“You are unique, just like everyone else.”
This quote always tickles me a little, because it almost seems to lift you up, while slapping you down at the same time. Which is really just the true sense of our industry: highs and lows. Our industry is filled with bright-eyed peeps new to the scene and I always find myself eyeing them with envy. I miss that “I NEED TO WIN THEM ALL” attitude, that insatiable need for success that makes you work 110 hours a week.
Then I remember how hard it is to start a business and I’m grateful for the comfortable zone I’m in, where I only need to work 60 hours a week. I remember how many hours I poured over my idol’s websites and looked at the trends, thinking to myself, “what do I need to do to make this happen?”
My first website was pretty trendy, back when Boho barn weddings were all the rage. I had a chalkboard/wood look for my website, trying to be rustic when I lived on a tropical island. I didn’t book a lot of ranch weddings, surprise surprise! Over time, I realized that I was never going to succeed if I continued to try and imitate trends and my idols. So here is my advice to you:
Emulate, not imitate.
I wanted to create a brand that let me be exactly who I am: adventurous, brazen, bold, no filter whatsoever. I knew that there would be clients out there just as delightfully weird as I am. Clients who love books over sports, travel over nice purses, dancing to music over talking about celebrity gossip. A lot of new photographers are so set on success that they forget that it’s more rewarding to succeed as yourself, rather than what you think the trends want you to be. The simple truth is that there is enough business to go around for everyone. You don’t have to imitate Molly The Photographer to find success, you can do it all on your own merit and talent. If you love the color red, sports and romantic comedies, I promise you there are clients out there who will resonate with your passions. Don’t let the fear of failure hold you back from being yourself.
So here is some homework, the exact homework I used to build my new brand I’m about to launch. I’ve rebranded around half a dozen times, so I’d like to think I have this down. My new upcoming brand is a gamble, a risk, but it is entirely who I am as a person. So follow in my foot steps and you can be wonderfully uncomfortable and excited like me!
Step 1. Explore Pinterest.
You have my permission to spend way too much time on Pinterest. Look at ideas under “Design,” “Fonts,” and even “Art.” Pin the things that move you and try to narrow it down to what moves you the most. If you have someone doing your branding, they’ll be able to make sense of what you’ve pinned and create a solid dream board for you. I highly suggest Earl and Layne for your website and branding needs! I’ve been using them for years!
Step 2. Create your ideal client.
It isn’t enough to know that you want a client who values photography. You need to know their age range, where they shop, how many kids they have, how many marriages have they had, even what kind of car they drive. I’m an advertising major and I know that it’s vital to have a clear idea of who you’re marketing to. So sit down and think about the perfect ideal client. You can even write a biography about them. For me, I would write “Ms. Munchin would be between the ages of 27-35, loves to travel, isn’t afraid of adventuring and doesn’t care about the type of car people own. This is ideally her first marriage, no kids, loves to decorate her home. She loves to read books and is a ‘go with the flow’ type of gal.”
Step 3. Write down your own likes and dislikes.
I personally hate the color red. I don’t like photographing red weddings (GOT reference anyone??) and while I won’t REFUSE weddings that have the color red as a base color, I find that people who choose red roses as their floral choice are not my ideal clients. I LOVE peonies though, and a LOT of my clients have them in their bouquets. So when I know what I like and dislike, it helps guide me to my ideal client.
So there you have it, a mini-homework lesson, a way to help you stand out from the crowd. I’m not an expert, but after almost five years in business, I’d like to think I have a firm grasp on what it takes to make it in this industry. Just remember that you’re enough. Push hard enough and success will come. Be yourself and you’ll create an army of loyal clients. Most importantly: wine makes the hard days easier.
Jenna Heard is a photographer based in Hawaii. She specializes in elopements for adventurous and weird couples, people who want epic, not traditional. Her passions are her husband, photography and traveling the world. She’s known for her bold honesty, love of reading and obsession with horror films. She also loves fried cheese of any kind, despite being allergic to milk.