Associate Photographers: Dipping Your Toe in the Pool

Wish You Could Double Book Yourself for Key Dates? Tips on Selling an Associate Photographer

Do you often get calls for dates that are long booked out? Do you wish you could duplicate yourself sometimes so you could accept more bookings?

Once you’ve reached that level where you are booking as many weddings as you can take on, the next logical step might be to add additional photographers.  Here are some things to think about if you are considering a move to this more profitable business model.

If your business has reached a point where you’ve got all the bookings you can handle, yet you are still getting a lot of inquiries, it might be time to think about adding on a second photography team to the roster. This is a great way to keep clients happy and increase your studio’s revenue. It’s a tricky business decision that should not be taken on until your business operations systems are strong and your photo business is stable. Once you’re at that point, you might be ready to expand your business with a second photographer team.

Benefits include being able to sell a date twice, being able to take a break and not shoot every wedding. Being able to offer a new service. If you are looking to expand and grow your studio into a 6 figure business, this is a great way to do it.

First decision you want to make is pricing-is the pricing going to be the same or will this be “associate” pricing at a less expensive rate? If the problem is not enough bookings due to your price, consider an associate pricing structure to keep clients that are interested in working with you but can’t afford your top dollar rate. If it’s more about wanting to double book yourself for key dates that sell out, consider keeping the rates the same. Just because it isn’t you, doesn’t mean the quality isn’t equal to yours.

There are a lot of very talented photographers out there who hate the business side of things and just want to shoot as much as possible. The Geoff White brand has always been a luxury brand from day one, and we felt strongly that we would not discount the services of our associate photographer. To clarify this, we called him a “lead photographer” and placed his portfolio on our website before Geoff’s, as a way to give it more prominence.

Finding Your Selling Points

What advantages does this photographer have over you? Ours speaks Cantonese and this is a huge selling point with our Chinese clients. Particularly if the parents don’t speak English, having a photographer that can communicate with their family has a high value.

We also made a point to have our own photo sessions done by our new lead photographer, and we proudly state that he is our family photographer. That says a lot to prospective clients.

This photographer had also mentored Geoff initially, and we made a point to let people know that-hey, this guy is really good-he mentored Geoff actually. Everyone has selling points, so you have to find those points and really work them into your presentation.

Once the wedding is photographed, we handle all editing and production in house. This helps keep the styles very similar if the same person is doing the editing.

Challenges

We considered changing our studio name, but ultimately decided it was too risky. We did change the name from Geoff White Photography to Geoff White Photographers.

We experienced the greatest resistance from planners, not brides. Planners that wanted to work with the “big name” had trouble accepting that we’d made a change in our business. Venues however, had no problem with it, as most venues are more business oriented and understand the value of an expanded team.

One of the things we would do differently if we were starting out is to name the business something not our name-like Envision Photography or something along those lines. It makes expansion so much easier.

Final Tips

In order to give your associate or lead photographer a shot at making it, you need to start highlighting their work and focusing on them. We began to use our lead photographer’s images in marketing materials and editorial submissions, so we could gather lots of press and publicity to build up his reputation within our studio. Being very well established and recognized, we didn’t need to keep promoting Geoff’s name and work, so we focused on promoting our new lead photographer in order to establish a reputation for him as well. We changed our About Us page to reflect our team approach and asked brides to write reviews for our lead photographer. It all started paying off, and after a season of heavy promoting, we were able to book many weddings for him the following year.

This is a very good way to expand your services and reach your financial goals, but it does require a lot of thought and preparation. It might take you a couple of years to work out the kinks, so prepare to learn from your mistakes and revise as you go.

What has your experience been with associates? Have you tried it?


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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Dan Waters March 8, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Some great points. For anyone who doesn’t like the idea of having associate photographers the alternative is to just put your own prices up. You just keeping creeping them up until you’re no longer able to fill your slots and then you’ve hit the sweet spot.

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Lara White March 11, 2013 at 12:32 pm

well Dan, there’s no reason why you cant do both 😉 That is exactly what we did!

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Nicole Nichols Photography April 5, 2012 at 8:20 am

I have considered making my 2nd shooters “associates” to hire them out for weddings I’m already booked, but have not been able to “sell them” to brides yet that really want me, “Nicole” of Nicole Nichols Photography. There are some great ideas in this article on how to better do that, but at this point its certainly not something I’m still trying to book all my dates, so not a big concern right now. Danny, that is real bummer about the associates you have trained that started their own companies. I have talked extensively with my two 2nd shooters to make sure that they have no interest in starting their own companies to try to avoid that issues, but I’m sure they could always change their mind too.

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Lara White April 5, 2012 at 9:06 am

There’s no point in offering associates until your dates are already filled, unless it is to reach another market at a different budget level.

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Wes Roberts March 25, 2012 at 4:46 pm

Lara, Thank you so much for the wisdom you put out here for us. On a connected note to Danny Snook’s question and mine, how have you handled compensation for the associate, do they receive a percentage. How would you make it enough to keep them satisfied to stay with your business?

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