"I need more customers!" : Thoughts on growing a Real Estate Photography Business

Lots of photographers call and ask how they can get more customers. They are typically great photographers that need more business. Tim Ray (TourBuzz Fellow) talked about selling the benefits of photography to Agents. Frank Zrinsky (another TourBuzz fellow) talked about cold calls with mailers, LinkedIn, and word-of-mouth to grow your real estate photography business.

Customer acquisition and retention is the key to any business. The first step is getting new customers to try your service (preferably at full price). The most successful option for real estate photographers is to physically get in front of prospects any way they can - Broker meetings, MLS meetings, using all branding options on the tours, email blasts, dropping by local Realtors’ offices and getting to know the office people, finding the big Agents, and then being memorable.

Find something you can do that sticks in their head. Carol Grape is always in purple.  Other options include flying helicopters for aerial shots, telling a great, repeatable story, riding a Harley, bringing a donut, etc. Just be memorable! Find something that fits your personality so you enjoy the opportunity meet customers. The book Purple Cow by Seth Godin provides more examples of how companies became memorable.

Agents, Brokers, and Office staff need to see you. You are the business, and they need to trust that you can truly help them get a house sold.  It is your job to show them you are the most valuable member on their team.

Putting yourself out there is very difficult and time consuming, I get that. So do it strategically. Pick meetings that you know are well attended by many Agents, offer to present at the weekly/monthly Brokerage meetings. (Presentations are a chance to teach, not sell. Show your expertise, and show them how hard it is to make photos look great.). You are going to hear “no,” a lot. It is hard not to take that personally. Remember, all you need is a few “yes”es. You can turn those Customers into “Champions” that will tell everyone how great you are.

Once you get going, the number of tours you have posted on MLS will increase, and Agents will talk about you.  Make sure you have a great, easy to remember story for them to tell their colleagues--like the time you saved a listing by going back to the house, turning off the water and cleaning up the floor, after the Agent forgot that water was still flowing into the tub. Stories travel and make you personable--someone the Agent wants on their team.

The next step is customer retention. Our statistics show the most successful real estate photographers have two large Customers doing 20+ tours/yr. How do you keep them?  Amaze them with your service, which includes everything from communication, showing up on time, being easy to work with (many different styles work here), producing top quality images, using awesome technology (TourBuzz has you covered here), answering the phone (even though Agents rarely do), etc.  Remember, this is a service industry.

Most of the Realtors are independent, just like you. They have the same issues you do. Get on their side. You are not just selling high quality photography, you are selling a solution. When Agents call you, they never have to think about photos, posting tours, brochures, etc. It all just happens for them.

Like every business, real estate photography takes a few years to become a real, full-time gig. But once you build a solid customer base, your business will take on a life of its own, and there’s no telling where it will take you.

What are the roadblocks you run into acquiring customers?  How have you addressed them?  

Please provide your experiences. Post things that worked and didn’t. Please explain why it succeeded or failed in retrospect.

Thanks for sharing!

Views: 1504

Comment by TourBuzz Fellow on September 14, 2012 at 3:07pm

Surprisingly, we have never had much success with the Tuesday Morning Sales meetings.  We go in and pitch some technology and how to market, try to give them a bit of education vs. a pure sales pitch, but we only get a few calls per meeting.  I would always recommend visiting the meetings, some calls are better than none, and it gets your name out there.  But I know in our area, the top sellers tend not to attend.  I agree with Paul, being memorable is the key.

Comment by Carol Grape on September 14, 2012 at 9:17pm

I live in a great area that has a super Realtor Board with very active affiliates and Realtors (we all think its the best in the state - Colorado). I go every Friday (unless I am on vacation or ill) it is part of my business plan. We have 100-150 people in that room each week - 60% are affiliates. It took quite a while to gain clients, as many affiliates come and go from these organizations. But, I got involved with events and affiliate leadership, which gave me more visibility within the group and once folks got to know me on a personal level they started to use me, they would then recommend me to other agents.

I also joined the local chapter of Women's Council of Realtors about 3 years ago and am currently the only photographer in the group - growing friendships and my business.

I have also paid to be a vendor at a couple of Keller Williams offices over a few years. I dropped one that wasn't working.

I probably have grown my business more slowly than most, but I am happy where it is now and plan on keeping just me, so that I can offer the best customer service for my clients. I only hire a graphic designer once in awhile when I need a super great flyer for a client.

I am lucky my last name is grape, so I can brand myself in purple and give away grape soda on Friday mornings.

Carol

Comment by TourBuzz Fellow on September 15, 2012 at 8:37am

HI Carol, Sounds like some great opportunities, I'm curious about your experience with paying KW to be a vendor.  One of our local companies that is quite big wanted us to pay$1000 to be allowed to talk to their agents as a vendor, but we didn't see any high ROI.

Thanks,

Ted

Comment by Carol Grape on September 15, 2012 at 10:56am
Ted, KW only charges $150 per year and you can visit the office anytime (which I have not taken advantage of yet)and be part of 2 vendor fairs per year. And I am in their directory as a preferred vendor. Someone there did recommend me to start. $1000 seems awfully steep.
Comment by TourBuzz Fellow on September 15, 2012 at 7:27pm
Thanks Carol, most of the people on the Long and Foster list were pest control companies, I've only hit a few road blocks, there are tons of offices here, so I just move to the next one if they say no.
Comment by TourBuzz Fellow on September 15, 2012 at 7:30pm
One thing that has worked for us is putting out an old fashion newsletter through the mail. Short on promotion, it goes to a mailing list we have and fill it with company news along with technology updates and marketing. We also drop them by main offices in the area. It seems to work, because more than likely they leave them sitting around and someone picks it up to read.
Comment by Rene Scott on September 18, 2012 at 3:36pm

Well I have quite the colorful background in the tour business! (-:  I've been doing tours since 2005 and moved alot due to family issues and us all being so spread out.  I started in the VA Beach area and there I was doing over a 100 tours a month back in the housing boom there.  At that time I was using first RTV and then 3CIM; and finally I stumbled on the best of the best and that being TourBuzz of course.  Moved to Dallas started all over again, there I was doing close to a 100 homes a month about half being virtual tours and the other simply still images to post to the MLS.  Now, I'm back in Richmond, VA for the foreseeable future and I'm in start up mode once again. Exhausting but I know the drill by now and have always done ok; this time though I'm taking a little bit different approach to my start up.  The market here in Richmond isn't like that of VA Beach or Dallas so the leg work will take some time I feel; but it's moving.  For me I have always had the most success with email campaigns, once a week showing recent homes I've photographed, a few "tips" but mostly just good photographs that they can click on and have the tour open also giving the realtor some play in the area as well.  I work hard at my mailing list setting weekly goals to grow it and maintain the integrity of it is key. I combine that with the traditional pounding of the pavement, talking to realtors; flyers in the offices where they'll let me, once I shoot a tour in a particular sub division I scour the neighborhood for signs and email that agent the recent tour in the same neighborhood.  All of it is nothing revolutionary that I do it's all old school but it seems to work for me.  In Dallas my main competition was Matrix Tours he always has done well doing on average 200 tours a month utilizing several photographers. What I did was look at has website weekly and all his recent tours and snag the email address of the agent adding them to my mailing list.  I cut the price a bit and got many to swing my way permanently and eventually raising my price back up.  So many of the agents here in Richmond can barely "cut and paste" a tour link so education is key and being that liason to help sell their listing is going to be more my approach.  Demonstrating etc..".how" the tours can run on their Iphone they can barely use etc.   LOL. Setting ourselves apart from the competition is critical I think.  I try to go above and beyond in terms of service. In fact last week there was a desk that had been hauled out to the curb that the homeowner was supposed to have removed prior to having pics taken.  Of course it was a big eyesore and a little large to photoshop out.  So I put it in the bed of my truck and hauled it to the dump.  The realtor was so thrilled and impressed she gave me two more listings I'm shooting this week and I've gotten two referrals who also ordered.  Now I'm the lady that hauled off the trash in order to get good pics!  Not sure I want to do that on a regular basis but it's the little things that set you apart I think, and I'm playing that one up! The number one thing for me is the mailing list showcasing recent tours, technology updates, marketing ideas etc.  Showing the recent tours is in effect name dropping. Realtors see I'm now working with a big agent in their area and they sit up and take notice.  I had that happen this morning as a matter of fact a new agent I met with said he saw that I now do work for Craig Via he said "you must be good to get him!"  Like I said before nothing revolutionary on my part just good old fashioned sales, and word of mouth.  I appreciate everyone's posts I'm going to utilize this more for brainstorming!

Comment by Paul Rodman on September 18, 2012 at 3:57pm

Thanks Rene.  Talk about a story that will spread - "hauling off the trash".  Very memorable and easy to tell.

I was talking to another photographer this morning that said the same thing about having a large customer lead to many more customers.  Agents are followers and if the big Agents do it the smaller ones follow.  That is why it is very important to get your Domain Name on the tours.

The other piece of advice was dress well. Agents want professionals they can have in front of their sellers. The way you present yourself reflects on the Agent. They want to impress the Sellers and being professional is a big part of who they are.  Look at what they drive, how they dress and their general appearance.

These are all simple things anyone can do.

Keep the suggestions coming.

Comment by Rene Scott on September 18, 2012 at 4:09pm

Interesting you say that about how you dress, so very important.  I had someone tell me just last week that they liked my professionalism and that I made them feel at ease with being in front of "their" customer.  I think we forget that the agents view us as an extension of themselves in terms of service to their client.  So if I look the part and carry the same professionalism they will feel good about utilizing my service.  The same agent mentioned that the Circle Pix photog was not dressed nicely; and looked somewhat dis-sheveled.  Even went as far to say that his car looked like it hadn't been washed in a year.  I know it sounds picky but looking the part really helps.  My truck is always clean; and although I wear jeans I'm also dressed nicely.

 

Comment by John Bates on November 27, 2012 at 10:44am

Good discussions going on here.....I'm soaking it all up. Although my business is not yet up and running, I'll take all the free advice I can get :)

From my web site : "GCI is always cognizant of the fact that we represent you when dealing with sellers. Just as you must present a professional demeanor when dealing with buyers, John strives to make every client contact a pleasant and memorable experience. We want to “over deliver” at every level of our business relationships so you’ll keep coming back to Gulf Coast Imagery for your real estate and other photographic needs."

That's it in a nutshell. Even though I'm not yet situated in SW Florida, I've already had one realtor contact me to photograph a pricey ($1M+) condo property. With some good realtor contacts in the area, I'm confident I can grow the business over the coming months.

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