Of course you want an awesome photography website.
You want your site to look sleek, have awesome, high-quality images, and load quickly.
You want people to be able to navigate it easily but still be impressed with the artistic design choices that make your site unique.
You want a website that impresses potential clients, right?
But have you ever thought about WHY you want a great website?
It’s probably because we’re telling ourselves a story about our site. We believe that if people like what they see when they visit your website, they’ll book a session.
We think that Killer Website = Tons of Bookings.
BUT… the math isn’t that simple.
How many of us pour countless hours into perfecting every image and syncing multiple platforms so we can blog, display galleries, and schedule bookings seamlessly?
We assume those features will naturally translate into more clients, but they don’t.
People don’t visit your website for the reason you think.
Visitors Are NOT There to Book a Session
Why do we do what we do? If we knew the definitive answer, we’d solve a riddle philosophers, psychologists, and motivational speakers have debated for centuries.
Plato would claim we do what we do because we all hope to be apart of something greater than ourselves. Maslow would attribute it to the hierarchy of needs. Tony Robbins would explain (like he did one of the original TED Talks) that we do what we do based on one of six reasons.
For now, I’ll leave the deep theories of motivation to the philosophy experts and I’ll stick with what I know — photography clients.
It’s easy to assume people will find your website, see your stand-out photos and fantastic interface, and jump at the chance to hire you.
But they won’t. In fact, that’s not even why they’re on your site.
Take Aaron and Elizabeth for example. I started working with these amazing photographers to boost their inquiries. Aaron told me, “Nate, I have decent traffic, but why are our inquiries so low? Some months are great, other months are nothing. I just don’t get it.”
So, I checked it out. They had really great web traffic, their site was stunning, and they were doing everything right. At first, we couldn’t figure out what was going on.
Then we dug in, and here’s what we found:
There were no problems with the website — everything looked fantastic, their platforms ran smoothly, and frankly, it was really impressive! But people weren’t visiting the website to book a session.
Most of the visitors on their site simply wanted to learn about them. They were considering (way in the back of their minds) booking a photographer. But at first, they just wanted to learn more about Aaron and Elizabeth and what they did.
Other people visited to see their friend’s or family’s pictures — which is still good traffic and great publicity, but it doesn’t immediately result in new clients.
As we dug into other photography websites, we learned that Aaron and Elizabeth’s website visitors aren’t exception — they’re the rule. This is the case for photography site visitors across the board.
Their main reason for visiting is to learn about a photographer or look at pictures, but our websites aren’t geared towards either of these viewers. Our sites jump right to the punchline and ask, “Hey, wanna book?”
That’s a turn off. We’ve all met people who come on too strong. We talk with them for five minutes, hear a year’s worth of personal info, and then they ask if we want to be best friends.
We usually can’t get away fast enough!
It may sound harsh, but that’s exactly what our websites are doing. We bombard visitors with information and then ask them to book. Yikes! That’s too soon.
I’m not suggesting your websites have banner ads flashing “WANNA BOOK?!” Many of us just have a “Contact Us Now” link. But rather than think about what you want the client to do, think about how you react to contact forms like these?
Those forms are intimidating. They feel like a plea for commitment. Your clients are assuming if they fill out the form, you’ll assume they’re ready to book.
And that’s just too big of a step for them to take before they even know you.
Moving from Stranger to Hired is NOT One Step
When a potential client visits your site, that doesn’t mean they’re ready to be best friends yet. You need to build the relationship first.
So, how do you initiate it?
It’s a process. The step to move from “Who are you?” to “I’m ready to book a session!” isn’t small. In fact, it’s a HUGE leap. Like jumping over a rushing river that leads to a giant waterfall in a rocky ravine below… that kind of leap.
People have trust issues, so they need to get to know you before they’re ready to trust you with their photography needs.
Just put yourself the position of a potential photography client.
Imagine you’re looking for a wedding photographer. As you and your significant other search for someone to capture your perfect day, you have a lot of fears to work through. How often do you hear about a bad wedding photographer? It’s not hard to find a story about a photographer who hasn’t shown up and scammed the happy couple out of their down payment.
There are always stories about some photographer who took terrible pictures or didn’t get any of the pictures the couple requested. And then there are more nightmare tales about photographers who are mean to the wedding guests! Every bad situation you can imagine in wedding photography is in the back of your mind.
A couple shopping for a photographer has a lot of negative possibilities to overcome before they’re ready to book! Choosing their photographer is a big YES!
When your clients book, they’re taking a leap of faith. They’re showing they trust you to show up and take great pictures of what’s most important to them, all while treating their guests well!
But trust isn’t just needed in weddings. Whether someone is booking you for a boudoir, newborn, senior picture, or pet session, trust is an enormous factor. And in order to build that trust, we need to break the giant leap of saying “YES” into baby steps.
Build A Bridge… One Yes at a Time
Think of it like wooden bridge. Rather than asking people to leap over the entire ravine, we move them from stranger to booked client by walking them across the bridge, step by step.
If someone says they want to learn more, that doesn’t mean they’re ready to book. It’s all about baby steps. We need to break down the giant YES into tiny yeses — like the series of wooden planks on a bridge that gets them from one place to another.
What types of steps help a client cross the bridge?
First, it’s super important to understand that we’re not coaxing someone across — we’re coaching them across. Our job isn’t to persuade them to hire us, but to support them in making the right decision for their photography needs.
The biggest way to support — or “nurture” — a prospective client is to offer education. Give them tips and resources that are personal and relevant. Offer them something they care about.
For a potential wedding client, maybe you offer “7 Tips for Getting Engagement Photos You’ll Cherish Just As Much As Your Wedding Photos.”
Do you think they’ll sign up to read that article? Of course! Who wouldn’t want great engagement photos?
Think about the difference in these commitments. How much easier is it to say, “Yes, I want to read those tips” rather than saying, “Yes, I want to hire you to shoot my wedding”? Getting the free information is a no-brainer for them and a baby step in the right direction for you.
Will someone who’s not planning to get married sign up to get this information? No…and you don’t care. You want the people who sign up for this valuable offer to be your potential clients.
How a Small “yes” Leads to the Big “YES”
So what happens when they say “yes” to your baby-step offer. They just enter their email address to get the information. Then, you send them these great tips via email.
Are they going to read it? Of course! There’s no risk or fear in opening an email they asked for (remember Permission Marketing!) Plus, they really wanted those seven tips!
At the end of the email, you offer something else: Would you like to see more of our portfolio? Our website only features a sampling of our work. Would you like to see how we capture the story of the day?
“Absolutely — let me click on that link.” That’s a second small yes.
Another email comes with another offer at the end… Choosing a photographer is tricky because every photographer is different and prices differently. We’ve put together a simple guide so you can understand why we’re unique and what’s in it for you. Would you like to check out our investment guide?
Again, they say a super easy yes.
Would you like to schedule a phone consultation?
Would you like to schedule a (free?) engagement session?
With every yes, the person has moved along the bridge from stranger to client. Sure, the commitments have increased, but notice how naturally the next steps come.
First, they signed up for a quick read to help them with their engagement photos. But since then, they’ve read your prices, viewed your portfolio, and just got excited about scheduling a phone consultation. Plus, even booking an engagement session is less intimidating than booking the wedding.
This works in every photography niche — not just weddings. You gradually earn trust through a series of emails and content that proves your expertise and reliability.
If you want strangers to feel comfortable booking a session, you have to break the process into its smallest steps and give people an opportunity to learn more about you over time.
You have to build the relationship.
Our friend Molly Marie — a marketing genius in her own right — says, “I think email works so well because you’re not just like, ‘Hey! Book NOW!’ Instead, it allows me to nurture them first, to let them learn about me and my studio gradually….”
After you’ve nurtured the relationship, proved your trust, and followed through with each offer along the way, their choice is a no-brainer. You don’t even have to ask them for their business.
Hiring you seems like the natural next step.
You’ve taken one huge YES and broken it down into a bunch of easy yeses.
Your Website’s Job, Simplified
Your website’s most important job is NOT to book clients. That’s your email’s job.
The purpose of your website should be to offer education and collect email addresses. If you can provide visitors with awesome resources that they want to sign up for, your website is functioning perfectly.
That’s it. Think about how much simpler your website can be with this purpose. You don’t have to fight with your website, jumping from platform to platform and troubleshooting formatting errors. Your website just needs to offer something simple.
So why email? It addition to owning it, it allowing you to communicate with businesses, and it earns you permission to send stuff to potential clients.
It also allows you to space out your information so you don’t overwhelm people.
Your clients are just like you. You’re running around spinning plates, trying to keep your business, marketing, photography, and personal life all in balance.
So are your clients! They’re busy planning their wedding, figuring out their life, raising a baby, or helping their high schooler decide where to go to college. We’re all so busy and impatient. We’re all overwhelmed.
We all need something to break down the abundance of information and space it out into bite-sized chunks — and that’s what email does.
We need to take all the stuff we used to put on websites and break it into tiny parts. Then, we put those parts into email sequences.
Websites are great, but you can’t depend on them to earn the business of new clients. Instead, you have to find a way to nurture relationships and build trust with people. And email lets you do just that… one message at a time.