How We Built a Dreamie Business
Creative Rising Episode #101
Are you a wedding photographer that’s ready to finally start shooting the clients you want? Are you wondering how to actually find them and book them?
Before the world travels, the dream weddings, and the commercial studio that brings in over half a million dollars every year, Jeff and I were exhausted newlyweds working out of our kitchen, booking any wedding we could get.
Just three years into our business, we found ourselves stressed out, burned out, and ready to give up.
Our couples were all over the place – some were gracious, others were dismissive. A few were life giving, many were draining. A handful paid us what we were worth, while the rest bargain-shopped every single thing.
Dream life? Not so much.
But before we threw in the towel on our photography dream, we gave it one more hail mary. We scrapped everything we knew and ruthlessly went after our dream clients… and it worked.
Hear the story of how we went from burned out to running our dream business – and learn the key exercise that will get you your dream clients too!
**Listen to the podcast episode above or read the transcript below. **
- (14:00) How We Discovered Our Ideal Client
- (24:30) How to Identify YOUR Ideal Client
- (36:37) Three Critical Ideal Client Mistakes
- (37:15) Dreamie Mistake #1: My Ideal Client is ME
- (39:32) Dreamie Mistake #2: Staying at the Surface
- (42:53) Dreamie Mistake #3: Dreamies are a “Nice-to-Have” not a Have-to-Have
HOW WE DISCOVERED OUR IDEAL CLIENT
Do you ever sit down at your laptop, open up your email, and wonder, “What’s the point of all of this?”
Are you frustrated with the inquiries you’re getting, feeling like they’re never the right fit or have the budget to hire you?
Are you tired of people saying you’re too expensive or asking for discounts?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then I want you to know that I didn’t get these questions from a survey of photographers.
I pulled these questions from my own heart. From my own experience of running a photography business for the past decade.
These pain points… have been my pain points.
We’ve been running our business for more than thirteen years now, but I want to go back to three years into our business, before we left our corporate jobs.
The Texas Wedding
During the first years of our business, Jeff and I worked full time jobs in corporate America while shooting on weekends, editing at night, and booking anything we could get.
This wedding came in for a couple that was getting married in Texas, and we were so excited about the idea of traveling for a wedding that we gave the couple a HUGE discount. So we flew out to Texas on our own dime…
…it was the middle of August, an outdoor wedding, crazy oppressive heat, we were DRIPPING in sweat, and the groom showed up three hours late to the ceremony.
Dream life?? Not so much.
We had only been running our business for three years, but Jeff and I found ourselves totally burned out.
Meanwhile, I was on the internet all the time watching all of these other amazing photographers shoot these picture perfect destination weddings in places like Italy and Aruba while we were unfocused, exhausted, and booking anything that we could get.
What were all those other photographers doing that we weren’t? What was their secret?
Well, in the midst of our crazy weddings that year, we got connected with the girls soccer team from Azusa Pacific University, and every time we photographed one of these incredible brides, we completely came alive.
We produced amazing photos, they talked about us to everyone they knew, they shared our images with their entire networks, and we became FRIENDS with these clients.
It was crazy! It was the first time we had ever experienced anything like it.
So it was at 2am while I was editing that Texas wedding, that I made a hail mary decision that from that point forward, I only wanted the girls from the soccer team.
I only wanted clients that appreciated us – no matter the cost. I just couldn’t keep doing what we were doing.
Well, after making that 2am decision to turn our business around, I became OBSESSED with this thing called the Ideal Client.
I started learning about demographics, cohorts, and target audiences and I learned how to ruthlessly build a laser-focused brand that would attract more of those amazing brides from the soccer team at Asuza Pacific.
I know now that those brides were our very first ideal clients, which I now call our “Dreamies.”
After that decision, it took less than two years for our business to go from booking those crazy weddings that were all over the map to booking clients that we absolutely adored.
And that’s when our business took off.
We quit our jobs in corporate America, and the first thing we did was we took our laptops and a Vonage phone line to an apartment in Singapore, and we spent two months booking weddings while traveling Southeast Asia.
In that same year, we shot weddings in Italy, Costa Rica, and Mexico, and photographed an engagement session in Sydney, Australia.
In total, we spent six months of that year traveling the world, going wherever our cameras would take us.
All without discounting and all of our grooms showed up on time.
HOW TO FIND YOUR IDEAL CLIENT
The idea of the “Ideal Client” is probably not new to you. It’s something that everybody talks about, but honestly, almost nobody actually teaches about.
Everyone says to just be authentic and put yourself out there and your ideal clients will find you.
Nobody goes through the step by step framework of how to understand WHO your ideal clients actually are so you can actively speak to them and go after them.
How are you supposed to build a brand if you have no idea who you’re building the brand for?
How was I supposed to find other brides like my soccer team girls if I didn’t know why those soccer team girls liked us so much? If I didn’t understand what really mattered to them?
Friend, it wasn’t until we understood who the right clients were for us that we could build a cohesive brand that spoke to them.
To help you find your ideal client, first, I’m going to walk you through an exercise that will start unlocking your dreamies for you, and second, I’m going to share with you the three biggest mistakes you should avoid that I see photographers make when it comes to their ideal clients.
Step #1: Write Down Your Favorite Past Clients
Get out a piece of paper and write down 3 to 5 of your absolute FAVORITE past clients you’ve ever gotten to work with. (The more you can write down, the better!)
(BTW If you are just getting started and don’t have very many past clients to work with, write down friends, family, or acquaintances that you would LOVE to photograph if you got the chance.)
Step #2: PCR
Next to each one of those favorite clients, write down any of these letters – P, C, and R – next to each client based on the criteria below. You can write down as many of the letters that apply:
- (P) = Were they PROFITABLE? Write ‘P’ next to the client’s name if they were profitable for you. (NOTE: This doesn’t mean that they booked your biggest package. Simply, did they pay you your asking price, no questions asked?)
- (C) = Did you CONNECT? Write down the letter ‘C’ if you connected with them personally and/or creatively. Did their wedding inspire you as an artist? Did you feel alive working with them?
- (R) = Do they REFER you? Has this client talked about you to their friends OR are they part of an ideal network that you would like to be a part of? Or did you get to work with ideal vendors or venues because of this client?
Step #3: Study Them
Look at your favorite clients that you wrote down.
- Which ones have letters next to them?
- Which ones have two or more letters?
These are the clients you want to study. So let’s start by writing down everything you know about them.
First, think about their PERSONAL STYLE.
What kind of clothes do they typically wear?
- Are they classic like Banana Republic?
- Boho like Free People?
- Funky like thrift stores?
Learn this information by seeing what clothes they wear for their engagement sessions, and check out their Instagram feeds.
Second, think about their HOBBIES & INTERESTS.
Write down everything you know about what these clients like to do with their time.
- Do they like certain kinds of food?
- Are they into beer or wine?
- Do they play video games?
- Do they love adventures like hiking or traveling?
- Are they into cars or boats or motorcycles?
- Do they love working out and living a healthy lifestyle?
Third, think about their MONEY.
What do these clients spend their money on?
- What kinds of cars do they drive? Do they show up to their engagement session driving luxury cars like Audis or BMWs? Are they in a Jeep or SUV? Or an electric car like a Prius or Tesla?
- Where are they going on their honeymoon? Are they going to a luxury resort in the Maldives with bungalows that are over the water while flying first class on Emirates? Are they doing a beach condo in Hawaii? Or an adventure in Costa Rica?
Third, think about their CURRENT LIFE.
- Job: What do they do for a living? Are they lawyers? Doctors? Teachers? Artists? Entrepreneurs? Accountants?
- Housing: Where do they choose to live? A condo in the city? A starter home in the suburbs?
Lastly, find out about their PAST LIFE.
- Location: Where and how did they grow up? Were they a middle class family? Did they grow up in small town USA or in a big city?
- Family: Are they close with their families? Are their families big or small?
- Education: Where did they go to college? An ivy league or a state school? Do they have graduate degrees? Are they military couples? Did they go to trade schools?
All of this surface information will tell you a lot about your Dreamies and what’s important to them in life, but if you don’t know this information, that’s ok! I totally get it!
Jeff and I spent a lot of years where we included an engagement session with every one of our weddings, and the reason was to get to know our clients. So we took our couples out to dinner after every engagement session, and we asked very intentional questions to understand their hearts. It was HUGE in helping us learn about our Dreamies!
The reason we are so stinkin’ clear on our dream clients is because of those dinners.
So figure out how you can get to know your couples. Take them out to drinks, ask intentional questions during clients meetings, and invest in their stories.
However, as you’ll learn in Dreamie Mistake #2 below (or check out our free Dreamie Class here to learn more), you can’t just stop at the surface characteristics. Keep reading to find out why!
Step #4: Find Commonalities
Once you’ve written down everything you know about the PCR couples that are on your list, I want you to:
- CIRCLE any common traits that occur BETWEEN your favorite couples,
- STAR the traits that you LIKE the most about them
- UNDERLINE traits that you also happen to enjoy in your OWN LIFE.
This is where you’ll start seeing a vague picture of your Dreamie start to appear!
THREE CRITICAL IDEAL CLIENT MISTAKES
When we get to this point, here’s what starts to happen.
I see photographers do this PCR exercise and get really excited because for the first time ever, their Dreamies really start coming into focus.
But, like I said, there’s a lot more to the process than this, so I see them start to make three very common, yet very critical mistakes.
DREAMIE MISTAKE #1: My Ideal Client is ME
The first Dreamie Mistake I see photographers make with their ideal clients is you take a look at your favorite clients, take a look at yourself, and realize that your favorite clients are a lot like you!
You share similar tastes, you like the same things, and you have twinsie personalities.
Which is going to be true when it comes to your ideal clients. They’re the people you get along with the most, so you’re probably going to share a lot in common.
However, the fatal mistake occurs when you take those similarities to mean that your ideal clients are a version of yourself.
When you say, my ideal client is ME. Or my ideal is a version of me a few years ago when I was getting married and looking for a wedding photographer.
This is a fatal Dreamie Mistake because it will lead you to believe that your ideal clients THINK like you, ACT like you, and BUY like you.
So at some point, you might be afraid to raise your prices and charge what you’re worth because you believe that if YOU yourself wouldn’t pay that price, then your ideal client won’t either.
Which is completely misguided! Can I pay the price that Jeff and I charge to shoot a wedding? No! But do I believe that we’re worth every penny? Without a doubt.
You need to get outside of your own head in order to get into the heads of your Dreamies.
Another reason why it’s a critical mistake to believe that your ideal clients are you is because there’s many times when your ideal clients could actually look very different and act different than you, but you might actually do different things but for the same very important reasons.
In other words, you and your Dreamie might seem different on the outside, but you actually believe in the same values.
Which brings me to Dreamie Mistake number two…
DREAMIE MISTAKE #2: Staying at the Surface
Knowing the outward habits, interests, and styles of your Dreamies is really important – they can tell you a lot about a person.
But if you stop at those surface things, then you don’t really understand what truly matters to your clients.
Instead, what you need to pay attention to is WHY.
Why do your Dreamies choose to drive the car that they drive?
Why do they love videogames?
Why do they wear that style of clothes and live in that house?
Why do your ideal clients make the choices that they do? And why do YOU make the choices you do?
So let’s say you love the outdoors, that’s a big part of who you are, then what you need to understand is WHY you enjoy backpacking in the outdoors:
Is it the thrill of adventure?
The quietness of solitude?
The spiritual connection with nature?
If you know why you love backpacking in the outdoors, then you can identify when a prospective client shares those same values but expresses them in different ways.
What if one of your clients loves driving their motorcycle up and down the California coast because they feel the same spiritual connection that you feel when you’re backpacking in the outdoors?
What if you love cooking because you love bringing all of your friends and family together every Sunday afternoon, and what if your clients love college football for the same reason? Its a family tradition that brings everyone together for every game?
Your ideal clients may not do the exact same things as you, but they might do different things for the SAME REASONS – the same VALUES.
Jeff and I look pretty different than a lot of our clients.
Our clients are professionals that work in the corporate world. We’re creative entrepreneurs that run our own business.
But we we both believe in living out our purpose.
They grew up in big family houses in the suburbs, I grew up on a farm in Idaho.
But we both believe tradition.
So your job is to build a brand that speaks to those reasons – that speak to your core values so you can connect with those amazing clients that share those same values.
That’s how you build a brand that makes your clients FEEL something.
When your clients FEEL something about you, that’s when you have Dreamies that become so loyal to you, it’s almost unreasonable.
DREAMIE MISTAKE #3: Dreamies are Just a Nice-to-Have
You might be sitting there right now and thinking to yourself, Erin, I get it… Booking my dream clients would be so nice, but right now I’m just trying to pay the bills.
That’s a nice-to-have for me right now. It’s not a HAVE-to-HAVE.
I get it. It’s scary saying yes to ideal clients because that means you have to turn OFF your not-so-ideal clients.
The thought of turning away any business at all is hard. At times, it’s even overwhelming.
But consider this:
Clients that aren’t the right fit for you generally pay you less than what you’re worth, and they take up more of your time because there is one crucial element that is missing…
They don’t TRUST YOU.
It’s not because they’re bad people. They’re just not the right people for you.
When you try to attract everyone, you’ll attract no one.
Jeff and I made no money on that entire wedding in Texas. We flew ourselves on our own dime for a wedding that we thought could be great for our portfolio because we were traveling, but it wasn’t our style, and it was a couple that we didn’t connect with.
In fact, when all was said and done, it cost us so much in terms of our time.
Instead, when we started focusing on our ideal clients – the girls from the soccer team – we went from burning the candle at both ends to quitting our corporate jobs and traveling the world.
Because we started focusing on what really matters, we could build a business that matters that supports a life that matters.
CONCLUSION: WHAT TO DO NEXT
Those are the three critical mistakes that we see photographers make with their ideal clients:
- Saying “My Ideal Client is ME”
- Staying at the Surface
- Believing Your Dreamies are A Nice to Have, Not a Have to Have
If you feel like you’ve made these mistakes, Don’t panic. You’re goIng to be fine. You haven’t done anything horribly wrong… you just can’t stay there.
If you stay there, THAT’S the big mistake.
The next step in this process in to sign up for my free Dreamie Class.
On that training, I teach you how to take those PCR clients you have written down and connect their surface characteristics to their deeper values.
I walk you through the entire method, so take the class so you can start booking better clients and make the money you want to make!
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