January 12th, 2017
There’s always a lot to be learned from studying real estate photography success stories. It’s been a while since I’ve posted a success story but recently I ran across one that is worth passing on. Remember, this is one person’s approach in one location. There is no one way to build a successful business.
Here is the background of the real estate photographer that this post is about:
- Location: The location is the Seattle area. Note that the Seattle real estate market has been very good for several years. This probably plays some part in the success story.
- Time in business: This person has been building their real estate photography business for the last two years (2015 and 2016).
- Previous experience: Extensive background in auto sales.
- Net income in 2016: As of the end of 2016 this photographer is netting $80,000/year.
Here is the marketing approach in the form of a list:
Go after new agents:
Going after “successful” agents I quickly realized they were, rightly or wrongly, pretty loyal to the photographer they were using. Most successful agents in my area were already using a professional real estate photographer.
My first green agent I cold called, after spotting the crappy photos of his first listing, was my best client last year and one of the highest volume agents in the Seattle area. He’s a kid in his late 20s that was trying to get a job at the fire department when we met. We now laugh about the enormous pay cut it would have been. But it wasn’t just him. 75% of my business comes from agents I met that were just starting. My photos (and a great market) have helped them succeed, Going after newbies is easy; just walk into a brokerage, meet the managing broker, and show him your photos and tell him you want to make his new people superstars. Then remind him every month or so. In person. NEVER email!
Email is not an effective selling tool IMHO. Regular mail might be better but it’s expensive and it avoids getting toe-to-toe with brokers. Personal face-to-face contact is important. I think a tri-fold brochure is perfect to hand to someone AFTER you’ve shaken their hand and talked a moment at least.
When you contact the managing brokers don’t bother with appointments. They’re always there; always busy. I think a quick, unrehearsed pop-in is best. I start off acknowledging I can see their desk is on fire. I ask them if I can have a minute to talk about helping a brand-new agent?
Don’t ever discount. Do it full charge or do it free. There’s a book full of the psychology behind that; I’ll spare you. Giving discounts is a mistake that has haunted me countless times so I recommend against it with a trainwreck background of experience. Being an affordable photographer is a bottomless pit and giving discounts is the autobahn straight into the pit. If you have a good client that needs a favor, just do it for free. With a smile and a good attitude. Waaaaaay smarter.
Outsource your post-processing:
It doesn’t matter how good you are. If you’re a great processor, perfect – you can explain exactly how you want it done, to someone else. You need to be out GETTING business, not buried behind the monitor. Find a good one. I’ve shopped in Vietnam, India, Sweden and the US. When you find the right one, make sure you pay them enough. Personally, I want to be the pickiest, highest paying client of a talented processor. The nightmare client they can’t live without. Controlling expenses is important. But it’s hard to save your way into growing.
No such thing as cancellation fees:
If they become habitual, just fire them. Ditto mileage charges for outside your area. Just do it or not. You never know how much you won’t mind driving if it’s been a couple days without shooting.
Never fire anyone:
You can always be ‘booked up” until you decide they’re okay. Or maybe they’ll apologize for whatever you’re upset about. I fired a dozen builders last year (I hate -most- builders) that kept me busy the last holiday season.
Never bad-mouth another photographer:
I did it non-stop my first year which resulted in several embarrassing situations. Not to mention I don’t think it ever got me a dollar of business. You see bad photos, it’s tempting, But it’s doesn’t make sense.
Try to never say no:
Phone rings; “can you shoot Thursday afternoon?” [schedule is booked solid]. Answer; “I can shoot Thursday am or Friday pm”. [Stop talking]. It usually works out and you’ll get the shoot.
Figure out which days you need off and work the rest:
If you aren’t doing a shoot you should be out meeting brokers (not behind the monitor). It’s simple. It’s hard.
Don’t look too professional:
Note I didn’t say acting. Be on time. Do what clients want. But as for your car, dress, website, and the way you speak, it’s a very, VERY fine line. Remember there’s supposed to be a genius artist buried somewhere in there, capable of making magical photos that sell houses. Give them a personality unlike all the mortgage brokers and home inspectors that come begging for business. Because YOU ARE different from them. You are a magician, not a worker-bee. As for wardrobe, I wear newer jeans and a logo (my logo) polo shirt. My shoes are the most expensive thing I wear.
You don’t have to do video:
I tell my brokers that poor video is a lot worse than no video, which I believe to be true. I point out that video sells a lifestyle, photos sell showings. I tell them that if they want good property video to open their wallets and get the good stuff (they rarely do).
Get a Drone:
If you don’t have a drone, get one. You can get a Phantom P3 for under $700 bucks. Almost painless. Then include drone photos “free” with your shoots. Even if you don’t have fun flying it, they’ll be the easiest and fastest photos you do. It’s an incredibly effective sales tool. Most good drone photos are roofline or below.
This story clearly doesn’t cover all aspects of the real estate photography business but I believe this is a series of great relevant ideas that can help a lot of readers.