If you haven’t heard of wedding photographer Jasmine Star, you’re truly living under a rock. You’re also probably a guy, but I’ll leave that for later. With 40,000 likes on her Facebook page, 30,575 Twitter followers (I’m the 30,575th) and standing room only wherever she speaks, she’s truly a rock star of the photography world.
I don’t know her personally and, until recently, didn’t really know too much about her - other than her ubiquitous name. But over and over I heard from photographers, mostly newer and mostly women, about the impact that she’s had on their careers - so I decided to find out more about what has made her so popular. What is it that draws people to her and can I apply that to my own business?
Actually, I should say before I go any further that much of what I’ve heard about her has come from photographers who disparaged her work or her lack of experience (often from jealousy). The idea that this photographer of only five years experience could be deserving of the vast attention and accolades heaped upon her does not sit well with many of her more experienced peers. I can’t say I don’t share their envy, but to just dismiss her is to miss the opportunity to learn from her success and use that knowledge to contribute to our own.
The flip side to this is that I don't feel any strong emotional connection to her nor her message. Frankly, I feel that though her work is good, it's not really even standout compared to the many other talented photographers that I see on a daily basis. Yet, and this is important, this only makes her more interesting to me because she must be doing something truly special to achieve her level of success. According to her website, her starting price is $7,500. I know high-end photographers in her market (Southern California) with much more experience, contacts, published photos and such who charge less and are still hurting for business.
I started out by asking members on the the [B] School forum about what people learned from her. Then, I took a close look at her online presence, from blog to website to her Creative Live video to Facebook, to see how she interfaces with her public. I did much of this with help from a Marriage and Family Therapist friend. Together we looked to understand the underlying social-psychological principles at work in her communications. There was no shortage of note-taking in this exercise!
Finally, I’d like to say that though not all of my words may not seem to be warm and fuzzy, this Business Coach really is a testament to Jasmine Star's abilities, hard work, business savvy and the fact that she's a very smart woman. I’d like to thank her for this opportunity to learn and to share. So, without further ado, here’s what I have to say:
1. The pen is mightier than the photo.
Jasmine receives recognition for her photography and her willingness to share her (real or feigned) vulnerabilities, however her greatest strength arguably lies in her writing ability. Reading her blog is like reading a summer novel. Her stories of her life and of her clients are interesting, fun, filled with great characters and are just easy to get lost in.
Bottom line - it pays to be a good writer if you want people to be drawn to your blog and your work. Great writing gives life to the photographs it accompanies. To young aspiring photographers, don’t skip out on English and writing classes just because you think you want to take pictures. Nowadays, much more is required to break through.
2. People love a great smile.
Jasmine’s beautiful smile is all over her website and introductory video. Anytime you see her speak, her smile is never far from her face. Leave the grumpy persona at home. Smile, be happy; it’s infectious!
3. Romance sells.
Do yourself a favor and read Star’s blog - It’s filled with romantic stories about how couples met and their devotion to each other. If that’s not enough, she frequently adds in stories of her own deep, loving relationship with her husband. In this world of tremendous cynicism, weddings still offer a promise of romance and love. If you can tap into those feelings with your work and your personality, the clients will be plentiful.
4. Connect emotionally with your clients.
Everything you do revolves around this principle whether you realize it or not. The smile. The romance. The writing. The photography. All if it must ultimately connect with the client to make them feel something special and unique about you and your services. In my Business Coach articles, I offer (hopefully) valuable tips and suggestions about how to improve your work, however I don’t make you cry. Until I do, I will never achieve Star's level of success.
5. Feelings matter, content doesn’t.
The corollary to the above point is that what’s most important is the feeling you create in the client – not the work, your abilities or anything else. Now, some level of content and ability is often necessary to create the appropriate feelings. However content and ability only matter to the extent that they are useful in making the client feel something. In other words, better to be a mediocre photographer that makes people feel excited than a great photographer that leaves people feeling empty.
6. To build yourself up, knock yourself down.
People love the feeling that no matter how successful you may become, you’re still just good ol' down-to-Earth you. The following is a quote from Jasmine Star’s blog:
Though I've garnered awards for my work and was voted Top 10 Wedding Photographer by American Photo Magazine, my crowning accomplishment was making meatloaf for the first time last year. I, however, still need to work on making the meatloaf edible.
I cannot express just how brilliant and powerful this passage is. In one sentence she deftly communicates two completely opposite sentiments - that she’s a big deal and that she’s really quite ordinary. The feeling created here is, “Wow, she’s so humble and real for someone so talented.” Instead of thinking she’s arrogant, you empathize with her and just want to give her a hug. Genius.
7. Validation please.
One thing that Jasmine Star does so well is give people permission to be who they are. Over and over she instructs people to “just be you.” She lets people know that what they are feeling is wonderful and normal. All of us – men and women alike – want more than anything else in the world to be accepted for just who we are. We want someone to love us for not only the successful public persona we put out but for all the shortcomings and darkness we hide as well. Nothing in this world is more powerful than someone who sees all your failings and loves you not just in spite of them but because of them. Your success will soar with all the power of an oil gusher if you can tap into this strongest of all human needs.
8. There’s power in numbers.
Once you’ve got a following, then more people want to belong to your group. Those in the group continually want to confirm their membership in the group by acting consistently with other members of the group. Call it groupthink, cult of personality, Beatlemania or even religion. People want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Once they’re in it, their critical eye goes to sleep and they’re much more open to influence by the leader and their fellow group members.
9. Details matter.
I’m talking about the wedding day details such as who made the dress, the shoes and such. If the bride walks down the aisle in Manolo Blahniks, you damn well better take a shot of the shoes, post it on the blog and make a note of it. Did the bride hand make the table settings? Write about their exquisite craftsmanship and fun design! A client is much more likely to hire someone who’s going to appreciate and highlight all the hard work they’re doing to produce the wedding.
10. Be consistent. Be consistently good.
All of the design elements of Jasmine Star’s brand look good and work together. They communicate a sense of high value. She may preach “being real” but equally important is looking really good in the process.
11. Cry when you sell.
People love seeing someone who appears vulnerable. When you open up to people and let them see a less than flattering side of you, they’ll reward you with their allegiance and, ultimately, their dollars. In a Creative Live video, Jasmine Star cried on camera just as she introduced the links to her sponsors’ websites. Everyone in the room was genuinely teary eyed. Now, I’m probably just a mean old cynic but I can’t think of a better way for getting people to believe in a product than getting so emotional that you’re crying. Next time you’re sharing an album with a prospective client, show as much emotion as you can muster. If you can shed a tear, go for it!
12. Honey attracts.
Be nice to people and always stay positive. The other day I was reading a forum thread where someone was admonishing others to be nice to their clients – while at the same time insulting the very people he was addressing. Just drop the harsh tone altogether. Be unfailingly kind to others. You’ll live longer, be happier and make more money. (This is one I’m working on. I’m trying though!) The next time you’re wondering how to respond to a challenging client or other photographer, ask yourself, “What would Jasmine do?” Answer: She’d smile, laugh and make fun of herself.
13. Enthusiasm is contagious!
If you’re not excited about your work, your business and you as a person, no one else is going to be either. Smile, laugh, talk with your hands, show feelings, get excited! Practice talking in front of a mirror. Pretend you’re talking to a client. See what the client sees. Would you buy from you?
14.Don’t forget that your client is usually a woman.
Most guys don’t understand why Jasmine Star is so popular. They probably also don’t understand why their business isn’t doing so well. Women tend to value emotional communication much more highly than men. If you think you’re going to win over brides by bragging about how many megapixels your camera has, think again. They’re much more likely to respond if you talk about how much love you have in your life.
15. I like you. You’re like me.
Opposites rarely attract. Instead, we look for people who are much like ourselves. What Jasmine Star does so well is tap into universal needs for acceptance, validation, empathy and connection so that when people see her they see someone much like themselves. The more that you can communicate shared values with your clients, the more business you’ll bring in the door. We communicate these values through our work, our personalities, what we write, our smile and in every little thing the client sees from us.
In her talks to photographers, Jasmine Star passionately advises her listeners that “the most important thing is you.” And while I don’t disagree with that, I think the more powerful lesson from her success is to understand that the photography business that is “you” will do much better if it also embodies the principles expressed in Star’s work, her personality and every element of her brand.
So in closing, I’d like for all off us to come together in one big group hug. Imagine all 15,000 readers of this newsletter coming together with big hug. That would be fun!