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.
Having said all that, I have often lamented over the piles of cash that my friends make in the fourth quarter of every year 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. Our team recognized that something important was happening, but because of the nature of our business, we had no idea how to take advantage of 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? Here’s what I think: First, you have to understand how budget-driven the corporate world is. Every dollar that’s spent is accounted for ahead of time in some line item part of a specific department’s budget.
Each department’s budget is decided on during the previous year, partly based on what was spent on the same thing the year before that. If that budget doesn’t get used up, then it will probably be cut to whatever was actually spent and reallocated to another department or project. 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. If a company needs to reduce its tax liability, spending in the fourth quarter becomes very important. 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 corporate fourth-quarter panic and government money combine at the beginning of October in a tidal wave of money that ends up in the hands of a lot of 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. From individual entrepreneurs and small businesses to big companies, it has become generally accepted that headshots are important to doing business in the modern era. So much so that they have become a staple in the marketing budgets of most companies. When the money starts to flow in Q4, savvy headshot photographers can position themselves nicely to benefit.
So how do you take advantage of it? To save you from having to read a lengthy thesis on my general marketing strategy for headshots, let me clear one thing up. We are laser-focused on teams over 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.
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. Remind them who you are, ask lots of questions, and see if there is anything they need.
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.
Keep in mind that retaining your existing clients is more important to a small business than getting new ones. Existing clients take a lot less effort to acquire, making the profit percentage better on any jobs you book 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. You would be shocked by how many times that results in paid work.
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. Make sure that your ad pops up in the results when they do.
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 that the holiday season is here (stop fighting it, it’s here okay?), 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. Not to mention various other jobs doing photography and video for great local businesses.
Take the opportunity to look into your local business-focused groups and see what’s going on out there. 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. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of his work on his website.