What It is and How to Get Into It

If you haven’t heard of personal branding photography, you’re not the only one. It’s a small but growing sub-genre of commercial photography that has been gaining popularity among female entrepreneurs and small-business owners.
Year after year, over 600,000 new businesses are started, and that means lots of new owners, founders, and aspiring CEOs need images for their online platforms. It also means if you’re looking for a niche with a low barrier to entry and a high ROI, you need look no further.

I started working in this genre a little over 3 years ago because I thought there was a gap in the market, and while the popularity of the genre is growing, the market is still so new that the broader photography community has yet to catch up. So I put together a few tips for getting started in this market—a list for any photographers who want to add a new revenue stream to their business or pivot out of oversaturated, highly-competitive markets like weddings or family photography.

Let’s get to it.

Tip #1 – Know your market

Entrepreneurs today aren’t just creating a business, they’re building a brand, and that takes intention and investment. Everything from their website to their social media accounts needs to convey to their audience that they are authorities in their industry and the right person for the job.

And in today’s image-driven world, it’s more important than ever that they create this brand through high-end imagery. From the first impressions on an about page to ad conversion on Facebook and Instagram, the images they put out are their first touchpoint for any online interaction.

That’s where a personal branding photographer comes in.

Often, these small businesses are unsure about what kind of photography they need to build their brand. They’re forced to choose from a vast list of headshot photographers—who may only take them so far—or the photographer who took their family photos at Christmas.

I can’t tell you how many photographers in this space have started because someone they knew asked them to photograph their brand photos, leading them to learn that there is a market for brand photography.

And while the popularity is growing, the market is still so new that the broader photography community hasn’t caught up yet. Meaning that those 600,000 or more new businesses don’t have nearly enough options to fulfill their imaging needs.

Tip # 2: Understand the business model

Though some might hesitate to call personal brand photography “commercial” in the traditional sense, there’s no doubt that’s what it is. Personal brands and small businesses are using these images to advertise their services, programs, and products.

And yet, you’re not working with an agency, creative directors, producers, or art buyer. You’re typically working with a solo entrepreneur or team of fewer than 5 people. Meaning you need to make the buying process easy to understand and appropriate for the market, while still educating them on what it means to license and use your images.

That’s where having experience in retail photography comes in handy.

The pricing model follows a system they’re probably already familiar with from their own wedding or family sessions: using bundled service packages. These packages include things like the number of hours in the session, the number of images, and an agreed-upon usage and license arrangement.

If you’re worried about serving a market that you have to educate, don’t be. More and more business owners are coming to understand that this type of photography is not only preferred but required to grow their businesses. They’re looking to us as photographers to educate them on best practices and provide high-quality photography that ultimately helps them make money.

Tip #3 – Build your portfolio with brand ambassador programs

One of the most highly controversial topics in the photography world is doing free work to build a portfolio. From weddings to fashion, we’re often trading our work for the time and the opportunity to create a portfolio worth charging for. With Personal Branding Photography, it doesn’t have to be that way.

By building a brand ambassador program, you can set your value by introducing new clients to your standard pricing and asking if they would be interested in joining your program at a discount. As ambassadors, they can receive their images in exchange for an honest testimonial that you can use to build your reputation, and the ability to use the photos for your own marketing.

Bonus points if they refer to your business.

Additional images or credits to future sessions are good bonuses, as long as it is incentivizing them to continue to advocate for your new business.

If you aren’t networking yet, I would definitely start there, but the easiest way to find great brand ambassadors is to ask the business owners in your life that you believe would be a good fit. Find 3 people that were a good fit to build a decent portfolio and use their images to pitch to other business owners in your network.

Brand ambassadors grow into repeat clients.

Tip #4 – Niche within a niche

The small business world is as vast and nuanced as any other market. There are multiple industries and personalities within this space, and serving them all well could be a challenge. As with any other area of your craft, choosing your subjects and knowing them inside and out allows you to exceed clients’ expectations.

If you’re coming from any other photography genre, you already know this. You don’t just photograph weddings; you photograph free-spirited couples with a passion for adventure who are living their life with wild abandon. The same goes for personal brands. 

You could be the go-to personal brand photographer for high-achieving 6-figure business coaches or the one who works best with local micro-breweries to capture the blood sweat and tears of building a gastropub.

Knowing the kind of person and the type of business you want to serve creates the differentiating factor your own business needs to convert super savvy business owners into loyal, repeat clients.

Tip #5 – Marketing

While marketing by itself is a full-blown degree program, there are a few key tactics I’ve had success with when attracting new personal branding clients.

The first and most successful is relationship marketing. If you’re not already a part of a local networking organization, this would be a great time to join one. Groups like your local chamber of commerce or BNI (Business Networking International) are great organizations, though they require steep yearly dues or strict commitments. Other considerations might be Meetup groups dedicated to small businesses and entrepreneurship.

Make sure your SEO and hashtag games are on point. Outside of referrals, most of my clientele comes from Instagram search or Google search, and I’ve never spent a dollar on advertising. In a market as large as Houston, Texas, that should say a lot. A business searching for this service is using keywords like personal branding photography, brand photographer, business photography, and hashtags with the same words plus your city.

And my favorite marketing strategy: loyalty and referral programs. These kinds of programs allow you to leverage your existing clientele for new leads and keeps your advertising and marketing costs at a minimum. For my loyalty programs, I went with exclusive pricing or packages for return customers, which allows me to effectively compete with my lower-priced competition while keeping up with the clients who need their images updated regularly. And in my experience, offering cash incentives for closed referrals is a great way to ensure that your clients send you qualified leads.

Whether you’ve never heard of this genre of photography or you’ve been thinking about it for some time, I hope these tips help you get started on the right foot. It’s a growing and lucrative market that’s worth checking out.

Best of luck!

About the author: Victoria Garcia is a personal branding photographer based in Houston, Texas. She works with small-business women to create stand-out photography that connects with the people they are most meant to serve. You can find more of Victoria’s work on her websiteFacebook, and Instagram.

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