Ever wanted to know how to stand out from your competition?
Well today, my guest is Brooke Jefferson. A happily married mom of two, photographer, business coach and podcaster based in Southwest Oklahoma. She was a former teacher before jumping into this full-time role as a photographer. And is passionate about teaching photographers how to follow in her footsteps in making the transition to full-time status and stand out in their market. She shares three important tips on how you can standout in your photography business. So let’s dive in!
Ashley: I’d love to know a little bit more like, how did you make that transition? So, you just kind of knew this is not for me, this is not what I thought it was. Then what got you started with photography?
Brooke: I actually started my photography business when I was 20 and my daughter was six months old. It was just the mom tog thing: you wanted to take pictures of your kid. Then I had my best friend, she had a daughter as well and I took pictures of them.
I don’t know what happened during that session, but I just had this burning passion come alive. I just started chasing after it and just kind of following the fire if you will.
Six months later, I had a full client roster. I balanced working part time, going to college and running a photography business. And I ran that photography business all the way up until I went full time with it. I had been in business I believe it was four or five years before I went full time.
Ashley: That’s so interesting. I love that. So how long have you been in business now? How old is your youngest?
Brooke: That would be eight years, almost nine.
The Saturation Belief
Ashley: Very cool. I know I am a little over the 10-year mark now and it’s definitely been a journey. So, I’m super excited to get into what you’ve learned along the way to help stand out. Because that is the number one thing I hear people say, is there are so many photographers. It’s just so saturated, is there room for me? How can I stand out? So, I’d love to hear from your perspective, what can people do to stand out from their competition?
Brooke: Before we dive into the three things that I think really helped photographer stand out, I want to address the saturation belief. Yes, it is true that there is saturation in our industry. But look at it from a bird’s eye view. When something is saturated, that is telling you that there’s a demand for what we have. Instead of looking at your area and seeing an endless sea of photographers, see the possibility. See the potential that you have to be able to dominate your market, because it absolutely can be done.
There will always be more than enough photographers around you. But I also want you to understand that there is more than enough clients to go around.
There’s no way that even with all the photographers we have in the world right now, that we can all serve every single human being on planet Earth. Take that with you as we dive into these tips. Understand that first you have to believe there’s a market for you. Otherwise, you’re not going to waste your time going through what we’re going to talk about today. There definitely is saturation, but I think we should look at it as a positive rather than a negative.
Ashley: I think that’s an incredible perspective to have and mindset is something that really truly is going to get you through the long haul. If you want photography to be your career, you have to get used to the fact that you have to have a positive mindset. You do have to have that thick, tough skin as an entrepreneur and you have to believe that it’s possible. So, I love that you bring up that perspective.
Step #1: Be Known for Something – Niche Down
Brooke: With that being said, I will start transitioning into the three steps. The first one is going to be the hardest for you to accept, but it is so true. The first key to successfully stand out is that you have to be known for something. In order to be known for something you need to be able to niche down. You’ve probably heard this before, and you probably ran on the opposite direction. Because this is something that you don’t want to do necessarily. You believe that if you specialize or if you narrow down into one specific type of photography genre, that you’re essentially leaving money on the table. But it’s actually the opposite.
If you are going to be what I coin “Susan down the Street”, who has a camera, has the ability to take good pictures and does a little bit of everything. You come to her and she says yes, I can photograph that. A couple problems will emerge, firstly number one, we’re not serving the client to the best of our ability. Because let’s be honest, there are certain types of photography that we’re just not called to or skilled at. Not that you can’t learn! But there’s natural types of photography that you are driven to, and others that makes you feel really uncomfortable.
Once become the go to person for a specific type of photography, that is what is going to make you stand out.
For example, if you want to specialize in maternity and newborns, those go hand in hand. You are getting a client that is going to be a repeat client, which means that’s less marketing you have to do as you’re going to serve them in both their maternity pregnancy journey and in their newborns. The other thing is, every single time someone gets pregnant, or has a friend or a family member that is pregnant, and looking for a maternity or a newborn photographer..
..you are going to stand out and pop up in their mind, rather than Susan down the street who does a little bit of everything.
So that’s my take on having a niche. There’s always so much hesitancy with this. I was scared and all of my students are scared to do this, but once they take that leap, they always come back and say, I can believe that you were right. Thank you for pushing me to do what’s uncomfortable. This is naturally what drove so many of them to triple their income and a solid year.
Ashley: That is so true and I love that you bring this up because a lot of people, as you mentioned, are terrified. They think, you know, well I’m just not going to have a business if I pick one. But also, to add to what you said in narrowing in on your niche, I also believe that it helps hone in your messaging and makes content creation for that specific ideal client so much easier as well.
How do I niche myself?
Brooke: I love that you said that. The first part is getting over the fact that it actually is going to help your business and so you kind of have to set the fear aside. But then you get into the next part of this which is well how do I even begin to niche myself? So, for those of you that are like I know I need to do this, but I don’t know where to start, I want to give you a tangible step. I want you get a piece of paper, fold it hot dog style or lengthwise style and then draw a line down the middle. Now, you have two columns. On the left side put love and on the right side, put a big X, like no way not for me.
Start writing on both sides of this paper the types of photography that intrigues you, that inspire you.
- Is there a particular type of photographer you follow most over on Instagram or Facebook?
- What type of photography draws you in?
- If you could only photograph one type of photography for the rest of your life, what would your answer be?
All of those things go under the love column and then I want you to write on the right side:
- What makes you sick to your stomach to think about?
- Are there types of photography that you’ve tried before that just scared you, or didn’t work out well? Or you just felt like you probably weren’t the best person for that.
- What type of photography are you totally not into, that you would never do?
You’re going to see on the right side of the paper, that those are all the things that you are not going to niche in, so that part is easy. Then what you’re left with might be one thing, and that is just going to tell you right there that’s your North Star, that’s where you’re headed. Or maybe you’re going to have a couple different ones.
So I want you to take about three to six months to really try out all of those things that you said you’re drawn to, inspired by etc. and then narrow it down from there to see which ones really light your soul. Lastly, when you decide on what you want to be known for and what you want your specialty to be, remember you to have permission to change in the future. What you’re doing right now is to specialize, so you can build your client base.
You can always change your mind and pivot later.
Ashley: I love that thank you so much! I was going to even add to that, what you already said. But sometimes you don’t know what you’re passionate about until you go out and try it. So obviously for the new or existing photographers that are listening, it’s going to take a little bit of time for you to figure out what you love and what you don’t love. But I thought it would be really cool for us to just take a sec really quick and share with the audience what your specialty is. What do you specialize in?
Brooke: I specialize in lifestyle, family photography. How I figured this out had a lot to do with my background, my backstory, what is important to me and my values. I really decided for me really just looking back at what was most important to me. I’ve lost two younger brothers, both to very tragic ways at young ages. So, on my worst days, I typically am wanting to pick their photographs up, pictures of us. It just kind of comforts me to see their face, but what I quickly realized was, we didn’t take very many pictures.
These are things you can never get back. You don’t get a redo, it’s either you took them or you didn’t.
That was what really was my driving force when I became really serious about my photography business and what I wanted to stand for. So that is my niche.
Ashley: Thank you so much for sharing that. I definitely do think our experiences in life do shape the direction that we take our photography. As you said, we can always change and pivot, as our experiences change and as we grow and evolve as a photographer, which I think is so beautiful. So, I started as a wedding photographer and did that for 10 years and now I’m transitioned and just focusing on brand photography. So, it’s always interesting to me to hear how people selected their specialty, and then it might change in the future and it’s always really fun to see.
Brooke: Again, you don’t have to have some big tragedy that happened in your life to choose your niche, but some of us naturally are drawn there. One of my students and dear friends went through a lot of infertility. That is why her specialty is in maternity and newborns, because she’s able to relate to them. They also do a lot of infertility photographs, not in a negative way, but in a positive way to remember that season of their life. Because there’s still so much meaning and purpose in it. It doesn’t have to be that big, it could just be you narrowed it down, and you just decided this is something I really like and want to do and that is okay too.
Step #2 : Building a Brand
Ashley: So can you share with us a little bit about how you decided on lifestyle, family photography? How did you know who you were speaking to specifically? Because there’s so many families right, so how do you sort of narrow that in?
Brooke: This kind of comes into number two, which is building a brand. There’s a lot of different ways that you can describe what a brand is to people. But I think what we’re specifically talking about, our businesses especially as photographers..
..branding to me in a way is your reputation, it’s what precedes you.
I think that’s really important to understand and there’s a lot of different aspects of branding. Whether you are actually in the photograph, or you’re doing fonts and logos, all of that absolutely plays a role.
But branding at a heart level and at an emotional level is emotional. You want to make people feel something about your brand. Because again, Susan down the Street is just having a good time hoping she makes a lot of money taking pictures. But she’s not specializing. There’s nothing that sets Susan apart from everyone else and so she kind of gets lost in this sea of nameless photographers. I want you to build a brand where people are like I relate to her or to him. I have to work with this photographer. That’s what I want people to think and say about you.
- Start asking yourself:
- How do I want to make people feel?
- When people are looking at their images, what are the emotions that I want them to cycle through?
- How can I take those emotions from the session and from the images and infuse that into my brand?
- How can I build a reputation to where people are like that is definitely Brooke’s work! I can tell before even looking at who took that picture.
Your brand starts with your photographs and in the way that you are communicating with clients.
I really do think that it starts in the photograph because we are artists, and so start there. Once you’ve identified your niche and you decided, hey, I want to be an intimate backyard wedding photographer and these are the feelings and the emotions that I want my brides to feel, write all of those down. Then start and start building a brand off of that.
Branding takes a long time, it is one of those things where I don’t think we’ve ever fully arrived. I also don’t think we ever fully arrive in our photography success either. But just have fun with this! If you’re a perfectionist like me, do your best to loosen the reign of control and just have fun. Because at least you’ll be five steps further than you were before you found this blog.
Remember, branding goes back to the heart level, the emotions.
Then from there, you can hire an awesome brand designer. You can make your own whatever you want to do and then let the colors reflect the emotions that you’re wanting and the reputation you’re wanting to carry.
Ashley: Such a great perspective, Brooke. One thing I’d like to add from the brand photographer perspective, is I always tell the girls in my program too:
You are your brand.
Like one of the big things that will set you apart in the industry as that photographer is you and your face. I see so many photographers out there, who make the mistake of not showing their face because they feel like people don’t care. They’re only at their page just to see their work.
While that is true, they also want to see who is the artist behind that photo. If you are not consistently showing up, either on your website or in social media, or however else you are connecting with your potential and past clients for that matter, they’re not going to know who you are.
You’re not going to stand out to them, if they can’t connect with you on that personal level.
Brooke: Oh, my goodness! I’m so glad you brought this up. Again there’s just so many parts to branding, it’s like the spider web when we’re brainstorming, you draw the word in the middle and then you start adding the legs and the circles on the little brainstorm map. I teach this in my program, you teach this in yours. Obviously, we go more in depth, but showing your face is so important.
There’s a lot of things that are different post pandemic than it was pre pandemic and it’s also with the generation coming up behind us. They’re more on personal connection and relating to the companies. They want shared values and they want shared experiences more than they want to work with just like a really cool logo and someone who never shows their face. We’re in 2022, so if you are not showing your face yet, you’re a little bit behind, so start doing it today.
Step #3: Crafting a Client Experience for your Niche and Ideal Client
Ashley: You’re right, there are so many different facets to branding, and it can feel super overwhelming. So, let’s chat about that. Now that we have a better picture of our brand, how do we start to infuse our brand into client experience?
Brooke: First of all, you have to do the first two in order to get to the third one. It just won’t work if you skip number one or number two, and you just tried to do this last part. So, number one and number two help you especially with your marketing. Because again, how do we stand out? How do I get people to come to me? So those are vital to your marketing. Now what’s vital to a healthy client relationship and getting people to rave about you, come back to you and refer their friends and family comes down to crafting a client experience that makes them raving fans.
I want you to start infusing that brand that you have envisioned, those emotions, all of those things, and infuse that into your client experience.
Now the only way to really get specific and specialized in your client experience again, is to have that niche, which helps influence your brand, which now gets infused into that client experience. So, think about the niche that you are leaning towards, the niche that you chose and craft a client experience.
Now all a client experience really means in a tangible aspect is what happens from the time someone finds out that you exist, your brand and inquires with you all the way to the gallery delivery or the images or the physical prints and products at the doorstep and beyond.
So, what happens between point A and point B? There’s so many things and for every single one of us, our photography business looks different. But this is where you’re really going to hone in on, “How can I go the extra mile and really wow my clients with my client experience?” When you know your niche, this is going to be a lot easier.
I’m going to give you an example, specifically with preference of communication. So, there are limitless options out there on how people want to communicate. You’ve got texting, phone calls, emails, messenger. There’s so many ways that we’re communicating, so now what I want you to think about for your niche in particular:
How does your ideal client prefer to communicate?
Yes, we can build out a beautiful email sequence, but if we’re dealing with a 17 or 18-year-old high school senior who does not even open her email, then they’re not going to really be a part of that experience. Whereas if you’re like, I’m going to text you, and I’ll text you once a week for four weeks, that way they can go through every step in your process. They’ll see it quickly and they’ll be able to get things to you in a timely manner.
Now, if we’re talking about you being the go-to newborn photographer, and you’ve got a sleep deprived mom, or a mom that’s on the edge of labor, she’s just exhausted and wants this pregnancy to be over with, but she’s also juggling so many other hats, how does she prefer to be communicated to? Throwing eight template guides at her and trying to send her 12 emails in a span of four weeks, is not going to cut it and that’s not actually serving your client. You need to design this client experience that truly is meant for this niche, and this ideal client that you’re wanting to speak to.
Ashley: You brought up so many good points about the client experience and I love that.
You know I would even add that the client experience too, is how your client feels about the experience.
So not just the actual tangible steps they go through, but are they getting the communication with you before they even think to ask the question. That’s always something too on the flip side of being someone else’s client. I’m always kind of wondering well, what’s the next step? We want to be ahead of that and be able to give them the next step before they even start to wonder what should I be doing next.
Brooke: Yes. I’m glad you said that. One of the things that I also put here in my notes, I did not want to forget to mention is that part of your client experience, the goal is to be proactive. You want to get ahead of problems of objections and of excuses, and you want to beat your client, before they ask you about it. Now, there are some clients who I can totally empathize with, because I am a type A. I want to know what’s happening five years from now, but also, I realize when you’re working with whatever industry you’re in, the other person probably has a process and will address me before the event actually happens.
Do your absolute best to create that client experience, to where they don’t have to feel like they’re bothering you.
Because again, that’s going to affect the overall feel and experience they’re having, which is why this is called the client experience. So yes, I agree Ashley, it absolutely is the way your client feels and I will be honest. I think a lot of clients probably start to get discouraged before their session ever starts, based on lack of communication alone.
Ashley: I would love for you to kind of share with us some of that. How can we kind of get ahead of that? How can we set those expectations in advance and give them sort of the flyby view of what to expect throughout the journey with us.
Brooke: Yes, for sure. So, I’ll take my business as an example here. But for family photography, typically there’s no big rush to them planning their family photos, but I do book about three to four months in advance. Again, I’m dealing with all types of personality, so I have to take that into consideration. I’m dealing with procrastinators, who wait till the last minute, like the night before the session to actually get everything together and make sure that all of the clothing items we went over fit. I have to think of them and then again, back to my type A example. She wants to know the minute she books and pays for that session, every step.
One of the things that I like to do to combat both of these people is I have a client overview which shows the journey. It’s a one pager and it shows the exact steps that are going to be taken.
You can do this, with a template or even add this in a client welcome guide, or literally just have it in an email with a little image that could save to their phone, so that they can refer back to it.
That’s going to really help your people that are planners and that want to know exactly what to expect.
Then for your procrastinators, I have an email sequence and I have it pretty much timed perfectly, to where they’re going to get reminders, as we get closer to the session, on certain things that I need. They fill out a questionnaire the day after they book their session, because they’re still excited. I want to get them while they’re excited and while they’ve got time to fill out a questionnaire. I would recommend in your questionnaires to ask like 95% of the information that you need to know to be able to help prep them for their session. If they don’t fill that out, then they get a reminder about two weeks later and they typically fill it out that second time.
Then we give email reminders: I am giving them reminders two weeks, one week, five days before and then at that point, we move into texting my clients.
That way if they have any last-minute concerns, weather changes, cancellations, that is notified through text message so that we are very prompt on responding to each other.
Ashley: Yes, I love that so much. I love the idea of the one pager for the planner. Do you put like key dates or anything like that? I’m kind of just curious, is it just like step one, step two, what does that sort of look like?
Brooke: Yes, we have a couple of different templates for that.
- Once you book your session, here’s what happens.
- The next one is once you fill out your questionnaire, this happens.
- One week prior to the session, here’s what you can expect.
- Once your session is over, here’s what you can expect.
- Then it kind of talks about the sneak peek policy, how long it’s going to be for the full gallery delivery.
- Then what happens after that.
It’s just a nice bird eye view of everything they can expect. It lists out every resource that we’re going to give to them, so they don’t have to worry about asking 12 questions about styling, when we’re going to have a styling console. It kind of lets them know what’s coming.
Ashley: I love that. Everything that you shared about the client experience, just tying it back to our standing out from the competition. Obviously, the goal with having an epic client experience is so that now they’re going to refer you to all their friends because they had an amazing experience. They’re going to come back right year after year, especially for family photographers.
Brooke: These are the three steps I absolutely want you guys to implement into your business because these are the game changers. This is kind of the roadmap to how you get there. The other thing too is you might be struggling to get testimonials or you feel like people aren’t really sharing your images or they’re not tagging you. I want you not to think that every person that does this mean something’s wrong with you or your client experience. Really look at this as a learning opportunity and figure out why. I don’t have that problem and my clients have naturally just shown each other and paved the way. This is what you do when you have pictures done.
I can’t really explain it other than the fact that I really built a solid brand and infused it into my client experience. I feel like people are excited to show that they worked with me, and I want that for you. So, if you feel like you’re getting silence, you’re not really getting reviews or testimonials, or people are not tagging you, or whatever the case may be, it’s one of two things.
We just need to get better about asking for those things and implementing that into the client experience.
There might be a disconnect somewhere in one of these three steps.
That’s why I encourage you to do that. Because people are talking and they’re either talking negatively or positively. There’s just so many stories that I can’t believe photographers have actually done, but they have and clients do talk. I don’t want that to be you. I want you to be the ones that the clients are raving about, that they’re tagging you and people are asking for photographers. Let that fuel you to following these three steps and that literally is how you will stand out from your competition.
Ashley: So much good info Brooke and insight. Thank you so much! This has been so incredible. I feel like there are so many tangible steps that our listeners can take away immediately and start to implement.
- Make a love/hate list for photography types
- Niche down
- Decide what you want your brand to say, what emotion do you want to create
- Create a client experience infused with those emotions
Thank you for giving those action steps. I always love when my guests actually have the steps because that’s more important I feel like than just the knowledge. So, thanks again and I would love for you to share with everyone how they can connect with you and where you hang out.
Brooke: My brand-new website is finally up and you guys can go to brookejefferson.com. If you’ll go there, you’ll find all my social links, my podcast everything. So, we’ll just keep it simple and it’ll be easy for you guys to remember, brookejefferson.com.