Telling Small Business Stories with Documentary Photography

Families aren’t 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 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 their message out into the community?

One way can be through documenting that business’s story in photos. 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.

How to Photograph a Business / Brand Story:

Documenting a business story isn’t completely different from documenting a family story, but there are a few things to be conscientious of (even more so) with 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 here are from a local day camp I visited on two different weeks to tell their business story.

SeasonsofLifePhotography_0002 SeasonsofLifePhotography_0003 SeasonsofLifePhotography_0004 SeasonsofLifePhotography_0005 SeasonsofLifePhotography_0006 SeasonsofLifePhotography_0007There’s 4 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. The questions are:

  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 they want told. This is crucial, because this is the message that you’re 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.

You’re going to produce something that represents their brand and their business identity – know what that is inside and out. SeasonsofLifePhotography_0008 SeasonsofLifePhotography_0009 SeasonsofLifePhotography_0010

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’re 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’s 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 Documentary Small Business Photography

The questions I get the most from other photographers are about pricing and marketing. Both topics could be an entire series, 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 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 contract (which you should anyway) detailing the responsibilities of both parties so that no one ends up feeling taken advantage of.

Generally speaking, when you calculate a rate for a business story, you’re going to want to calculate a flat rate for your time and digital files.

Businesses aren’t 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 to use on their website or social media as well and they’ve absolutely loved it. 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’re doing documentary business photography and how do you convince other local businesses that they should have their business story told in pictures?

I started by contacting a business that I am very familiar with and have been loyal to for years. I knew this business is currently trying to grow and expand and that they’d 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 as well as a review on my blog. I also hand selected a business that I felt shared a target market – they’d help me grow, while I helped them to grow. 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. After, I started contacting other local small businesses with similar target markets and offering to trade services. 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!

Speaking of networking, by working with other local small businesses, you (as the photographer) build a professional network that’s EXCITED to see you succeed and will be happy to refer your services when the opportunity arises.

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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

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!