When you decide on that you start turning your hobby into a photography business, your portfolio is attractive to your ideal clients, but you need to take care many other "businessy" things. There is one task that needs to be on the top of your priority list: finding your first paying client, and then get your calendar filled with more projects.
But how to start out, how to handle common objections, how fast to expect results and how to keep track of everything?
In this episode of the 'Let's Talk About...' blog post series, we will discuss how to bring your pitching efforts to success. Let's figure out together what it takes to get booked effectively!
If you are interested in learning more about camera angles, manual settings on your camera, composition, food styling tricks and tips, or even business practices you can check the previous episodes of this popular blog series by clicking here.
When you are ready to find your first paying client, you need to get your name out to a market that never heard about you before and raise awareness to your services and portfolio. There is no accurate estimate on how long it will take you personally to establish that first promising connection that you can potentially turn into a real project, but promise me one thing: you will never stop trying!
In a real garden, the harvest is not coming one day or even one week after sowing, right? It is quite similar with pitching. You need to take care of the seeds you planted, but when it comes to your photography business the efforts needed are not tilling, watering or weeding, but keep following up on your pitches, presenting seasonal offers or reaching out with marketing materials that resonate with your prospects' vision and needs. This way when you manage to close a sale, you can start enjoying the fruit of your work.
Give yourself time, be patient and put your time and efforts in pitching!
Sometimes there are good reasons why a prospect is not responding at all, or giving you an objection: it was not the right time, there was no budget, there was no need or you did not manage to establish trust or credibility just yet. Getting NO as an answer or not even getting any response is never personal in the world of business!
I know that nowadays we see others' instant success and we even believe it is truly effortless or it is some kind of miracle... we barely allowed to see the real amount of time, work, efforts and even the amount of failures before that person got there. You need to crawl, walk, and run before you are ready to fly, so never be discouraged by not seeing immediate results! You are on the way there via your continuous efforts!
Occasionally, potential clients are coming back to me a year (or even more) after an initial reach-out.
They might have reasons not to proceed at a time or first contact, but if they are interested in your services and like your work, they will normally start following your journey, get familiar with your vision and when those past objections are not holding them back anymore, they will respond positively to your next follow up or they will directly reach out to you to discuss an upcoming project. Because of this, I never stopped planting those seeds for the near or even for the distant future!
After getting familiar with the brand and their mission, in the initial pitch, I aim to point out how the prospect's products, services, present achievements or goals could meet my services or specific offer, and create value as a result. I talk about this value-creation more than talking about my own services, because pitching isn't about me being in focus, but I always make sure to include a link to my portfolio and website or create smaller selection of images that is even more relevant to the proposed collaboration.
It is always a good idea to provide suggestions on how to proceed from here, so this call-to action can be encouragement to book a discovery call, make a purchase or proceed with a project negotiation related to a special or seasonal offer or anything else that you see fit based on your present marketing goals.
I have dedicated time each week for pitching, so I suggest you too, to integrate it in your schedule and never skip doing it! The most important task for a photographer in business is to find enough clients and do everything to make them happy with the results, and then of course to keep their company and private expenses covered, right?.
When you start with an empty calendar, you truly need to focus on pitching, as possibly 100% of your clients will come as a result of your own efforts. As the years go by and your business starts stabilising, there will be a lot of prospects who will find you through your marketing or SEO, get attracted by your achievements and choose your services based on the recommendation of your previous client. At that point, you will only need to use pitching to fill the gaps in your calendar between on-going collaborations, returning projects and hot leads, but until then keep this as top priority.
As I mentioned earlier, sometimes the positive response to our initial pitch does not come instantly. In this case, we follow-up on our initial message (or call) which multiplies the chance that our prospect learn about the ways we can help them in value-creation, gets familiar with our portfolio and services, and can consider a specific offer.
It varies, how many times we follow up on a pitch, but I'd say start with anything between 3-5 follow-ups.
Here is a little scenario-play based on different outcomes with options for handling them:
- If there is a positive response at any point during the pitching process, you simply proceed with a discovery call or project negotiation and present your estimate which your prospect can consider. If it is a 'yes' and the contract gets signed, you clearly closed your sale! Congratulations! :)
- If your prospect clearly stating that they are working together with another photographer and because of this, they have no need for your services, it is up to you how do you want to handle competition. I will talk about this in detail at the very end of the post as a BONUS.
- If there is a response from the prospect, you often get to know their objections, then you can handle those in your response. If it's "not the right time", you can then schedule your next reach-out based on the time that seems to be more ideal for the prospect.
- If you tried to reach out many times, and there is still no answer, you can follow up again in a month or during the next quarter. Just to give you another viewpoint, some photographers, after a prospect is going through their full pitching process including 3-5 follow-up attempts and they still do not get any response, they completely stop following up with that particular prospect. It is up to you how to deal with this, but maybe at the beginning of your career, consider trying it another time instead of stop giving the prospect another chance. Later, when your business is more stable, you can start being more selective with your pitching efforts if you feel like it.
Exercise: Create Your Own Pitch Tracker
You need a good system in place for tracking your pitching efforts, so you know exactly what you are doing with each prospects, and what you need to do next + when you need to do this in the future.
It's easy to stay on control 10-15 conversations in your inbox but what about 200 or even more conversations? I want you to set up a system -ideally at the very beginning of your pitching efforts-, where you can follow the process of every single reach-out. You can also do this at a later point of your career for sure, but you might need to spend a little bit more time to get those past pitches into your new system. I promise, either doing it from scratch or delegate all past or new pitches into this system, it worths all your efforts and will pay off in productivity.
Basic steps to create your own Pitch Tracker:
- Pick a software or app where you will set up your Pitch Tracker and organise this information, for example: Excel, Notion, ClickUp, Trello etc.
- Create columns with basic information of your prospect, for example: company name, website, social media, contact person + their contact details (email, phone, etc)
- Then you add more columns that hold information of the first reach-out, for example: the platform you used for connection (email, call, social media etc.), the date of the first reach-out, notes/response info, response date etc.
- Finally you add columns for the number of follow ups you use in your pitching process, to plan and track your attempts.
Depending on the platform you choose for it, you might have additional fun features like colour coding, statuses, sort/filter options, different views, date and time reminders and many more that can make your tracking process easier. Use the software or app features creatively and design your own Pitch Tracker in a way that it is informative and serve YOUR needs!
I invited a professional photographer and business coach friend to uncover more about what's needed for successful pitching. Welcome, Candice Ward on board!
Who are you and what is your photography specialty?
I'm Candice! An ex- corporate sales girl turned blogger, dessert food photographer, business coach and online educator.
I am dedicated to helping other creatives reach their full potential and turn their dreams into a thriving business.
I founded the The Confident Pitch Program, where I help aspiring and established food photographers & bloggers to confidently pitch, negotiate and land paid work with the RIGHT brands in my comprehensive business digital course.
I teach process & strategy to effectively monetize and scale your business so you can spend less time pitching and more time getting back to the creative stuff.
What is the best way to identify our ideal client?
Ideal client means different things to everyone. It’s important to identify what that definition is to you as an individual by considering what is most fulfilling to you in this profession. Is it creative freedom? Is it product photography? Recipe Development? Photographing products that you are excited about? Is it getting paid a certain rate?
For me, it’s when my photography style, creative direction, excitement about the product and rate all align.
Simply put, my ideal client is a brand that trusts me to execute on the creative direction for the shoot, develop recipe concepts and that values my work.
I find my ideal client by creating images in my portfolio that will attract that type of client and then I find and pitch to those companies.
What must be included in a good pitch?
Intro is about them not you.
One of the most common mistakes is opening your pitch about who you are without establishing a connection with the brand first. You want to gain the brands attention within the first 1-2 sentences of your pitch by showing your genuine interest in the company or product.
Knowing your Individual Value Proposition AKA your strengths, skill and or background and how this benefits the brand you are reaching out to is a critical step in crafting a stellar pitch e-mail. You need to frame HOW you can potentially help the brand with their marketing needs and WHY you are the best person for the job.
Offer IDEAS and or SHOW
The proof is in the pudding! Strengthen your pitch with proof to back up the value that you are claiming.Reinforce Value by offering specific IDEAS or SHOWING how you can serve them in the body of the email instead of relying on them clicking an external link or downloading an attachment.
Call to Action
Ending the e-mail with a specific call to action. What do you hope they specifically do next? Encourage them to e-mail you back or better yet, book a discovery call!
In addition to emails, do you use other ways for sending a pitch?
E-mail is the most effective way to communicate and pitch.
However, pitching is about relationship building. The relationship starts well before you ever send an e-mail.
I utilize linked-in and social media platforms like Instagram to engage with the brand, uncover what is going on in their business and make an organic and genuine connection before sending an email.
How many times and how often do you suggest following up on a pitch?
I’ve experimented with this during my corporate sales days. There is a fine line between following up too much and not following up enough.
I teach a 4 e-mail sequence, following up once per week and targeting certain brands each month.
I will then reach back out to those same brands 1 per quarter.
How do you handle the most common objections in sales?
The 4 most common objections are: budget, lack of need, lack of trust, lack of timeline/bandwidth.
My goal when pitching to brands is to isolate which objection is holding them back from moving forward so that I know how to overcome that challenge. It takes practicing how you are going to challenge their way of thinking, asking the right questions when a conversation is stalled, and creating a solution.
The most common objection is budget or cost. One way that I ensure I don’t lose an opportunity to budget is by withholding my rates until I conduct a discovery call with the potential client so that I can uncover their business challenges and goals (and asking their budget). From there, I align my services (aka offering) and proposal to reflect how I will help them with their business challenge. Customers will hire you if you are able to show that you are solving a business problem.
What advice would you give to photographers who are not closing enough sales with their pitching process?
It starts with diagnosis. In order to find success pitching, it starts with the realization that pitching is a journey that entails more than just sending an e-mail and hoping for a response. It requires consistency and strategy in order for it to work to your benefit. I have a pitching formula that I teach to my course students and workshop students that help you identify the exact number of brands that you need to pitch each month in order to hit your income goals. Far too often, I encounter bloggers and photographers pitching a high volume of brands but converting very few and they stop pitching all together because they are frustrated.
This is something that I do with my coaching clients. I take a look at your pitching process to figure out where the opportunities are stalling. Questions to consider are:
- How is my pitch template? Does that need an audit?
- Do I have a pitching strategy? Such as frequency of pitching, number of brands that you are pitching each month, follow up strategy
- Are you getting responses to your pitch e-mails and interest from brands but not converting them to paying customers? Typically this is because there is an objection that you haven’t overcome.
The approach that I take with my coaching clients is diagnosis first so that I can create a tailored solution that will move the needle.
BONUS - Bittersweet Competition
You might never even considered that competition is anyhow related to your own pitching efforts... then you will be surprised! Competition is rarely discussed amongst creators, so before this blog post comes to an end, I would like to show you what's possible on this field if you act sweet or if you act bitter towards other professionals on your field.
When it comes to fellow photography businesses on the same market, everyone seem to be interested in how to research their direct competitors and the most popular question is: how to get to know others' pricing. I'm not going to talk about that as it only drags you into unnecessary comparisons, but I will give you a perspective on our relationships instead... it is way more important than any sort of price-fishing.
Direct or indirect interaction with your competitors can bring you to a sweet and happy place, but you can also find yourself in bitter situations.
I believe that there is enough room and opportunities for everyone on the market, so I never felt like I have to be anything but friendly and supportive to my direct and distant competitors (or anyone in the industry).
Based on my experience, if a prospect is happy with the photographer's work they recently collaborated with, they will state this in their response to your pitch. Imagine how nice it is, if a brand is confident in your work and trusting your services at this level and make such statement to your competitor... it's one of the greatest professional achievement, right?
I know, that there are others, who would suggest going through them like a steamroller, but I like to maintain a good relationship with these creators and provide help when needed. They are not my enemies, but other talented people who are running small businesses -normally on their own-. This is why I respect the businesses they established without further interfering.
Did you ever get referred to a prospect by another photographer? It's the sign of the highest level of trust between competitors if you are considered to be part of their referral circle.
Until photographers believe in that support can come from competitors, they will keep taking on projects that are not good fits for them. These can be projects fully out of their expertise or book in more work when their calendar is already overfilled, or other things for each individual. Taking on a project that is not a good fit can result in great quality-loss, complaints and can damage trust or credibility. There are times when you need to be honest with yourself and evaluate your skills and possibilities, while start trusting others.
When you cannot provide the necessary quality because of lack of skill, time or whatever, it's OK to say:
"I don't think I am the best photographer for your needs, as I am doing X while in your brief there is Y, but I know a professional who I would recommend and would be a good fit" or
"I am fully booked for the period of time when the project deadline is, so unless it is possible to move this project to my next available appointment, I can recommend another professional you can reach out to".
These are not lost opportunities, but part of a good customer service + direct support of fellow creatives.
I am confident, that you can always pitch businesses without the fear of which competitor's toes you will step on by doing so. There is always competition on the market, so it's absolutely OK that you send your pitches to any companies, without being worried whose business you are about to interfere with. When you start researching or focusing on a new prospect -as crediting creators in the commercial world is not a common practice-, you probably will never even know who is the photographer that the prospect has been working with (if there's any). And as I previously mentioned: when a company has a photographer whose work they are happy with, they will fairly let you know, so nobody's wasting anyone's time.
Unfortunately on a few occasion quite bitter situations can arise between competitors, so I think it is important to mention the type of mindset that can offset this:
Seeking for business and reaching out to a company with your offer shall never serve as a reason for anyone (be it you or for any of your competitors) to get upset, take it personally, feel threatened or call you out your competitor on it.
You are in business, competition is part of it... accept it, use it as motivation to improve your services, and stay professional! Always appreciate hearing feedback or constructive criticism from your clients or peers, and use other's fresh perspective to improve, but do not allow anyone to call you out on doing genuine business.
In a way I am grateful to have first-hand experiences about competitor-bitterness too. These made me more confident in general business ethics and served me a need to open a discussion about the similar aspect of pitching with many of my direct competitors and other photographers from around the world, and this brought us even closer.
Offering services is a natural element of business, and everyone has their unique way of doing their marketing and sales. Closing a deal requires constant efforts , improvements and flexibility, and this is why the different markets are so interesting, challenging and special at the same time.
Keep your practices honest, say no to competitor-bitterness by staying free from any nasty moves, focus on your goals and be yourself instead of copying others. This way you will attract the right businesses FOR YOU, while having a great support group of other professionals in the industry.
You can hear "my client" as a term often used amongst photographers. On my opinion there is a bit more behind this common reference point, so I'd like to dig deeper together.
In this line of business you can barely label any companies permanently as "your client". The closest you can get is having a long term contract with a company for +/- 1 year or so, unless you become their employee -but then they are called your employer and not your client-. Feeling any sort of ownership over your business partners will sooner or later lead to disappointments.
It is in your power, and also it is your responsibility as a service provider to build and maintain trust with your business partners, and prove them that they are making the right decision by working with you again or elongate your collaboration for another year.
Make sure to also accept the fact, that the businesses you were working together with can get a better offer from a competitor. It is part of the business. Sometimes they start working with someone else on a long term basis, hire an employee that replaces you, or use others' services for a certain type of work wile keep working with you too. You will get to work with new businesses while maintaining good relationship with your business partners, and so your competitors. This can result it mutual gain, or win for one and loss for another. No hard feelings.
A kind and supportive attitude combined with value creation always pay off, be it working on client projects or interacting with your competitors.