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A Real Estate Photography Marketing Success Story

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Time in business: This person has been building their real estate photography business for the last two years (2015 and 2016).
  3. Previous experience: Extensive background in auto sales.
  4. 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 discount:
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.

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21 Responses to “A Real Estate Photography Marketing Success Story”

  • Excellent pointers. Thanks!

  • I agree, it’s all excellent advice.

    The advice about meeting brokers and others face to face is on the money, I guarantee the person who wrote that is a people person though. If you want to be as successful as possible, you might have to make yourself a people person. My point being I got into this to sort of roll to the best of my own drum… that don’t involve walking into brokerages often for me. I’d rather be out surfing. But he’s right.

    I’d love to hear how the original poster justifies never giving a discount (which I wholeheartedly agree with) with giving away drone shots for free. My opinion is yeah it may be a good way to build clientel but if you don’t start charging at some point you’re really hurting the market. Imagine if Walmart just started giving away free flat screens… who would win and who would lose? The consumer would win and Walmart would be the rock solid loser, which is why they’d never be so foolish as to do that.

  • The first 2 are the crème de la crème and could not have hit any harder to home. The third one I’m still in denial about. Awesome tips – thanks very much for the wisdom!

  • I give discounts all of the time. Book two or more properties in the same area on the same day and get a discount. Book me solid for two or more days and get a discount. Refer a client (builder, stager, etc) and get a commission which usually gets applied as a discount on the next job. I want to encourage multiple bookings and referrals so the discounts I offer benefit me.

    My service area is large, because it’s not densely populated. Due to the travel times, I charge different prices for longer trips. I don’t bill a “travel fee”, it’s built into my quote since it’s not negotiable. I market to customers up to four hours away. There is no way I could offer them the same price as I charge for a home across town, but I will discount my normal price if they book me for a full day or more of work so I am more competitive. Not that there is any competition in the area and the homes can be very very nice.

    The more I work, the less post processing I have. I keep getting better at coming back to the office with a memory card full of finished images or so close that it can be just as much time sending photos to a processor and checking them back in when they’re done. It can be a good option if you are booked solid all of the time just shooting photos and want a little time to sleep.

    Talk to any agent you can get a couple of minutes with. While they may already have a photographer they use regularly, there is always the chance that the other photographer isn’t not available for a job or won’t work on weekends. I always make it a point to tell agents that I take jobs on weekends with no extra fee. Some owners want to be home during the photo session and it also can free the agent from having to be at the property during photography. Unless you are doing exceptionally well, you are going to get days off. Being self employed and working in the field means that you can also take care of all sorts of things while you are out working such as banking, DMV, shopping, etc. The stuff that usually needs a day off to accomplish. A nice bonus is that you can deduct all of your mileage. If you get so busy that days off are rare in the busy season, pick a day to be all booked up each week. Mondays and Tuesdays can be the best as towards the end of the week agents are pushing to get new listings up for the weekend and taking a Friday off might have them looking for another photographer to fill in.

  • Excellent advice ~ spot on!

  • What if you arent super people person? I am starting out and thought walking into open houses with a nicely done postcard might be good idea. Many times newbies are sitting for more established brokers….thoughts?

  • I was curious, when someone hires out someone else to do the post processing, does the original photographer still clearly have the copyright to the final product that someone else has created using the photographer’s original photos?

  • @Sharon – Just be yourself. Practice a lot. The key thing to understand is that the purpose of open houses is NOT to sell the the home being held open the are for the agent at the open house to meet home buyers. This is why the listing agent is typically not doing the open house. Rather, the agent at open houses are typically new agents that specialize in working with home buyers… they aren’t even potential photography clients.

    @Michael Buster – post-processing doesn’t effect copyright.

  • From the very start I was trying to market established agents. I wish someone had given me this advice three years ago. The established agents have a photographer they have been using for years. Most of our business has come from agents just starting out in the business. Thanks for sharing your story. Dave.

  • Great info, good for old timers (review) and newer shooters alike. Thanks for the post.

  • There are some great tips and ideas here…thanks for posting it. I am curious about never giving a discount though. I am considering offering a discount on the first shoot for new clients as a way to generate some new business. Why would this not be a good idea and, other than my stellar pictures and winning personality :-), what’s the incentive for someone to try me for the first time instead of relying on their regular photographer?

  • @Robert,

    I think the free vs reduced rate which is being mentioned is speaking of people will definitely choose free over having to pay regardless of the discount. There are some interesting articles written on that. Maybe instead of doing a reduced rate shoot look into doing a BOGO with new clients. That way they pay upfront and you get the them hooked as it were.

  • Can anyone recommend a company to outsource photo editing to at a reasonable price and quick turn around. Also, I am an agent, as well, and drip email is working for me.

  • @Jeanne – For outsourcing vendors see: http://photographyforrealestate.net/outsourcing/

  • I wonder about the outsourcing… I like being in control of all my images, and I don’t use just one technique with my images, so how is someone suppose to know when to use what technique?

  • @Caleb – The rules for success are not written in stone! You do what feels right for you. Outsourcing works for some and not for others.

  • Thank you for sharing this great story!

    @Michael Buster: No, the original photographer still maintains the copyright of input and output images. Unless he forgets to pay the processing fee 🙂
    Some professional photo editing providers have privacy policy to clear out client outdated resources within 30 days (in case the client request them). Just stay away from cheap freelancers and groups who provide ridiculously cheap service price – most of them (mostly from India, Bangladesh, Vietnam…) don’t have such an idea about a privacy policy for clients.

    Henry

  • Excellent advice! Sadly, not firing a client isn’t always in our best interest. I’ve had to do it once in 6 years and although it may have cost me business it also opened my calendar to more/better business. Just saying “Sorry, I’m booked” didn’t make this one go away. Respectfully telling her our business models no longer work well together, and referring her to a new photographer who had the time to jump through her hoops, was the solution I found after 2 years of turmoil. It may have cost me more business in the long run since she’s a top agent in the city, but my other clients no longer suffer from her inability to manage her business, creating chaos in my schedule, and our sanity is intact. It has been a welcomed relief for me and my team.

  • Thank you for all the fantastic advice!

    I am starting my marketing next week. I agree in not offering discounts. I will, on occasion, add something of value as a teaser, ie free virtual tour, etc. for your first 2-3 bookings.

  • Thank you for this info! Now I see how I made two crucial mistakes going after well established agents and offering discount right off the bat. The discount for new clients didn’t seem to do much for me at all, and since it’s listed on my promo cards I’m now looking to print new promo materials. Can you please share little more about what kind of information you list on the tri-fold brochure? I’m having little hard time to envision the layout and showcasing the work on a tri-fold. Also any suggestions on the best place to order your promo materials?

  • @Marianna, What you want on your marketing piece (trifold, large glossy postcard or high quality printed 8.5×11) is the kind of thing that is on this marketing sheet: http://photographyforrealestate.net/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/MarketingBrochure.pdf That is, you want to be explaining why professional photography is important for marketing listing. You also want some of your very best real estate work on the marketing piece.

    For info on who to use for printing see: http://photographyforrealestate.net/2017/01/27/what-is-a-good-printer-to-use-for-business-cards-and-post-cards/

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