Personal Branding Is Not Just for Professional Photographers
Episode #245 of the TOGCHAT Photography Podcast
Transcript | TOGCHAT Resources
Personal Branding Is NOT Just For Professional Photographers
This week. I want to share some thoughts with you about personal branding and social media. This isn’t just for photographers who want to make money. This is for any photographer who wants to make great images, stay tuned.
You are listening to the TOGCHAT Photography Podcast, the only podcast dedicated to the HOWS and WHYS behind creating consistently great photographs. Here’s your host, Joe Edelman.
Hey gang. This is episode number 245 of the TOGCHAT Photography Podcast. I am Joe Edelman and my mission is to help photographers like you to develop a better understanding of the HOWS and WHYS behind great photography.
A few quick notes for you before we dive in. I’m hoping that you subscribe to my YouTube channel and that you’ve seen my new series called The LAST FRAME LIVE. The LAST FRAME is a one hour live stream that happens every Wednesday evening at 6:00 PM. Eastern time in the U.S..
Each week, The LAST FRAME focuses on a different topic with no scripts, no razzle dazzle, no canned presentations. I do my best to give you a lesson or demo or a series of tips based strictly on my experience – in other words – how I do it. No rules, no bullet points, no top five ways. I share my ways of doing it so that you can get an inside understanding of how another photographer works.
The response to this new series has been excellent. And I think you’ll be able to learn quite a bit from it. You can find the link in the show notes. I hope you’ll check it out. And if you haven’t subscribed to my YouTube channel yet, please do. You can find the link to the channel and all my social profiles in the show notes or visit my website, www.joeedelman.com.
And if you’re listening on iTunes or any other platform that allows reviews, please leave a few positive notes to help other photographers find out about the show. Honestly, the reviews helped to attract sponsors, which helped me to continue providing you with access. To all of these amazing photographers and this great information.
Also the thought for the week. Most photographers I know hate being in front of the camera to have their picture taken. Just remember gang. There are no bad photographs – that’s just how your face looks. Sometimes.
Next up is this week’s TOGTOPIC
Personal Branding, Social Media. Four words that make up two of the most misunderstood terms in the photography world.
Now you might think that’s because they have nothing to do with actually taking pictures. But I would argue that they have everything to do with taking pictures – regardless of the genre that you shoot.
Like many other things in photography, personal branding and social media are not really that difficult. They do however, require hard work, just like anything else that is worth doing. But it’s not really that hard to figure them out – once you know what question to ask and what lens to look through. I meant that figuratively – not literally. But if we had to choose, I would recommend a wide angle so that you have a broader perspective.
Even though the two terms have a lot of overlap, I think it will be helpful if we deal with them separately so that I can help you discover the common ground between the two of them. We hear this term: “personal branding” being used more and more and not just for business purposes.
So why does a personal brand matter? WHY is always my favorite question? WHY is a great starting point to develop an understanding of anything worth knowing why is the question that you want to hold yourself accountable too?
And it’s actually a very simple answer. Your brand and the perception of your brand will directly influence how people will respond to you. In business, it will determine how much money your customers are willing to spend with you. You know, it’s amazing how many photographers and business owners in general, don’t grasp that simple fact.
Effective personal branding will differentiate you from other people, from other photographers and from other professionals in your genre of photography.
Now, I’m going to talk about the business side for a few minutes, but I assure you, these points apply even if you aren’t looking to start a business.
When a potential client contacts you, they have likely already seen your work on the internet on social media, on your website. And I can promise you that they don’t care what camera you use or how big the sensor is or how many megapixels it has or how much it cost you.
What they really care about is what are you like?
Think about it. A girl gets engaged. One of the first things she does is start scouring the internet for ideas for her wedding. Photographers are included in that search. So by the time she contacts you, she has already seen your work. And it’s fair to assume she liked it, or she wouldn’t contact you.
So aside from price, what is she most interested in knowing? What are you like?! She is looking for the person that she is going to trust to record the most important day of her life. She is looking for the person that she can count on to understand her and to make sure that she looks amazing in all of her photos and who can wrangle her bridal party and relatives without offending anyone, especially her new mother-in-law.
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Now this concept applies to portrait clients, advertising clients, event clients – in other words – all clients. It’s not about your photography. This is a business decision that is weighted with a lots of emotion, but a business decision none the less.
The simple fact about being a professional photographer is that if you want to pay your bills or some of your bills with a camera – please understand that getting paid to take pictures is what you get to do if you do business right. Business is at the core of being successful as a photographer. This is why a personal brand is so important.
When I first left the newspaper industry and decided it would be a great idea to open a portrait and wedding business – I had no idea about branding or marketing or even how to run a business. I was 24 years old – married, I had a son who was about to turn two. I took out a business loan because I was convinced that the new Apple IIC computer which sold for several thousand dollars – oh, I was convinced it would help me be a good businessman and be organized. In truth, it was a case of G.A.S. Gear acquisition syndrome. Less than six months later, I couldn’t afford to pay the loan. My car was the collateral and I walked out of my apartment one morning to find the loan officer from my local bank, watching. As my car was being hooked up to a tow truck. I had no idea what was going on. And needless to say, I panicked. Fortunately, the loan officer showed a great deal of empathy and didn’t repossess the car that day on the condition that I showed up at his office the next morning with all of my accounting and provided that I agreed to visit him once a month with my ledgers.
For the remaining period of the loan? Well, I had no choice, but to agree, but then this gentleman went ahead and taught me how to run a business. I share this experience because I’m not proud of it, honestly, it’s embarrassing, but it laid the groundwork for me to be successful. You see the loan officer from the bank, wasn’t a marketing guy.
But interestingly, he talked about marketing a lot and he introduced me to a book written by a car salesman, a book full of stories, a book about how to sell a book by a guy with the weirdest name I had heard to that point in my life, Zig Ziglar. It was the first book written by Zig Ziglar. And I thought the loan officer was nuts.
I mean, I knew there was still a lot that I needed to learn about photography, but what the heck did I need to learn about selling? I sure as heck didn’t want to sell cars. Now, this was the early 1980s. This book never mentioned the word brand. It never mentioned the phrase personal branding. It doesn’t really tell you how to sell.
At least not in a direct way, what it does. It helps you understand the psychology of selling without needing a PhD. Now, I didn’t know it at the time, but this book taught me what I needed to know about building a personal brand. Zig Ziglar tells you stories about people. People that he encountered and it tells you about their experiences with other people.
It takes a practical look into how to build relationships that lead to sales, not before you run out and buy this book. And yes, it is still in print. Let me just warn you. If you are a person who needs a checklist that says, do these 10 things and you will be successful. Then this is not the book that you want.
I shared a link to the book in the show notes. For those of you who are interested, this was the point in my life where I started to realize that being a photographer, wasn’t going to mean that I would be taking pictures every single all day and living some glamorous life with a camera around me, my neck.
This is when I realized that if. I ran a successful business. I wouldn’t need a regular job and I would be able to get paid to take pictures. Now, the world has evolved quite a bit from the mid 1980s and yeah, I still have my copy of Zig Ziglar’s book and I refer to it. Occasionally you see the lessons from the book have made it very easy for me to realize that things like social media.
You know, that marketing thing that all photographers love to complain about and don’t really understand, and don’t have the time for that thing. The lessons that I learned in that book are a large part of what makes social media and marketing so easy for me today. The lessons learned in that book were the catalyst for the philosophy that would allow me to create a personal brand.
That would allow me to earn money with a camera for a career spanning more than 47 years. And it was those early experiences that taught me why a personal brand was important. Now the language has changed back then. It was referred to as the concept of don’t sell features, sell benefits. Today, we still sell benefits, but we do it through our personal brand.
That’s mainly because as consumers, we don’t trust salespeople, we don’t want to be sold anything. So as we fast forward to 2021, when the term social media and personal branding are literally bombarding us from every direction. I’m honestly blown away by how many photographers feel that the idea of having a personal brand is about being fake or disingenuous.
And they’re afraid that it will hurt their business instead of helping it. Now, just in case you are one of those people, let me be clear that if you don’t define your personal brand, it will be shaped and defined by others. Is that a risk? That you really want to take. Do you really think it would be a good idea to let other people define you and your business?
Your personal brand will be the story. Those people tell when you aren’t in the room. So now that we know why, and I have shared my early WHYS, let’s clear up the question that a lot of you still have. What exactly is personal branding to me, I am my personal brand. My personal brand is everything about me and my work as it relates to the way I make others feel.
In other words, it’s about the emotions and the experience I give to other people. Let’s boil it down even more. It’s about value. Do people perceive value in what I have to offer? It has always been important to me to provide value to my customers. You are your personal brand. It’s not about your photography.
You are a photography grabs a potential customer’s interest. It gets you noticed, but that’s not what keeps their interest or gives it value. Your personal brand is also your reputation. Your personal brand is the foundation that your reputation is built on. It’s based on your behavior. Sadly. We see a lot of people on the internet spending a lot of money to get ahead really fast in the short term, usually at the expense of their long-term personal brand.
And ultimately these people fail instead of being patient, they go for quick sales instead of actually developing a solid set of skills and offering an experience to their subjects and their customers. They look for shortcuts. These people are not genuine. They offer no real value and they keep trying to convert customers on the very first interaction.
In other words, it’s money before service money, before value, they try to make money before creating a valuable and meaningful experience. I’m talking about all those get rich quick, or become a better photographer, quicker ads that you see every time you log into your Facebook and Instagram feeds. That’s just one set of examples.
A brand is about how someone feels at the moment when they interact with you or your business brands are emotional brands connect. Many companies I’ll use Apple and Victoria’s secret as examples, neither of these brands asks you to buy anything in their most expensive advertising campaigns. Instead, they show you the benefits of using their products.
Apple’s commercials are about connecting people and using technology. They find the value in the connections and the emotional side. Of their products, Victoria, secret empowers women to feel confident and beautiful and sexy in their marketing. Personal branding is personal for you. And for those looking at you and your work, it is personal and emotional.
But now how does all of this connect with social media? In order to help you really understand social media. I need to ask you to consider a few things. So please indulge me for a few minutes. And consider this.
Did you know that you can have Joe as your personal photography mentor, I’m talking about direct access to ask him questions and get advice. You can also attend weekly video meetups for members to share and help each other with Joe’s guidance. Be sure to check out the link in the show notes.
The world that we live in, evolves. Those who evolve, survive. Those who don’t become dinosaurs. And while we all know how that turned out, love it or hate it.
Social media is the driving force behind some of the most revolutionary changes in the world of photography. Since George Eastman’s brownie camera brought photography to the masses in the year 1900 today, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, 500 pixels flicker. Have become the standard for showing and sharing photographs.
Printed photo albums have given way to online albums and video slideshows. Instead of people holding an album or a print, when they look at your photograph, they are more likely to be holding a phone or a tablet, or if you’re lucky, they’re looking at a big computer screen. Now, I know there are some of you who actually hate that change, but I am not here to debate the value of the change.
The fact is it’s a change, so don’t become a dinosaur. Please do understand this fact, this evolution that we call social media is not a product of technology. Social media is the art, the human art of using technology as a medium, to be social. If you take anything away from this conversation, please make it be that understanding that you don’t need to learn social media.
What you need is a refresher in how to be social and you need to learn how to best do it. With the technology that we have available to us today. Let me give you a little context. People are by nature, social and by nature, the human race invites and seeks out change. Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook did not invent social media decades ago.
People met and they began relationships and social gatherings at churches and schools. Then as technology, advanced people posted ads in newspapers in the personal section, then in the early days of the internet, they hung out in online chat rooms, hosted by AOL and CompuServe. After that they started using online versions of newspaper, personal ads called Match.com and E-Harmony.com and now even FarmersOnly.com. In recent years, social media websites like Facebook and smartphone apps, like Tinder have become the go-to methods for finding and meeting someone new back in the day, photographers who were doing particularly well could afford to have a listing in the yellow pages, because that’s where people went when they needed a portrait or wedding photographer.
That’s where a company would turn to, to find a photographer, to photograph their products. Most photographers, both amateur and professional relied primarily on word of mouth to gain new customers. The problem was that it could take months or even years for a positive comment. From a previous customer to actually generate a new customer today.
We still use word of mouth. It’s just that it happens electronically. And at lightning speed, you can make a post on Facebook and have it viewed by thousands of people in less than an hour. Today, people search Google instead of the yellow pages. Brides to be visit Pinterest to find their photographers. Big advertisers, scour Instagram to find new and talented photographers who can bring a fresh look to their brand. New musical talent and television personalities are discovered on YouTube. Small businesses search stock photography websites to find images that can be licensed affordably to help elevate the quality of their advertising. And the list goes on. Hashtags have even become part of our spoken language and they’re used as metadata to help us be discovered by potential new clients hashtag how cool is that?
The world evolves. Now, look, I don’t want to sugarcoat things. Making social media work. It does require time, energy strategy and planning, like most things in life that are worth having. But it doesn’t have to be difficult. It doesn’t have to take over your life and it shouldn’t be expensive. If you are spending a lot of money on social media, as a photographer, you are doing it wrong.
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So let’s talk a little bit about this being social on social media. Let’s start old school. If you go to a party or a networking or a social event, you wouldn’t run around the room with your phone or tablet and shove it in. People’s face with a picture on it and say, take a look at this picture. “CC Welcome”.
But yet, we see that all over the internet in the same scenario, as someone walked up to you and introduce themselves, or asked you a question or better yet paid you a compliment. You wouldn’t turn your back and walk away without acknowledging them. The problem is that online people forget how to be social because they’re staring at a device and they forget that there is a person on the other end of that device.
So they behave in ways and they save things that they would never think of saying or doing. In person, another thing that happens with photographers, they tend to shout. They post a picture with no caption or they post a picture with that phrase “CC welcome”, which stands for constructive criticism welcome.
But it really means please stroke my ego. You see portrait and wedding photographers posting all the time “Special on portrait sittings. Hey, I have free time this weekend. Book me for a photo shoot”. That’s just obnoxious. I mean, do you expect people to be just sitting around and say, “Oh, that photographer’s free today. Let’s go book a photo shoot.”
Worse yet someone does leave a comment on a photograph, and the photographer doesn’t reply, or somebody likes a photo that they post and it goes, unacknowledged, all of these behaviors are simply rude. You wouldn’t do that in person. So don’t do it online. Always remember that there is a person on the other end of that post or like, or comment and behave accordingly.
If you remember that one simple concept, I promise you, you will have conquered the most important aspect of social media. Always remember that to be social, you must engage people. In fact, that’s how the social media websites decide what’s valuable. And what’s not it’s by the amount of engagement that you are involved in.
You see, this is a relationship game, regardless if you’re doing this to promote a business or just to find like-minded people to share your photography with you will find success by building relationships. Many of you became camera club members or joined a co-op or a meetup group to learn about photography and find like-minded people to share your experiences with and to learn from.
Social media, lets you do that with people from all over the world, not just in your backyard. So hopefully by now you’re starting to pick up on the idea that the best personal brand and the best path to success on social media, regardless of your genre of photography and regardless of your desire to make money or just have fun.
That best path involves people, relationships having, and showing empathy for people and understanding that you have to give people a reason to care about you and your work and the way you do that. It’s by working hard to provide value. I said earlier, A personal brand. Isn’t just for business, your personal brand lives in the moments that you experience approaching someone to ask permission, to photograph them on the street, speaking to someone, to gain access to a property, to take photographs, almost everything that you do with a camera and in your life for that matter.
Will be impacted by your personal brand, the way that you present yourself and interact with the world around you, a solid and confident personal brand will make things much easier. I promise you.
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Okay. We talked about personal brands and social media and why, and what.
I think it’s time to start connecting some dots. So here are some values that I feel are important to make you and your personal brand more valuable, and also to make your social media efforts successful. Start by building a rock solid foundation. I can’t guarantee you that building a personal brand will make you a successful photographer and that’s because you have to be a good person who shows empathy.
And you definitely have to be a great photographer in the first place if you want to be successful. So that means put in the work practice. If you watch YouTube videos all the time, stop fact is if you don’t pick up your camera and try to do exactly what you saw in the video immediately after you watch it, that YouTube video was just entertainment.
It is not helping you. That is not my opinion. That is the science of how adults learn things. It is important to make sure that the images that you’re sharing are going to look their best and as a result make you look good. And by the way, when you’re sharing, please remember that you can look like a rock star with just five amazing images, or you can look like a hack with 10.
If five of them are amazing and the other five are just so-so. Post only your best work. Even if you’re trying for business, you won’t get more business because you fired off 10 frames in three seconds and posted three of those images. That’s not how it works. When you do post. Remember, it’s not really about you.
It’s about the people who will view your photos, ask yourself what will connect with them, because if you are in business, that’s what will help them choose you. As a photographer part of doing this means be authentic. This to me is potentially the most important aspect of building a personal brand. If you have a Facebook or Instagram profile, you are very aware that there are a lot of people front and on the internet.
Building a personal brand is not about creating some persona. A personal brand should be a true reflection of your skills and passions and beliefs be transparent. Technology and social media are creating what many marketing experts like to call brand transparency? Basically, everything we do is available to the public it’s recorded.
It is announced. People who are good and awesome and genuine. They’re the people who are ultimately going to win people that are bad or lazy or fake. They’re the ones that will lose you. Don’t get to have multiple personalities. You are who you are. So be someone who provides value. And also while you’re doing this show, different sides of who you are.
You know, it’s a little bit of a follow up on being authentic. None of this means that you have to share every aspect of your life with your potential customers, but you do have to give your potential clients some sense of who you are. If you were to check out my personal Facebook pages and my personal posts, you’ll see that I share quite a bit of personal things, but if you actually pay close attention, Really all you’re learning about are my dogs and my grandkids.
That’s it work with good intentions, always. In other words, if you’re not sincerely interested in pleasing your customers and delivering an above average product, then your brand will not be sustainable. It will ultimately fail. This is a value set that we’re talking about. No, your stuff. I kind of touched on this with the build a good foundation tip, but can’t stress this enough.
I mean, hopefully it goes without saying, if you’re not producing top notch photography, you’re not going to be successful at making money as a photographer period. Also make sure that you put things in the right order, become a master of your craft. Before you start your business, then your images will help you amplify who you are, which in turn will create awareness of your personal brand, which in turn will generate demand, which in turn will bring you more customers and more money.
And it goes without saying, know your customers. One of the biggest mistakes that you can make as you build your personal brand. Is trying to appeal to everyone in reality, not everyone is your ideal client. I remember the teenage version of me. I wanted to be everybody’s photographer for every thing. And I promise you that didn’t work out too well.
You know, it may seem counterintuitive, but if you try to be liked by everyone, you actually will attract no one. You need to be polarizing in order to stand out, but that doesn’t mean that you have to aggravate or upset people. It doesn’t mean that you have to be extreme. It means you have to stand for something and it may simply be above average, high quality work, but not everyone that is exposed to you or sees your message or sees your images.
Will like you or resonate with you. And that is okay. You don’t need to reach everyone to build a successful business. You just need to reach your perfect clients. So to have that strong personal brand, you have to stand for something, believe in a certain way of doing things and proudly communicate those beliefs from your platform brands who don’t achieve this.
Get lukewarm audience response and they wonder why their audiences aren’t called to ask by their efforts. You all know my mission statement. You’ve heard it twice already in this podcast, helping photographers, like you develop a better understanding of the HOWS and WHYS behind making consistently great photographs.
Every time. I make a presentation. Every time I make a video, every time I make a podcast, every time I do anything that is part of my business. I state that mission statement so that I can hold myself accountable while I present. And so that my audience knows exactly what my intentions are. All of this should also.
Come along with a value set where you work to elevate others in order to build your network, build that network, help those with potential. This could be vendors. This could be other photographers. This could be something as simple as somebody contacts you and says, Hey, I have a wedding on, you know, such and such a date and you’re booked well, good for you.
Your book, don’t be the photographer that says, sorry, can’t help you. I’m booked. End of conversation. You’re missing out on potential moneymaking opportunity, be the photographer that gives that person five minutes of their time, ask them a few questions to qualify them, to get a sense of what kind of photographer they’re looking for, and then make a recommendation of one or two photographers to help them out.
I can introduce you to a hundreds of photographers who have done just that. And then a year or years later. They get a phone call from that very same person. And that person tells them I had originally contacted you for my wedding. And you were kind enough to help me out and recommend a photographer because you were booked.
We were thrilled with that photographer. They did a great job and we appreciate that, but you’re the person we originally wanted and now I’m pregnant. I would love to have some maternity photos done. So I’m coming back to you. Build that Goodwill build your network at the same time. Always put your brand before sales, make sure that you’ve got a clear message of the value that you offer a mission statement.
If you will. I just read you mine, but build a solid brand and you will create demand at the same time. Focus on quality and consistency. Those two things don’t just apply to your photographs. It applies to your behaviors and the way you treat customers and prospective customers always focus on delivering value.
And don’t think that your marketing efforts have to be everywhere. You don’t have to be first on the Google results page. You don’t have to have a profile on every single social media website. Being consistent is actually very similar to having a narrow focus. It’s much easier to get recognized for one topic or one genre of photography.
If you consistently create content and a brand voice around it, it is to your benefit that your personal brand promise stays consistent, both online and offline. Make sure that you’re okay with failure and do it more than once. In order to build a great brand, you’re going to need to fail more than once.
The best brands always come from repeated trial and error and mistakes and failures. There’s no such thing as instant success. Let’s face it. Failure is tough and all of us generally want to avoid it. Robert F. Kennedy was quoted as saying “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
Richard Branson tells us that “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing and by falling over.” And believe me, what can happen when you fail is honestly never as frightening as not trying at all.
A couple simple things that you can do easily – Spruce up your website. It should be clean. It should be attractive. It should only show your best work. It should be focused on the work that you want to be hired to do. In other words, don’t post every insect landscape, car, mountain, and person that you’ve ever photographed. You don’t want to be a jack of all trades and a master of none, and make sure that you update that website frequently.
If you want to get into business, take a business class, please don’t be the photographer that turns to a Facebook group and ask how much you should charge for your first wedding or portrait session. The number one reason for photographers failing at business is that they have no idea how to run a business and they don’t do the research.
Take it from somebody who almost did. You don’t need a master’s degree in business by the way, but you do need to understand the basics, including proper accounting and indeed up your social media game and today’s world. If you have no influence on social media, it’s hard to have business, but influence.
I just introduced a new word to this conversation. Indeed building influence can take some work, but it’s really not hard. It just involves applying all the principles that we’ve discussed today and whatever you do, don’t be afraid of social media. As I mentioned before, it is not a product of technology.
It is the art of using technology as a medium to be social. So remember your brand, it’s always on you are you’re business and your business is a reflection of you, personal branding. It’s a full-time thing. Your personal brand follows you everywhere. You go make it authentic, be who you are and amplify what you believe in.
Take the time to consider. What do you want to be known for in your business? I’m not talking about being Insta famous or having some huge following I’m talking about being the guy or the girl who’s known for being the best wedding photographer in town, or for being the coolest senior portrait photographer who takes the most Instagram worthy senior portraits.
Building a personal brand is actually much bigger and harder work and building a business. But if you do it right, it will drive your business. And make the road to profitability a much shorter and straighter path last but not least understand that a personal brand is a life long project. They constantly evolves and changes.
So we’re right back to where we started. Even the experts who build or enhance the biggest brands in the business. No. There are no hard set rules for creating a personal brand, but these general guidelines that I’ve given you, they will help provide you the first steps to building a solid personal brand that will help people see value in your photography.
I hope that helps folks and that’s going to do it for this episode of The TOGCHAT Photography Podcast. Stay safe, have a great week. And until next time gang, please remember these. Thanks for listening to the TOGCHAT Photography Podcast. Now go pick up that camera and shoot something because your best shot it’s your next shot. So keep learning, keep thinking and keep shooting. Adios.
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