As far as my group of photographer friends is concerned, I am an oddity. Our studio operates 9-5, Monday through Friday, with no holidays and very little emotion involved. Specializing in headshots and commercial photography has its perks. No babies in buckets, no couches in fields, no wedding weekends.
I’ve often regretted the large sums that my friends earn in the fourth quarter every year while shooting holiday portraits. Some photographers I know make half their gross sales for the year between October and December. Half! Meanwhile, here I sit, turning down all offers for portraits and such because, honestly, I just can’t be bothered with it.
I love the niche that my business occupies and all the perks that entails, but I also love having money in the bank.
A few years ago, I noticed a funny thing. Sitting down at our annual team meeting and going over the numbers, it became clear that, like portrait photographers, we also seem to get a significant increase in inquiries starting in October. As it turns out, in 2019 we actually did 40% of our annual gross between October 15th and December 15th.
For the last few years (pandemic being not quite as robust), this trend has been consistent. Keep in mind, we don’t do any portrait business, only headshots, branding, commercial, and corporate event photography. Although our team knew there was something significant, the nature of our business meant that we didn’t know how to capitalize on it.
First, let me theorize a bit on WHY this is happening. We aren’t doing a huge trade in corporate holiday cards or anything, so why the boost? Let me tell you what I believe: It is important to first understand the budget driven nature of corporate life. Each dollar spent on a department is recorded in a line item of the budget.
Each department’s budget will be determined based partly on previous years spent. The budget will be reduced to what was spent, and then reallocated to other departments or projects. So if your team’s marketing budget was $20k, and during that year you only spend $10k, then your team is probably looking at a drastically reduced budget for the following year.
This becomes especially important when you start thinking about it in terms of tax liability. For most companies, December 31st is the last day to spend money for the year as it applies to corporate taxation. Spending in the fourth quarter is crucial if a company wants to lower its tax liabilities. In addition, the federal government’s fiscal year ends on September 30th, so on October 1st, any corporation working on any government contracts sees a huge spike in inquiries, spending, and new projects.
So how does that affect us lowly headshot and commercial photographers?
All that fourth-quarter corporate panic and the government money at the start of October create a tsunami of money that reaches small businesses. The latest tracking data from Google on the term “headshots” shows that the word and the trend that drives it are on the rise. It is now a common belief that headshots can be a key part of doing business today, whether you are an individual entrepreneur or if your company is a large one. They are now a standard part of every company’s marketing plan. When the money starts to flow in Q4, savvy headshot photographers can position themselves nicely to benefit.
So how can you make the most of this opportunity? To save you from having to read a lengthy thesis on my general marketing strategy for headshots, let me clear one thing up. Our laser focus is on the team and not individual headshots. The ROI is better and the repeat business is more consistent.
It’s not unusual to photograph a team, deliver the retouched headshots, and cash a $3,000 check before lunch on a Tuesday. A good individual client could be $500 to $3,000 a year depending on how you do your sales. A good corporate client sending you all their team members and new hires can be $10,000 – $20,000 a year, every year. Twenty individual clients won’t feed your family. Twenty good-sized companies will.
Keeping that in mind, here’s what I think every headshot photographer should be doing starting on the first Monday on or after October 1st.
1. Shop Your Closet
You ever hear the expression, “Shop your closet”? It means that if you go digging through what you own, you’ll often find things you forgot you had. It’s like getting a new outfit without having to pay for it. Do the same thing with your clients.
Put a list together of every client you have worked for (with an emphasis on the corporate teams and event-based headshots) in the last four years, re-familiarize yourself with their company and their needs, then start making some friendly customer service calls. You can remind them of who you are and ask lots questions to find out if they have any needs.
Having started this process ourselves at the end of September, we have already had a company that we haven’t worked for since 2019 book with us for a total of $12,000.
Retaining existing customers is far more important than acquiring new clients for a small company. It takes less to get existing clients, which means that you can make a higher percentage of profit on all jobs booked with them.
It’s not a bad idea to make a habit of giving your clients a check-in call or email regularly to keep the relationship healthy. In our studio, we call every client every 90 days just to say hi and check in. It would surprise you to see how often this results in paid work.
2. Up Your Ads
If you are running any kind of regular ad camping, particularly with Google, October 1st is the time to increase your ad buy. You don’t want to miss out on booking a great job because you hit your $10 daily limit.
I highly recommend consulting with a reputable and local marketing company that specializes in digital ads over trying to do it yourself. They are more than likely going to have more insight on best practices and keep better track of results than you are. It’s a little silly to go around telling everyone to hire a professional headshot photographer and then try and act like you are a marketing agency to save money. If you find the right company, they will make you far more money than they cost.
Keep in mind that when the project manager tells their subordinate to find a headshot photographer so they can spend that leftover marketing budget, that person is more than likely going to use Google to find one. When they search for a photographer, make sure your ad shows up.
3. Get Networking
This one probably needs its own article (maybe I’ll write one), but for now, let me say this: there is no better way to grow your reputation in a community than in-person networking. Our involvement in local charities, chambers of commerce, and community events has been invaluable to our business. Not much more sends the point home that you are a photographer than being out and about with a camera in your hand.
Now is the holiday season (stop fighting it! ), the number of events happening in communities all over the country is about to explode. We make it a priority to take part in library openings, Chamber of Commerce social events, art festivals, and more to make sure that the people in my town know me as a photographer. A camera is a great… conversation starter.
Thanks to our involvement in our local community, we have become the official headshot photographer for the city and a dozen other local businesses that send us every new hire they have. There are many other photography or video jobs available for local businesses.
Take the time to check out your local businesses-focused organizations and find out what is happening. Box clever and select some great social events with community leaders present and see what happens.
In case you wanted to skip all the brilliant insights above, here’s the recap: Reach out to your past clients, up your Google Ads game, and get out there in your community. There is a significant and well-documented increase in corporate spending in Q4 and, as a headshot photographer, you can get in on the action and finish the year strong.
Your friends doing fall family photos and Santa Saturdays won’t be able to gloat this year if you you’re fast, clever, and hustle your butt off.
About the author: Gary Hughes is a commercial photographer based in Florida. This article is solely the author’s opinion. You can find more of his work on his website.