If you take a quick look around the interwebs, you’ll find no shortage of photography education. Influencers and gurus pour content into your ears and eyeballs on a non-stop basis. These demigods of the photo industry, both false and true, will show you how to light, pose, and photoshop your creations until your brain melts, but have you ever noticed what’s missing? Where’s the marketing? Now don’t get me wrong, it’s out there, but you will usually get little nuggets here and there with an offer to buy into a workshop that does the real deep dive. I know it’s true because I very often employ that same model in my own side-hustle as a teacher and coach. Now there’s nothing wrong (in my humble opinion) with getting paid for what you know, but after years of studying and applying the techniques of business thought-leaders outside the photography industry, I can tell you that there are three marketing truths you probably won’t hear in a photography workshop.

Gary will be one of several speakers at WPPI (Wedding & Portrait Photography Intl.) 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. This five-day conference (Feb. 23-27, 2020) is the perfect place for wedding, event, and portrait photographers and videographers to come together, be inspired, and discover the latest trends in wedding & portrait photography. You can find more information on Gary’s presentations at the end of this article. 

Truth #1 – Everyone is Faking It, at Least a Little

Although the social media aspect of marketing is relatively new, the idea of trying to appear more successful and happier than you really are, is not. It’s so easy to look at the social media presence of a photographer you admire and feel discouraged. Maybe you don’t have a huge Instagram following. Maybe you don’t have a full calendar of photo shoots and in-person sales appointments. Guess what? Most of the hot shots on the internet aren’t quite crushing it the way you think they are. Believe me, I have met photographers who speak internationally and live in their parent’s basements.

headshot by Gary Hughes
Headshot by Gary Hughes

So what’s the point? Focus on you. Focus on your business. Create a plan that starts with numbers, goals, and small, steady moves. Photography is a small business with a slow growth curve. Most successful studios don’t really hit their stride until around year six or seven, and even then, changes in the market almost always necessitate a total overhaul of your business every few years. There is nothing wrong with putting on a public face for your audience, just remember that very often the photographers who post the least are the ones making the most money.

Truth #2 – You Are Not A Photographer

Most of us in the photo industry have one thing in common. We love photography. We love it so hard that we want to marry it and see it every day until we grow old with it. It’s a lifelong passion that certain crazy individuals decide to try and make a career out of. Why? I have a theory. There is a certain type of person that comes to the conclusion that life would be better if they got to do what they love for a living. Here’s the problem with that logic: nothing can take the joy out of your passion more than trying to do it for a living.

Portraits by Gary Hughes
Portraits by Gary Hughes

Imagine trying and failing to find your bliss by taking a swing at professional photography full time. Imagine eating through your life savings trying to get your dream off life support only to end up a failure. Now imagine trying the same thing and actually succeeding! Imagine being so successful that you are working 80 hours a week, staying up late to edit and, having no free weekends or holidays because your business has taken over your life. Becoming a slave to that camera and computer can suck the joy right out of you. You can avoid both of these scenarios by changing your perspective.

Stop thinking of yourself as a photographer and start thinking of yourself as a small business owner. Photography is the product, not the business. Set boundaries around your personal time by keeping regular hours and treat photography like you would any normal job. Set aside a significant portion of your working time to marketing and make it your mission to be a successful entrepreneur, not just an artist.

Truth #3 – Your Business is Not About You

No matter how incredible your “About the Artist” page is on your website, you have to come to terms with the fact that, even though you are super awesome, your business isn’t about you. You should definitely have a mission statement and a great product, but what you really need, more than anything, is to get obsessed with becoming the best possible solution for your ideal client. Everything is about them. Everything. If you picked up a new client every day for the next year, but you didn’t wow them from start to finish, you have not done your job. Small businesses thrive on loyalty and word of mouth. You have to earn that loyalty by giving them something that leaves them breathless, scratching their heads as to how they ever lived without you. Do that with 50 clients a year and you will have one hell of a business.

Portraits by Gary Hughes
Portraits by Gary Hughes

So ask yourself, who is your perfect client? Write that down in as much detail as you can manage down to their zip code and the grocery store they go to. Then take out another piece of paper and write down every single thing you can think of that will make you the perfect fit for them. Fold that paper up, stick it in your pocket, and take it out every day and look at it. Scratch things off the list and add new ones. Make a workflow of your entire client experience from first contact to follow up and identify every bottle neck you can and eliminate them one at a time. Are your clients busy business folks? How about you cater to them by doing sales appointments in their home or via video chat? Solve their problems, be their person, and make it all about them.

If you do that enough times, your loyal clients will become evangelists for your brand that no amount of social media presence will match.

Come Join Gary at WPPI 2020!

Master Your Marketing

“As creative entrepreneurs, many photographers find the “business” side of photography to be the most frustrating. How can you create systems that will grow your brand while allowing you to spend more time doing what you love? In this class, you will learn practical marketing techniques that will fill your inbox with inquiries and empower you to take control of your online presence in a way that will let you spend less time on the computer and more time behind the camera. Gary will cover SEO basics, social media, charitable marketing, time management and content creation. Gary will use his years of experience and methods of running a photography studio to give you real, honest answers and solid takeaways on how you can get on top and stay on top of your marketing. Master your marketing, grow your business and live your dream.”

When: February 25th, 2020 at 6:00 – 7:30PM
Where: Platform Classes | Business & Marketing

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Stepping into Strobes

“Natural light is the best light in the world, except when it isn’t there for you. Just adding one strobe to your kit can vastly increase your options in any given situation. In this class, you will learn: the basics of making a strobe work for you; how to use strobes to enhance available light and make it look natural; how to create a small, portable kit that won’t slow you down; and one-, two- and three-light setups that will deliver great results every time. You have mastered your camera; now it’s time to add some new tools to your kit that could help you enhance your work, open up more possibilities and set you apart from your competition.”

When: February 26th, 2020 at 10:00AM
Where: Photo Walks | Lighting & Posing

See more info here.

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