If you've been in business long enough, clients might come to you on reputation alone. If you're just starting out, and usually even if you aren't, you'll need to go out and find clients for yourself. It sounds rather terrifying, but it doesn't have to be.
As photographers, we often think of jobs or ideas that we’d love to do. Pitching for these is difficult as the company involved might not be looking for what you offer. In this article I’ll talk you through the best ways to get that conversation started.
Fear Not The Cold Pitch!
Before we really get started, there's a common and damaging misconception about pitching that I'd like to dispel. Pitching is not about convincing people to hire you. That comes later. Pitching is about convincing people that you are interesting, have something to offer, and are worth a second look. The goal of pitching is to start a conversation.
So, as you read this tutorial, remember: it's about getting people excited. Your job with the pitch is to pique the imagination, help people see potential, and start talking. If you believe in your abilities and use your smarts it's not that hard. It can even be fun!
1. Find The Job, and The Job Opportunity
Finding a job opportunity or idea can happen in a variety of ways. Maybe you love to travel and you’re looking for a great excuse to be paid to do it! Perhaps you’ve seen a similar idea elsewhere and would like to try it. You might even have come across a website and thought ‘ah, they could do with some great photographs!’ Don’t discount any of these: if you don’t try, you’ll never know.
All it takes is some thought and an investment in time. If that dream job comes off then it’s all worth it. If not, you’ve lost nothing and most likely have a great template to be able to send when pitching for other, similar jobs.
Once you've identified the kind of work you'd like to do, make a list of possible clients. It can be a bit vague at first, even just categories of businesses that you think might be amenable to your idea.
Once you have that rough list, think about local businesses that fit your categories. You're likely to have the most success with people who can shake your hand. Buying photography is, in large part, about trust. It's hard to trust a photographer on track-record alone that you've never met. Yes, you might have made some very nice pictures for someone else in the past, but each client's situation is unique. Most of the time, and especially when you are starting out, being able to spend time with your potential client is a big part of gaining their trust, so start with opportunities near you.
2. Before You Pitch, Do Your Research
Do They Know You?
From your client's perspective, working with someone the know is much easier than someone they don't! If you have worked together already and built up a track record it is much more likely that you'll be able to convince them to try something new.
If your potential client doesn't already know you, you have a narrower range of possible opportunities. In this case, a successful pitch is likely about meeting a core need and establishing a track record. Build up trust with at least a few jobs together before you try to convince your clients to do something completely new.
Do They Buy Photography?
This is so important: once you find a client you want to pitch to, learn everything you can about how their
business works. If you’re pitching photography, do they already have an amazing
photo-set on their website; check their social media, does it look like they
have someone in-house who’s already doing a great job? If so, you need to think
differently. They’re not likely to hire a photographer if they already have
someone doing it as part of their job.
If you offer a service that is better or less expensive (or both) than what they're currently doing, you might have an angle. However, if you see something and think it’s poor, never, ever say this. It may be true, but you really don’t want to rub someone up the wrong way by pointing out their flaws. If you really think there’s an ‘in’, for example it’s obvious that someone in-house is taking low quality phone snaps, then try a different tact. Such as: ‘I was wondering if you’d like to chat about refreshing your website photographs? I notice you have X, which is great, but have you considered also including Y?’ You’re not saying their existing photos are bad, you’re just offering the suggestion that maybe it’s time they had some new ones!
What Don’t They Have That You Can Provide?
Is there anything that is part of their core
business that they aren't buying photography for? You might be able to help the business by providing some much-needed expertise. Some businesses, especially small businesses, simply don't have the experience to know how to ask for the photography services they need.
Check their presence online; look for holes in their marketing. Do you think their business could benefit from a film to demonstrate what they do? Would a brochure full of photos their products and services be of use? Do they have an ‘about the team’ page with no image to accompany it?
Check other companies of a similar nature and see what they have that your chosen company doesn’t. It may be that a competitor has had a great idea and you can adapt a similar concept to make it your own for your proposal. Never just outright copy someone’s idea. Not only is it ethically wrong but your chosen company will probably have scoped out competitors themselves and recognise where it came from.
Be prepared for surprises and a bit of confusion, too. Many businesses and business people are a passionate, but not particularly visually literate. Nor is it really important for them to be in a normal day-to-day way. They probably know they need photography, but talking speculatively about pictures can feel a little alien for most people. You might have to do some interpretation and patient listening to figure out what they really want. That's OK! It's part of the service you provide.
How Does it Benefit Them?
If you can’t justify this then chances are there’s no job to be had. A company in the US is unlikely to fly you out from the UK to take some photos of their premises when they could hire someone down the road. Be realistic and think about what you can offer a company that nobody else can.
If you have any marketing or SEO (search engine optimisation) knowledge you could throw in a little about how your service might benefit them. For example, if you’re looking to produce a film for them and can suggest how hosting on their website and posting it to social media might increase their audience and encourage interaction.
3. Craft Your Pitch to Meet Their Needs
Go Bespoke, and Think Visual
Making something specifically for a company can sound like a lot of effort for something you’re not (yet) getting paid for. I can’t recommend enough that you invest in doing this though. It shows the company you’re serious, it demonstrates your quality of work and it’s a very professional thing to do.
My partner (a film maker) and I had a holiday in Scotland
a few years ago, staying in a hotel that was part of a small, local chain. We
really enjoyed our stay and appreciated the ‘family feel’ and quality of
service of the hotel company. As he had his camera with him, my partner decided
to make a short, bespoke film of the hotel and sent it to them along with a
pitch, when we got back. They called up and commissioned us to
film and photograph in each of their hotels and the surrounding areas! Obviously this doesn’t happen every time but it’s a solid,
real-world example of how a bit of extra effort can reap real rewards.
not possible for you to make something specific to the company then include
examples of similar works instead. Keep it balanced, tasteful, stylish and appropriate. Be cautious when including examples from a
direct competitor; some companies can be wary of that and may be put off. The idea is to get them to imagine how good hiring you will be, not worrying about the competition.
Keep it Short and Include a Call to Action
Make an effort but don’t send over something the length of War and Peace. The person reading your pitch will have a dozen other jobs to do that day and they won’t stick with you ‘til the end if you’ve written a short novel. Keep the written part of your proposal snappy, polite and engaging. Mention something about their company specifically, so they know you’re not just sending this out to a handful of people in the hope you’ll get work.
Include a call to action such as ‘I’m happy to meet to discuss this further…’ or ‘I look forward to your thoughts on this’–something that suggests that you require a response, even if it’s a ‘thanks but no thanks’.
Avoid Sending Your CV
Sending a few lines in an email or sticking your CV on as an
attachment is hardly likely to set anyone’s world on fire. When companies look to applicants for a staff position they often say to include your CV and a covering letter. Work in photography is, for the most part, hired piecemeal, job-to-job. Your portfolio, and in some cases clippings, are what really establish your track record.
This doesn’t mean to say you can’t mention other people you’ve worked for if that’s going to add to your case; and I’d absolutely encourage you to do so. If you have notable clients to shout about, go for it! Just include that in the body of your text, not as a CV. I think particularly in a creative industry, people want to hear that you’d be a nice person to work with and that you can do the job. Writing something bespoke demonstrates that a lot more than just attaching the same CV you send out everywhere to your email.
Make Your Offering Look Professional
If you’re pitching for a photography job, don’t just attach photos to your email or print a few out to send. Think about presenting them in a really nice way. Can you make a short, digital portfolio? Any design skills you have can come in really handy here; and don’t forget to include your logo and business name!
It can seem like a waste of time if you don’t get the gig but it’s not; you’ve then got a template you can adapt for next time and use again. Also, the more you do this the quicker and easier the process will become.
4. Send Your Proposal
Post or Email?
This really depends on you and the company. If it's a company who are very media and digital savvy then personally I prefer to send an email. I
think they’d be used to chatting to people over email and would be more likely
to dismiss post as junk mail. If it’s a small ‘mom and pop’ type of company
then the opposite may apply. Think carefully about how you send it but remember
you can always follow up with the other method, later. Also, if you've already made a contact, don't be afraid to ask: tell them you're putting together a pitch, and find out how they'd prefer to receive it.
Find Out Who to Contact and Identify Decision Makers
Try to avoid sending it to ‘info@’ and other generic email addresses. Chances are it will never make it to the decision maker. Identify who the decision makers are if you can. One way is to try searching for the company at CEO email. This will often identify people and their various roles. Failing that, you could try LinekdIn or even a simple search engine query.
Don’t be afraid of sending it to more than one person, but I’d stick to 2 or 3 max so that you don’t look like you’re trying to hit everyone in the company with spam!
When you title your email, don't call it 'proposal' or anything too obvious: it may get you deleted without it being read. Instead, try to call it something that piques interest based on what it is you're trying to pitch.
When to Send: Time of Day is Important
Something that people often forget to consider is when to send your proposal. It's very unlikely to get read last thing on a Friday afternoon when people are gearing up for the weekend. Likewise, avoid sending it on a Monday morning as that's when people are generally going through all their emails and yours is likely to be missed or dismissed as junk.
According to Customer.io, the most popular time to send an email is a Tuesday, which probably means you want to avoid that day too!
If you use third party email software like MailChimp, you can study stats to see when the optimal time to send mail is. They also have an interesting article on optimal times to send email on their blog which is certainly worth a read.
5. Follow Up
Sometimes people are busy and forget to respond, sometimes they’re waiting to bring something up in a meeting. You never know what the reason is if you don’t receive a reply but try not to worry that it’s a no.
Try not to be impatient and follow up on your email too soon. I suggest leaving it 2 weeks before you follow up. If you’re emailing, include the original email below your next one and keep your follow up brief, along the lines of; ‘Hi XXX, just wondering if you’d had the chance to take a look at the email I sent you, it would be great to have a chat and get your thoughts and suggestions.’ You get the idea. Don’t sound desperate and don’t sound annoyed that they haven’t replied, keep it brief, friendly and light in tone.
If you still don’t hear from them, it might be time to call it a day. If you’ve emailed previously, you may one to try one last shot by posting them your proposal instead (and vice versa if you’ve already posted something) but you don’t want to become an annoyance. You never know, even if they don’t reply, they might keep your details on file for another time.
You can always make a phone call too but be prepared to be given the run-around or even just a blunt ‘no’ if you do. Have in mind what you’d like to say and try not to come off too ‘salesy’. If they’re a large company they probably get a high volume of sales calls so make sure you stand out for the right reasons.
Pitching for the job you want rather than one that’s been advertised can seem daunting. Give it the same care and attention that you would for a paid commission and you’ll hopefully reap the rewards. Here are the main points recapped:
- Do your research
- Find out if they already have what you’re offering
- See if you can find something they don’t have that you can provide
- Make it benefit them
- Create something bespoke and visual
- Keep it short and include a call to action
- Don’t just attach a CV
- Make the pitch look professional
- Think about whether to post or email
- Research who to send the proposal to
- Know when to send
- Follow up on your original email/letter
- Know when to stop!
Hopefully following some or all of these will help you put
together a creative pitch that will get noticed.
Don’t be disheartened if you
don’t hear back or get a ‘no’, these things take time to build and even though
your offering may be sound, the company might not be looking for that service
right now. If you do get a soft no, follow up later. It's OK to politely ask your potential client if they'd like you to follow up again in a few months, or come back with other business ideas in future.
If you do get repeated rejections, think about sending your proposal to a professional friend or mentor to look over and make suggestions, they might have ideas that you've not thought of or catch mistakes you've not seen. Use your proposal as a template for the next and keep searching for the jobs you’d love to do, if nothing else it’s great practice and you never know, you could end up with a yes.
Lastly, remember that a successful photography practice doesn't need all that many clients. You can make a living from three good clients, and it's entirely possible to make a decent living off of five. You don't need every potential client to say yes, you just need a few!