Steven Begleiter's clients know he'll always bring them the shot because he's a collaborator, and his open communication approach lets them know he's on the same page. They trust him because he's never let them down, and he's sure to take advantage of every minute he's on the set, looking to deliver more than they asked for and increasing their options-making him a valued asset.
Based in Missoula, Montana, when Begleiter is not on a shoot or teaching Business and Marketing/Personal Portrait Workshop at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography (RMSP), he's also marketing himself smartly, making sure that past clients don't forget him and that new clients are always calling. He's sure his move from a busy studio in Philadelphia to Big Sky Country was the right choice.
The Art of Consistency
A master of all genres, Begleiter may not deliver an image that resembles his last, but he knows he's delivering service that's consistent and remembered. "You know, I don't think I have a visual style," Begleiter claims. "There's so much variety in the subjects I shoot that I'm a bit of a rogue, doing portraits, celebrities, weddings, interiors. One thing for sure is that without a foothold in a niche, I approach every job as if it's my last shoot if I blow it. This focuses all of my energy and lets me deliver a great product, and the client is aware of that focus as a strong point, and a reason to come back for more."
The consistency of that focus and the great photographs it achieves is the constant in all of Begleiter's work, and his goal is always to further develop that trust and confidence. "I've been able to maintain clients for so long with my creativity and input because I'm always brainstorming with them," he says. "I'm also giving them the out of ‘please tell me if I'm off the mark here' when we're throwing ideas around."
In addition, Begleiter insists that listening to his clients carefully and filtering what's important to his process-and what's not important-helps him create a visual plan in his mind with a goal of how to achieve what the client wants, and also deliver a little more, a bonus for having hired him for the job. "I try to deliver more than the client expected, which is where my organic process comes in," he says. "When the safety shot is in the can, I like to play a little, and sometimes the clients are thrilled with the results. They like to see the range I can produce, whether they use the shot or not. Think about it-they're always looking for the right photographer for the job, and the more range you can show them ups your chance for being hired next time."
As an example of how to go the extra mile, Begleiter recalls a time he was on assignment to photograph a book author, and all the client had requested was a simple portrait in front of a canvas backdrop. "That took a whole five minutes, so I asked the author if she would like to head outside for a few shots, where I set up four other shots as quickly as I could," Begleiter says. "Keeping things in mind like this, thinking out of the box, gives you options for covers, double-page spreads, etc., and gives the client much more than they had asked for-always a bonus for them, and for the photographer, especially a photographer looking for assignments down the road. I love the challenge, too, of creating that kind of variety. I love to incorporate some texture and warm light, and I get totally into it-the creation is the fun part of the business for me."
While Begleiter's photography is a consistent deliverable, he attributes his success to the preplanning, too. "Before a shoot I have a ritual," he says. "I go through all my gear, make sure everything's working because when I'm on the shoot, I want to work freely, not think about the technical stuff. It's like stretching out before running a marathon-you get into the zone with the preparation"
Marketing a Difference
Recently, Begleiter accepted an invitation to teach business and marketing at the RMSP, leaving his studio business in Pennsylvania. Begleiter knew that to also continue his photography business in a smaller town, his marketing and business plan would need to evolve.
"When on the East Coast, ADBASE, though pricey, was the ticket for photo buyers, listing my marketing targets," Begleiter says. "But here in Montana, I decided that Workbook buyer listings let me know the local photo buyers and potential clients that likely would be interested in my work. I send out four sets of postcards each year, honing in on a list of about 250 clients that I think may like my work, eventually leading them to my most important marketing tool-my website. I follow up with phone calls. It's time-consuming being so relentless, but it has reduced my overhead, and it's working. It's been 12 months since I started here, and I've actually doubled my profits from my second-to-last year in Philadelphia by simply reducing my overhead."
Begleiter says that having a strong portfolio in your area of marketing is important, but that side projects, too, can win you big jobs-especially when the client sees the passion in the images. While his paid assignments illustrate Begleiter's wide range, his forte is black-and-white people photography. "Black-and-white portraiture is where I always get my strongest response, such as from my books Fathers & Sons and a personal project entitled Stickerville," he says. "I always think about personal projects, like books. An average photobook sells about 3,000 to 4,000 copies and won't likely be touched by publishers unless it can be tied into tourism in some manner to help boost sales. Self-publishing lets you really get your name out there, but the catch is that you have to pay for it. In the end, it's all about building credibility while expressing your passion and dedication to the art. If the clients like what they see in those respects, they're much more apt to hire you."
Begleiter asks his RMSP students to write a business plan, and that plan includes a marketing strategy that looks ahead long-range-and he's not surprised how blown away the students are when they learn there's so much to the photography business. He reinforces his lessons by telling students that he has two file cabinets filled with rejection letters, and that referencing them is often what inspires him. "Photography is about your vision, but also about failure," he says. "As cliché as it sounds, we learn from our failures. Anytime we're shooting or working in the industry, we're learning. Do whatever you can-just let it be in the area of photography."
Begleiter also stresses that the school of hard knocks lets you learn to cope with rejections and be ready for disasters and for the on-set challenges. He says the photographer has to realize that there's always something that's going to go wrong, and as a professional, the job is to improvise and ride with it. "Never let them see you sweat," he says. "You don't want your client to lose confidence in you, ever. My clients know they can count on me, and that expectation reassures them."
With nearly a quarter-century of being in the business, you can bet he's right!
For more information visit Steven Begleiter's website at www.begleiter.com