Photography

Pro Photography Spotlight: Jules Bianchi & Joy Bianchi Brown

Becky Brooks

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Jules Bianchi & Joy Bianchi Brown are synergistic sisters who run a successful boutique photography studio in Oakland, California. They’re also this month’s featured photographers for our Animoto ad campaign.

Jules started her wedding photography business ten years ago, and in 2006, she was joined by her sister Joy, who oversees marketing and sales. Recently, they’ve added a portrait line to accommodate all of their brides’ growing families.

Here, we chat with the dynamic duo about their business, great marketing ideas, and photography.

Jules and Joy Bianchi Animoto for Photography Ad

Jules, you initially started off shooting weddings after another career in TV/Film. — What suggestions do you have to photographers who are making the career switch over to photography?

Making a career change is challenging in any situation, but when you are trying to make the leap to running your own business, it can be particularly daunting. You need to keep in mind so many more things than f-stops. While many photographers get into the business of photography because of the obvious — they have a talent with a camera — it’s the equipment, branding, marketing, insurance, taxes, workflow, pricing, accounting overhead, products, editing, graphic design, online presence, personnel, outsourcing, insourcing, etc that starts to weigh us down. And this is not even the beginning of the list.

When considering any new business, it’s important to critically take into account all implications — I think a lot of people think that getting into photography is a quick and easy way to make a few extra bucks, but what they quickly find is that the headache of running a business is so much more than that.

Getting help early on will help with some of those headaches — like hiring an accountant, getting some good basics in business, and having a good financial plan will put you ahead of the game to have a successful business right from the start.

Its also important not to go into debt. One camera and a good lens is enough to start… rent everything else and add to your arsenal slowly.

You started out shooting weddings but have subsequently moved into shooting families and babies as well. What were some of the growing pains involved in expanding the type of photography you shoot?

Family portraiture is surprisingly different than shooting weddings. While I think it is important to establish yourself as an expert in certain areas, it’s also important to be able to be flexible, and change as needed. I’d been shooting brides for over ten years, and as they started having families and asking me to photograph their children, I knew I needed to accommodate those requests. However, it wasn’t as simple as just arranging a date to photograph them. The needs for photographing children and families are so different, as are the products that get produced. We moved from designing wedding albums to creating canvas wraps and frames. I needed to learn about these new products and decide what lines I wanted to carry. I endeavored to provide unique products that met the high standards of my clientele.

We had to develop entirely different workflows and marketing campaigns to accommodate this new line of photography. I had to learn to work with children, and find out how to capture the essence of their personality in a way that was not intrusive but also effective… brides WANT you to photograph them, but with children, it’s their parents who care, not them. Not having children of my own, I needed to learn how to interact with kids and get them to relax with me.

This year at Photographer’s Ignite, you both gave a talk and said that “the best customer is the one that you already have.” Can you let us know what that means and how that point of view has helped your business?

We really believe this statement so much. We work so hard to establish ourselves in our community and develop strong, trusting relationships with our clients that we don’t want to let them go after just one shoot! Photography is a need that people have throughout their lives… there are so many significant events that need to be documented. While it’s true that it’s important to create a niche for
yourself as a certain type of photographer (say, a wedding photographer), at some point it’s important to keep up with those relationships that you’ve worked so hard to establish.

Repeat clients can also be some of your best evangelists as well, and bring even more clients to your door via word of mouth. Word of mouth is hands-down the BEST type of marketing you can’t buy — and the only way you are going to get it is through relationships with your clients. Think about the businesses that you work with and why you stay (or go). It usually has everything to do with the people who represent that business. If you feel that you like them and can trust them, you will frequent their business — even if they are a little more expensive than the competing business down the street.

Photographer's Ignite Logo

Family portraiture is surprisingly different than shooting weddings.

While I think it is important to establish yourself as an expert in certain areas, it’s also important to be able to be flexible, and change as needed. I’d been shooting brides for over ten years, and as they started having families and asking me to photograph their children, I knew I needed to accommodate those requests. However, it wasn’t as simple as just arranging a date to photograph them. The needs for photographing children and families are so different, as are the products that get produced. We moved from designing wedding albums to creating canvas wraps and frames. I needed to learn about these new products and decide what lines I wanted to carry. I endeavored to provide unique products that met the high standards of my clientele.

We had to develop entirely different workflows and marketing campaigns to accommodate this new line of photography. I had to learn to work with children, and find out how to capture the essence of their personality in a way that was not intrusive but also effective… brides WANT you to photograph them, but with children, it’s their parents who care, not them. Not having children of my own, I needed to learn how to interact with kids and get them to relax with me.

Joy, you do a lot of the sales consultations for Jules Bianchi Photography. What are some key tips you have for photographers who love the craft but are struggling with the sales/business aspect?

Sales can be the most daunting and awkward part of the entire process in your business. Most people did not get into photography for sales, but for the love of art. However, unless you are making money you are just a hobbyist, not a business. This is fine, unless you plan to eat. I recommend that you start the sales process right from the beginning of your initial consultation. Consider what your client wants and why they are meeting with you in the first place — try to listen more than speak to learn about how you can help them to get what they want from a photography session with you. Learn to ask effective questions and have the end in mind before you ever fire the first shot. For example, if they want a book, you’ll know to shoot sequences. If they want wall art, you might shoot more environmental-type shots.

Make it easy for your clients to buy by taking the guess work out of pricing. Make the price list simple — not too many choices. Making decisions creates anxiety, so the fewer decisions your clients have to make, the better.

Jules Cafe Photography

We actually have a kit called the Essential Starter Consult Kit that addresses many of these questions and helps photographers navigate the new client relationship. Check out Jules Cafe for more info.

You both throw a lot of events at your studio and do a lot of cross-promotional work. How has that helped spread your name around the Bay area? Any tips for photographers looking to do similar campaigns (even if they don’t have a studio)?

If you know us, you know we love a party!

It is absolutely not necessary to have a studio in order to have events. In fact, sometimes cross-promotional events are even more effective, since you are partnering with businesses who have a completely different client reach than you might, and therefore will expose your business to an entirely new set of potential clients. You just need to be open to new ideas and think win-win in order to have a successful event. Don’t be afraid to ask, and make sure to always meet the other business owner in person when presenting a new idea. Take that person to lunch and have an honest exchange about your idea and how it could benefit both of you. For example, if you want to encourage more dog portraits, you might want to partner with a groomer and have an event at their grooming shop if you don’t have a studio. Both of you can promote the event to your client lists, and while you get exposure to their list, they get exposure to yours as well!

When you are thinking about hosting an event, think about the kinds of clients you are looking for, and who you can partner with that can help attract those kinds of clients to your event. Think about ways that will be beneficial to all involved, and you’ll be surprised at how much synergy you can create together!

We’ve got a Kit called the ” Creative Event Marketing idea sampler” with ideas and templates for creating your own events without having to re-create the wheel. You can check that out Jules Cafe for more info as well.

Your website has a fun, whimsical flair to it. Can you tell us how important you view putting in the time to brand yourself online and tips for our readers?

Your website is your online presence to the world — it’s important that it reflects who you are and your personality. Photography is such a personal business — you are in people’s homes, in their space, and they need to feel like they can relate to you on a personal level. Most people will visit your blog and website before they ever meet you in person, and so you want to make sure you put your best virtual foot forward so that your blog entices them to go one step further and contact you.

A blog is a dynamic place that needs to constantly be changing with updated information and news. It’s a lot of work to keep the content fresh, especially if you are just starting out and not shooting much. Think about other things you can put up on your blog, whether it’s just a photo tip or a bit of advice, try to post something at least once a week to show to clients that you are alive and kicking and want to be part of the online community.

Learn more about how Jules and Joy use video for their wedding photography business.