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Marketing for photographers: writing a website that makes clients choose you

Summary:

Want your website to bring you more photography clients? Learn the real reasons clients buy and how you can tap into them to win more work

In a recent Twitter thread, I made some observations about what I’d found looking through numerous photographers’ websites over the last six months. In a nutshell:

1) Too many photographers don’t have a website at all, instead relying on platforms like Instagram to put their work in front of clients.

2) Too many photographers who do have websites don’t include any information about themselves or their work.

Why does your website matter?

If you want clients to find you online and you don’t have a website, you’re taking a big risk. The social media platforms can change their strategies or their algorithms and slash your traffic – and your business – overnight. We’ve seen this in the past with both Facebook and Instagram, where users have reported huge drops in engagement after the platforms changed the way they worked.

Not including any information about yourself on your website is almost as bad. With so many talented photographers out there, you need to make it as easy as possible for clients to choose you. That means telling them who you are and what you do. Google also relies on the words on your website to understand what your site is about. No words mean no traffic from Google.

What should you say on your website?

The rest of this article is going to look at the content you should include on your website.

We’ll start with what to say in your About section, which is the minimum you need. Then we’ll get deeper into the content that can push your buyers over the line. That depends on understanding how people actually make their decisions to buy, which we’ll also get into below.

Before we do, though, some quick background. In my day job, I’m a business writer. I’ve worked with some amazing clients, including a specialist consultancy which helps some of the world’s biggest companies to understand what makes their customers tick. What follows is based on that work.

I’ve also run my own business since 2009, so I’m drawing on personal experience of winning new clients and the sort of information they want from me. Although my clients are looking for a writer rather than a photographer, the process they go through is very much the same.

What your About page should say

As a starting point, include your name, where you’re based and what sort of photography you do. You’d be surprised how many people don’t provide even this basic information.

If you’ve already worked for well-known clients, show them prominently. They’ll really help with establishing your credibility. You can also list any publications, awards or exhibitions you’ve had. The key is to be selective and only list things that will impress potential clients. Getting a photo in your student newspaper won’t sway many people.

Now think about what biographical information you want to include. This isn’t the place to tell us that you’ve wanted to be an artist since you were six. What you include has to be relevant to someone who might want to hire you. Maybe your background gives you an insight into a particular community or culture, or you had a relevant career before you became a photographer. You should also mention any education that gives you an edge.

Finally, explain how you work with clients, starting with how you get to know them and what they want, through to delivering the final images. A clear description of your process is comforting for someone who’s not used to hiring a photographer and shows those who’ve done it before that you know what you’re doing.

An About section like this will make you stand out from most of the photographers out there. But there’s more you can do to tip the scales in your favour.

Going deeper: understand how you’re selling

There are basically two types of selling: transactional selling and consultative selling.

In transactional selling, the buyer already knows what they want. They decide who to buy from based on price, convenience, speed of delivery and similar factors. Most retail is transactional.

Consultative selling is very different. Here, the client has a particular need and they’re looking for someone who can meet it. They might know what sort of person they need to hire but not exactly what that person does or how they go about it. The seller therefore acts as a consultant to the buyer, explaining the options and, in the process, setting out the case that the client should buy from them.

The distinction isn’t always that clear cut, of course, but if you’re a photographer looking to get hired, you’re probably a consultative seller. That makes it important to understand the stages your potential clients will go through when they’re looking to hire, and how your website can help them move from stage to stage, so they eventually choose you.

How clients decide who to hire

In consultative selling, your client will go through four stages when they’re looking to buy: assessing needs, evaluating options, resolving concerns and negotiating. We’ll run through each one in turn.

1) Assessing needs

During the first stage, the client is working out what services are available and whether those services will solve the problem they’ve got.

Your job in this phase is to clearly lay out on your website what you actually do. This is where the work you’ve done on your About section comes into its own. If you’ve done it properly, the client will get a good idea of whether you should be in the mix.

2) Evaluating options

Once the client has worked out what they want, they need to know why they should choose you rather than one of your competitors.

It’s easy to assume that your client will make this decision rationally, particularly if they’re a business. A rational buyer will want to know if you have the necessary skills, if your price is competitive and whether you’re going to be able to deliver on time. These factors are definitely important.

BUT…

Buyers are people and people aren’t as rational as they think.

Whether they realise it or not, when they think about hiring you, your potential client will also be having an emotional response (How will hiring this person make me feel?) and a social response (How will hiring this person make me look to other people?).

These responses can be enormously powerful. Frequently, we make decisions based on these feelings and then rationalise those decisions after the event.

Not convinced? Watch any show about people buying a home. The largest financial commitment most of us ever make is driven by our emotions. Time and again, you’ll see people reject houses that meet their rational criteria because they just don’t feel right. Brands and luxury goods also rely on the power of our emotions. People buy those products because it makes them feel good, not because of value for money.

It’s exactly the same with clients looking to buy a product or service.

Think about the emotions your clients may be feeling. They might be excited to find someone who has your skills or anxious that they’ll look bad in front of their boss, if they make the wrong choice.

How do you tap into these emotions? By explaining the benefits they’ll get from working with you. To do this, it’s useful to understand the difference between a feature and a benefit.

Features versus benefits

If I was trying to sell you a car, I could tell you it has a clever new type of suspension. That’s a feature. If I tell you that the new suspension will give you the most comfortable drive of your life, that’s a benefit. Airbags front and back are a feature. Protecting the people you love the most is the benefit.

Hopefully it’s clear that the benefits are much more powerful reasons to buy than the features, even though they relate to the same thing. And their persuasive effect comes from how they make us feel.

So far, we’ve focused on your features – what you do and who you do it for. Now you need to work out what benefits those features deliver for your clients. For example:

  • Your ability to interpret a brief is a feature. Using that ability to bring your client’s vision to life is a benefit.
  • Delivering on time is a feature. Taking the stress off your client because they know they can rely on you is a benefit.

Once you’ve figured out your benefits, work them into your About page.

3) Resolving concerns

At this point in the process, your potential client is seriously considering you but they still need something to push them over the line.

It’s human nature to be cautious. At a very basic level, our survival instincts encourage us to avoid risk. This means the pain we feel from losing £100 is much greater than the pleasure we’d get from finding the same amount.

The same instincts means that the fear of making the wrong decision looms large in our minds. To help your client decide, you need to take as much risk out of the decision as possible.

Two ways to do this are case studies and testimonials. Both show clients who hired you in the past and made the right decision.

What goes in a case study?

A good case study will answer three questions:

1) What was the client looking for?

2) How did you meet that need?

3) What was the outcome?

This doesn’t need to be long. A solid paragraph on each should be enough.

By using a case study to explain how you’ve helped clients in the past, you’ll give new clients comfort that you can do the same for them. In an ideal world, you’d be able to point to hard facts about the outcome. If you worked on a marketing or social media campaign, that might be the sales growth or engagement the client achieved.

If you don’t have those facts to hand (and even if you do) make sure you get testimonials from your clients. You can include these at the end of a case study or use them on their own.

Gathering testimonials

Testimonials are quotes from your clients, saying how good their experience was when they worked with you. 

Don’t be afraid to ask clients to comment on particular aspects of your service. Get some to comment on your creativity, some on your professionalism, some on what great value you offer and so on. To be credible, it’s really important that every testimonial includes the name of the person who hired you and, if it’s a company, the name of the company too.

A good place to include case studies and testimonials is alongside the relevant gallery on your website. All the photographers’ websites I look at have photo galleries. Almost none explain the background to that specific piece of work. By setting out what that particular client was after, you’ll show potential clients that you can meet their brief too.

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4) Negotiating

If you’ve done a good job in stages 1 to 3, your client will be convinced you’re the right person for the job. Stage four is the final negotiation on price and the contract.

The work you did to define your benefits is also important here. It’s tempting to charge based on how long the work will take. But if you’re clear about the real value you offer, then you have much stronger grounds for charging a bigger fee and you’ll be more confident about defending your worth if your client tries to negotiate.

If you don’t know your benefits, you’re much more likely to end up competing on price.

What writing style should you use?

Write for your audience. If you’re trying to win work doing headshots for law firms, you’ll need to be more formal than if your clients are lifestyle brands, where a more conversational style may be better.

No matter who you’re writing for, the key word to focus on is ‘you’. Speak directly to the client: this is what you will get, this is how I’ll help you, this is what you can expect.

If you find yourself saying ‘I’ more than ‘you’, you’ll need to rethink, because it’s likely you’re focusing on what’s in it for you as the photographer (‘I love to shoot fashion’) rather than what’s in it for the client.

Not a good writer? Get help

Writing about yourself can be difficult, so if it’s something you don’t think you can tackle, either get a friend to help or hire a copywriter. There are lots of good writers out there who work with small businesses and charge competitive rates. It’s a worthwhile investment and will make you stand out from your many competitors whose websites have nothing to say.

Written by
Richard Hollins
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