There are two types of photographers in the world. We have the hobbyist photographer who is not taking pictures to make a profit, they do it for the love of it, and then we have the professional photographer who is trying to make a living from their photography work.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to take pictures that you love to shoot, and have someone pay you to do that? That is the dream for any professional photographer.
We do need to make one distinction though with the professional photographers. We have the professional photographers that work with consumers. They do fine art work, portraits and weddings. Then we have professional photographers that work with commercial photography clients.
What Is Commercial Photography?
Commercial photographers create photographic images that are used to sell a product or a service for a business. Most of the time, these jobs pay quite well. I’ve been doing commercial photography for over 25 years for all sorts of clients.
I’m being cheeky with the bank icon, but honestly, commercial photography can have the highest day rates for photography.
I am writing this post for any type of photography that will be used by other businesses, not just food. If you do portraits and/or weddings, you can use these ideas as well, if you have images that can be used for advertising and commercial jobs.
Many portrait and wedding shooters can do lifestyle and catalog photography for all sorts of brands that want to showcase their products with a person in the image.
Many advertising campaigns use beautiful portraits all the time. Just look at the “got milk” campaign. Those are all using portrait/fashion photography. Before I chose to do food photography for my profession, I did architecture, product, and portrait photography for commercial clients.
Here Are The 5 Steps To Finding Your Ideal Commercial Photography Clients
#1. Choose A System To Start Your Dream Client List
Notice I said, “Start” your list. My ideal client lists are always changing as I add new prospects to that list, and take others off. I want you to get something started. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have images for these prospects yet.
Prospecting for clients really is a numbers game, and the goal is to make a targeted list. The longer your list, the more chance you have of finding some great clients. But don’t make this list too long unless you have the money to do the marketing that we’ll be talking about in another post.
Aim to get at least 100 clients to target at first. If you’ve been shooting for a while, you can make this list much bigger, and add categories of prospects.
Tech Tip: It’s important to keep organized here. Choose your system to help with this. If you like spreadsheets, make an excel spreadsheet. If you like to keep your work organized online, try using Asana, or Evernote, or AirTable. Those three all have free options available that are very robust.
If you are already doing accounting online, some of those services have ways of organizing your prospects already, so look into that.
Keep this simple. I like to use software that enables us to sort. I go after all different types of clients, so I need to be able to sort by client types.
On my spreadsheets, I list out the following – each item is its own column:
- Type of prospect (ad agency, design firm, magazine, restaurant, book publisher, manufacturer, etc.)
- Prospect company name
- Contact person
- Their title
- Phone number
- City ( I keep this its own column for sorting)
- 1st email sent date
- 1st printed piece mailed date
- 2nd email date
- 2nd printed piece mailed
- 3rd email sent
- 3rd printed piece mailed
- Notes about any communication
- Meetings scheduled
When starting your list – you might only have a company name. That’s totally fine. You will be doing your detective work later on to fill in the rest.
#2. Put Aside Your Limiting Beliefs
This is actually the most important part of this exercise. If you go at this with any limiting beliefs (and you will), you will be editing your dream client list before you even get started. This will just kill the entire process.
What I mean by limiting beliefs, these are all those negative thoughts we have about our work. You are NOT allowed to think things like, “They would never hire me”, or “I’m not good enough yet”, or “I need more experience”. This is an exercise in what can be possible down the road, if not now. Got it???
We are simply making a list of all the clients we would love to take pictures for. That’s it for now. You will not be doing a job for them tomorrow. We are just starting the first stage of our marketing plan. I’ll be covering what we’re going to do with our lists in another post.
So again, with no limitations, who would you love to do photography for? Really spend some time on this. This is a list you will always be adding to, so once you make your first list, this isn’t carved in stone.
#3 Determine The Types Of Clients You Want
We have many different types of clients we can go after. Check out this post about the different types of clients where I break down the type of client, along with what they typically pay for photo shoots.
We have Client Direct where we work directly with the client one on one. Then we have agency clients, where often times we never speak to the actual end client, but we are working with an agency to create images for them on behalf of their client.
Remember – do NOT let any limiting beliefs sneak in there while doing this!
Here’s a quick list of a few clients for all different types of photography:
- Ad Agencies
- Design Firms
- In-House Corporate Work (client direct, no agency)
- In-House Cosmetics
- In-House Fashion
- In-House Media
- In-House Travel
- Book Publishers
- Catalog Houses
- Product Manufacturers
- Food Manufacturers/Brands
- Interior Designers
- Restaurants, Pubs & Bars
- Hospitality – Hotels
- Businesses in Healthcare
#4 Start Making Your Lists
Ok, now we are ready to start adding names to our lists. This takes a lot of time, I’m not gonna lie. I actually enjoy this part. We have to put our detective hats on.
For those of you who have been shooting for a while, it will save you some time if you buy mailing lists. I’m writing another post about the details of this as there are different types of mailing lists we can buy.
I use a listing directory service. I use Agency Access. This is not a sponsored post. AA has no idea I am writing this. They have done some of the work for us by making lists of prospects that use photography, and illustration regularly.
These are lists of companies (ad agencies, design firms, magazines, book publishers, companies with in-house marketing department, etc), not the general public. But you still have to clean up their lists and make sure the prospect actually uses your type of photography. It’s a ton of work, even though you are paying them a lot of money.
The other list companies out there are Yodelist and also Bikini Lists for the EU market. That’s it. We don’t have a lot of options for lists of businesses that hire creatives and these lists are not all that accurate a lot of the time.
If you want to target specific types of businesses that wouldn’t be listed in those types of directories above, then you’d have to buy a traditional mailing list from a company like InfoUsa. You will need to learn about SIC codes to target those companies, yet another future post.
For example, let’s say you are a landscape photographer looking for commercial clients. You could go after agricultural clients, large construction companies, camping goods manufacturers, state parks, government parks, etc. Think of all the types of businesses that need to photograph their products outside in a beautiful setting, or their business involves the great outdoors.
Those types of prospects might not be listed in Agency Access, Yodelist or Bikini Lists – some might be and some might not be. Just a heads up there.
Now, if you are doing portrait and wedding photography, and want more of those clients- you can buy consumer lists to market to, and you can get really specific for what type of people you can go after. A great list would be anyone who just moved into town that has children.
#5 Get Creative To Find Those Prospects And Their Contact Info
Your ideal clients are everywhere. If you are not buying lists to find them, that’s ok. You can easily do this and get 100 prospects without the list companies I mentioned above. You’re going to be buying a lot of magazines and using Google.
You are also going to be going to stores to look for the types of products that you shoot, and see who is the manufacturer. I go to the grocery store and spend hours looking at packaging that uses food photography, for example.
For what ever you shoot, buy magazines on that topic. Look at their ads. Every single one of them. Find the company name that is in the ad, go to their website, check out any contact info pages. You are looking for anyone who handles their marketing.
You can also google, “ad agency for _________”. See if they are using an ad agency. Or google, “Marketing director for ______”. See what comes up. If they are, you can contact the ad agency and find out who their art buyers are. If you can’t find that about the prospect, simply call the company and ask to speak to their marketing department.
These days, many companies will have an in-house marketing department, and also use ad agencies, so it’s important to find out who works in-house in their marketing department.
If you just can’t find any contact info at all – many companies have fully automated phone systems now, where you have to know the person’s first and last name just to get through to anyone. You might then need to use a service like RocketReach to find contacts in that company.
Another great resource to find contacts at businesses in Linkedin. There are entire courses dedicated to this. I’ve found many contacts using Linkedin. You can search for “marketing director at __________” for example to see if that company has a marketing department and honestly, these days, many companies are now moving away from using ad agencies and hiring a team in-house to handle all their advertising and marketing efforts.
Here are some titles of the types of prospects you are looking for:
- Art Director
- Art Producer
- Art Buyer
- Creative Director
- Print Producer
- Design Director
- Creative Projects Manager
- Marketing Manager
- Marketing Producer
- Marketing Director
- Marketing Assistant
Alright, there you have it. I hope that gives you some inspiration to find your ideal commercial photography clients! Remember, this takes time. We are just making a list right now. This is not an instant process. If you have questions, just let me know in the comments below.
While you are working on your ideal client list, keep shooting and adding images to your portfolio.
I will do another post that talks about the next step after you have your ideal client list.
Ok – so I have started a new Facebook group this week all about the business of photography. This group is to help anyone who wants to get higher paying clients. I’ve shot food, products, people, portrait, lifestyle, landscape, you name it throughout my career, all for commercial photography jobs that pay large day rates ($2500 on the low end, average is $5000, and high end is $10,000 a day).
If you think this is your next level of photography, please join this group, Professional Photography Academy. Here is the link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/prophotographyacademy/