Shooting In a Niche: Becoming a Boutique Studio
In my own personal experience, it’s easier to be a photographer when you focus on a single niche instead of trying to shoot anything and everything. Although I do photograph most subjects when asked, I don’t promote myself for them.
First, a definition of a boutique studio: “a studio that appeals to a certain niche of photography, and provides a custom style of portraiture in both photographs and experience, that separates them from general studios.” Since you are reading this from MCP Actions, chances are, you may already do this. The actions and presets by MCP Actions allow a studio to customize their photography. And if you use these products, they speed up the process of editing by hundreds of hours, but you still spend time on each photo, choosing the action, choosing the hazes and overlays, and even textures… And you pride yourself in your work.
How to be a boutique photographer?
The benefit of branding your self as a boutique photographer is simple – competition. You want to set yourself apart from the other photographers in your area, and what better way to do it than the promise of a custom, unique portrait experience they won’t get from anyone else?
Focus your first step on branding yourself. Create a logo, if you want, or at the very least, a watermark for your proofs. Use a color scheme on everything you do, from your website to your marketing materials. If you aren’t sure about how to do this, you can contact a local or online designer for helping you in branding yourself. Many marketing companies do this as well. The key here is, if you aren’t a graphic designer and have never taken a design class; don’t try to do it completely on your own. Aesthetics are branded into each and every person’s brain. Even though everyone has different tastes and styles, a badly created logo is going to turn even the worst of tastes off.
Define your style. You don’t want to be all over the map in how you process and shoot. Learn to process consistently with your sessions, to edit with similar actions throughout a single session, and to stick with a similar style in all your sessions. Pick 50 or so of your favorite portfolio images. Ask friends and family, as well as past and current clients, which ones they like, why, and what they like about your style of composition, shooting, session experience and processing.
Market yourself, everywhere! Create a press package and marketing materials. Carry them with you. Pass them out. Look for stores and offices that pertain to your clientele and ask about leaving materials with them to pass out. Every corkboard you see with the opportunity to share your card, do it. You never know who will be looking for you in the strangest of places.
Keep yourself high quality. Even if you are just starting out, printing your prints from Shutterfly isn’t going to cut it. Now that you are a boutique studio, you need boutique quality. Find a professional, high end printer, like MpixPro, WHCC, Miller’s, etc., and base your line of prints and products around them. Whatever price you offer things at; you’ll soon attract clients who can afford it.
Triple Mark Up. Whatever your vendor is selling your product at, you need to mark it up at least triple. 1/3 of it is the vendor price. 1/3 of it is to cover your costs of creating it – all of the equipment you used, from the computer to the studio space to the post it you jotted notes on. And the last 1/3 is purely for profit, because coming out 50/50 at the end of the year doesn’t cut it.
Learn to price your labor. It’s easy to price physical product, but what about your time in a session? It’s not just including you and your talent, but it’s including all of the equipment, including the studio, as well as your license and insurance. You can’t really come up with an exact number on what everything costs and how to split it up between your year’s sessions, but you can come up with a rough estimate on what you are worth.
Aggressively market yourself. Have a designer help you with your web and marketing design. Get out there and become a people person, if you aren’t already one. Go to bazaars and shows; offer your card to people in public who look like they could use your service. I like to walk up to obviously pregnant women and offer my newborn card. 90% of the time, they tell me they were considering newborn portraits, but didn’t even know where to start.
Studio Experience counts! Offer a studio experience like no one else. It doesn’t matter if you have a studio in your home or a commercial building. Pull in a designer to help you create an atmosphere worth it. Get water bottles with your logo on them and offer it the moment clients come in. Have small snacks like cookies or candy out (be wary of items with peanuts, for allergies).
Don’t sell hard. When it’s time to order prints, don’t sell them into a bad atmosphere. Be honest and direct. Once the order is placed, be sure to fix it – even if the client is wrong. Exceptional customer service will have clients returning to you.
Design custom packaging, just like a boutique store. Be as unique as possible in your products. Offer something that your clients won’t get anywhere else. When ordering from your photo vendor, add boutique packaging (or, if they don’t offer it, order your own) and have stickers and logos ready to place on everything when you order it in, so that by the time the client comes in to pick up, it’s branded with you.
In summary – show each client individual care and attention. From the time they initially call you, to the thank you card after their print order, take special care in every step you do. Show them how much you value them as clients, and it will keep them coming back and referring you.
Jenna Schwartz is a newborn photographer in the Henderson and Las Vegas, Nevada areas. She also travels to shoot high school seniors in the summer and fall each year in Ohio. You can find her on Facebook or her website.