me.” He took listening for the issue to the next step by offering to solve the problem for the client and make it better.

My personal sales strategy was to always make certain I was the second photographer that potential clients thought about, because someday their current photographer isn’t going to be available and I wanted to be the next name they considered.

Summing up:

Photographers – sit down and do some soul-searching. Create a brand that represents who you are, what you do, and the type of work you want to produce. Then create your marketing pieces and aggressively begin marketing your brand. Start making sales calls. Lastly, never sell on price because commodities always get cheaper. Your price should be based on return on investment for your client.

I could talk volumes about how to calculate return on investment for a client and how to convert issues into an actual price tag, but for that you need to call me … and pay me for the consultation.

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