More than anything else, I get asked about how to evolve from a hobbyist photographer/model/videographer to someone who can quit their day job to do what they love. In short, “how the f*ck can I get the attention of brands who will pay me thousands of dollars every month?” Here’s the blow by blow.
Master Your Craft
This is the first step, no doubt about it. If you really want it, you will get your shot but you need to be ready when it comes. Get smart on how to be better at the services you will be charging for.
Tighten Your Story
What are you? What services do you offer? What does your brand look and feel like? If you can’t answer those questions, there’s a problem. If someone can’t go to your website or Instagram and answer those questions for you, there’s a problem. Think about how long you pause on an email, or an instagram post, or a website. Nowadays, we make decisions in seconds, not minutes – you need to tighten what you’re offering or you will be passed over.
Conveniently for you, it’s easier than ever to brand yourself. If you don’t have a Squarespace website that succinctly explains your skillset and showcases your recent work, stop reading right now and make one. It takes 15 minutes and costs $50 per year. Have a creative friend (or if you don’t have one, find one on The Hub) make a logo or stylized version of your name for you. That will add an extra “pop” of legitimacy. Also, make sure that your Instagram is tight. Your feed should hold together as a body of work – the aesthetic, the subject matter, the vibe – it should all feel “related.” Your bio should be professional and to the point: your profession (i.e Photographer), your location, your website. Boom.
Ok, now you have mastered your craft and have a shiny new website to prove it. You’re almost ready to pitch brands. Now it’s time to make your “collateral,” also known as a “press kit” or “media kit”. This document should be made in Keynote or Powerpoint and should be less than five pages. It should include:
- a cover slide
- a slide with a sentence that describes your skill set or focus with images of your best work
- a slide with previous case studies or clients you have worked with
- your rates
Next, draft a “cold email.” A cold email is a generic yet friendly sounding email that you can send to hundreds of brands at a time. Here is an example:
My name is Sally and I am a editorial photographer based in Minneapolis. I absolutely love your brand: from the insistence on quality in your products (I love product in particular) to the community that you have built. I am really careful about who I work with – it’s my belief that authenticity is increasingly rare in content creation/social media marketing – but I would love to partner with you.
I specialize in creating stylized images featuring products. Here is an example of some of my recent work. I also run the Instagram accounts for several of my clients. If you are interested in learning more, here is a deck I put together showing how I think we could work together.
I am free tomorrow if you have a minute to chat.
Now, you have to make a list of brands to send this email and your collateral to.
Play The Numbers
Sales is hard. Read that again. You think you’re special and that your photography rocks, but you’re not, and you are going to hear “no” 90% of the time.
Ok, now that we got that out of the way, you need to “play the numbers.” If you email 100 brands, 10 of them will reply. Five of them will get on the phone with you. One of them will become your client. That’s how it works. Period.
Luckily, there are lots of tools you can use to make this process go really fast. The key is to keep your interactions as human as possible while using tools to scale your operation. If you don’t use the tools enough, you wont reach enough brands. If you use them too much, you will sound salesy and disingenuous.
Google Sheets is free and really easy to use. For creative people like us, spreadsheets can be scary, but they are very intuitive. To start, make a spreadsheet that has the following titles at the top of each column: Brand, Product, First Name, Email, Date Emailed, Date Followed Up, CTD (circling the drain). Then fill the spreadsheet with as many brands as you can get your hands on. Focus on small brands that will actually respond to your emails. If you email Nike or Lululemon, you will be ignored. Focus on local brands, brands you’ve seen on Instagram, and brands you’ve seen your friends working with.
To find the emails of people at the brands that you love, pay for a subscription to hunter.io. It’s $20 per month but it’s worth it. If you have the website of the brand you love, hunter.io will “scrape” emails of people that work there. Compare the names to people on LinkedIn and try to find the email of the Head of Social Media or the Head of Marketing. If it’s a small enough company, reach out to the Founder or CEO. Once you have the emails, fill them in to your spreadsheet. Manually add the first name of the person you are emailing and the product that you most love that they make in lowercase.
Now, install Streak. Streak is free and it’s a very useful mail merge tool. It combines with your gmail and enables you to send 100 emails at once. Remember that cold email you drafted above? Now’s the time to use it. Streak will input all the values (like First Name and Product) into each email for you so that every email will seem like it was sent just to the person who is opening it even though you are sending 100 emails.
Make The Sale
As I explained above, you will be shocked and humbled by how few people get back to you. It’s not you. It’s how it works. Once people respond to your emails, study their brand. Make sure you know as much as possible about their new products, their Instagram, and areas you hope to help. Then set up a time to talk. On the phone be clear and confident. First, ask questions and listen. Understand their goals. Where are the holes in their current marketing efforts? What skills do you have that could genuinely bring value to them? Then, explain your “process” (i.e “Usually, I start by understanding your brand and having you walk me through your goals and brand guidelines. Then I do a test shoot…etc.”).
Finally, discuss rates. Don’t hesitate to price yourself higher than you have in the past or higher than you think you are worth. People always want a deal; if you say “I charge $400 for 50 images,” they will ask you to do it for $250. If you say “I charge $1000 for 50 images,” they will ask you to do $700. Be confident. Be assertive.
That being said, don’t be too big for your britches. Clients push back, that’s what they do. If you like the client and you want to work with them on a longer term basis, work for less than you asked for. Allow them to negotiate and prove your worth. Far too often, creators live and die by their rates. Unless your savings account is overflowing, check your ego.
Build Case Studies
Your early clients are your most important clients. Over deliver. Give them twice as much value as you promised them. They will become longtime clients of yours, they will tell their friends, and you can upload the work you did and the results you achieved on your website. If you said you would post once, post three times. If you said you would give 50 images, do an extra shoot. If you said you would grow their Instagram 500 followers, don’t stop until you grow 1000. In this industry, you are only as good as your last three clients, so always overachieve.
We hope this guide has helped provide a step-by-step process for you to begin building your client base and turning your passion into a career. If you have any questions, want more advice, or would like me to look over your collateral or cold email, feel free to email me at email@example.com