Every business owner wants to stand out in the crowd.

It’s so easy to assume that if you put up a shingle and create beautiful images, you will attract the attention of every potential client who will happily pay large amounts of money for your photographs.

My husband, Jeff, and I learned the hard way that it’s not the most successful strategy. What we attracted were price-shopping, do-it-yourselfers who wanted everything for nothing.

We hadn’t realized that our lack of confidence and personal struggle with valuing our photography was fueling the attraction. Lacking business knowledge, we figured our best pricing strategy was to compare ourselves to our competitors. If we liked their work more than ours, we’d charge somewhat less than they did, and if we liked our work better, we felt we could charge more.

With that mindset, our prices wound up pretty low for our market area. It was like a fragrance — no, more like certain pheromones — we released over town signaling, “We don’t value ourselves very highly and we’re looking for clients who won’t value us highly, either. There are better photographers out there, but if you’re not willing to pay for the best, come on in for good enough.”

It worked! We got very busy with a lot of clients who wanted to spend no more than $200 total for a portrait. All it got us was overworked and underpaid.

As our exhaustion caught up with us, we decided to get the business education we needed. Based on the quality of the client experience we wanted to offer, including thoroughly planning the details of the session with the client, capturing each session from a unique artistic perspective, and offering an in-person review and sales appointment, we needed to attract clients willing to invest no less than $750 per portrait session. As we grew discerning about our products and client service, we also grew discerning about who our ideal client really was.

We asked ourselves, “If we could pick any clients in our area, who would they be?” Then we asked ourselves endless questions about who these people were:

  • What is their profession?
  • What is their marital status?
  • Do they have children?
  • How many?
  • Where do their kids go to school?
  • What are their priorities?
  • Where do they live?
  • Where do they shop?
  • What are their hobbies and leisure activities?

Once we had a general dossier on our ideal clients, we asked market research questions:

  • Does this clientele exist in our market area?
  • Are there enough of them to meet our needed number of monthly sessions?
  • Would they be interested in our products and the style of photography we offer?
  • Would they be able to pay us the sales average we need to reach our sales goals?
  • Is the client experience we want to offer the kind of experience they’re attracted to?

The answers helped us surmise whether or not our products had a market, and what if any adjustments were needed to be attractive to our ideal clientele. As we grew, our ideal client began to emerge as the top-end clientele in our market area.

As we got to know these clients, we learned that they weren’t comfortable with hanging large, traditional, posed, camera-aware portraits on their walls. They wanted to display artistic and subtle lifestyle portraits in their homes. That was a win-win-win: We gave ourselves permission to create more of the art we truly desired to create; our clients loved that we gave them something unique and truly customized, including the whole portrait experience with us; and for that, they were happy to pay us large sums.

Once you know who your ideal clientele is, you can begin to evaluate everything about your business based on who they are.

For example, if your ideal client is a 35-year-old professional woman with two children enrolled in a private school, and who shops the local high-end boutiques, try looking at the marketplace from her perspective. Would she be attracted to the colors in your logo, signage, business stationery, in your website design, in the font you choose? When you think about how and where to invest your marketing dollars, think about where your ideal client dines, shops, works, vacations, reads. What kind of promotions would interest that clientele? What kind of events do they attend? What other kinds of businesses do they patronize, and how might you partner with those businesses in a promotion?

The more you can discern about your ideal client, the sweeter, more irresistible the pheromones you exude.