Written by New York photographer: Jennifer Tonetti-Spellman
Before I was fortunate enough to turn my passion into my business, my other life was in advertising and marketing for over a decade. I was able to learn from some of the major marketers in publishing about what makes a brand succeed and what makes one crash and burn, sometimes even before lift off.
When most photographers start out, you get this feeling of a mad scramble: I need a logo, I need stationary, I need packaging, I need a cool site, I need cool site music, I need, I need, I NEED. Well I am here to tell you the first thing you need to do is breathe, sit down with a Diet Coke and think about who YOU are. Because you are your brand and you need to try and figure this out right out of starting gate.
I was fortunate, I branded pretty well out of the gate, but heck, if I didn’t that would be a sad testament to my previous career. As I meet more and more photographers every day, I see a pattern. Unfortunately it’s not such a great pattern because it is keeping the photographer from being their own unique self, and though you absolutely must know your aperture from your shutter speed and good composition to succeed, you also need to know You to succeed.
People are not only buying your style/work…they also have to buy into you.
Top 5 Branding Mistakes...
Mistake #1- Not being true to who you are.
When I started out I ‘thought’ I had to play by the rules. Newborn shoot? OK, grab me a basket, some fun blankets, hats etc. I got to my first few shoots, tried to play with all these props and was a fumbling fool. I enjoy shooting candid and with a photo journalistic style, why oh WHY did I feel the need to now become Anne Geddes for a newborn shoot?
My friends were all getting these cute sleepy poses with the hats etc. and I was getting an ulcer because I myself was uncomfortable with filming babies that way. Safe to say uncomfortable photographer = uncomfortable subjects (and Moms!) So I failed miserably at my first shoot. Then I went home, and said what am I doing wrong? Oh. Right. I am not being true to my style. Now I never bring a prop to a newborn shoot- I just photograph the details and images I as a Mom would cherish. I made sure to have those images on my website, clearly reflecting how I shoot. Those that see my style will hire me if they like it, if not, they will find a photographer that fits them. And I am fine with that.
Mistake #2- Logo insanity
In the day and age of Etsy, there are a lot of graphic designers (sadly a lot of ‘wannabee’ ones, too) offering ‘logos.’ A logo doesn’t have to be overdone with bells and whistles. It should be clean and easily identifiable. And preferably use a font other than comic sans. It is very hard to be original with a logo, I completely understand that- from trees, to birds, to fruit–everything has pretty much been done. So my advice is keep it simple, and try and make sure your logo doesn’t compete with the image it is watermarked on. Clients are buying your style and images, not your cute logo.
Mistake #3- Brand confusion
You take beautiful upscale looking images. Your work is dark and moody in a good way. And you have a whimsical logo..? You take beautiful images, and then turn around and present them in a manila envelope? I know, I know. ‘Jenn, that is all fine and good, but I don’t have the money to invest in nice packaging or an upscale looking logo done by a graphic designer’ I get it. What you need to do however, is learn the philosophy of reinvesting INTO your brand. Say you have a $500 sale. In addition to putting aside the money for Uncle Sam, start putting aside a % of your ‘profit’ so that you can put it back into your brand. Be it a logo upgrade, a new lens, or finer packaging. When you invest back into your brand you will continue to get to that next level. Clients DO notice. When I made the switch to a more colorful, well built box to present clients with, I actually had them asking where I got them from because they wanted them for gifts etc.
Mistake #4- Copycat branding
This is a delicate subject. It is very hard to be an original when it comes to photography. But it isn’t hard to be your own unique self- there is only one of those
I have talked with a lot of photographers about ‘copying’ others wording, logos, combination of colors etc. It is one thing to be inspired- and another thing to rip someone off. Remember, the person who did the original copy or logo or whatever, worked at it. Don’t go the shortcut route. You learn nothing, and you gain a bad reputation. Total lose-lose situation.
Mistake #5- Overspending
The statistics of photographers starting out who make it is a grim one. You need to present yourself professionally and can still do that on a budget. Remember, you need to brand well out of the gate, even if on a shoe string budget. Blogger is a great way. It’s free, and now, thankfully, you can actually buy a domain name right on blogger for cheap, so you aren’t stuck with the ‘blogspot’ address. You can also (quite inexpensively) hire someone to do a custom header/template for you on blogger. It’s a great way outside of Facebook (also free) to have a place to direct potential clients to and showcase your work. You can also check out wordpress.com. As you grow, and profit, then you can upgrade to a custom site/wordpress blog etc. In the beginning however, keep the costs low. You want to make sure you can in fact get this business off the ground before making any major investments.
Do not spend what you are not making in profit. Period.
This is your own business, your own craft. If you take the time and really think everything out, you will brand well from out of the gate. If you rush, and slap stuff together and start branding yourself wrong, you will be wasting time and potentially turning away (and turning off) potential clients.
Remember, it isn’t a race. Build your brand and business slowly and you will have a far greater chance at success.
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