How to Be a Successful Wedding Photographer | PART TWO
Knowing Your Audience (aka: Advertising)
People will tell you that you don’t have to advertise. People will say to succeed, you can just do word of mouth. Well, if that was the case, Coke, McDonalds, Ford, Budweiser and more wouldn’t need to have an advertising budget. The key is HOW you advertise.
We have become successful using The Knot and word of mouth. That isn’t the guarantee for everyone, as I know people who get no clients from The Knot, but get everything from Facebook. We have booked ONE wedding from Facebook since starting this whole thing. You just have to figure out what works for you. That part of this whole business owning things sucks because it is a lot of trial and error. The kind of trial and error that can cost you money. However, it is 100% worth it once you figure it out.
The first year we started, we advertised on Craigslist, Facebook, and through word of mouth. Honestly, I would personally never advertise on Craigslist again. Some people on there are great, but the majority of the inquiries we got were people trying to negotiate deals. And by deals, I mean, oh, can you do a whole wedding day fully edited with full rights for $100? I should have known better, but hey, you live and learn.
Our business began to pick up exponentially about a year later when we advertised on The Knot. There are many benefits to advertising on such a site. First off, it’s a go to for brides. My sister once coined The Knot as “Google for weddings” and I couldn’t agree with her more. It’s spendy to advertise on there when you start out, although they have a free option, but it is completely worth it. The amount we spend on The Knot gets paid for at least ten times over every year by weddings we book by clients who found us there. One big thing that couples see on that site is your list of reviews. We now have over 100 reviews from couples on our page and we have had inquiries from people who have told us that they decided to meet with us rather than other photographers based on those reviews. Sure, you can put reviews on your own site, but that’s just it. You can put them there. And write them. So there’s no real reassurance that the reviews are from actual couples. So that’s huge. The bulk of our business comes from The Knot.
The remainder of our business comes from Google, preferred vendors, publications, and word of mouth.
You can’t buy Google traffic. I still don’t know how so many people find us on Google, but it happens more than I thought it ever would. Word of mouth is great, especially from previous couples. One big one is preferred vendors. I’ll write more about preferred vendors later, but they are a huge part of this business. Finally, we receive a lot of traffic with publications. Our work is published in both print and digital media and pulls in a few inquiries here and there.
So that’s how we get clients. That’s one of the biggest questions people ask and in all honesty, that’s how we do it. But like I said, it’s different for everyone.
Pricing is such a huge factor with any business. Photography is no different. A lot goes into pricing. In the end, it’s all up to you how you want to price your work, but here is what we did and currently do.
Things have changed a lot over the course of nearly eight years. You can’t honestly expect people to pay top dollar for you if you have never shot a wedding before, or if you only have three or four in your portfolio. So in the beginning, you have to somehow bite the bullet and work for less to get experience. You can do this in a number of ways. Examples include:
Pro bono photography for family and friends
Affordable photography rates
Shooting alongside professional photographers at events to build your portfolio
Those are only a few ways. We actually only did one pro bono wedding, simply because we wanted to know if we liked it or not. It was a family wedding and we shot alongside their actual wedding photographer. The photographer didn’t mind and in the end, the couple told us they should have hired us instead of the one they did hire. Doing “affordable” photo rates are a pain on the photographer’s end. We did them for years and finally just said screw it, we’re pricing as we want and the clients will come. We did way too much work for way too little. It was a serious pain because you’re not making enough money and it causes a ton of problems.
We finally started booking at rates we wanted when two things happened. A couple whose wedding we shot literally told us we were charging too little for our work. Then, I found out that two couples almost didn’t hire us because they saw our work and figured something was fishy because we were charging too low for the quality. That did it. We decided we would charge what we wanted and the clients would come and they did. And that number of clients increases every year. We still have things we shoot for free. Kyle is not paid for concerts or sports. He does that because he absolutely loves it and the experience is 100% worth it for him. So if it’s worth it to you, do it, but don’t let people take advantage of you.
How Much Are You Worth?
Okay, you will hear a lot of people say, you should charge whatever you feel you are worth. I agree with that, but you also have to be realistic.
Do your research. Look at what other photographers in your area are charging and what they are offering. Wedding photography rates differ highly depending on location. You’re going to get a lot more in Los Angeles than you are in Moorhead, for example. Look at your work through the eyes of your client and then check out your competition. Weigh out the pros and cons of your business through their eyes. Then be honest with yourself. Our rates go up each year, but we garner more experience each year and get more reviews from clients each year. It helps considerably. Once you build a good reputation with the work to stand behind it, you can raise rates and no one will look twice.
These are the key things I look at when pricing:
Amount of time I work (editing included)
Cost of living
If you’re anything like us, your pricing will change a lot the more you learn.
It is important that you have someone do your finances and that you keep track of everything. If you are making money doing photography, you must do this.
We have an accountant who does all our taxes. I’ve worked in finance and accounting for over a decade, so I do what he doesn’t do, which keep me incredibly busy. It’s nice to have the accountant though because it can often be overwhelming and he is there to help and give some advice.
I don’t know a better way to say this than like this. PAY YOUR TAXES. If you’re making money, pay them. End of story. It will only end badly for you if you don’t. We use the Quickbooks app on our phone to take photos of receipts for expenses, which is connected to our accountant so we aren’t going crazy at the end of the year with piles of receipts. Catch up on all your receipts for everything each week, send them to your accountant, and you’re set. The majority of your work will be done with some possible questions from your accountant at the end of the year. I would highly advise an accountant for business taxes, as they know stuff that the average person may not. We have been able to write off things we never would have imagined. I’m convinced my accountant is some kind of witch after the fully legal magic he performed on our taxes the last few years.
Budgeting is now pretty much my life. Due to my background with numbers and serious love for problem solving, I was able to work a budget for us to keep us living through the slower months (the MN winter) and happy during the busy season. We now have a hefty savings account after putting all of our wedding money from 2015 and 2016 towards our debt. When you suddenly are able to kill a year’s salary in debt, life becomes far less stressful. You’ll go through a year or two of having virtually nothing paying off debt, but the years after will be well worth it. I still budget everything so that we don’t end up losing it all.