When I first started this journey as a photographer, I had no idea what direction to go in. How to find clients, how to get clients interested in booking with me, how to book clients…who my ideal client even was. It was a mess. After doing photography as a hobby for years I felt like I had tried everything, yet was “good” at nothing. I was focused on building my portfolio by shooting anything and everything that I could. Turns out, that strategy did n-o-t-h-i-n-g to help me. All it did was make me a quick buck and build a portfolio that didn’t reflect what I wanted in my photos. If you are struggling to “niche down” or struggling with finding your purpose as a photographer, this blog post is for you.
When was the last time you really thought about who you wanted to be serving? I was about 6 months into my business before I even thought to do this. At the time I was saying yes to all kinds of jobs– family, couples, seniors, lifestyle, cake smash, engagement, weddings…everything was a yes. When I finally sat down to think about who I wanted to be serving as a photographer, I realized I was serving way too many types of clients and saying yes to way too many types of jobs.
I took about a week to sit with my notepad and think through who my ideal client was. I wrote it all down– their age, their children’s age, milestones they might be going through in their life, where I might find them, I think I even went as far as to write down “has good hair” (what does that even mean lol) BE SPECIFIC! Really sit and think about who you want to be booking and then look at who you’re currently booking and decide need to start saying “thanks but no thanks”.
This one was a hard pill for me to swallow. I am a natural people pleaser and as an enneagram 7 I try to avoid negativity… saying no to people doesn’t usually please them, which is in turn a negative experience for me *nervously laughs and internally cries*. But here is what I can tell you: saying no to a client lead doesn’t mean they won’t have their photos taken, it just means you aren’t their photographer, and that is OKAY.
Before you start narrowing down the type of clients and jobs you’re going to say yes to, be prepared to offer referrals to the clients and jobs you’re going to say no to. Create a list of local photographers that service the client base you don’t plan on servicing. Keep that list handy in the notes section of your phone so that when those emails or DM’s come in you’re ready and prepared to tell those clients “I actually don’t offer those services right now but this photographer is so great for those types of sessions!” This makes saying no to people so much easier, keeps you in your niche market and supports other small business owners in your area. Win, win, win.
Now that you’ve defined your ideal client and set those boundaries for the types of sessions you want to be shooting, you might be freaking out a little bit. I think this is normal. When you go from saying yes to everything to saying no to most everything, you’re going to see a dip in your bookings. This is totally TEMPORARY. Before you can really serve a niche clientele, you have to start targeting that clientele to create future business for yourself. One of the best ways to do that is to do a model call.
My advice for model calls is, again, to be specific. You did all that work thinking about your ideal client and this is the time to go and get them. List what type of session it is, how many people you’re looking for, their ages, how many children they might have (or not have!), what stage of life they’re in, include mood boards so that people can see your vision and here is my little secret kicker: don’t do it for free. People are willing to pay for photos, we know this to be true as photographers, otherwise we wouldn’t have a job. So why would you cut yourself short by offering your services for free? Do it at a discounted rate and watch the people who are interested slide right into those DM’s. People love free, but people also love a good deal; don’t ever forget that.
If doing a model call seems out of your league or if you’re needing a bit more creativity and inspiration for your niche clientele, you can always participate in a styled shoot and/or collaboration. These shoots typically pull in several local vendors, which is great for exposure to your newly discovered client base, and allow you to work among other creatives who might be servicing a similar clientele. These shoots are a great opportunity to make connections and build friendships in your photography community. They can be amazing learning experiences for everything from posing to lighting to styling and composition. If you have the opportunity to participate in a local styled shoot or collaboration day, I highly recommend you do it.
Start being thoughtful and intentional about the content you’re sharing to your social media platforms. I want to clarify this and say that I am not one of those “only Instagram worthy photos and clients” type of people. However, I do know that a lot of my inquiries come from Instagram and what I choose to post serves as a tiny snapshot portfolio to those potential bookings.
What is seen on your grid or home feed matters. If I had to guess I would honestly say that 9 times out of 10, people aren’t going to click on your website and filter through full galleries to see your work. They will take the easy route and scroll through your profile and make their decision right then and there. If your ideal client were scrolling on your Instagram grid or Facebook posts, would they book you? Would the images you feature speak to them? Or would it speak to them and a bunch of other types of clients? Would they have to scroll between several posts to see the type of work they’re hoping to book you for?
You want to make sure that you’re using your social media platform to post things that will attract the type of clients you want to book. Clouding your social media (aka your quick snapshot portfolio) with a wide range of different types of photography isn’t going to hold your ideal client’s attention. Work on creating a social media platform that is straight forward and tells anyone scrolling on your grid what type of services you offer.
I recently listened to a bunch of experienced professional photographers talk about how niching down limits you as a creative and I’m here to tell you that that doesn’t have to be true. One of the extreme benefits of niching down is that you have the opportunity to practice on what you know and shoot what you’re passionate about. The type of sessions you choose to do within your niche become familiar and comfortable. Some people might read that last sentence and say “that sounds kind of boring” but it isn’t. It lets you get good at what you want to be good at.
There’s no shame in narrowing your scope to build your skill set! Use it as an opportunity to grow. Focus on things like lighting, positioning, prompting, styling–really figure out what makes a good session for your niche and then just do it over and over and over again until those booking requests start rolling in. It doesn’t mean each session will be the same, it doesn’t mean you can’t be creative. It means you can be confident in your creativity and make your sessions what you and your client want them to be!
Some of you might be reading this and thinking “but photography is a form of art…you can’t put a limit on an artist, that defeats the point..”. Hear me when I say this: you 👏🏽are 👏🏽also 👏🏽running 👏🏽 a👏🏽business👏🏽. When you turn your art into your income, you need to make sure there is a demand for what you’re supplying. In the words of some of my fav podcasters, if you are shooting for everyone you are really shooting for no one. You have to do what you need to do in order to build your business in a way that is profitable and sustainable or else your dreams of becoming a full time photographer will disappear. Having a niche and using your niche to your advantage means B O O K I N G S. Don’t make the mistake of letting yourself have a limiting mindset. Use your niche to become an expert photographer in your area instead and watch your business grow.
Here’s the deal: finding your niche, knowing how to market to your niche and then perfecting your skills within your niche takes time; major growth happens along the way. Maybe you learn lighting or posing, maybe you’re like me and upgrade your equipment nine thousand times along the way, maybe you start to think about refining the styling of your sessions. There is so much that goes into a successful session and a true quality client experience. Knowing who you’re serving and then serving them (pun intended) will make people flock to you. Remember that ideal client I was talking about? They will be in your inbox quick because guess what, your ideal client is looking for their ideal photographer. They will take one look at your instagram, facebook or website and know that you are it. Get those bookings and then when you feel ready, expand into other niche markets that you want to try out. Maybe for you that means newborns, or weddings, or couples. Start to creep out of your niche and expand just a bit until you feel ready to keep creepin’.
I’m sure some of you are reading this and thinking, “But I know so and so and they photograph all types of jobs! They do it all, why can’t I?” Here’s why: no one becomes good at everything overnight and no one is able to create a full time career in photography overnight either. It takes a lot of work, and a lot of direction. Niching down gives you that direction and lets you choose your level of work and commitment . Don’t be afraid of it, use it and embrace it and then go farther. You got this.
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