Last Updated on January 27, 2021 by Jose Barrios
When I started my real estate photography business, the biggest question I had was how I would go about getting clients? so the first thing I did was to do a Google search with this exact question.
After reading several websites, it was clear to me that most if not everything I read on them was garbage.
Most websites just hashed out all this generic information that was just obvious, dumb, or both. None of the writers actually worked in the industry, they all had a total disconnect from the reality of doing this for a living.
So I decided to write my own guide, it’s not perfect and more than likely is lacking in a whole lot of areas, but this is my experience
How I got my first clients
When starting out you literally have nothing but a camera and a dream and a desperate need for cash, this is normal, welcome to the club.
So, in somewhat of an order of events, here is how I started:
- You need a portfolio, so photograph for free
- Research your competition
- Set your prices
- You need a website and some business cards
- Set up a Google My Business page
- Get an email marketing service
- Know your target audience: Listing Agents
- Getting actual customers
- Other income streams
- Final thoughts
1- You need a portfolio, so photograph for free
Yes, you heard it: for free, you need a few houses under your belt to show potential clients, you need a portfolio!. It is hard to showcase your skills if you have nothing to show for them.
The first couple of homes I did were for $0, and the next few after that were for way less than market value.
And of course, they were all really bad, I had no idea how bad I was I was at photographing houses and editing them, but these first few houses gave me a starting point from which to build on.
2- Research your competition
Know what you are up against. Find out who the top real estate photographers are in your area.
See what they offer and what their website is like. Check out their Facebook and Instagram if they have it. Learn everything about them, especially the big ones. If they made it that far there is a reason for it, no need to reinvent the wheel.
But above all, look at your competition’s quality. Are they doing window pulls? HDR?, Flambients? How many photos do they deliver? All these questions will set a benchmark of expectations that your clients will also have of your photos and services.
Whatever they are doing, you better offer it too. Your potential clients will not shop around for services from multiple vendors, they all want a one-stop-shop.
3- Set your prices
This is a crucial step when starting out, you need to research what your competition is charging in your local market and match them.
Never be the cheapest and try not to be the most expensive one (yet, if you grow and people really like your services, then maybe you can be the most expensive one out there.).
Set up package deals and once again try to emulate your competition. Real estate agents in your area are more than likely accustomed to your competition’s prices and packages, so you should follow suit and do the same.
If you want to read more on how to do this, I wrote a post you can read here: What to charge for real estate photography
4- You need a website and some business cards
First, the easy part, business cards, get them, but get the cheap ones, do not waste your money on fancy business cards, people just want your contact info, they could care less about how great your business cards look.
Second, the hard part, getting a website, and I mean a real website. Your business cannot revolve around a Facebook page. You look really cheap if you do.
This does mean you shouldn’t have Facebook or other social media pages, it just means you should have a proper website.
There are several platforms out there (I will not mention them by name, but they know who they are), that offer “all in one solutions” for photographers with included SEO, image galleries, etc. Avoid them like the plague, most are just hype and garbage, most so-called marketing tools do not work.
I have made all my websites with WordPress and whatever cheap hosting solution I have found. Many hosting providers will even set up WordPress for you.
If you are really strapped for cash then stick to Facebook with Instagram, it is not the best solution, but it is the most practical, and above all it is free.
5- Set up a Google My Business page
Google offers a great and above all free tool for telling people that your business exists, GMB (Google My Business). Businesses of all sizes set this up and you should too.
If you are operating from your home GMB allows you to hide your address and just set up an area of operations. This is great if you do not want people showing up at your door.
Bing offers a similar feature called Bing Places for Business, you should set this one also. The great thing about your Bing listing is that it will automatically sync up with Google My Business so you don’t have to write everything again.
A word of caution: avoid scams from so-called SEO companies that will list you everywhere, this does not work anymore, it did 10 years ago, now it’s just a waste of money and can actually do more harm than good.
6- Get an email marketing service
You will need an efficient way of marketing to your contacts and potential customers, and email marketing is still the top way of getting out there.
Email helps keep your customers informed about products and promotions and keeps them engaged with your business.
I personally use MailChimp, their service is great and your first 2000 contacts are free. They offer all kinds of analytics that allow you to track if people are reading your emails.
There are other companies out there that also offer free started packages, just avoid anything that is paid for the moment, go out and make some money first.
7- Know your target audience: Listing Agents
All real estate agents sell homes, but not all are “listing agents”. In real estate, there are two types of agents, those that specialize in finding people that want to sell their homes and those that specialize in people that want to buy one.
Buyer’s agents are real estate agents that specialize in helping people find a home to purchase. These agents are not your target audience, you will see why in a moment.
Seller’s agents are known as “Listing Agents”, they make most of their income from people wanting to sell their homes. They often have their offices located in commercial spaces like strip malls or other high traffic areas. They tend to spend a lot of money on advertising.
Listing agents are also the ones that pay for your services! They are the ones that list the house for sale on the MLS, these are the agents you want.
Go out and drive around the neighborhood you live in and take note of the agents that you see on the for sale signs on homes. The ones that you start to see repeatedly are the ones you want to take note of.
8- Getting actual customers
Now the real hard part, to go out and find customers.
Your foundation is built, you have everything in place, and maybe spent $100 tops to get there, you now need to put all this into motion.
We will start with the basics, go to Google Maps and search for all the real estate agents in your target area. Try to locate those that have offices in places like strip malls or other high traffic areas. Avoid small offices located in out of reach places, those are more than likely buyer’s agents.
Do not invest too much effort into big name brand companies. They will usually already have arrangements with other photographers and are very unlikely to deal with a small startup like your own.
That being said, there is no harm in trying.
Independent real estate agencies tend to be more open to hiring an unknown photographer like you. You are also more likely to meet the actual owner of an independent real estate agency, the one that will actually pay you. These are my favorite customers.
Now grab your business cards and a price list and start visiting the offices you identified. Walk into their offices and present yourself.
Make sure to get as many business cards as possible, you can now add these emails to your mailing list.
It is highly unlikely someone will hire that very same day, so you must plan to return to the real estate agency at some point. A good waiting period 15 days.
Revisiting keeps you on their mind and present. At some point, they will likely hire. It is also a good tactic to show up with something like cookies or candy. A $5 investment goes a long way.
9- Other income streams
The road to sustainability as a real estate photographer is not an easy one, but in the end, your constant office visits and emails will pay off.
There are no shortcuts to be had, but there are some things you can do on the side while your name gets out there.
There are three companies I have dealt with in the past that hire out independent contractors for photographs, it is not my favorite thing to do, but the reality is that sometimes you just need to pay bills.
You can give any of these three a try for contract work photographing houses and food:
There are more out there, but most in my opinion are bottom feeders, sort of like Uber and Lyft. You will never actually make any decent amount of money with them.
Use these platforms to sustain you while you get your own clients. Do not sign any non-compete agreements that are broad, like ones that say you cannot operate in whole geographic areas. Only accept agreements where you cannot sell to any clients they send to you.
Keep in mind that when working for any of these companies and others like them, you are giving up the rights to your photos. You will not be able to put them in your portfolio, website, or social media, you no longer own them.
It is very easy to get caught up in a whole bunch of get-rich-quick schemes. There are a lot of people selling courses that promise to make you succeed overnight, most are just scams.
The same thing can be said for companies out there that try to sell you their magic bean website that will get you clients, or some SEO magic formula they know that will place you on Google’s #1 spot at the top of search results with very little investment.
My simple advice is the following: do not sign any long term contracts for anything, keep your equipment as simple as possible, and sales still need the human element, get out there and visit people.
As always, I hope this guide helps you become a better real estate photographer.
“What can I say? I love taking photos of houses.”
Based in Orlando Florida, Jose is a real estate photographer specializing in vacation homes, working for realtors and property managers to make their properties look great. You can visit his site at JoseBarriosPhoto.com.