Principles For Building A Career Working For Yourself

June 23rd, 2010

I spend a lot of my time talking to real estate photographers that are in the process of building their business and I’m continually struck by the potential opportunities in this business. And this potential is not just in the US but it’s also in AU, CA, NZ and EU. Here are some principles I’d like to pass on to those that are thinking about or in the process of building a business in real estate photography:

  1. Business for real estate photographers is clearly back on the increase. For around a year from the fall of 2008 to late 2009 real estate photography business contracted but it’s back on the rise again.
  2. Agents are still struggling but homes are selling again. The biggest problem for listing agents is getting home sellers down to the right price. Awesome photography won’t sell a home that’s $100,000 above market but if the listing agent can get the home seller close to the right price photography is a huge advantage and the number of agents that understand the importance of photography is increasing.
  3. It’s possible to build a real estate photography business from scratch in about a year. Your mileage will vary. There are still many smaller cities where no one is even doing real estate photography. In the larger metro areas there is more competition. Don’t let competition scare you off. Customer service can be a great way to be more competitive.
  4. Most established real estate photographers in large metro areas are very busy these days. If you work by yourself there’s a limit to the number of agents you can serve so in an expanding real estate photography market more photographers are required.
  5. Real estate photography is as much a customer service job as it is about creating great images. That is, successful real estate photographers provide great images AND great customer service. It’s the combination of the two that gets you a lot of work and while photo quality is important, customer service is way more important.
  6. You must be reliable and willing to adapt to the agents unique requirements. And trust me, real estate is a wacky business, there are going to be many unique requirements you’ll need to work around. Be flexible.
  7. If you provide good customer service and reasonable photo quality your name will spread by word of mouth. Word of mouth is the BEST advertising you can get. But beware, agents all know each other, even in different offices, if you are difficult to work with, that will spread quickly too!

For those interested in a more detailed coverage of both the technical aspects and the business aspects of building a real estate photography business check out my two e-books:

So what are your observations about the current real estate photography market?

18 Responses to “Principles For Building A Career Working For Yourself”

  • Amen! All excellent points. Customer service is absolutely key… as well as fast turnaround. An agent doesn’t want to commit to photography if they don’t have a listing agreement. In our area, there is a 48 hour period after the listing agreement is signed that the listing be online. So shoots are often scheduled very last minute and they expect photos and video the following day or the day after as they are required to have photos and most good agents want ALL assets online on day 1 for the most eyeballs. I always provide stills same day, video next morning. It makes for late nights and very happy customers.

    Can’t speak for other markets, but I’ve been absolutely swamped for 2 years straight. Hard to keep up! I have a kayak that’s been collecting dust in my garage since 2008….. but not complaining, for sure – especially in this economy!

  • Well said, Larry. Regardless of how technically proficient we are at our craft, if we don’t have the relationships, we probably don’t have a sustainable business. Exceptional service leads to deeper, trusting relationships.

    Because I’m swamped – shooting seven days most weeks – my top clients suggested I raised my prices even thought I’m already the most expensive in town (to the best of my knowledge). I was very nervous when I hit the send button to announce my new fee structure to all my agents, but almost immediately I received positive responses – several indicating I should have raised them even more!

    The kicker is that I’ve never done any marketing. No email, no postcards – nothing. I’ve gone from six agents to 72 agents in 18 months all because of referrals from one agent to another – even though they might be competitors. I couldn’t possibly agree more with your comments!

  • Harry..reading your comments was like …yeah…that’s what’s happening here!
    6-7 days a week, flat chat. All from relationships. I have 140 agents that I shoot for. Even in the down times, they won’t all be down at the same time, and the business ticks over and grows.
    Someone asked me today..what do you put your success down to??
    Had to think for a while…but..
    1. 4 yrs ago, I was fortunate to see a niche in my market after 16 years selling RE, and was confident that there was a need to lift the game, and pursue my passion
    2 – I was lucky to have the rapport with those agents..they knew me, but not as a prof photog..that took 2-4 years to prove that I could take the photos they needed
    3 – my success is directly related to the help I received from this forum, and my willingness to absorb all advice and information on a huge learning curve
    4 – my clients tell me it’s my understanding of what they go through, having “worn the moccasins” and the need to meet their demands
    5 – yeah, they like my photos, but also that I cement their relationship with their vendors..the vendors like the photos and are really pleased that the agent recommend they use me. And I know and hear that the vendors like the way I treat them, and the patience and time I put in to every shoot.
    6 – the craziness to be a work-a-holic
    and lastly – that I never lost belief that this venture wouldn’t work. You can’t doubt yourself when the tide is turning against you. Self belief is so important, and that is where this forum helped me immensely to believe that what I was producing was up to standard..or needed to lift.
    So, well said Larry. I am sure there are a lot of guys in this forum who are indebted to your push on this site. I certainly am!!
    Cheers Milton

  • There is only one person holding you back from your version of “success,” and they can be seen clearly in a mirror. And there is only one skill you really need to master: persistence. The wails and gnashing of teeth over big drops in compensation levels in photography apply mainly to stock photography – a field where people try to show tubes of toothpaste and common kitchen utensils in a favorable light. How inspiring…
    To me, any lack of progress in the architectural field can be traced directly back to the photographer. If you can do basic clear-cut HDR files; have a decent sense of composition and perspective; and a desire to show others how useful and beautiful living and working spaces can be – all you need now is stick-to-it-ive-ness.
    We used to be hunter-gatherers. Then farmers. Then we started building arches, and cathedrals. Now, modular housing is gaining popularity – for a good reason. Revel in your ability to show others how glorious and beautiful these man-made structures are…And never give up.

  • Thanks for all the feedback and participation! Your stories are useful to everyone getting started.

  • I’ve been working 7 days a week for the past 3 weeks and can just keep up. Things are looking up.

    Michael

  • My wife and I started our own real estate photography business (with a twist, vacation cabin rentals) 3 months ago and business has been great. I’m am not the most social so my wife handles the customer service and is excellent at it. I do the photography and we make a great team. I’ve learned a lot from this site and appreciate all the work that has gone into it.

  • Can anyone please suggest a simple MAC program for doing floor plans PLEASE. I love the look of the ifloorplan sample with the different colors. I have a laser tape-measure and as for this real-estate side I’m a newbi. Thank you all.

  • @Otto- Just Google “floor plan software mac” to find a bunch of alternatives.

  • I was wondering if someone could tell me in what type of city/town they live in and have had success in real estate photography? I live in a more rural area, but would love to be a real estate photographer. However, I am not sure of the need in my area. Most agencies have the realtors take the photos themselves and I think it would be an expence the agencies wouldn’t want to spend when the average selling house is around $210,000. Has anyone else experienced a sitiuation such as this? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks!

  • Carol,
    I’m sure that even in a small town some of the top agents are using photographers. When I started my business these were the agents I targeted. They already pay for photos, so you dont have to tell them that their pictures are no good. You just need to be competitive and find your niche. I offered 50% off to new customers, to help get started. That may have been too low, but I only needed to do it for a couple weeks and things have taken off now. I have 5 top producing brokers now and am very happy with the amount of business I receive from them. I’ve pretty much stopped marketing, as I’m afraid I wont be able to keep up. Word of mouth spreads fast with Realtors.

  • Hi Mark,
    Thank you so much for replying and your advice. I hope that if I do pursue a career in real estate photography I become so successful that I don’t have to market my business!
    I have a lot of research to do before I get started!

  • Carol,
    My business is still very young but has grown very fast. One piece of advise I can give would be to have your product well refined so that when you start getting orders you can hit the ground running. That is not the time to learn. My only marketing I have done, is going to Brokers open houses on Tuesdays and chatting with agents. Pick out a few heavy hitters in your area and go meet them. They are usually bored during these open houses so you have their attention. Research that agent, know what their pictures look like, who they are currently paying and how much. Bring something to leave with them, I made a postcard sized advertisment with my info on it. Sort of like a big business card. Every week I have done this, I picked up one more agent.

  • Mark,
    Again, thank you for your advice. I definately will have my work cut out for me. That is a great idea about going to open houses. Thanks. That is better than showing up at their offices! I have already researched the major brokers in the area and have seen the images they post of the houses for sale. I know I can do better! I have a few ideas to try to get business. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that they work!

  • What special equipment would I need to start in this business, and can I start this business on a shoestring budget.

  • The real basics are a decent DSLR camera and a wide angle lens. You should really have a good processing software. This site has a ton of info, so just keep reading!

  • I’m just starting the process of searching for clients. I’ve been working long hours for the past 2 months building my portfolio while working my 9-5. I just want to mention that this site has been an enormous asset to me. Thank you!

  • Larry,
    I have found your website to be a plethora of information on real estate photography. I was shooting everything, weddings, portraits, sports, etc, until I realized my niche was real estate. Being a former realtor, I have changed my website to real estate and architecture and have been marketing myself as a real estate photographer.
    I would like to mention to your readers, if you have a local radio talk show on real estate, it can be a great place to get your word out and the cost is zero.
    Great site, Larry.
    Thanks,
    Jerry