Designer Spotlight: Elise Kluge

We’re going to take a wild guess: You became a professional photographer because you love taking photos and you’re great at it… not because you had a burning desire to run a business. Right? 🙂

But nonetheless, here you are. And now, on top of rocking your photography, keeping your clients thrilled, cranking out marathon editing sessions, and juggling a million other responsibilities, you have to be a marketing whiz, too?! 

Let’s be honest… it can all feel a little overwhelming.

Elise Kluge–the owner of Mark Brand Boutique and one of ProPhoto’s mega-talented designers–feels your pain. And she has solutions! Elise and her team have helped tons of photographers and other small business owners “make their mark” and build a strong brand. 

And now she’s sharing her expertise with all of you. She’s taken photography business branding and broken it down into simple, totally doable steps. We feel empowered after hearing her advice, and we think you will, too.

How did you become interested in branding and web design?

My first exposure to HTML and web design was Myspace (sigh and chuckle). I was 14 years old and I poured endless hours into custom coding backgrounds and arranging my Myspace page. 

I designed my first stand alone website for a non-profit when I was 16 and continued freelance website design as a side-hobby throughout college.

In college, I studied marketing and business management. This is when I learned that successful businesses need both good visual design and marketing strategy. The happy marriage of visual design and marketing strategy is what we call “branding.” 

What are some of the things you enjoy most about your job?

At the beginning of each project, there’s a huge scary problem that the client feels so overwhelmed by. The clients’ issue can be many things; they don’t rank high in SEO, they aren’t booking clients, or maybe they are booking the wrong clients.

Whatever their issues are, I go into “investigative mode” to find a solution to their business problems. It’s hard work, but I love finding solutions, and it’s a proud moment when I see the impact our website design and branding solutions have on real businesses. 

I always keep in touch with my past clients. And when I see them growing in their business, I know I’ve impacted real lives. It’s an honor and pleasure to partner with these businesses.

Let’s talk about branding for professional photographers. What is it, and why is it so important?

Compared to other industries, it’s relatively easy for anyone to pick up a camera and start charging for photos. It’s wonderful that so many people can enjoy a career as a photographer. However, on the flip side, this means that the photography industry is highly competitive. 

So how can professional photographers stand out in a highly competitive market? There’s a simple solution called branding.

Professional branding and website design help photographers showcase their value and uniqueness to dream clients. It’s one of the keys to running a successful photography business.

For someone who’s just starting out and trying to establish their brand identity, what are the top 2-3 things to consider?

If you’re new to this “branding” thing OR if you’ve been running your business for a long time, DON’T PANIC! No matter where you’re at in your business, today is a perfect day to grow your business into a strong brand.

Consistency is key. Be consistent in your design choices and messaging. Use the same brand colors, logos, and graphics on all visual media. When talking to your customers, be consistent in what you tell them and how you say it.

Identify your intrinsic value. That’s just a fancy way of saying you need to build an emotional bond with your customers. Price is NOT the most important factor for buyers. If it were, then companies like Apple and Starbucks would be bankrupt. Think about your own purchases; you didn’t choose your camera because it was the cheapest camera you could find. You probably have a DSLR Nikon or Canon because you trust those names as “professional camera equipment” and have an emotional connection to those brands. This, my friends, is “intrinsic value.”

Have a solid website design. Your website is your virtual storefront and the most important branding tool in your toolbox. Your website goals should be to welcome visitors in, guide them throughout each page, and make them feel happy and comfortable enough to stick around. 

What about photographers who’ve been “in the game” for a while… is branding still important, and if so, what types of things should they be thinking about?

If you’ve been “in the game” for a while, then you’ve already engaged in “branding,” even if you don’t realize it. 

When a customer sees your logo, browses your website, or looks at your business card, they are interacting with your “brand.” Every interaction a customer has with your brand shapes their perceived quality and value of your business. 

It doesn’t really matter what you or your best friend thinks of your brand, the only opinion that truly matters is your customers’. 

So ask yourself, “What do my customers think and feel about my business?”

The consequences are simple, customers buy and connect to brands they perceive to be of high quality or high value. 

If you want to grow your business further, then it’s time to be intentional with your branding efforts.

Not sure where to start? We offer a FREE 3-Day Brand Bootcamp that will help you get back on track, regardless of how “out-of-shape” your brand is. 

What are some common mistakes you see people making when it comes to branding and web design?

The most detrimental mistake any business can make is to copy what everyone else is doing. 

Remember, the goal of branding is to help you stand out and differentiate. So what happens when everyone copies each other with the same branding? 

The answer: You blend in, no one stands out, and everyone loses.

The solution: Standing out doesn’t mean you can’t use templates to assist you and make your life easier. We encourage photographers to use tools that make building their brand simple and easy. When selecting brand templates, follow these two guidelines.

First, identify a niche “target market” (a.k.a. dream clients) that everyone else is not also targeting. What unique group of people can you target specifically? For example: If you’re a military spouse, then you have unique access to the military community. Target other military families for family portraits or homecoming sessions in your community. If you’re a student, then you have direct access to other students. Target students for graduation photos and professional business headshots.

Second, select a website theme or branding templates that resonate with your specific target market. So, if you are a military spouse targeting other military families for portraits, pick a website theme that compliments traditional military colors and showcase military families in your portfolio.

If you’re a student targeting students for grad photos and headshots, pick a website theme that compliments the local school colors and highlight your grad photos in your portfolio.

How important is online advertising for photographers (running paid ads through Facebook, Instagram, Google, etc.)? Do you have any advice for photographers who are thinking about advertising through these channels?

Without a strategic plan for your business, paid advertising is simply wasted money. 

It’s like throwing a wrench at a leaking faucet and hoping that the bolt magically tightens itself; it will never happen that way. 

Before you spend money on advertising, you need to have a specific target market, a solid brand, and a marketing goal.

Without these three key elements, you are paying for random people to look at your website who never intend to actually work with you. The result will be higher volumes of traffic, but no actual paying clients.

If you want to advertise, first take the time to understand who you are as a business and who your customers are. This step will save you thousands of dollars!

With social media being an increasing source of traffic for many photographers, why is it still important for photographers to have their own website?

People can take notice of your portfolio on visual platforms like Instagram (heck yea, it’s amazing how Instagram is changing the game!), but it’s through your website that viewers are converted into paying clients.

If you’re a professional photographer, your clientele will expect you to have a professional website that provides them a stellar brand experience and more information beyond your portfolio. This creates happy, loyal clients who refer you to their family and friends.

Could you share a few of the most important factors that photographers or other small business owners should consider when it comes to their website design?

People leave websites within 15 seconds if the site is not easy to navigate or they can’t find the information they were looking for. 

You can’t afford to leave your website design to chance, because chances are, your visitors will leave before they ever know your name.

Just because something looks pretty doesn’t mean it’s practical. Your website needs to be more than pretty. Successful websites have good visual design but more importantly, they are USER FRIENDLY (known as UX in the design world).

What made you choose ProPhoto as the platform for building Mark Brand Boutique’s designs?

I have personally used ProPhoto on my own websites and on many of my clients’ websites. 

The ProPhoto platform is an amazing service that I love and trust. The thing that stands out the most is their stellar customer support. For photographers who don’t feel confident with technology, ProPhoto is the best solution.

When you have an issue or question, you won’t get automated robot responses, and they don’t just point you to their online documentation. The ProPhoto support team actually works with each client to resolve their issues.

Admittedly, there are a lot of different website platforms out there. As a professional photographer you want a website platform that has your back and is willing to go the extra mile to help you achieve your website goals. 

ProPhoto is a reliable website platform for any photographer or creative who desires a good-lookin’, easy-to-use website with great customer service!

What is a project you’ve worked on recently that you’ve especially enjoyed?

I had a blast restyling Janeen Joy Photography’s website for her senior market. Janeen selected the “Sun Kissed” theme and we customized it to fit her specific brand personality and style. 

We even designed a custom senior brand guide and magazine that she printed and sent to a local high school.

We love restyle projects because they offer clients a boutique quality design on a DIY budget. It’s a win-win!

What are some trends you’re excited about in web design?

It’s exciting to see more and more photographers view their websites as more than a place to showcase a portfolio. Your website has the potential to be a client hub that gives your customers an experience that exceeds their expectations. 

Adding client-focused pages to provide specific info can relieve stress when it comes to picking an outfit or preparing for their session. These websites are geared for the user and are the perfect way to wow your clients and get more referrals. 

That was incredibly helpful advice, Elise. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise!

Photographers, what are some topics you’d like to learn more about when it comes to branding and marketing your business? Let us know below, so we can cover them in future posts!

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