What Are The Top 5 Most Important Things To Focus On When Starting Your Real Estate Photography Business?

November 30th, 2015

Illustration of top five modern design black sphere iconJonathan in New York City asked a great question:

I have been a subscriber for years. I feel like I have read everything and nothing on this website. I am forcing myself to get started in this industry in New York City of all places, and I’m scared as hell! What are the top five things to remember as I go forward?

To give you some perspective; I’ve shot for one brokerage because I had a day job and couldn’t afford the time. Most of the properties were low income and the tenants weren’t very compliant to my requests or to those of the broker/agent, so my images suffered.

Wow, this is a challenging question! We all give out a lot of advice here, but Jonathan is asking to have it boiled down to just the most important things. What are the most important 5 things? Here is my list:

  1. Understand your competition: You need to know what you have to do to compete in your market so understand as much about your competition as possible. Once you understand your competition you know what services are most important in your market and can eventually offer services above and beyond what your competition offers.
  2. Service is as important as your images: Half or more of what you are providing is the service that goes along with your photos. Make it easy for agents to do business with you. Make scheduling, payment, photo delivery, fast turn around and all other aspects of your product(s) easy and tailored to what agents want. That is, go out of your way to give great service!
  3. Create a hardcopy marketing piece: Create a regular size or jumbo size glossy postcard that has one or more of your very best images on it along with your contact info and your site URL and a call to action. Deliver your marketing piece to targeted agents office mail slots and personally to those you talk to. You don’t have to mail these. Agents have mail slots at their office. You can personally deliver these to these mail slots at real estate offices. Distribute your marketing piece every few months.
  4. Market with as much personal contact as possible: You need to meet as many of your potential clients face-to-face as possible. Real estate agents are people oriented and respond best to personal contact. Go to their open houses and their office meetings or call them. Have an elevator pitch that you can use to explain what your services will do for them. One of the biggest things professional photography will do for them is get them more listings.
  5. Be persistent: Don’t be discouraged by failures. All you need is a few that say yes. Building a real estate photography business doesn’t happen overnight. You have to stay visible to agents until they decide to hire you for whatever reason. Once you connect with a few agents and win them over, referrals can be an important source of new clients. Don’t be afraid to ask for referrals and reward them for referrals (something like a shoot discount for referrals).

I think if you can nail these 5 items you will be on your way to success. What does everyone think? Are there other items that are more important?

Hang in there Jonathan and be persistent! And let us know how things work out for you.

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10 Responses to “What Are The Top 5 Most Important Things To Focus On When Starting Your Real Estate Photography Business?”

  • Running the business is also very important. Set realistic goals and keep track of all of your costs. Don’t be afraid to say “no”, it’s the hardest thing for a small business person to say. Don’t forget to estimate what your taxes will be when calculating what you need to charge. There is a hefty self-employment tax in the US and you don’t want to face a large tax bill (with penalties if you haven’t been making quarterly estimated payments) at the end of the year.

  • The top five that Larry mentioned is really good information for not only startups, but also established photographers. I think one thing that has to go to the top of the list is your image processing consistency and top notch quality. The products you deliver (images, tours, etc…) better be spot on every time.

  • I have never been a fan of arbitrary limits on lists of important items. One item left off this list is budget and resources. How will you support yourself until the business makes a profit? What will be your yearly expenses, your yearly profit? Will your profit allow you to support yourself and your family? How much time will be needed to generate that profit?

    I’m a fan for creating a hard-copy business plan at the beginning. It forces you to put your plan on paper and work out some details. Remember, the biggest difference between a dream and a business is a plan to achieve.

  • Very good advice indeed. I see that items 3, 4, and 5 are marketing tips and items 1 and 2 are business related.

    Businesses fail if items 1 and 2 are not adequately tended to. I would shorten those to “know your market and exceed expectations”.

    If Items 1 and 2 are tended to, you still may fail if you do not adequately market. I would add a couple of marketing suggestions to the 3 Larry put out.

    1) Have a decent website with samples. Your website is your catalog, make it attractive. Learn enough about SEO to get your site listed in Google local business, and to score well in each area that you serve. A website without SEO is a waste of money and time.

    2) Create ads for craigslist and renew them every day. I have about 25 ads on craigslist, and every day I delete the oldest one and repost. It is time consuming for the first 25 days, and after that it is less than a minute each morning. I pickup several jobs a month through craigslist. When I get FSBO clients it is usually through Craigslist.

    3) Get an account with MailChimp (or any other email service) and create templates for newsletters and solicitations. If you don’t have a list of email addresses for realtors, you can build one by visiting Realtor sites and collecting. Get a card from every Realtor you meet and add them to your list. MailChimp is also free until your list gets too big (3000 addresses if I recall correctly).

    All of these items are free if you are willing to put time in on them, even the website. WordPress.org will give you a free site and there are videos, articles and tutorials readily available on the web.

  • #1 Know what the hell you’re doing. Among all the other things you’ll face, nothing speaks like you’re ability to produce:
    -outstanding quality
    -on time, both shooting and delivery
    -with no excuses

    Everytime you go out, you have to be able to accomplish that. Once you can do that, you can start to think about what it takes to compete in terms of pricing and soliciting, but those things are secondary having a reputation as someone who gets the job done every time.

    There is a staggering amount of money that agents can make, and once they figure out that they’re job is a marketing job, money literally rains from the sky on them, and your fees are somewhat inconsequential… and all that matters to them then is perfect work produced on time.

  • Read John Harrington’s “Best Business Practices for Photographers,” and then read it again!

  • Good advice and thank you for the topic.

    In reply to Mike, be leery of self generated email lists on Mail Chimp. Since the end user did not opt in to receive your email letters, mail chimp considers this fraudulent and spam. Users actually have to sign up to receive your email campaigns through mail chimp. Also, the idea about using craig’s list to attract FSBOs is brilliant!

  • Aaron – you are very correct about poor quality mail lists. Mailchimp will suspend your account if you exceed their threshold of unsubscribers and people that report the email as spam. The trick is to use one of the cleaning services. They will scrub your list and remove addresses that are invalid or with a history of reporting spam.

    There are many email services. I got started with Mailchimp because it was free.

  • 1 – Learn. It’s difficult because you want to grab a camera and get started. Don’t. Take the Adobe tutorials. Read Scott Hargis’ book. Then read it again.

    2 – Don’t start shooting for money until you’re ready. If your pictures are bad but you’re decent at marketing, you’ll burn through potentially long-term clients delivering lackluster product. The’re very difficult to recover.

    3 – Get yourself in a situation where you can dive in full-time. Plan on 7 days a week 12 or 14 hours a day before you gain any meaningful momentum. I don’t see this as a successful part-time endeavor (for many reasons).

    4 – Don’t cheap sell yourself. Set your price. When free or discounted work is tempting to ‘win an account’ just say NO.

    5 – Digest this website up one side and down the other. It’s a f’ing AMAZING resource.

    I’m 8 months into it and made all 5 of those mistakes with a grand thud. The worst one, and I imagine the easiest for many, was that – since I’d had some experience with a camera – I actually thought I was ‘pretty good’. Call it confidence, positive thinking, ignorance or just plan stupidity: Not even knowing what you don’t know is a really tough way to start 🙂

  • Item #1 should be:
    Make sure you actually know how to make photographs….which is entirely different from taking vacation photos, and volunteer photos at your kid’s school, and being on the yearbook committee.
    In other words, don’t disrespect the craft. Don’t underestimate just how difficult photography is, when you absolutely, positively, HAVE to produce a great photo…even though it’s raining, even though you’re bored, even though the house is utter crap, even though the light sucks, even though your client needs it yesterday. You wouldn’t just go buy an adding machine and some yellow pads of paper and start calling yourself a CPA, and you wouldn’t just call yourself a “Coach” just because you played football on the JV squad 10 years ago…..so don’t just assume that because you got a nice camera for Xmas you can suddenly become a professional photographer. It’s going to be indescribably hard, and if you don’t really, really, REALLY love it you’re not going to end up in a good place.

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