Telling Small Business Stories with Documentary-Style Photography

Families are not the only ones who have stories to tell.

Every business has a story as well. Telling small business stories in an easy to navigate way can be a very powerful marketing piece for the business. This is especially true for small businesses who generally must charge higher rates than large national corporations in order to survive. For these small businesses, making a personal connection with their customers is key to survival.

They need customers who believe in their message and are willing to pay more just to support that message. So how do these small businesses get that message out into the community? One way can be through a photo project documenting that business’s story. When a customer asks “What makes you special?” or “Why should I do business with you?” it’s one thing to tell them about your business, but it’s another to actually show them. In addition by working with other local small businesses you build a professional network that is excited to see you succeed and will be happy to refer your services when the opportunity arises.

Documenting a business story is not completely different from documenting a family story, but there are a few things to really be conscientious of even moreso with a business. When documenting a business, you need to be intimately familiar with their story before you ever begin shooting. A client questionnaire is a great place to start, but even better is sitting down with the owner and having them tell you about their business.

The things that make their eyes sparkle are the things you want to focus on.

As you know, running a business is hard work and it takes a huge level of dedication and love to nurture and grow that business. When you talk to business owner about his/her “baby” it should quickly become apparent what you need to capture to tell their story. The photos in this blog post are from a local day camp I visited on two different weeks to tell their business story.

 

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I have four very simple questions that I ask and they usually lead to lots of dialogue. I can then also use these answers in a blog post about the business.

  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. How did your business get started/what’s the story behind (any especially unique aspect of the business that you find out).
  3. Tell me a little bit about your business’s mission and role within the community.
  4. What is your absolute most favorite thing about your business or about coming to work each day.

At this point, you probably know everything about the business and the brand message that they are trying to portray to clients. This is crucial, because this is the message that you are trying to convey through your story as well. If you don’t feel like you have that understanding yet, make sure to spend some more time getting to know the business. I can not stress enough the importance of knowing that business inside and out before you even start shooting.

You are going to produce something that represents their brand and their business identity. Know what that is inside and out.
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The power of your position as the photographer and storyteller.

You have the power to do a lot of good or a lot of damage with your photos. This is why understanding your client is so vital. You are crafting a very powerful piece of their public image. That said, you also have an ethical obligation to your audience (i.e. the general public) to tell a truthful story. If there is any dissonance between the story your client wants portrayed and the story that you feel truly exists, conversations need to happen. You need to decide whether to proceed with the job and how to ethically merge client needs with community needs. Fortunately for me, this is not a position in which I have found myself yet, and hopefully never will, but it is something to think about in depth before you ever end up in that position.

 

Pricing and Marketing in a Documentary-Style Small Business Session

The questions I get the most from other photographers are about pricing and marketing. Either of those topics could be an entire blog series itself so I’m going to try to scratch the surface and talk about what I’ve done. This is definitely not the only way or may not even be the best way for you and your business. I recommend looking at several resources, getting together some ideas, and decided what you feel will work best for you and your brand.

Let’s start with pricing. For businesses, we want to use commercial pricing which is different and somewhat more complicated than when we are pricing for individuals. This 4-part “Guide to Pricing Commercial Photography” series on Fstoppers (https://fstoppers.com/originals/freelance-how-work-free-2973) has been the easiest resource to understand that I’ve found for explaining how to figure commercial photography pricing. Thus far, the majority of business stories I’ve done have been for trade, which is another viable option if the business is one that provides a product or service that you want to trade for. My caution here is to have a slid contract (which you should anyway) detailing the responsibilities of both parties so that no one ends up feeling taken advantage of.

 

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Generally speaking, when you calculate a rate for a business story you are going to want to calculate a flat rate for your time and digital files. Businesses are not likely to need a bunch of prints or wall art. Depending on the type of business though, they may want some images for their walls. Most often businesses are going to want to use the images for their marketing materials whether they be in print or online and will need the digital files for those purposes. I’ve also done a slideshow of images for clients that they can use on their website or social media as well and they have absolutely loved having that. Again, these are ideas of what I’ve found my clients want, your mileage may vary.

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Now on to marketing; how do you get the word out that you are doing documentary business sessions and how do you convince other local businesses that they should have a business documentary story done?

I started by contacting a business that I am very familiar with and that I have been loyal to for years. I knew this business is currently trying to grow and expand and that they would most likely love to have any extra publicity that I could bring them. I offered to do a “day in the life” of their business including digital files and video slideshow (https://youtu.be/A9nrY8mk6rI) as well as a review on my blog (http://www.seasonsoflifephoto.com/spotlight-on-clapping-hands-farm-pittsboro-nc-documentary-photographer/). I also hand selected a business that I felt shared a target market and therefore would help me grow while I was helping them to grow and I offered to do all of this for free and only asked that they give me image credit and a link back to my website. Then they offered to barter services in exchange for several more sessions. Then I started contacting other local small businesses with similar target markets and offering to trade services and finally other unrelated businesses started contacting me for paid sessions. Networking is so, so important in the business world, and this is certainly no exception!

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I hope you’ve found this helpful, and if you have any further questions feel free to drop me a line at rachel@seasonsoflifephoto.com

You can follow Rachel of Seasons of Life Photo at the following links:

Website // Facebook // Instagram // Pinterest // Youtube

 

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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  • Im really glad you wrote this. I have been thinking of doing the same thing. I really want to market to DITL sessions and I think the best way to do this in the beginning is to offer to do a trade in services . Thank you for the inspiration

  • Thank you for this post! It really came at the right time for me as I’ve been considering branching out and offering ditl sessions to other small businesses in my area. This was just the push I needed!