Today Matt Van Emmerik of Kelowna, BC commented on the post and poll I did a couple of days ago asking readers how business was in 2013. Matt's comments are so on target and well stated I think they deserve to be a post so the get more visibility. Here are Matt's comments:
Happy New Year everyone! I was one of the ones to claim a great year, and I’ll try to explain why I had a good year and the business model I have built and stand by.
I shoot in a relatively small 4 season city in the interior of British Columbia with just over 100,000 people. It is however a 4 season paradise and very desirable place to live in Canada which has kept the market stable even through the crash…barely. This business is a tricky one to get involved in this late in the game especially in smaller markets since they are already established with lots of competition, but it doesn’t mean you can’t squeeze in and make a go of it if you’re creative and persistent. A little history on me, I started my company in 2007 while also working full time as a graphic designer and was not aware of anyone else in the market specializing in real estate. In 2010 I quit my full time job and left the country for almost two years and the business obviously fell apart which I was ok with (soul searching trip). When I got back in early 2012 I went full time with the photography and I had to work my tail off marketing again, and one thing I spent all winter working on was HD Video in a way no other company was offering (more on this later). This is what got me back into a front runner position.
The KEY to this business is fairly simple because unfortunately most realtors don’t care as much about quality as we do so don’t waste your breath trying to explain why you’re better than the other guys and deserve more money. At the end of the day PRICE is the most important thing to them. Next comes SERVICE, and they don’t realize it at first but this is the number one winner over any price in the end. I too have realtors complain about price, but I stand firm knowing they will eventually come knocking and most do. When they go with the bottom feeders, eventually they will get tired of never reaching them on the phone or waiting days if not more to get their images. Another thing I don’t do is to force realtors into contracts, let your work and work ethic speak for itself. I have an open door policy.
If I receive a call anytime of day I take it or return it asap as well as text messages and emails. You MUST make this a priority to stay competitive. Time and time again I get compliments on how easy it is to reach me and how quickly I make bookings and turn around the images, and videos and the great quality is an added bonus at that point. I also will work 7 days a week with almost no time restrictions. Realtors may not practice this same business model, but they certainly do expect the moon from every service they hire, so give it to them and you will have a loyal, repeat client every time and watch your business grow.
HD VIDEO – It was slow to start (winter) and one of the most difficult parts was pricing it right and every market will be different. During the summer the video popularity grew rapidly, and word spread so I gained about 20 new clients because of it all of which left their existing photographers because I offered the whole package at a discount (convenience factor). By the end of my first year making HD Video I have completed 150 unique videos (vimeo.com/showcasephotography) which added substantial income to my business and allowed me to double my best previous year in the business which was 2009. HD video is not the future of Real Estate marketing, it is the present and if you don’t learn it well and offer it, you will eventually be weeded out of the market I firmly believe. It’s not easy to do, is time consuming and there are many pitfalls and expenses with a huge learning curve, but it’s incredibly fun, creative and lucrative so my advice would be to get started now instead of thinking a good photo is all you need. In my area I gave myself a one year jump on the competition and now it seems every Tom, Dick and Harry is trying to crack into the market so I have to keep ahead of the game. In this game quality wins over price unlike the photo market because any realtor can use their internal video systems to put together iPhone videos so they need something with WOW factor to convince them to open their wallets. Do NOT cheap out on video gear as it will show in your work.
Another great tip is to be incredibly kind and genuine to the home owners. Talk to them and make them feel comfortable when you’re in their home. You don’t know why they are selling, and it may be a very stressful time for them having all these people coming through their homes, so be kind and put them at ease. That feedback will get back to the realtor guaranteed and make them very comfortable knowing you are representing them in a professional and courteous way.
Also don’t stay comfortable with what you’re doing. There is always somebody below you trying to climb the ladder so keep climbing it or they will go right over the top of you. If you have a financially decent year, then invest more money in gear, marketing and education. Some might buy fancy cars and vacations with their profits, but I personally invest 25-30% back into the business and will continue to do so every year.
Real Estate photography is MUCH more than knowing how to take a great photograph, and the same goes for any profession. So don’t focus everything on price. Market yourself with incredible service and the word will spread, just give it time and don’t expect instant results, and you’ll do fine.
This is all great advice! I think all of Matt's advice is all right on target. Great service is a reoccurring theme that I hear over and over from successful real estate photographers. Thanks Matt for sharing your business insights and experiences with everyone!