How to Add VALUE to Your Photography and WHY it is So Important
Business advice that I learned the hard way.
Photographers need to provide a great client experience and value to their clients and subjects. Let me say it a different way; you must add value to your photography in order to create a great client experience. I learned this lesson in my mid-20s and have used it to craft my personal brand throughout my career.
This article isn’t JUST for professional photographers. Regardless of the genre you shoot, if you share your work online or get paid to take photographs, this conversation can help you.
I am finding that there is quite a bit of confusion about what VALUE really means. So I’d like to share some of my experiences with you.
Recently, I spoke to a group of photographers, and one fearless young photographer raised his hand and asked — but what does “add value to your photography and provide and a great customer experience” really mean?
And that’s when I realized that this piece of advice might be confusing to some because the concept of value is a perception, and not everyone shares the same perception of what is valuable.
If you want to understand this concept and put it to use, you need to understand that providing value happens to one person at a time because there isn’t one correct answer.
Value is helping people, teaching people, encouraging people, and empowering people. Value is making the experiences you deliver and your products affordable.
Notice I didn’t say that the value was great photographs. That is an expectation.
If you are in business or thinking of going into business, value does NOT mean free or cheap. Much of what we read about marketing is based on the idea of giving something away for free to hook a customer. I download the free thing and then unsubscribe from the onslaught of emails that will hit my inbox daily for the next two months.
Giving something away for free only attracts customers who now place a low value on your work because it was free. When I sign up for those free downloads and finally see the cost of their services, I compare that cost to FREE — it makes it seem so much more expensive, and it hides the actual value of their services.
So remember, giving something away for free and then waiting or hoping people will do business with you — is not an example of providing value. It is also not the path to success for a photography business.
By the way, I will talk more about providing a great customer experience, but I want to point out the word “great.” Like the concept of value — the idea of great has different meanings for different people. One person may find it significant that a photographer is friendly, funny, and full of personality. Another person may find it remarkable that a photographer wanted to create an epic on-location shot based on their hobby.
Sadly, another person may find it great that a photographer actually delivers finished images in less than three months. That’s a pretty low bar, but the struggle is real for some.
Words like value and great are relative and contextual — they depend on the circumstances where they are being used.
Become a Person of Value
Albert Einstein was quoted as saying, “Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.”
I really like that concept because it honestly makes all of this so much easier, and it is something that we should all be striving to do anyway.
Look, we all take — we need to. It is instinctive — a survival mechanism, if you will. But what do we give back — what value do we give back to the world?
You see, if we embrace this concept in our personal lives and make it a habit, it is much easier to provide value and be viewed as a person of value in our photography lives.
I want to share a quick story about my career to set this up for you. I haven’t always been this aware. At age 24, I worked as a newspaper photographer, having starting part-time while in high school.
I was married, I had a two-year-old son, and my wife allowed me to convince her that it would be a good idea for me to start a portrait and wedding photography business. So I left the newspaper to have more regular working hours and began my journey into portraits and weddings. I had done just a little of both — and wasn’t fantastic at either. I was, however, good with a camera and had a great foundation of photography knowledge — so I was a quick study and even started winning some awards for my images. But my business struggled. I was no slacker; I was working my butt off networking and looking for new clients. I was finding many potential clients and had no trouble asking for the gig, but I wasn’t getting booked at a rate to pay my bills and support my family.
To make a long story short, what took me a few years to learn — the hard way, was that I had the wrong attitude about my photography. I thought it was all about me and the quality of my pictures and my style of photography. I believed this was what people were paying me for — the prints I handed them when the job was done.
What I was learning is that it wasn’t about me, and it wasn’t really about the prints — not if I wanted people to care about what I do.
If I wanted people to care and to find value in my work, I learned that I needed to find a way to make my work valuable to them. That meant that I had to know: What do they consider useful? So that I could include that in my work. When it came to making money, I had to learn that people cared less about the quality of my work than they cared about the experience of working with me. And that experience is what helped to define the value of my work in their minds.
So here I was, in my mid-20s, obsessed with photography and married, with a young son. I had this failing business, and I received excellent guidance from a few older mentors. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the turning point that helped me build a very successful business which later evolved into a very successful commercial advertising studio.
You see, when we pick up a camera for the first time and then as we become hooked on photography, it is a very selfish pursuit. I don’t mean that negatively. Creativity is often a selfish pursuit.
As creatives, one of the biggest struggles we encounter is the conflict between making things we feel compelled to make for ourselves and making things that others find value in and feel compelled to take action for. Take action, meaning hit the like button, leave a comment or make a decision to hire you to do work for them.
So, if we choose NOT to create things based on the needs of other people and instead choose to create something based solely on our own needs and desires… Does that make us inherently selfish?
If it does, is the idea of being selfish inherently good or bad? When I say the word “selfish,” I immediately feel bad, as if I am being mean or judgmental. After all, we have been taught that “selfishness” is an inherently negative trait.
But I choose to believe that there is a difference between being selfish at the expense of others and being selfish to benefit others.
To me, being a “selfish” creative just means placing focus on your own needs, your own priorities, your own unique lens with which you see the world. I honestly feel that is the only way to genuinely realize your potential and give something of value to others.
But indeed, when you are ready to share your work with the world, you must prioritize value. A big part of creating that value is providing an excellent experience for your followers, potential followers, potential customers, and customers.
People are attracted to those they perceive to provide a great experience and great value.
So how do we do this? You begin by figuring out what each follower, potential follower, potential customer, and a customer wants. And when it comes to customers and potential customers, you do it one person at a time.
You see, this is a relationship game. If we follow Einstein’s advice, we should start by caring about these people. Caring for them begins with putting in the effort to get to know them and understand them. That means getting to know not only who they are, but where they are, how they think, what they like, where they shop, what is important to them, and the list goes on.
Caring for them requires engaging with them. And that’s where the magic happens… engagement. Even for amateur photographers, the best way to get people to care about your photographs is through engagement. That’s why social media platforms reward you for engagement. More interaction with your posts shows them that the post has more social VALUE, and your reward is that they show it to more people.
The In-person Experience
It will help you provide value and a great experience if you define it and communicate it. A mission statement or a 30-second elevator pitch, if you will. You all know my mission statement. I repeat it at the beginning of every video, podcast, and presentation to set clear expectations. Then viewers and listeners can decide if I am providing the value I promised.
My mission statement also helps me to hold myself accountable. When I plan a video, podcast, or presentation, I can look at the content and evaluate it based on my own mission statement.
This is also helpful with clients. When a potential client contacts you, they have very likely already seen your work, so it is a safe assumption that they know what you do. Of course, they are interested in learning the price, but they are also very interested in getting a sense of the experience if they work with you.
The experience is the sum of the interactions your follower or customer has with you throughout the journey, from first contact to hopefully becoming a happy and loyal follower or customer.
People’s experience with you directly impacts their willingness to be loyal and spend money. It is also worth noting that people will spend more money on a better experience. That statistic applies even more to 20, 30, and 40-year-olds than it does to my generation.
I can promise you that photographers and creatives who prioritize providing value and the customer experience will develop more significant followings and have more customers and increased profits.
Businesses can’t exist without customers. You can’t grow a social media following without followers. So now is the time to put yourself in their shoes for a moment and ask — What would you want?
What would it take for you to follow that creator? What would it take for you to hire that photographer?
Begin with empathy. In other words, you should care about these people. Talk to them, ask them questions. Learn about them. If you are a working photographer, understand their pain points and how you can help them with that.
In a recent TOGCHAT episode, I interviewed Olympus Visionary and ProFoto Legend of Light Tracie Maglosky.
Tracie explained that she insists on consultations with maternity and newborn clients before booking. She doesn’t sell her packages or products; she sells herself as the expert. She proves through her words that she cares about her clients, wants to create an experience for them that they will never forget, and reassures all of their fears with details and knowledge that shows off her considerable expertise.
In fact, Tracie points out that as soon as we sell inches on a piece of paper — like an 8×10 print. We have commoditized something that actually has nothing to do with what people need or what people want. What they wish to purchase are memories. The prints that indeed we do want to sell because they represent profit for our business — to our clients, those prints are simply a way to remember the experience.
During her consultation, Tracie takes care to make the conversation about her client and their needs, wants, desires, and fears. She builds trust and authority by showing empathy and interest. She makes the conversation about the potential client and not about her and her photography.
In my career, when shooting portraits, a potential client reaches out and asks me to hire me to create a portrait for them, and my first question is, WHY?
“WHY?” Is Such a Great Question When Asked Sincerely and With Purpose
In this case, knowing WHY they want a portrait tells me what questions to ask, helps me understand what concerns or fears they may have, and helps define the actual task that the client will hold me accountable for. It allows me to show that I care about the client and want them to have a portrait that will make them look their best and meet their needs.
For example, a portrait meant to hang above a fireplace in a family room will have a different look and style than a portrait taken for a resume or company website. A portrait of a celebrity influencer taken for promotional purposes will likely have a different look and style than a portrait that will be used as a modeling or acting headshot.
So another one of the ways that you provide value and a great experience is by being an expert. Knowing your stuff is not just about shutter speeds and f/stops. It goes without saying that this is the foundation for all of this. It is about guiding your subject, solving problems, and eliminating fears.
And you carry this behavior all the way through the process. Even in my studio, on shoot days, I have bottled water and ginger ale, fresh fruit and pretzels because I don’t want my models to become dehydrated or, worse yet, if they suffer from low blood sugar — I don’t want them to get sick or pass out. I have essential hair products and makeup products for those rare times that I don’t have a makeup artist with me, just in case my subject forgot something at home. I also have makeup wipes and, since I photograph primarily women, I even have tampons in case my subject is caught by surprise. I supply a robe because most models don’t, even though I recommend bringing one. I set the temperature level in the studio for the models’ comfort, and my list goes on.
In my interview with Tracie Maglosky, she mentioned that she has baby wipes and diapers available for those inevitable accidents.
Creating a perception of value and a great experience is not about money; it is honestly about the convenience you provide. Do you care enough about your followers or customers to go out of your way to help — to simply be a good human being? In other words, to treat them the way you would like to be treated.
Decades of marketing research have shown that this behavior is one of the most essential elements of success in any business, large or small.
So I hope I have your attention and I hope that I have you thinking about the importance of this subject.
A Social Media Tip
Take a look at my Instagram profile. I actually post very sporadically. Not even weekly and sometimes not even monthly. Yet I have over 20,300 followers, and the metric that Instagram pays the most attention to is engagement.
The average engagement percentage for a profile the same size as mine on Instagram is just 2.43 percent. My engagement rate is 4.9 percent — more than double the average on Instagram.
How do I accomplish this growth? Value and Engagement. Most of my posts are carousel posts that show behind-the-scenes or video clips, lighting diagrams, and lengthy captions explaining how it was done. 99% of the comments left on my posts have been answered directly by me.
I know what you are thinking. You aren’t trying to be an educator like me, so how can this work for you?
Start simple. Don’t just post a photo — tell a story — give details on how you shot it — what was the experience like if it was somewhere, you had never been before. Talk about the people you photographed and the fun you had photographing them. Share stories. People love stories. Be sure to reply to comments that people post. Don’t ignore them; just click the heart — actually type a reply. That person took the time to leave you a comment; you should take the time to leave them a response.
Remember that you don’t need 20,000 or a million followers even if you are trying to make money. You can become a millionaire with 100 followers if those 100 followers are people who see the value in your work and the experience that you are offering to provide to them.
Think about it!
I hope you found this information useful. Now go pick up that camera and shoot something! Because – “Your BEST shot is your NEXT shot!” — Joe Edelman