11 Tips For Starting Your Own Headshot Photography Business
In today’s digital era, a headshot photography business could be a good choice as a first venture into entrepreneurship or self-employment. The barriers to entry are fairly low for small businesses; and the need for strong visual imagery for personal or business branding will continue to rise for some time. Everyone knows that weak headshots no longer cut it for LinkedIn profiles of business websites – or even Instagram. Headshots are capable of conveying different messages, including informal and quirky, but nowadays audiences expect professionalism.
Strong Headshots Portfolio
To contemplate any photography-based business, you do already need to be a very competent and confident photography with the correct equipment. But taking that as a given, you will need a good portfolio of headshot images before you start marketing your business. This is not especially onerous though because this is one area of photography where you can easily practice on friends and family.
If that is difficult, you could offer a free service via social media, explaining that you are seeking to build a portfolio. Be a bit careful how you position yourself with this though, because you don’t want to undermine your reputation as an amateur before you start marketing yourself as a fully-fledged business.
Ensure your familiar with a good range of poses and that your initial portfolio offers a good range of gender and ethnic diversity and lighting styles (including natural and studio lighting).
Well Designed and Flexible Website
No surprise that you need a professional and striking website that shows off your portfolio. But too many photographers think that an elegant design alone will attract business (it won’t), and just end up building glorified brochure sites. As an aspiring small business owner, you will need to think in a more hard-nosed way about capturing leads through good conversion (landing) pages. And this means, having the flexibility to create and change special offers and experiment with different conversion methods. Ideally you should be able to do this yourself quickly and flexibly rather than needing to go through a website coder/designer. For this reason, we recommend a WordPress website (we have written an article on the benefits of WordPress websites).
Claim and Optimise Your “My Google Business” Listing
As a headshot photography business, you are, by definition, offering a local service. So there is potential to gain good traffic and leads if you can get listed at the top of Google’s organic local search listings. The starting point for this is by starting a “My Google Business listing” by visiting google.com/business. Just sign up and just follow Google clear instructions, including the uploading of a good selection of your headshot portfolio (also do this for the Bing search engine). We have also written a more detailed post on ranking well for local searches.
Start Your Google Ads Campaign
This is one area of online marketing that you can really gain competitive advantage over your rivals, because photography businesses are notoriously reluctant to utilise paid search (sometimes called PPC marketing). The two caveats are that you need strong landing/conversion pages on your website (see above); and that there is a long learning curve with paid search (the secret is using conversion tracking to discover which keywords will convert clicks to customers. It is not always intuitive which keywords will and will not be successful).
Decide If You Will Work Purely on Location or Own A Studio Premises
Many small photography businesses automatically market themselves as a location photographer because it is less costly and carries less risk. But this can sometimes be a mistake because you are potentially missing the chance to stand out from the herd (this is a very competitive industry). A studio tends to convey professionalism; and many clients like a studio look and avoid the need to worry about the weather (many of your clients might be freelancers and work from home). A studio can use space designated for office use; and doesn’t need to be an expensive retail unit on the high street. Another bonus is that, as a small business using small premises, there is a good chance that you would enjoy 100% business rates relief.
On the other hand, headshot photography lends itself to mobile location work (it’s different to photographing a large family group in a studio). It is perfectly possible to use lightweight studio lighting and equipment for headshot photo in the client’s office (and they sometimes prefer this). In fact, if you grow your headshot business successfully, you may end up travelling to large corporations anyway – to photograph a large number of employees in one session.
Use a Good Database for Client and Leads Management
A good database system is important, not just for keeping track of your existing clients but also managing leads (prospective clients) – and there may be thousands of these! There is some good database software designed for photography businesses that will greatly enhance productivity and also facilitate invoicing and financial reporting. Our favourite is Light Blue Software, but also look at CreativeForce.io, StudioNinja.co and ShootQ.com.
If you are less worried about photography-specific databases, you could look at small business CRM software such as Infusionsoft.com. These have the advantage of combining email marketing in the same software system.
Choose Your Preferred Email Marketing Software
It’s not easy (or cheap) acquiring headshot leads, so you need to work hard in converting them into full clients. Email marketing needs to be an important part of that process – whether it’s drip messaging immediately following an initial enquiry, or discrete email campaigns marketing a new offer or promotion. A popular choice is Mailchimp.com (it’s free if you have less than 2000 clients/leads) but it’s worth checking out the competition to see which providers suit your requirements and budget best.
Establish Your Photography Workflow Methods
You may already have a preferred way of working (including hard drive back-ups); but check that it is well suited to higher volume work. Many professional photographers use Adobe Lightroom and Bridge for file management, editing/proofing and RAW file processing – and then Photoshop for more detailed image finessing. But there are cheaper alternatives. As a headshot photographer, you might take hundreds of images and then only show a fraction to your client at the proofing stage. Alternative software for the quick and efficient image selection is Photo Mechanic which is enables a quick assessment of whether an image is sharp before selection.
Choose Your Software for Online Proofing and Sales
Many photography studios prefer in-person sales, but headshot photography lends itself to online proofing because your clients are likely to be most interested in just purchasing high resolution files of their favourite images. As well as image selection, clients are likely to appreciate the ability to purchase online and also download the image files directly. Software such as Zenfolio.com and Shootproof.com offer excellent functionality and flexibility; and fairly inexpensive file storage.
Be Prepared to Network
You should not confine yourself to online marketing. As headshot photography is primarily a local B2B service, a local networking group may pay dividends. If “working the room” at an early breakfast meeting is not your thing, you could contact companies direct to introduce yourself, or even employ a freelance telephone marketeer to do this for you.
Utilise Social Media
As a business service, headshot photography is less likely to work on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. But investing time and relationships on Twitter could pay off. The secret is forging local relationships and not continually pushing your service or special offers explicitly (although the occasional announcement is fine).