By Tanya Smith, WorkStory Corporate Photography

A large percentage of my clients at WorkStory Corporate Photography come to me after having a negative experience with a portrait photographer who created images that didn’t meet the needs of their business. After carefully listening to their experiences, and learning from my own, I compiled a list of 10 mistakes photographers make when working with businesses. Take a look and see which of these you can improve in your own photography business.

1. They Don’t Understand Business, Branding or Marketing

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As portrait and wedding photographers, you’re in the business of capturing moments and preserving memories. When photographing for businesses, however, you’re in the business of selling stuff. That’s it. Your job as a visual communicator for business is to help that business communicate what their brand stands for, how they solve a problem, why their consumer needs their product or service, etc. As a photographer hoping to work with businesses, do you know how to do those things? Have you studied branding, marketing or design? If not, don’t worry, you can get around your lack of knowledge by asking your client the right questions. Which brings me to item number two…

2. They Don’t Ask the Right Questions

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Many photographers I’ve observed book a shoot, put it on their calendar and then merely show up the day of the shoot ready to take pictures. Chaos ensues, pictures are taken and then the client is inevitably disappointed. Without asking your client very specific questions about their business, their brand, what they are trying to accomplish with the images, what style they are looking for, what specific shots they need, how and where the images will be used and when they need the photos, you’re bound to have miscommunication and disappointment.

Then I hear photographers complain that their clients aren’t happy because they didn’t communicate their needs from the beginning. Guess what? It’s your job as the photographer to find out what your client needs. The more you know about what they need the more easily you’ll be able to fulfill their expectations.

3. They Don’t Educate Their Clients

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The other half of the “meet expectations” equation is educating your clients. What is and is not included in your service? What are they actually buying from you (just your time? A license to use the images? Retouching? Production?) A great way to do this is to make sure you have a contract for them to sign. Don’t count on them reading all the fine print, though. You must go over the terms with them verbally. And make sure your contract has been reviewed by a lawyer in your state. While we’re on the subject of legalities, make sure you have a business license as well.

4. They Don’t Have a Model Release

I’ve learned the hard way that not requiring a model release from all involved in a shoot can lead to disaster. This is a protection to you and also to your client. In one incident I did a shoot for a business and after the brochures and other marketing materials with the photos on them had been printed an employee quit and demanded her photos not be used on any of their materials. Legally the employer had the right to use them after all but had she signed a model release there would have been no question and we would have avoided the drama and stress associated with that situation. Always get a model release.

5. They Don’t Have Insurance

Protect yourself and assure your clients that any damage done to their property by you or your staff will be covered by liability insurance. This is especially important if you are a sole proprietor because your personal assets (your home, etc.) could be at risk if something were to happen. Also make sure your gear is protected with insurance so you won’t be out of business if something happens to it.

6. They Don’t Charge Enough

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If you’ve calculated your true cost of doing business (including the above mentioned insurance, business license, gear, software subscriptions, studio management software subscription, studio/office rent, gas mileage, computer, internet, phone, networking events, marketing and promotional items, childcare, office furniture, assistant wages, virtual assistant and/or answering service, taxes, just to name a few) you’ll quickly realize you are likely not charging enough to sustain yourself as a business. This is one of the biggest mistakes I see photographers make.

After you’ve covered all these expenses have you made enough to compensate yourself for your time? How many of you are actually paying yourself? Charge what you need to charge to make a profit. Your service is worth it. It’s helping other businesses make money. If they say they can’t afford it, walk away. Those who value and appreciate your excellent work will come back to you.

7. They Don’t Include Pre & Post Production

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Higher pricing considered, make sure what you’re offering is indeed valuable to your client. If you’re working under the art direction of an advertising or creative firm, you’ll likely just play the role of photographer, but for most small businesses there won’t be production staff for a photo shoot. You’ll be it! And offering pre-production planning (brainstorming ideas, developing a shot list) and post production retouching, you’ll be helping your clients create the best possible images for their visual communications. Just make sure you charge accordingly and that they know the value of this added service.

8. They Don’t Have Diverse Technical Skills

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Another of the biggest mistakes I see photographers make when working with businesses, is that they show up in a situation they’re unfamiliar with (indoor office lighting, anyone?) and don’t have the skills to create high quality images. If you aren’t confident in a diverse range of technical skills, including lighting and posing, consider assisting or shadowing a commercial photographer or practicing by portfolio building before you start marketing yourself as a commercial photographer.

9. They Don’t Hire an Assistant

Many photographers prefer to go it alone and often times that’s ok. I find an assistant to be invaluable on a commercial shoot, however. If anything, they can run for drinks, keep you on track with your time schedule, run to the car for something you forgot, hold a reflector, hold a light in a tight office space where a light stand wouldn’t work, look for stray hairs and help pose groups. Plus, having a “team” of people adds value to your service. They can also take behind-the-scenes photos, which can be used to market your business. You won’t regret building the cost of an assistant into your shoot, I promise.

10. They Don’t Follow Through

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This is a big one. Are you following up after your shoots? Did you check in to see if your clients were happy with the way things went? Are you working on building a relationship with them? I send a survey to all my clients after their shoot to find out what they loved and if there was anything we could have done to make the shoot or the final images better. The feedback I’ve received has been invaluable. We use their testimonials on our social media and the negative feedback (if any) to improve our service. I send gifts to those who give me referrals and thank you cards to those who have helped me in my business. How can you effectively follow up with your clients? This will lead to repeat business for you.

When I was doing market research for WorkStory, some of the most common complaints I heard from design and marketing firms is that photographers tend to be flaky, egotistical and unable to follow direction or a shot list. Being aware that working with businesses is a little (ok, maybe a lot) different than working with the general public can help you provide better customer service and a higher quality product. Working with businesses is so much fun when you do it right. So, which of these do you need to work on? I’d love to hear about it!