How Do You Compete When You are A Beginning Real Estate Photographer

February 16th, 2014

CompeteMy message  for people getting started in real estate photography is always to focus mainly on marketing the top 5 or 10 percent of real estate agents because these are the agents that are running successful businesses and can afford to hire professional photographers.

I just got a great question from Jason, a beginning real estate photographer reading my Business of Real Estate Photography e-book:

I’m finding that the top listing agents already have professional photographers they are loyal to.  I’m curious  how a newbie, like me, breaks into doing business with this small “top agent” circle.

How you deal with this situation is key to getting started in markets where there is high demand for real estate photography. Here are my suggestions for Jason:

  1. Understand your competition in detail: What do they charge, what kind of work do they do, what kind of product do they deliver… tours etc. What kind of customer service do they provide. The more you understand your competition the more you will know what you need to do to compete with them. You may be competing with the tour your competitors deliver rather than the photography.
  2. Expand your target: If literally all of the top 5% or 10% of agents in your market have a photographers, expand your target until you get to agents that aren’t using professional photography. You probably need to shoot for less successful agents for awhile before you can compete directly the top shooters in you area
  3. Make sure your quality is as good as your competition: That is, look as good as your competition. Be careful though, many agents are not that visually sophisticated… they may be choosing their photographer based on other criteria other than photo quality.
  4. Customer service is typically more important than how your photos look technically: A big, big part of your product is customer service… how fast you deliver, how easy you are to work with, how easy you are to schedule with etc. Don’t assume that because an agent uses a photographer that they are happy with them. They may be looking for a change… market the top agent even though they have a photographer.
  5. Deliver a quality tour included with your shoot: Tours can be a big part of getting business especially if the competition isn’t supplying a tour with their shoots.
  6. Try teaming up with a stager in your area: Try teaming up with a stager to offer a combined deal. Many upper-end agents use stagers and this is a good way to connect with top agents.
  7. Dare to be innovative and different: To compete in a market where there are well established photographers you need great marketing and you need to come up with something that sets you apart from the rest… this takes innovation. This could be free introductory shoots or other incentives to make you stand out in the crowd.
  8. Don’t just lower your price:  I suggest that you carefully consider not just competing by lowering your price. Honor the pricing that has already been established in your market area. Think about being socially responsible and not undercutting established photographers.

What other ideas/suggestions do you have for competing in a high demand market? I’m sure there are many other great ideas out there.

 

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25 Responses to “How Do You Compete When You are A Beginning Real Estate Photographer”

  • Buy everything Scott Hargis ever wrote or videoed and eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner for about a month. Then you are ready to enter the zone!

  • Jason, I agree with everything Larry has to say and… in my case I started going to all of the open houses in my area in order to introduce myself. I always had a brochure and business cards to give to them, but most of all I was there to make a good first impression. If they were busy with buyers I left them alone and just left my information, but most of the time they were happy to talk with me. Sure, I told them about my services, but I was really there so that they would be assured that when they sent me on assignment that I would represent them (the agent) in a professional manner. I dressed like an agent and acted in a friendly businesslike manner. I soon picked up a few clients, then followed up by presenting my work at the weekly office meetings by conducting a “How to shoot good photos” seminar. Sure I was telling them a few things about how to shoot pictures, but I was really showing them my work in the form of a slide show. I picked up a lot of new clients so now all of my work is word of mouth. Admittedly I have a long way to go to truly start making some real money, but now I’m able to pick and choose the better clients that bring me a lot of business.

  • Read #4 three times.

    I think that should be #1. Agents are very busy. They want you on their schedule, they want their images on their schedule, they want you to be on time and they want you to take up as little of their time as possible when you’re shooting, they want to rely on someone to deliver quality consistently, show up on time, and they want as much done for them as possible so they don’t have to do much work. Meeting THEIR deadlines always will get you the business… and keep it. The goal for many, many agents is to get the property on the market yesterday. I don’t know why the rush all the time, but that’s just the way it is. The easier you can make that happen for them, the more business you’ll do.

  • What Jeffrey H. Said!

  • What Fred said. My photographers are a pleasure to be with and they are wonderful with my clients. On occasion I’ll see photos that are really breath-taking. Part of me – for a second – will want to give them a call and try them out. But I stick with my guys since the overall workflow — scheduling, shooting and getting pics back — is really efficient. And since they are so good with my clients, it makes me look better. I can’t imagine ever using anyone else.

    Making a living being a photographer (much less an RE photographer) is really tough. If you’re new to the business, I would dedicate quite a bit of time to market and build relationships with agents. Do this through facebook, social media, hand written notes, drop by broker open houses, etc.

  • Can you suggest a couple good virtual tour sites that you have experience with?

  • Many metro areas have a local lifestyle magazine, the kind you see in the rack as you leave the supermarket. Most of them have a real estate feature in each issue. Approach the managing editor and ask to shoot for the magazine. They rarely have much of a budget so you’ll not be making much on that shoot, but it can get you noticed. Bust your butt on them and then save copies of the magazine to take around to show agents.

  • Awesome tip, Pete!

  • Well, I tried the open house route just this past Saturday and I got two solid leads- they said they will call me for their next house. Also, I think you might have better luck on crummy weather days because traffic is so slow that the agent is bored because no one is showing up. I had three tell me that.
    Also, if you have one, take a tablet with you, or a printed portfolio. When I pulled out the iPad, everyone wanted to see my work.

  • Here’s an idea for long term marketing.

    1) Initial Contact Push – do whatever you have to do to get 20 agents on the phone per day 5 days per week for 5 weeks. Your goal is to get their email address. Ask them if they are looking for a photographer to better present their listings. Talk up how the photographs really are the “tip of the spear” where marketing a home is concerned. Then close for the email address promising to send them a link to some of your work.

    2) Create Video Content – I think that short before/after videos demonstrating the taking of pictures with a point-n-shoot vs. high quality photos run through Lightroom. Serge Ramelli does a good job of this before/after thing. Make it shorter, of course, but make sure you get the before/after effect in there prominently in each video. You can see his stuff here: http://www.youtube.com/user/cmoeu

    In the end of each video, give a call to action to BOTH the agent watching and the homeowner who has NOT committed to an agent yet to contact YOU to get high quality work.

    3) Create a Facebook Custom Audience Ad Campaign – create a Facebook post promoting the before/after video on you Facebook PAGE. (Gots to be a business page, not your personal page) Go into your Facebook advertising panel and create an ad promoting the post but target it toward custom audiences. Upload the email list of the agents you have compiled as the custom audience. Now, if those agents have used the email address they’ve given you as their Facebook address, they’ll see your post.

    Repeat this process three times per week or so. You’ll get attention.

  • @Saint Paul Real Estate – Take a look at http://www.tourbuzz.net/ they are a great tour hosting company for independent real estate photographers and inexpensive.

  • “…and they want you to take up as little of their time as possible when you’re shooting….” I have rarely experienced this. Most of the time I am shooting alone, gaining entrance via a key in a contractor’s lockbox or the realtor or homeowner lets me in and then leaves me to lock up when done. When homeowners are at home during a shoot, I seldom get the feeling that they want me out as soon as possible. Realtors seldom want to hang around while I shoot. They have generally have better things to do with their time and they have confidence in me. Most realtors and homeowners seem to understand that achieving quality results will take a bit of time. Nevertheless, I do think it is important to learn to shoot very quickly when necessary for real estate work, though that may limit what you can do in terms of quantity of photos, types of compositions, etc.

  • Fred is shooting video and photos. He understands that clients want it done right but quickly.

  • Thanks Larry! I’ll talk a look at that.

  • I’ve been sticking to photographs only. It seems impossible to get into the tour aspect of it, without sacrificing a LOT of time. And by sacrificing, I mean, pro bono, or sans dinero. It’s hard to recoup that loss, so every hour you spend putting it together, cuts the worth of your productive hours. For me, both tours and video are that way. I understand they think they want it, but it has to be profitable for me to engage.

    It’s also hard to judge how many buyers are willing to sit through a video, and since I wouldn’t touch one for less then $800 (even a simple one), it makes my realtors think twice before going that route. I find a slide show is far simpler to construct, and provides the same information to the buyer.

  • @Kelvin – I think you are misunderstanding something… no one is saying shoot video to compete. When I say TOUR I mean a branded or unbranded slideshow. They take a few minutes to create, cost $12 and with tourbuzz.net they are a way to deliver your photos. Very easy, and many agents expect tours.

  • I spent another hour today calling on listing agents. I called 15 today and 15 yesterday. Some tell me they will look at our portfolio. Others tell me they already have a favorite photographers. It is a laborious process. We have been working hard to build a portfolio and to market ourselves for 8-9 months. We love the work. But so far we only have 4 regular clients. After talking with realtors it seems that one or two photographers own this market. I will keep you posted. I know my work matches the quality of anyone. I just have to keep pushing.

  • @David – a great start would be to get you website working to show your portfolio. I can’t get the URL that you’ve used on this comment (carboproductions.com) to work… there appears to be an apache server at that address but it’s index.html file appears to be screwed up some how. I think I’ve been to your site before when you submitted contest entries so maybe its a temporary server problem. I think your website should be the center of your marketing efforts.

  • Thanks for the feedback Larry. The website is down right now. I have some photos on Flickr if you would like to see them.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/43024179@N02/sets/72157633348623715/

  • @David,
    Unfortunately having your website down for any extended period will ensure the 15 agents you called today wont be the least bit interested in using your services. The hardest part is to convince them to leave the person they have built a working relationship with to give your services a try….a dead website link is a huge red flag as to how professional your company is and tends to scare people away.

  • Does contacting agents by email work at all?

    I ask because one successful photographer in another part of the country said that when she started out she just sent off around 300 emails to the agents in her area.

    Wouldn’t agents just delete them?

    Or worse, wouldn’t the photographer who sent them get in trouble for violating the can-spam act?

    How about through the contact forms on the broker’s website?

    Thanks in advance.

  • @Easy Mark – Some photographers report that they get new customers via e-mail marketing, but I think is makes more sense to use e-mail to keep in contact with agents you’ve done shoots for in the past. This is called a “drip-campaign”. Send an email once a quarter to agents you shot for in the past to remind them you are still in the business.

    I believe that personal contact works best and then very targeted post cards is second best and e-mail last. Agents are people oriented and like direct one-on-one contact.. that’s why they are agents, they like people contact.

  • @David …or, you could do it like I did. I was a house painter for 15 years, so I knew practically every realtor in town, as I did painting and repairs for them. My real estate photography has 30-50 clients on it, most of which I already knew and had relationships with. To me, the key is that relationship, however it occurs. I very much doubt I would stay in this business with any less then 20 clients, at this point. I need that many just to make a resonable living at this. I have all the top sellers in my area covered, and that in turn, gets other agents to engage so they feel they are competitive. Two of my clients sell 50-200 properties in a year each, and the rest are 20 or less. Some only sell 2…

    Typically, this is a long process. I’ve been at this 20 years, and yet most of my clients only came on-board in the last 3 years. Luckily, I’ve had the top sellers for 15+. The way to capture their interest is to be perfect at what you do, because they are perfectionists at what they do. They are less interested in the price, and far more interested in the impact the photography has on their clients. My top grossing agents/clients says “It feels like Christmas morning every time I open the Dropbox!”

  • @Easy Mark – I landed my biggest client through email. I sent a couple of examples for comparison purposes because they were using one of the “big box” photography companies in the area. Not only that, but they were doing 360 tours and I do video. It got the attention of their marketing director and she had me shoot a house that their photographer previously shot, so they could have a direct comparison of the work. Now I do all of their shooting.

    #4 above, agree totally. The biggest “big box” here has the worst customer service imaginable and I routinely receive calls from angry clients who need things done right. Is being nice and considerate really that difficult?! 🙂

    #6 above, couldn’t recommend that more. A lot of my business comes from relationships I’ve established with stagers. Take a look at http://www.realestatestagingassociation.com to see if there’s a chapter in your area where you can network with them monthly.

    #8 above, I would also add that not only would you be undercutting other photographers (and in some areas if you undercut the competition, you are pricing so low that it doesn’t even make any sense to walk out your front door), but big agents might not take you seriously. If a smart agent is selling million dollar properties, they are going to question paying $89 for a photo shoot. The client I mentioned at the beginning more than doubled their real estate photography costs by switching to me, but to them it was worth it. So it’s not always about driving a low price, because some agents may look at you as a joke for charging so little. (After all, your product and service is better, so therefore it has more value!)

  • Thank you both, Larry and Lance 🙂

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