A few years ago “associate photographer” was the catch phrase within the wedding photography industry. It seemed you couldn’t be a legitimate photography studio unless you had at least one associate photographer. The concept was easy: on the days your already booked, book an associate.
Unfortunately, a simple idea turned into a complicated reality for many photographers. As I watched many studios fold their attempts at working with associates, we launched our associate label, The Collection with three amazing photographers. We immediately booked over 40 weddings, to be performed within the first year, and continued to book weddings for an even more successful second year!
This wasn’t luck or a case of being in the right place at the right time. We just chose to spend time learning, analyzing, and planning and our efforts led to a plan that succeeded from the start!
That’s why I’m excited to share some of our tips for starting and improving your associate photographer business model. Please feel free to add some of your own tips and ask questions in the comment section of this post!
Know Your Business
One of the greatest things about starting an associate company is that you’re able to profit from the ideas and plans you have implemented for your current photography business! You understand what it takes to run a successful business and can now utilize that knowledge and success to start an associate company. If you’re still in the process of understanding your current photography business, wait on implementing an associate business model!
It’s not About You
Letting your pride or ego get in the way of your associate plan will destroy it. There may be times that your associates are getting more attention and bookings than you. Do not try to take those leads or that attention for yourself!
Similarly, we found it to our advantage to create a unique name for our associate photographers instead of adding associates under our name, Dove Wedding Photography. Separating these two brands gives these photographers their own identity and ensures that neither them or their clients feel as though they are the second best.
Avoid Brand Confusion
Brand confusion is another good reason to consider keeping your associate’s identity separate from yours. If your focus is on offering a high-end product, you do not want to offer products that will hurt that image. Whitney and I market our photography to brides that are willing to spend a good amount of money on photography. When we tested the idea of having an associate under our name, potential clients always said one of two things: “If your associate only costs this much, why are you so expensive?” or “If your associate costs less than you, what’s wrong with your associate?” Once we removed this confusion and put our associate into a separate brand name, bookings increased for our associate as well as Whitney and myself. You don’t have to be a high-end photographer to offer associates, but I highly encourage you to market your associates to a different clientele to avoid confusion.
Seek Out Great People
Take your time to find the right associates! If you don’t take time, you will have a huge mess on your hands. When it comes to hiring an associate photographer, a person’s personality and dedication is far greater than how talented they are as a photographers. Photography can be taught, personality and work ethic can’t. Tips for finding the right person include:
1. Having your potential associate take a personality assessment.
2. Choosing someone that does not already own their own business
3. Considering those who already have goals and plans rather than those who are still figuring out life.
4. Choosing someone that loves your business’ goals and vision.
Learn to be a Leader
When managing a team of photographers, you must be a leader. Get started by learning about leadership in books by great authors like John Maxwell, Malcolm Gladwell, and Jim Collins (the author – yes there is more than one Jim Collins out there!). I also highly recommend Dave Ramsey who is now stepping more into the world of business leaders with excellent courses at different levels.
Create a Team Environment
Let your associates contribute to ideas and business growth, give them ownership, and raise them to be leaders! This allows you to step further away from your associate business and make it self-sufficient! On top of that, it’s way more fun to work with a team than it is to work alone.
Keep Your Costs Down
Consider modifying your current photography company’s business systems to create more cost effective and efficient systems for your associate company. You want your associate brand to offer quality, but that doesn’t mean that it has to offer the same quality as your current business. ShootQ, Pictage, Lightroom, and Apple are four great workflow tools that we use to help us cut costs and save time within our associate studio.
Keep it Legal
It’s always important to be ethical in everything you do. Cutting corners to save a few dollars now, will only prove to be messy later. Spend the money and time now to ensure that you have proper contracts with your photographers and clients. And, hire an accountant to be certain you are filing all your taxes correctly.
The work doesn’t end once you get everything started! Continually work on improving your workflows, keeping your costs down, and learning to be a leader. Always remember to treat your associates as equal to or even greater than you. Focusing on these points will ensure you have a lasting and successful relationship with your team.
Continue the conversation with Peter & Whitney Carlson in the comments section of this post!
Written by Peter Carlson
Peter Carlson’s outgoing, laid back, quirky personality is the main reason both brides and photographers love working with him. Through photography, he and his wife Whitney focus on the unique personalities of every couple as well as the joy and happy emotions that are felt on each wedding day. Photographers find their classes fun, inspirational, and easy to implement.