How to Create a Photo Finish
You’ve just finished another successful painting project and congratulate yourself on a job well done. Before you pack up your brushes and drop cloths and head to the next job, remember to snap a photo of your work so you have evidence that you’re an expert.
Photos are an extension of your business brand but many professional painters often forget to take photos once they complete a job—and that’s a lost marketing opportunity, according to Liza Hausman, VP of Industry Marketing for Houzz.com, a popular online platform for home remodeling and design that brings homeowners and professionals together in a visual community.
“Images are a powerful communication tool and are critical to keep and attract new customers. They are a credibility builder; a touch point for painters because most homeowners need visuals to explain color, or as a vision for a home renovation,” says Hausman. “In a Houzz study, 56% of people indicated that finding a professional who has completed a project similar to what they are looking for is very important, ranking it a 5 on a 5-point scale.”
APPEARANCES ARE EVERYTHING
One of the best places to showcase your work is the Internet, which is a photo-centric playground with web sites geared toward the design, remodeling and paint industries. On Houzz.com, for example, you can create a free profile page with unlimited photos of completed projects as well as your company description, contact information and customer reviews. In addition, you can develop a company web site using simple publishing tools and link it to your Houzz profile, giving you a single place to store photos. Plus, the platform is optimized for mobile devices. “Half of our user base visits Houzz.com from a mobile device, so we want that to be a seamless experience from a potential customer aspect,” says Hausman.
Visual content, such as a profile page, helps a painter illustrate their skills and personality, two important factors in drawing attention to your projects, says Hausman. Painters also can create Houzz Ideabooks, a collection of their best work that stimulates a design dialogue, since visitors can save and share them. “Think of Ideabooks as online manila folders,” says Hausman. “It gets customers front and center and attracts new customers to discover your work.”
Furthermore, all photos uploaded to Houzz.com appear in the site’s photo stream and in the Find a Pro business directory feature, a search option that allows visitors to find experts by category and metro area. That type of browsing power drives customers to your services that wouldn’t otherwise have noticed you existed, according to Hausman. And for those who want to refresh their space through paint and decorative finishes, a picture not only paints a thousand words, it becomes a virtual calling card.
“You tend to presell customers when you use photos. You have the ability to do due diligence before they pick up the phone, so when they do call they are ready to move forward. Photos close the deal and are a visually compelling piece of business,” explains Hausman, who notes 25 million homeowners visit Houzz.com per month looking to find professionals, design inspiration, and advice.
To shed the best light on your work, she recommends professional painters hire a professional photographer to snap photos of their completed finishes, including before-and-after views. While photography can be expensive, she notes that Houzz includes access to a network of photographers who can create a painting portfolio at a discount. “Most painting pros don’t invest in photography or understand the value of doing so; it’s not their day job. But it’s easy and affordable to get professional photography. We offer three price points, starting as little as $200 for a package of eight photos.”
POST WITH PURPOSE
Linnea Blair, who consults with many small-business painters and contractors as the owner of Advisors on Target, agrees that the web is an effective strategic format to attract new customers with images, particularly to catch the eyes of those who have painting on their minds. “Painting is a visual business. People who are thinking about remodeling, refreshing, and doing maintenance in their spaces want to see evidence. Photos draw them in and move them forward in their painting decisions,” she says.
Rather than uploading tons of random shots of your work, it’s important to post photos that distinctly showcase your best projects and niche, according to Blair. “It’s a chance to create the impression you want to create and demonstrate that you are a professional,” she says. She recommends using casual photos (think smartphone snaps) for ongoing project discussion with customers, and quality professional photos for publicity purposes. “It’s a stumbling block for painting contractors but they need to delegate photo responsibilities to someone or invest in a professional photographer.” Blair suggests painters include keywords and detailed descriptions of before-and-after shots to help viewers understand the visual transformation that has occurred.
“Describe the steps involved to get the before-and-after result. Use good labels and captions, and identify the process you used to improve a space,” she says. In addition to developing a photo-rich web site or online business profile, Blair strongly encourages painters to create a blog that features quality project photos. “A blog is a way to keep your content fresh, versus other formats where images may become more static,” she says. It’s also a chance to engage and interact with customers on a completely different level than just uploading a photo without any explanation. “Use your blog photo posts to cover topics and show how you solved a customer problem.” Plus, you can expand your marketing mileage by reusing the content in newsletters and other forms of communication, she adds.
BE A PICTURE OF SOCIAL IMPORTANCE
Blair is a big fan of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Yelp and Google Plus to create buzz around images. “Facebook, particularly, is a great place to have a presence because it attracts a large demographic of middle-aged females who tend to make a high percentage of color and remodeling decisions,” she says. “Posting on these sites gives you more opportunity to be seen and get noticed. Plus, customers can share photos of finished projects you have worked on as well.”
While the web and social media are excellent resources for painters to promote their work and increase customer interests, Blair believes traditional avenues of marketing such as brochures, post cards and other direct mail materials are still a viable and low-cost method to gain business traffic, even in a tech-driven world.
“Though the emphasis is on using online tools to post photos, for good reason, there’s tremendous value in using them in print media, especially to market to customers in a specific area,” says Blair. She also notes that the painting and contracting trade industries have opportunities for pros to position themselves as experts and gain exposure via project photos as part of speaking engagements, presentations and contests. For example, the Painting and Decorating Contractors of America (PDCA) hosts the annual KILZ Picture It Painted Professionally photo competition for superior craftsmanship that can shine the spotlight on your skill set.
Regardless of how you use images to keep and attract new customers, the point, she says, is to continue to tell your painting story through quantifiable photo proof. “A full-fledged marketing plan should consider all ways on how to use a multimedia approach to target audiences.”
Getting the Perfect Shot
If you don’t have a budget to hire a professional photographer, you can still get quality shots of your paint projects. Here is some advice on how to show your work in the best light, from technical setup to behind-the-scenes tips:
• Take close-up shots that capture detail as well as wide-angle shots. Both can be achieved with a normal lens; just stand back from the subject and focus on the center of the room to shoot a wide perspective.
• Use natural light, if possible. The best times to shoot an interior and exterior are east side in the morning and west side in the afternoon. Shoot north and south sides whenever the light is brightest.
• Be mindful of composition. Shoot a room lower than eye level and move furniture and furnishings around, if necessary, to mimic the staging of photos in home and design magazines. Also, keep it simple so the viewer can imagine themself in the space. And use a tripod to steady the camera; avoid tilting the camera so you don’t get image distortion.
• Go big for high-impact visibility. High-resolution photos with a minimum width of 1,000 pixels look best and they are more likely to get many more views.
• Take tons of photos. Even the professional photographers snap away to get one or two great shots.
• Use the equipment you have. Most smartphones have decent cameras so you don’t have to worry about F-stops and aperture to take a great picture. Plus, you can download many free phone photo apps that help you edit and correct your images for online publishing.
• Upload high-quality photos. If you create a Houzz profile, Liza Hausman advises using keywords related to the image, such as ‘Black Door’ or ‘White Kitchen Cabinets’ to help make them more searchable and help users find your photos.
• Talk to customers up front about taking photos, and build photography into your contract and schedule, rather than leaving it to the last minute, adds Hausman.
• Remember to take a series of shots while working in the field as the project happens, which gives you an opportunity to expose what was uncovered during the process, such as rotting drywall or lead paint, and explain how the problem was fixed, suggests Linnea Blair.