The Business of Commercial Photography: The Survival Guide

 

Lesson Info

Marketing Budget

So market, it's nice to have a plan, right? Like that all sounds great but hey, I don't have any money. So we do have to pay for a lot of this stuff. It's not all free. Some things are free, I guess in the sense that it's your time. Even then, it's not really free. But it does cost money to do this stuff. So we do need to make a budget. And again, this goes back to living in reality and working with our situation, not just being emotional and thinking ah, this project, this personal project's gonna make it for me. I'm gonna do it, I'm just gonna do it. I don't want to see you do that project that means you're gonna like lose everything and lose your house and not be able to feed yourself. Like you've got to be realistic. And so part of that is setting a budget and maybe even saving up and making a plan before we get started. So what's the best place to invest my limited budget? Again, we talked about earlier a little bit. What's the one thing I can do, not one thing? I want to see mult...

iple different approaches from everybody. But like I said, you might need to save up. You might need to say, okay you know what? I am gonna just, I have this job, I don't love this job but I want to be a photographer and I'm gonna keep working here 'cause it's good money and I'm gonna save for a year. I'm gonna like, keep living but every month I'm gonna put away X amount. And then I know in a year, I'll be able to start doing personal projects for some of this stuff. Whatever that looks like for you. Maybe it's two or three years. Just commit to something that you can start working towards because otherwise, it's just like we all have things in our lives where we're like, oh next year I'll get to that. And then fast forward 20 years and you still haven't done it, you know? And that happens when you don't commit to something. So once you've saved, some of the things that we've talked about that you might want to commit to would be personal projects, website, portfolio, newsletter. I would say that stuff on the left column, the personal project, website, portfolio, e-newsletter, that's the most important thing. I would prioritize those. And again, you might have other things that you can add to this. You might have a different way of doing it. So this isn't like a hard and fast rule. Rules are meant to be broken. But just make sure you have a reason for why you're breaking that rule and you're being intentional about it. The second column, also important but this might be secondary. Like if you can only budget for four things to start with, those first ones would be it. The second column, customer database, this would be like there's services out there you can pay to access a database of potential customer contacts. And some of these places also will build out emails or newsletters for you. And then they'll help you kind of launch and maintain and manage the success of those newsletters. Leave behinds is just exactly what it says. You go meet with someone face-to-face and you leave behind a piece for them. A lead behind can literally be anything. It's just whatever you leave behind. We, like I showed earlier, we have postcards that we mail to people. We have booklets that are a little nicer and little more substantial. We use those as our leave behinds. We also will occasionally send them directly to people as well. But that's our main leave behind. And that makes a big impact 'cause it mimics my portfolio and if feels substantial. People feel like, hey I want to remember this or share this with a creative team. It's not just one image. Maybe there is, you know I don't know what image they're gonna connect with. I like all my images. I'm only showing stuff I like but maybe they'll connect with one in particular. So having something larger like that allows them to, there's a better chance that what they connected with will be in there. Mailers are you know, again anything physical that you're mailing. It can be whatever. It could be a postcard, it could be your business card. But whatever you want to send out to people and reach people and you know a physical way, that it acts similar to a newsletter but it's physical and hopefully again maybe the goal is to have them put it up on the wall and see it as a daily reminder. One thing to keep in mind, and we talked about this a little bit earlier but often times people will get really excited and they print something beautiful and they're like, it's a poster, you know? Like it folds out and I'm seeing beautiful design. But you just have to remind yourself like where is someone going to put that? It doesn't mean some people won't put it in their house but I've received things that I really love, it's really cool but I just don't have a place for it, you know? We see art all the time that we like but our house is kind of small and like we only have so much space. So just keep in mind, you know, those kinds of things when you're setting out your goals of what you're hoping these pieces will mean to somebody. And then finally, happy hour, gifts, contests, travel. These things can be really important but I don't want to see you putting any money into this unless you like have that money. This is not something that you should be like cutting up personal work for or going hungry for. This is the kind of stuff when your business grows and your budget increases, then it starts to make a little more sense. But happy hour, you know like it's one thing to go out with someone. It's another thing, let's say I got it tonight or whatever, pick up the bill or whatever. That's a nice gesture that you can do. Thank you gifts. Again I think it's really nice. I would say rather than just not doing thank you gifts, just scale your thank you gift for your budget or for you know the size of the project. You know, in relation to the project someone brought to you. So I'd rather see you do even something really small. Even if it's just like a five dollar Starbucks gift card. Like it still has meaning. It still shows that you care and value the other person. So that might be one that you can find a way to bring back into the first column. And then contests, these are, they're good things. Like they can help build your brand but it costs money. And again, it's not, it's not gonna make it for you. It's a nice supplemental thing but I don't want to see people think like, oh my gosh I need to get this contest or I need to get into this like, you know so and so's top photographers of the year, whatever. Like when I was starting out, I put so much weight into that and I kind of like lived and died on whether I made it and that kind of stuff. It's helpful but it's just a small, small piece of the pie. So again, I'd rather see you put in those few hundred dollars into like putting a personal shoot together until you've got that rolling and then maybe we can think about contests. Yeah, question in the back. I'm asked frequently to donate to charity, like charity auctions or to be the volunteer photographer for an event. Sure. Does that fit in? I think of it as an opportunity to get my name out there but would that fit in there? I mean that's the thing where if you see value and you see how that act of shooting a charity event or donating to a charity event, if that falls in line with your strategy and you think it takes you to your goal, then that's something you should choose to do. But you should not choose to do it just simply because someone asked you or because someone else told you it would be beneficial to you. You'll have people all the time tell you, oh this would be really good for your portfolio or this would be really great. That's their opinion. They don't know the first thing about what your goals are, what your strategy is to get there. So that's something that you have to think about objectively. And it's the same kind of thing too where you know, our buyers have people sending mailers all the time asking to meet all the time. They have to be really intentional about their time and what they need. And just because yo have a bunch of people calling and asking for you to donate and do all this kind of stuff doesn't mean you can't help out from time to time but in our office, we make it very clear like what our priority is right now. And sometimes or something that we actually really even want to do or be involved with, we have to know what the status or situation is at work. You know, do we have these two shoots coming up or do we teaching something with Creative Live? Like we have to prioritize the things that we've committed to and make sure that the things we committed to are taking us in the direction that we want to go. And then you can base your decision based off that. But maybe at the beginning of your career, maybe doing various things and trying new things is not a bad idea. But if you're doing that charity job just simply because you think you might connect with some people, not a good idea. I would avoid it. If you're doing that charity event because the charity event is for dog owners and it's a auction for a local humane society and you really want to be a pet photographer, that might be the perfect place for you to be because there are, there is a specific group of people that you connect with, you know, that is related to what you want to do or what you do. So, but just because there's people there, that doesn't really do you any good. Alright, so and then contest, travel, you know, that's the kind of thing where like we mentioned earlier. It can be good. There is something really important about a face-to-face but I would not dump a thousand bucks if that's your entire year's market budget just to make one trip or something like that. Like that comes when your career starts to progress, when you start to have a little bit more money. Or again, you could piggy back that off of, you know, if you're already going somewhere, double up and make sure that you're taking advantage of that situation. So to wrap up, this is an action plan that I would encourage you to take some time and think about. You could take a little bit of time right now and write down some of the answers to these. But identify your current customer or industry. Who would you like your future customer or industry to be? Maybe it's the same, maybe it's different. Maybe you're currently doing weddings and you really want to do editorial. But think about who those people are and then write down one to two marketing goals that you'd like to focus on. How will you measure the success of your marketing to achieve these goals? So are you, you're trying to maybe break into editorial photography and so you have to make sure that you are taking steps to create the work that, that you can send to those types of clients. You need to step up probably your marketing in sense of sending out newsletters or things like that. One way that you could measure is at the end of the year, did yo have more jobs or did you make new contacts or did you have more people reach out and ask you about that? If you had zero people reach out, you know last year and then you implement these changes and you still have zero people, it's possible, it takes more time. I'm not saying you give up but you have to kind of look and evaluate. Maybe your marketing isn't quite as effective. Maybe there's some changes you need to make or maybe it's not as consistent. But you want to make sure that you're giving yourself ways to measure some of these things. What marketing tools could you add to your marketing plan to reach your future customer? And then finally, create a marketing budget and a marketing calendar. So, so important. Create a calendar, know how much each thing is gonna cost, have a plan of how you're gonna save that so that when you get to that time, like hey, it's March 31st and I put on here that I'm gonna do a personal shoot, you know? Hopefully you've made the calendar a lot earlier so you also know, I have saved up enough money that I can afford to do this. That money is untouchable. It was intended for this purpose. Or you know, maybe you say nine months from now I'm gonna send out my first post card so start saving. So you know when that nine months comes, I'm not gonna draw from this money because something else happened, like this money is meant for that post card. This is an investment in your future and in your business. And as Lorenzo said, you can't steal second if you've got your foot on first. You've got to commit and you've gotta take that risk and make it happen. You've got some questions. Great. Yeah, from online. Let's dive in here and you guys can be thinking about yours. John, do you create segregated portfolios to show clients like based on color tones or blurred or versus impressionistic pieces? Do you mix the styles up in a single portfolio or do you take different portfolios to show different clients that you think might be interested in that type of photography? That's a great question, yeah. So like we talked about earlier, and this is hopefully maybe I can explain a little bit better. We talked very much about being specific and being focused and finding a niche. And someone wanted to know, like doesn't that feel too narrow? But within that niche, like I know I do conceptual, stylized portraits of characters. I'm interested in characters. Sometimes that's like a really close portrait of a face. Sometimes it's a landscape and there's a character in the landscape. Like there is room for me to kind of explore and experiment within that idea that I'm focused on. But depending on who it is that I'm gonna meet with, we change the portfolio constantly. And when I say we, you will soon get to meet my agent who's gonna be here in this course. But Maren is phenomenal at editing and so I will always work with her on my edit and we'll talk about what's your goal. What is it that you're trying to do and then who are you meeting with, you know? We're not trying to fit in work to please them necessarily in the sense that it's not work I want to be doing but I have a lot of type faces and I have a lot of more full body. I have full body in studio, I have full body in you know, out in the world, not in studio. So you kind of take those themes and you think about what is it that this person is interested in and you try to create a portfolio that speaks a little more specifically to them. So there might be some people that we don't put any, you know, close up head shots or portraits in. Or there might be some people that we do more conceptual kind of landscape type things. So it depends on that. My particular portfolio, I can reorganize so I don't have like physical different things. But in terms of our marketing pieces, you know, we create things that are based on my favorite work. And that's what we lead with and build with. Cool. Yeah. Do you approach smaller magazines or smaller businesses as clients first, like for someone just starting out? Or jump straight to nationally published lines? I mean I think, yeah, you do have to, you do have to, there is a process. So if you have no experience with a national magazine, it doesn't mean that you can't approach them. It depends on what's your work look like. If you have just done a few personal projects and they're incredible, it doesn't matter at all what your experience is. I mean, it matters a little bit. They might want to know, like can we, it helps build trust. But if the work is phenomenal, you can approach anyone you want with it. If you are starting out though and you're still have a little bit to learn, yeah, it makes more sense to approach a smaller magazine and start there. That's how I did it. I started with small local magazines and I built a portfolio with the work I was doing for the small local magazines and then I started getting national magazine work based on the stuff I did for the small local magazine work. The problem with that is, I wasn't creating personal work. So I started shooting for small local magazines and I was doing a lot of business owners and some CEOs and I was shooting for a couple magazines here in town. One was a business-specific magazine so everything was about business. And I love business, but I don't necessarily love photographing people in business. That's not like something I'm interested in. I'm more interested in characters and conceptual. So, I was doing that and built this portfolio on that work and it was fun at first just 'cause it was new and it was exciting and it made me feel like what I was doing was of interest or value. Then I got an agent in New York and they specialized in editorial photography and they started showing my work and I started getting calls for Fortune Magazine and Inc Magazine and Forbes Magazine. But then what quickly happened is I realized like, I don't enjoy this. This is not what I want to be doing. And so because I built my portfolio on what someone else was dictating, I was just getting more of the same thing. Which so that's why again, it's so important for you to create your own work and build your portfolio off of that. So I had to start all over. I had to start slowly pulling back on that stuff or not accepting certain jobs. Maybe if I turned down a job with a business owner, I made sure that I was spending that day trying to shoot something for myself that was inline with what I wanted to do. Takes a long time to do this in general. It takes even longer once you've gone down a long road and you have to go back and then down another road. So that's why again, it's really important to make sure that you're supplementing personal work into there. That being said, yeah, in terms of client work though, it's generally easier to start smaller and grow from there. Cool. How do you determine what contests are useful versus ones that are just sort of money grabs? Sure, that's a good question. I mean I still talk about contests with my agent and other people in the industry I respect. What do they look at? What do they think is valuable? There's a couple that I will still occasionally submit to. Some of it's because, you know I just kind of, I like the work that they pick or I view it as like a valuable voice in the community. I feel like it's respected and things like that. But I'm constant talking to my agent and they're like, these ones are probably the only ones that are worth it. There's a ton of contests that are money grabs. Whenever someone sees that there's money to be made, that's what they're gonna do. And so, I think that there's even some scams recently with contests that we've seen and so I would be real, real careful because winning the contest, it doesn't mean anything unless you do something about it. And it also doesn't mean anything unless they do something about it. Like if they just have a contest and you won, and you know and you don't tell anyone about it, then what's the point? So ideally the contest is something that you will want to promote and feel proud of and ideally it's something that the contest is also promoting and they're involved in the industry, kind of thing. So you really have to vet out what which contests make the most sense for you if that's something that you're gonna decide to do. I was just wondering if we were gonna see your portfolio presentation, what you would bring to a portfolio viewer. Does that depend on what the client asking for? Yeah, that's a good question. It really depends on what the client is looking for. I mean I think if you wanted a real good insight into like what my portfolio generally would look like, it's just the front of my website. It's what of the pictures that I want people to see first and foremost and so we make sure that those pictures are the ones that are on the first part of the website. I don't think I'm gonna necessarily have my actual portfolio here to show. Are you presenting that digitally or on prints for when you-- For my actual portfolio? Yeah. That's a good question. So I have an iPad, a large iPad that I use and that is just to show my motion work. So I take that to show people the videos that I've directed. And then I have currently, I have, it's like a clamshell box that was made by someone that makes portfolios and then I make my own prints that go into that box. And I'm really enjoying that process right now. It seems like it's been working well for clients as well but it's kind of this constant, you're constantly testing the waters. What I used to do is, from my days as a wedding photographer, we used to make these wedding albums and stuff. And I remember that there's this one wedding album company that just makes really beautiful, like leather bound wedding albums and they're really thick and everything. And I wanted something that was, like kind of intentional and really well made like that when I got into commercial photography. And I was looking at all the different portfolio options and talking to people about different papers and stuff and I was frustrated because no one made or did anything that was exactly like what I wanted. And I remember talking to one of the portfolio makers one day and they were like, John you have to understand it's just a portfolio. And that did not sit well with me at all. It was like, what do you mean it's just a portfolio? This is just what I do for you know, my livelihood. Like, I'm not gonna just cut a corner just because it's okay. So I decided to do, just simply put my commercial images into this, no one knows but it's made by a wedding album company and it's this really thick book. So I did that for years and we always got really great, people were so impressed with the book and everything like that. But the problem was it's like hardbound. You can't change it. So I mean, whether you're starting out or you've been doing it for a long time, you always need to change your portfolio. So it just got really expensive to just literally like discard this huge book and then make another book for whatever it was, $600 each time you needed to update it. So, that's what we used to do. And then I ended up doing the prints and for me, the reason I do the prints is because it kind of hints at the fine art work. That's typically how like a lot of times, fine art photographers will show their work is like in prints. But it also is a great way because a lot of times if I'm meeting with someone it might be in like a conference room at an agency and they can spread the pictures out and stuff like that. We also take those big booklets, those leave behinds and sometimes people look at those as a portfolio too. So, it often times is kind a multi-faceted approach. Like we have those promos they can look at and keep. They can look at my motion. Now people have asked me like, connect my iPad or plug in a laptop to the conference TV so I can play videos for the whole room. So it's kind of just constantly reassessing who you're talking to, what it is you're trying to convey, what's the best medium? You know, with when I started out, again a book was fine because usually meeting one other person. Now, more and more, if I'm doing a meeting, there might be like 10 or 15 creatives from the agency coming in and so it's really hard to when they're all like trying to like see one book. So the prints are also in that sense, something that people can spread out. So for me again, I'm more or less letting the situation and my goal dictate what's the medium and that sort of thing. And so, it's just again, being very intentional about why you're doing something.

Whether just starting out in the commercial photography industry, or ready for a new chapter in your career, John Keatley shows you how to survive in a competitive field. Known for being innovative, creative and thinking outside the box when it comes to his photography, John applies those same skills into running his business. In this in-depth course, John shares some of the key elements that allow you to be an artist and a business owner. You’ll learn:

  • How to find your style and attract the clients you want
  • How to create a bid
  • The importance of drafting a treatment
  • Estimates and billing for your work
  • Planning and scheduling your production
  • Tips on memorable branding
  • The difference between an Art Director/Agent/Art Buyer
  • Techniques for editing your portfolio

If you’re at the start of your career or ready to expand your client list, this course will be the game changer you need to create a solid foundation for a thriving business.

 
 
 
 

Reviews

  • John & Creative Live - Thank you - Best. Class. Ever.! This is a GREAT class! If you are a photographer, this is definitely a MUST GET class, but even if you work with photographers as part of a creative team - you have to take this class. (I'm a Photo Stylist) John covers it ALL in this class - it really, truly is a Survival (Success) Guide. John is so detailed, honest, and generous in his knowledge/experience/wisdom in the commercial photography industry in helping you understand the business and really succeed (& stand out). When I see that John is teaching a class on Creative Live - I'm in! (I have his other valuable courses as well)
  • I was lucky to be part of the studio audience for this course. John is an awesome teacher and did an outstanding job of making sense of a very difficult side of photography for a creative to understand. He shared his 18+ years of experience, including the good and bad he has gone through. The "special guests" alone are worth the cost of this class. John has an amazing team working beside him behind the scenes. Their perspective on his business was priceless!
  • Thanks to John for being so open his experience in the commercial photography industry and giving us so many real world examples. I especially appreciated the contributions by the non-photographers in the second day of the course - Nichelle and Maren. Nichelle gave a good perspective on the finance and business communications side. Maren is John's agent and offered her insight on how agencies worked. I've heard photographers discuss working with agents before, but it was helpful to hear an agent answer questions directly about her experience.