small biz photography

When providing commercial photography services to small businesses, a little bit of planning and strategy can go a long way. Especially when working with a client who is hiring a commercial photographer for the very first time.

As a photographer you want your small business clients to feel like you are meeting their needs and creating advertising and marketing images that will truly help their brand excel in the marketplace.

Follow these tips and you will greatly improve expectations and your working relationship when providing commercial photography services to small business clients.

Best practices for working with small businesses:

1. Get your client on the phone

Communication challenges can be more common with small business clients, who can be tricky to communicate with due to lack of experience with commercial photo shoots. There’s definitely more education involved and more patience and compassion required on your end.

It’s critical to get your client on the phone to discuss their creative vision and outcome for the shoot, as well as explain your process from start-to-finish.

This phone call (or Zoom meeting) is called a ‘creative call, or ‘discovery call’. 

During the call, take notes, provide suggestions, and set their expectations for working with you.

This will avoid miscommunications, and you will be happy you had this call in the long run.

The more small business clients understand about the process, the easier they will be to work with, not just with you, but with other photographers as well.

2. Make a collaborative Pinterest mood board

Small business clients can’t always articulate what they have envisioned. An easy way to get their visions out of their mind and into yoursis to make a group collaborative Pinterest board that you both can share content to.

They can post comp photos (photos that are ‘comparable’ to what they’d like to see you create), you can upload content you’ve created in the past that fits the brief, and you can both comment on the contents of the mood board.

pinterest mood board for commercial photo shoot

Creating a shared Pinterest board will also reduce miscommunications throughout the process, because you will be able to easily spot differences in expectations early on.

These differences in expectations are far easier to manage before the shoot than after.

3. Educate your small business client on copyright and licensing

Most small businesses don’t understand the basic laws around copyright. And some small business clients are misinformed by friends, peers, or even other photographers. It’s your job to properly educate all of your clients.

When you educate your clients properly, you do a huge service to the entire photography industry and make all photographers’ jobs easier for them. (Thank you.)

A very common misconception is that when a business hires a photographer and pays them their hourly (or daily) fee, they automatically own the photos and can do whatever they want with them forevermore.

This is not the case. (At least, the first part isn’t.)

In the United States, the legal owner of the images, called ‘Intellectual Property’, is the photographer. The photographer holds the copyright to the photos they create in perpetuity. The photographer is licensing the images to the client for their commercial use.

Some larger clients try to get around this by asking the photographer to sign a Work-for-Hire agreement, but this is rarely legal.

A client of any size can accomplish the same goal by purchasing an unrestricted exclusive worldwide perpetual license to use the content in any quantity in any media.

Of course, this comes with the highest usage fee due to any and all usage being included in the license, including but not limited to:

  • Bus ads in Asia
  • Greeting cards and wrapping paper sold in Australia
  • Billboards in every town in North America
  • Computer software programs and apps
  • Posters on TV and movie sets
  • T-shirts, mugs, keychains and other trinkets

ETC.

Any and all ways a photo might be used are included in that unrestricted license, and the client is paying for ALL of them, regardless of whether or not they will ever use them.

(And this is their choice! If they want to pay for that usage they certainly can.)

Otherwise, it’s far more economical for your client to determine more reasonable likely uses, and save money by paying for a license that includes that use instead.

4. Offer package pricing for your small business clients

Licensing, expenses and fees can be a difficult thing for many small business clients to wrap their heads around, simply because in comparison to retail/personal photography, it seems very expensive.

For whatever reason, your rates are not looked at as an i>investment that will produce returns in the form of higher CTRs and greater engagement on their marketing and advertising (which, of course, they will!), but as a cost instead (e.g. money spent with no higher/additional revenue in return for that cost).

Please read this article if you are unclear on how to explain the differences and sell the client on investment instead of cost.

Because your rates are looked at as a cost, once you add in:

  • an assistant
  • location fees
  • equipment rental fees
  • props
  • talent
  • retouching
  • licensing

(the very basics for many commercial shoots)

………it’s enough to make many small business clients fall out of their chair.

Because of this, it’s best to keep your pricing very simple and use package pricing instead of a traditional itemized estimate that is used in most commercial photography. (Of course, you can also offer an itemized estimate if the packages don’t meet their needs.)

If you are a retail photographer (weddings, families, pets), you are likely already familiar with package pricing. Many of the strategies you’ve learned about retail package pricing apply here as well, the difference being that you need to think about what you include in a package that isn’t products.

Include basic usage like ‘web and social media’, or ‘small print collateral’ and light retouching in your package. (You can restrict the delivered file size for each package.)

Bonus tip: even if you decide to include unrestricted usage in perpetuity in your package pricing (the highest package price of course), they are still paying to license the images, and don’t legally own them. This is why it’s so important to educate the client on copyright as outlined in tip #3.

Add an assistant and a few inexpensive props in your package if you need to.

Give the client three package options with three fixed prices that include all expenses and fees, and only include the bare necessities of what you need to deliver good photos. (If you aren’t sure what you should be charging, take a look at our commercial photography pricing article series.)

Break down what the client is getting in each package so they understand where their hard-earned money is going. Every marketing dollar counts for small businesses.

Again- keep the package inclusions super simple! This is not only for your benefit, this is so you don’t overwhelm your client with too many details. 

Which brings me to my next and final tip.

5. Keep everything simple

Don’t:

  • offer 20 different props, or 8 different background options
  • add 50 photos to your Pinterest board
  • explain every single little detail of your process during your discovery call
  • suggest 8 different locations
  • make them go through 10 steps in order to view your proofing gallery
  • give them a list of 25 different usage fees for various uses
  • include 40 different things you are doing for them in each package

Keep everything super simple so they can make decisions easily.

A few prop options, a few background/location options, and a few pricing options is really all these clients need to make decisions they feel good about, where they will be happy with the outcome.

Keeping everything simple also helps them learn about what commercial photography is all about, without getting overwhelmed.

This will serve them well, whether their next shoot is with you or another photographer. (And this newfound knowledge also helps the entire industry by reducing miscommunications and misconceptions that are prevalent in the industry.)

Lastly, be sure to get results metrics from your client at a later date! Ask them how your photos performed in their marketing and advertising efforts. If they A/B tested and your content performed the best- you want to know about it!

You can use that information to help other small business clients get excited about hiring you.

Questions? Join our free Community and get answers from established industry pros.

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2 Comments

  1. Jamie, thank you for yet another great post, packed full of good advice and wisdom from experience. I find that often small business owners in the UK do not know about usage, but expect that as they have paid for the images they own them.

    Reply
    • Happy to hear you found this helpful Peter! Yes, you are so right that the UK market is substantially different from the US market in terms of client expectations. This makes it even more important for UK photographers to educate their clients about copyrights and usage rights. As we all know, just because a client thinks something, doesn’t make it true!

      Reply

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