10 Helpful & Non-Salesy Ways To Help Clients Fall in Love with Documentary Photography

If you’ve sought out documentary photo sessions for families, couples, or other, you have likely been hit with an insecurity from your potential clients. Do these sound familiar?

  • “We’re just so boring… I don’t know what you would get from us, because all we do is sit around and watch tv.”
  • “My home is messy and not cute enough to shoot in. I don’t know if I could let a photographer in our home!”
  • “I feel like we’d be putting on a show for the camera.”
  • “I don’t know why I’d hire a photographer to take pictures of something I can take with my own camera.”
  • “We don’t need the best quality photos of our every day, that’s what phone camera are for.”

It’s usually not enough to respond with “just trust me” or “the mess in your home won’t even be noticed – honestly!” Instead of telling clients how they will likely feel, we need to teach them consistently in our marketing how documentary photography actually applies to their life. Through this teaching, we allow PC’s (potential clients) to come to the conclusion that they love the idea of documentary photography ALL ON THEIR OWN (as opposed to convincing them). This can truly be the key to get more photography clients.

If you’re skipping the education step, you’re actually leaving money on the table. Meaning, if you’re waiting for ONLY the people who are 110% already on board, you are limiting your market. Instead, start by forging relationships and giving ah-ha moments through teaching and BOOM, you’ve grown your own market! Remember, the documentary genre is still new and foreign to many people, unlike traditional portraiture.

My goal in this post is to show you how to leave PC’s mind-blown in how your photography can help them with 10 ten easy options. You MUST grab the playbook below – because you’ll want to IMPLEMENT these nuggets accordingly!

This is some good stuff…. pin it real quick for easy reference: 

Rule of 7

Have you ever heard the old marketing saying that potential clients need to hear your marketing message about 7 times before taking action and booking with you? It makes total sense.

Sure, in the past you’ve probably landed on a website (any site) and bought something on your first or second visit even if you weren’t actually shopping for anything in particular. Somehow, they hooked you in. Kind of like how today I’m at the local pie shop working on this blog post… I came in for coffee and free wifi, but I’m leaving with a bag of gourmet popcorn just because it’s displayed next to the register and I couldn’t say no.

Here’s the thing: Sustainable businesses don’t try to convert everyone into impulse buyers.

They work to transition total strangers into friendly-and-raving-fans and then into new clients who come back with repeat business over and over.

This approach creates a more reliable base of people to market to. This client journey takes a little longer, which means you’ve got to do quite a bit more than writing a new blog post, sharing a new photo on Facebook, or updating your website for the 14th time. Kind of like dating, you don’t propose on the first date. Marketing is the same. It’s not a one and done event. And when you’re consistent, you’ll have people who seem to come out of the wood works, when you least expect it, ready to book with you! When you see this in action, you’ll feel LESS emotionally attached to the outcome of every interaction and effort you put into your marketing.

And again, if you’re sitting on the mentality of “they either want it or they don’t,” then you’re cutting your own market down. There will always be people who DON’T want your photography approach, but there are some people who just don’t know that they DO… yet.

“You don’t know what you don’t know.” – unknown

YOU have the ability to get in front of those who simply don’t know and SHOW THEM. Give them a wild ah-ha moment. Serve a deeper emotional need than just buying pictures – in a way that pairs with what lights you the hell up behind the lens.

Certainly it may look like others boast about their “Booking Now! Only 3 dates left for the summer!” posts and appear to sell out their dates like whoa. Once you have a solid client base and are consistent in your interaction with them, then absolutely you can see big results when you post something like a Flash Booking Special.

But when you don’t have the market base (overall audience), you cannot expect sell-out results when you make an announcement. You must build your base (aka network, audience, etc.) first.

Side note: Practicing direct outreach to people CAN get you sell-out results before you have an audience base, but the point I’m making is to those who rely on their social media channels being their only avenue of communication to potential clients.

Does building this community up take some work? Hell yeah! But it’s 110% worth it. You’ll not only have a consistent influx in inquiries, but those inquiring will be MORE primed (and obsessed) with the session you are offering.

Raise your hand if you’re in for working smarter, not harder!

I thought you may raise your hand 😉 In that case, do not close out of this blog post without grabbing all 10 of these ideas packaged in a little workbook to hold YOUR own ideas. Grab it here:

10 marketing strategies for documentary photographers

1. Make them think about the photos they wish they had.. and I mean really VISUALIZE and feel it.

We’ve all had photo regret. Just look at your photos from childhood. Chances are, unless your parents were professional photographers, your photo memories sound a lot like this: “Stand there, honey… No, just a little to the right. George, can you please move your head like a half an inch so it’s blocking the sun?” Maybe you don’t even have many photos from childhood.

Your photo albums probably consist of 1000 photos of you posed to the nines, in several angles, during family vacations (classic tourist pose), birthday parties (hold up your present!), yearly school photos, etc.

If you have examples of these photos, share them! On your blog, in your newsletter, etc. Not only will it make your potential clients laugh – always a good emotion – but it will make them think about the fact that their own family photos probably look a lot like that. They will also see that their own documentary photos are tucked away in digi-land, and may not ever been seen again (who else has reached their storage limit on their 64GB iPhone like I have? I don’t even know what is really on there!)

If you need more help with this, I recommend the Client Attractor Toolset + Real is the New Perfect Quiz. You can license this product to use in your marketing with potential clients as a survey or via email opt-in or send the quiz to past clients or newly booked clients.

2. Create a timeless blog posts that inspire and educate (and can be re-shared)

Write your own story about how a documentary photography shooting approach has made an impact on your life. Write an educational post (using your conversational voice… the key is to not sound like a manual) that explains how a documentary (or whatever terminology you use) session works with you, and write about topics that pull on your dream client’s heartstrings (like how when you look at that photo of your baby doing that super cute thing he did 2 years ago and you look at him in awe at how much he’s grown). Write your client sessions as a story about your clients (not about how much fun you had at the session). Send ads and free social traffic to these posts. The key is to have a call to action in each one!

How do you know what to write about? You must know to the core what your clients need to be aware of or believe in before booking. Uncovering this is my specialty (I’ve helped almost 100 photographers with this and find it totally fun!)

Turn your flagship blog posts into an email series driving them to book a session, working for you 24×7 so you can get back to doing what you love. You can learn all about developing a marketing system in the Mastery Moment-Seekers Course.

3. Run a model call for some portfolio building sessions

Having great photos in your portfolio goes without saying, but running a promo is a great way to spread the word like wildfire. You can either run this as a promotion or you can shoot someone for free. It’s a chance to give back and make an impact for someone who needs the photos.

Here are a few tips for running a successful model call:

  • Use your existing list and social media to your advantage. E-mail your list and make use of the resources already available to you.
  • Utilize Facebook groups that hold a sea of many of your likely dream clients (get the admin’s permission before posting, if necessary).
  • Team up with a local business that shares a similar audience.
  • DON’T post on Craigslist. You’re way better than that.
  • Reach out to old clients to ask them if they have anyone who might be right for the shoot. Old clients love to hear from you and if you can help out one of their friends for free or a promotional rate, they’ll be happy to refer you the business.
  • Make them tell you a piece of their story & what they would love to have photographed – this will help you find a model that is your dream client (much more of a joy to work with than someone that claims they want a documentary session, but then ask for a half dozen group photos during the session). I do this by creating a form on my website for Model Calls using something like Gravity Forms (what I use) or Mach Forms.

4. Run a challenge for your audience

Challenges are an easy way to get your audience engaged and spreading your message beyond the community. Make sure that they opt-in to your e-mail list to receive the challenge (this is essential), and that way you have direct access to their inbox.

Don’t make your challenge too long or intricate – remember, you want them to be able to complete every single day and they are likely not photographers. You can use this opportunity to offer prizes – a free session (also a great way to build your portfolio), a special promo code for a reduced rate, team up with a vendor that sells gorgeous frames, etc. That will give your audience incentive to complete the challenge and you’ll likely get clients if you offer a special promo to those who don’t win. You can also nix the prize altogether is you are offering something that will cause a transformation (such as emptying their iPhone photos once and for all… getting organized, printed, and seen again)

The key here is to get creative. It should be easy enough for you to make that you can whip it up in a day or so, but crafted with care and professionalism. I mean, doesn’t it feel like everyone teaches people how to take better photos of their kids? Why not run a photo challenge not actually for creating images, but to share an old favorite family photo or something else aligned with your business? What if the challenge is a mix of question prompts, photo shares, and actions?

Know what the goal of the challenge is, how it benefits them, and build your challenge around those two things… don’t copy what you see others doing. Your audience is not their audience.

5. Start a Facebook group for local parents that love to take photos of their kiddos (or some other commonality)

This can be really great to make connections, share photos, and get new business all-in-one. Remember, parents want to save their kids’ special moments, so if you share images from your shoots and tag the families in and invite them to join, you’ll find that some of the other parents will have FOMO because their photos don’t look as nice. You’ll get messages in your inbox in no-time and set yourself as the “expert.” (I hate that word)

Your group doesn’t have to be all about photography. In fact, I’ve been a part of several other groups that have landed me new relationships. One of my favorites is a group for new mommies (well, it was a group for new mommies, but our babies are now like 4 or 5 as we’ve all grown together!) or a new group I’m a part of is all about mom fashion and the group consistently shares fashion deals in the local area. What is something you are passionate about that your dream client may also be into? Of course, this absolutely does not apply to only things to do with motherhood! If you are marketing couples or another subject, you can rock a FB group too – trust me!

Bonus tip: If you run your challenge through your Facebook group, it’s a great way to boost your membership.

6. Teach your potential clients something totally useful

For example, you can teach your clients how to organize their iPhone photos – using a platform like Instagram or Facebook Live (this builds a connection + increases rapport). Remember, the more that you offer value, the more likely that potential clients will actively follow what you are doing and then when it comes time for them to book, who do you think they’ll go to? They certainly aren’t going to waste time looking up photographers – if they already connect with you and your work, it’ll be a heck of a lot easier to convert them into a client.

And for those people who will never buy from you (because there will be some of those people), you can feel great knowing that you’re helping someone make their life a little more organized/improve their photography/whatever offer item you’re giving up for free.

If you want to learn how to leverage your Instagram to gain clients, you can read more about that here since we have a post all about that!

7. Get killer client testimonials.

There is a difference between a review, a testimonial, and a case study (or as I call them, client stories). Testimonials are the bread and butter of your business.

Along with producing killer free content and photo eye candy on your blog and social media, your testimonials are going to be what gets people through the door more than anything else. That includes word of mouth referrals! Want to know who one of the bridesmaids is going to use for her own wedding when she sees the beautiful photos you’ve taken? You. And when she asks your client – her friend, the bride – about what it was like to work with you, you want to make sure that they give you a glowing testimonial. The same applies whether you shoot families, etc.

And while those word of mouth referrals are great, you want to make sure that you make the most of them. You want to make sure that for all happy clients, you get a testimonial, that way you have lots of people vouching for your amazing photography and the experience that you provide. However, there is something to be said about quality over quantity here. Testimonials that produce statements many other potential clients can relate to (like about fears, objections, and transformation) are pretty much like gold.

How?

Use the Client Testimonial Maximizer (Click here to to get the Sample)

8. Use a client guide that actually is made for MARKETING to your dream clients – not just some place to hold your offer!

Having a client guide that goes beyond a tell-all of your packages and products is an evergreen lifeline. As much as your potential clients want to know about your prices, after awhile, all of the photographers that they’ve asked for price lists from are going to bleed together. Make their job simple. Remember, people want to buy a solution to their problem (ie: I want to take nice photos of my family, but I can’t figure out how to work the timer on my camera) and you need to show that you are their solution.

Turn your client guide into a gorgeous magazine that has content strategically crafted to get clients in the mood to want real, authentic photos with a documentary approach. You should have compelling articles inside (1-3) and session inspiration that speaks their language as your dream client.

Your client guide should spread awareness to a message they believe in, but are not aware of yet.

Having that experience available to them will help turn those potential clients into paying clients pretty quickly.

Need to give your client guide a facelift? Make sure you check out the Client Guide Template for Documentary Photographers.

9. Run a Beginner’s Photography Workshop for Moms

This is the ultimate platform that helps your students + you as a photographer all-in-one. Think about it: Every mom wants that “perfect” snapshot of her kids and she will be willing to pay to learn to use her camera properly. While you are teaching your heart out, you are also teaching them about YOUR approach to photography (don’t worry, they are very unlikely going to go pro overnight, so worrying about creating competition should NOT be a factor), and you are building the foundation to an incredible relationship.

If you’ve never considered teaching, you are overlooking a major opportunity (and quite frankly leaving a heap of money on the table – not just from the workshop itself, but potential students converting into repeat students for advanced classes, mentorships, or students converted into photography clients).

If you are terrified to get in front of a group, even being small, chug a glass of wine and do it anyway – this is honestly that big of an opportunity.

To learn the ins and outs of rocking a workshop from start to finish + using it as a way to get strangers hooked on your sessions, download the 7 Phases of a Successful Beginner Level Photography Workshop.

10. Educate, Educate, Educate and then Educate some more.

Remember that section on the Rule of 7? Educate your clients by providing a ton of value and information about what you do, but more importantly, how it will be an epic transformation in their world. If you think you’re just selling some photos, think again. You’re selling something much more, but you need to fully understand what that is (and it’s not the same for all photographers – you have a unique story and voice of your own that people will be magnetic to). You also need to know how to send your message out so that it can be perceived by potential clients in the way you mean (just ask our Mastery Moment-Seeker students how many people they spoke with that did NOT actually understand what a documentary session is!).

Education is literally one of the most important facets of being a successful business-owner. Sure, your skills are valuable, but if your clients don’t understand what you do and how you’re really helping them, then you won’t be maximizing your potential.

This is why #10 here has to be said. Choosing just one of these options above will make an impact on your business, hands down. But combining them and actually building yourself a marketing system will be the best thing you’ve ever done for your business.

The fact is, if you want your photography business to be a business (not a side gig), you have to treat it like a business.

Want to keep these tips handy? You’re in luck. I’ve created a FREE playbook to help you map these ideas out for your photography business. Click below. xo

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Author: MarieMasse
I help client documentary photographers fine-tune their workflow + marketing game, so their work is filled with sessions that represent their voice + client values while earning a living. I shoot undirected, off-beat stories that aren’t preserved often enough (like the story of couples before starting a fam or becoming empty-nesters – a dream project of mine), so my clients’ old box of photos is a meaningful, visual diary of their life + legacy to leave behind.

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  • Yes!! Yes!! And more yes!!!! This is EXACTLY what I needed today! I LOVE the idea of a challenge and doing some promotional sessions. And, I’ve done workshops for moms before, but I think I was doing it all wrong. I was trying to teach them how to shoot in manual and, let’s face it, most moms are going to continue to shoot on auto. So just today (the timing of this blog post is unreal!) I sat down and created an outline of a class/workshop that I am hoping moms will love and it’s right in line with documentary style images. LOVE this sooooo much!! Thank you!!