We actually never planned on being photographers. We went to school for Finance and Marketing and it’s been amazing to see how all that has translated into a profitable business for us. It’s hard to stand out in a sea of people. You want to shout “pick me, pick me!” but not seem annoying or sales-y or unprofessional. This is where it is important to establish a unique branding presence that speaks for itself.
But, what is a branding presence?
I think photographers misunderstand having a brand, and branding. A brand is a thing, that thing is you. Branding is an action, it is how you portray yourself (or your brand) to the world. Clients don’t typically fall in love with a brand, they fall in love with their branding – how they talk, how they interact, their visual aesthetics, and any values they provide. In a sea of photographers, it’s easy to get overlooked if you don’t have a unique or relatable branding presence.
Tips to stand out in an oversaturated market
1. Build your business, then your brand, then your portfolio
I think too many people have it backwards in the sense that they try to build a trendy portfolio without ever really contemplating a direction or plan for their business. To quote Khalid “things go a little bit better when you plan it”. Just a little lol. Depending on your state the laws will vary, but nevertheless, if you want to make the most out of being a professional photographer, get established.
Set up an FBN, get a tax ID, compare insurance rates, open a business account and get some business cards (yes, people still use business cards). A lot of people skip the setup process because it seems tedious and scary (and it is, not going to lie to you) but it’s worth the initial set up. Why? TAX BREAKS. Yes, you are going to spend a lot of money every year on taxes, licenses, insurances, etc. But, you get to write a lot of things off too. That workshop you’ve been dying to go to? Education write-off. New gear? Equipment expense. Hiring your favorite photographer to shoot new headshots for you? You get it, all the things that would typically just be out of pocket expenses, can now be written off. If “free” money isn’t an incentive, I don’t know what is. Plus, having things like insurance and liability have definitely saved us a few times. You never know what can happen on a shoot.
By establishing your business first rather than your portfolio, you set up goals for yourself, but also a sense of professionalism. You discover what you want to do, which then fuels the direction of who you are/want to be as a brand and then drives the progression of your portfolio.
2. Brand your actual self
Might sound weird, but in the world of Instagram and visual overload, people see pretty pictures every day. So it isn’t enough to just showcase your work, you need to show yourself. You and your brand are synonymous. And your work should reflect who you are and what the heart is behind your business. Something we’ve learned to accept and realize is that you don’t want to be a neutral brand. Meaning, you really don’t want to bounce around with current trends because they’re trendy and lose yourself in the process. It is so easy to just see another photographer and how their wording, branding, and style is successful and try to mimic it. But people see right through that.
Don’t be neutral. We decided that everyone is not our market and we would rather be a brand that is unapologetically us. People might love us or they might hate us, but that’s what we want. You’ve heard the saying, “Well-behaved women rarely make history”. That saying deems true for oversaturated markets as well. If you don’t make an attempt to stand out, you’ll get lost in the sea of “well-behaved”, unbranded photographers.
So the first tip (and probably the most important) is to unapologetically be yourself. There’s only one you. Only you have experienced the things you’ve experienced. Only you see life from this angle. Only you can say what you’re trying to say. Share things your way. If people love you, they love you, if they don’t, they don’t. But either way, you won’t be spending your time and energy trying to be someone else and despising the work you create because it’s not a true reflection of you (or your brand).
3. Stay Educated
While you may not want to be trendy, it is important to stay up to date with certain trends such as algorithm changes and updates. Instagram for example, owns Later, their Instagram post planning blog, to educate and give tips and tricks to their new algorithms and how to be successful with them. Read those blogs, subscribe to those newsletters. It is free and accurate information coming directly from the source to help you kill the game.
Go to workshops (but do your research). Just because someone has a huge following, doesn’t mean they know diddly squat about anything. Take specific classes on things you want to improve on, not just a general “come to this workshop because it’s cool”.
Invest time in your platforms. Not everyone’s clientele is on Instagram, some are on Pinterest, some on Facebook, some on Google. But each of those platforms has free education and classes on how to use that platform to target your market. Use those. They are your greatest tools to put yourself in front of your target market. Some of these platforms even tell you who your market is!
Understand that branding yourself is going to be a never-ending quest, and that’s okay. You’ll grow, you’ll change a bit, your style will progress, but as long as you stay true to who you are, and always use your voice, you will always have a brand that is unique and that you are proud of. And that is what makes a successful brand that stands out.