From Hobbyist to Professional: Step 5. Build Your “Storefront”

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From Hobbyist to Professional: Step 5. Build Your “Storefront”

It’s your business, it’s your storefront and it’s you. Building your identity for the web and in print is so important and it must be done well. It’s a non-negotiable. I thought today I’d share with you all the things I’ve done wrong so that you don’t have to do them, too.

When I first got started I spent countless hours researching the industry. This is important to do, but can be also dangerous. It is necessary to assess the photographers in your area (including their pricing). It is not necessary to do if you are looking for what everyone else is doing so that you can fit in.

I was so inundated with millions of sites I had checked out by the time I was designing my own I picked out a template that fit in like one more candy added to the giant bowl of M&Ms! It didn’t take long before I realized my efforts and energy were in vain. My site looked like every other one out there.

I quickly wanted something that was custom designed for just my business.

My next wrong step included hiring a designer to design me a blog that fit my genre of photography (which is mainly kids and families). We designed it bright and colorful, large patterns and fonts. Using Showit I then designed a bright and colorful website to match. I was happy to have a custom design that fit my brand. But again I quickly realized my efforts and energy were in vain. I was confused as to what my brand was. It was photography, yes. It was children and families, yes. But, most importantly, my brand was me. My bright and colorful, large patterns and font design work wasn’t me. At all.

So, for a third go around I started doing a bit of research and was able to find an incredible designer locally. Since it was my third attempt I wanted someone whom I could sit with face to face. I also desired a designer that didn’t typically work with photographers. I wanted something new, something fresh and most importantly, something that was genuinely me.

I can finally say with a smile across my face that everything you see is totally, 100% me. (Check out my site and blog here.)

It’s my business. It’s my storefront. It’s me.

When clients come to my site the pictures that they see, the music that they hear and the words that they read is me. I know that by the time I receive an email or a call with someone looking to hire me we are going to connect. My websites and my blog quickly let people know who I am and what I value.

As I wrote before, I made a ton of mistakes (and spent a TON of hours working) before I landed here. I am no know-it-all, but I do know quite a bit more than I did just a few years ago.

No one is going to have everything figured out when they are just getting started. Don’t feel like you have to. Having said that, here are a few pointers to help you process as you are figuring out how to design your storefront.

1. Be you.

It seems so simple, but it’s oftentimes missed. As artists we feel like we have to be this way or that way, but really the best thing we can do for our clients and ourselves is to be well … us. If this is navy, white and a love for open fields, fresh fruit and horses well then incorporate that. Yes, even the love for horses.

p.s. the way my site used to be designed gave the impression that I was vibrant and outgoing. I’m quite the opposite. I love connecting with new people, but I am not a loud and crazy kind of gal. I’m very much a deep thinking introvert who enjoys the slower pace of life. My stuff now reflects that much more accurately.

2. Investing in quality design work is money well spent.

Quality needs to be sought out. Do not hire the first designer you stumble upon. And, just because there is a designer that designs tons of websites and blogs for other artists does not mean he/she’s the designer for you. Be picky. You’re the one paying.

Once you find someone who really takes time to get to know you and creates a look for you that is genuine you will not regret paying for it.

3. If you do not have the money to invest in quality design work, no worries!

Having a well-designed brand is definitely worthwhile, but you know what? Our clients don’t care. What they care about is seeing quality photographs and having the chance to connect with you as an artist.

This can be done free of charge. My first blog (still Google searchable) was white with a simple text image at the top. It was plain, it was boring, it was a place where I could create an environment to write, share photos and make business announcements and that was all I needed to get started.

There are many different and inexpensive ways you can showcase your portfolio without spending a lot of money. I do have to say you pay for what you get, but when you’re first getting started going “cheap” is often times your only option.

4. Write genuinely.

Yes, you are selling a product, but even more so you are selling yourself. Writing in fancy language that is similar to what “most” photographers use will not draw people in. Writing genuinely about you and your business, your values and your art is what will draw people in. We know when someone is the real deal and when they are not.

5. Let people get to know YOU.

I’m all for a little mystery (okay, for those of you who follow my blog maybe that’s not totally true for me), but when people are looking for an artist to hire to come to their home or to meet over coffee to discuss their upcoming wedding they want to know who you are. Have a picture of yourself. Have multiple ones. Talk a bit about yourself. Help them to get to know you, not just your work. That will make them much more likely to contact you in the first place. Then, when you meet them remember you don’t have to share that much about yourself. They already know you. All you have to do is get to know them (which everyone loves when people will take time to listen to us talk about ourselves, right? ; ).

6. Show only what you want people to see.

Yea, I know … I’m repeating myself from step 4, but it’s SO important! Think of it this way: If I’m designing the storefront for Gap I’m not going to hang curtains, set-up couches and top them with throw pillows. Pier 1? Yes. Gap no.

If I’m a photographer desiring to photograph seniors and newborns I’m not going to showcase the family reunion I photographed or the boudoir session I did for my friend. Like I said during Step 1, taking jobs like this is okay when you want/need the money, but don’t post them online. Your storefront will only confuse potential clients.

I hope a piece or two of what I’ve shared helps some of you. If I can share the mistakes I’ve made and help others not do the same today has been worth it’s while! 🙂 Giveaways tomorrow!

Jessica, our guest writer for this series on going from Hobbyist to Professional Photographer, is the photographer behind 503 photography and the owner and creator of 503 |online| workshops for adults and now, KIDS AND TEENS!

p.s. Sign your chid up for one of our kid/teen workshops and use code MCP503 for $50 off. Offer ends May 23rd.

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  1. April 24, 2012 at 10:31 am —

    Thank you, this is great information for those of us that are just starting out and don’t have money to toss into a website. I’m using my blog as a place to build my portfolio, showcase my work and find my style.

  2. MT
    March 14, 2012 at 2:40 pm —

    Hello, you have some great words of wisdom. I’ve decied to jump into this year. I’m still learnign alot and I’m super glad I had chance to read our blog.

    What would you say about starting off on Facebook??


  3. Holly
    June 16, 2011 at 2:20 pm —

    Gosh, this is just amazing! I have read and read for hours, and even worked up enough nerve to consult with a few acquaintes about the business, and have been very surprised at the attitude in which people “already established” treat those that are just up in coming. I felt like I knew I was on the right track with starting this business, for the first time, I actually wanted to work, and cared about what I was doing. I have 2 kids and am divorced, never finished college because I was too busy taking care of my family. I got to the point where I knew what I wanted to do instead of what was expected of me to do (work a 9 – 5 or waitress..etc) I’ve done all that! I was tired of it! But now what?..I know I have the drive and for sure, and the creativity do become a great photographer…but in doing so, I realized how many unanswered questions I had, and the lack of kind people to help me answer them. I am very grateful you have taken the time you write this! After being completely torn down by so-called “professionals” (that I have to say were anything BUT!) I feel like I have been placed on the right track again. So thank you!! God Bless!! ~Holly

  4. May 22, 2010 at 7:53 am —

    Write 3 words that describe you? Fun, loving, determined!

    If you are in business already, write 3 words that describe your business/company/brand as well. Fun, simple, unique

  5. May 22, 2010 at 2:44 am —

    wow! what a nice picture!!
    thanks for sharing

  6. May 21, 2010 at 11:28 am —

    @Lindsay Great question and one that often gets asked. It really boils down to one word: obligated. Personally, I do not ever want to let obligation lead me in any decisions I make in my business. Obviously, this does not include taking care of clients, running a business legally – all the obvious stuff – but when it comes to feeling obligated … I never want to do something that doesn’t benefit the business I’m running out of obligation. That’s not how successful business run themselves, you know? This doesn’t mean that you can’t post them to a FB Fan page if you’d like – that’s a different story b/c clients will not be looking for your photos on FB – they’ll be looking for your site and blog.

    Hope this helps! 🙂

  7. May 20, 2010 at 9:34 am —

    I am a fan on FB!

  8. May 19, 2010 at 11:08 pm —

    I am REALLY enjoying this blog series. Thank you so much for taking the time to share… I hope I can join one of the workshops soon!

  9. Lindsay
    May 19, 2010 at 4:42 pm —

    My only question is about showcasing only the work you want to attract. What happens when your family reunion or your friend that you did boudoir for is expecting you to post those photos because that’s what you do with all of your other clients? (OK maybe not the boudoir ones, but you catch my drift.) I almost feel obligated to post something from that session because they’re expecting that it be there.

  10. May 19, 2010 at 3:48 pm —

    @Kai “Do customers connect with the website better when there’s music? Or is it another way to showcase style and taste? A combination of both?”

    I think that’s exactly what it is. Music helps people get to know you a bit better and also – like you said – connect with the photos. I think it’s a personal thing though and no matter which way you want to go is the right way.

  11. May 19, 2010 at 1:16 pm —

    I appreciate this advice as well as the rest that you’ve given so far. It is pretty hard to step back from researching all your competition and then not turn around and do the same thing on your own blog/website.
    My only question is in regards to music, which you touched on very briefly. Is there a reason why so many photog’s have auto-play music on their webpages? What is this supposed to accomplish? I must admit I’m biased against unsolicited music on any website (I’m often listening to my own and the often sudden and loud interruption is not at all welcome), but I was also completely taken aback in my research at just how very prevalent it is. Do customers connect with the website better when there’s music? Or is it another way to showcase style and taste? A combination of both? A direct reaction to published research on music and selection methods?

  12. May 19, 2010 at 11:40 am —

    Very interesting article!! Love your advice through this series of posts!!

  13. May 19, 2010 at 10:55 am —

    Thank you so much for this post! It’s like you were talking directly to me. 🙂
    I have been so stuck trying to figure out my “image”, choose a logo & colors, design
    a website & blog etc etc. Maybe this will help!

  14. May 19, 2010 at 10:52 am —

    GREAT article – Thanks for encouraging new photographers to discover who they are and pursue their own path. We shared an overview of the article here:

  15. May 19, 2010 at 9:27 am —

    Sound. Very sound advice.

  16. May 19, 2010 at 9:23 am —

    Once again, Jessica, outstanding article! Recently I found myself trying to tweek my logo/website and make some marketing pieces. Fortunately I stopped myself just in time and am in the process of working with a designer who I feel really “gets” me. You are so right!

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From Hobbyist to Professional: Step 5. Build Your “Storefront”