How do you take a wedding photography business from 15 weddings a year to 54, then 76, and up to 210 in year four? Jim Kennedy of Jim Kennedy Photography in Huntington Beach, California, has the magic touch—and a strong dose of sales skill.
He’s practical and methodical about building a non-founder-centric business that can survive and thrive should he decide to slow down in 10 years. As passionate as he is about photography, he’s even more passionate about setting and meeting company growth goals. “It’s business first, photography second,” he says.
Man on a Mission
Did Kennedy photograph 210 weddings last year? No, he shot 98. With five full-time shooters, plus a staff handling phones, albums and print work, Kennedy relies on plenty of talent. “When I outlined my business I knew I’d need to train, trust and delegate. I set financial goals of where I wanted to be in 10 and 15 years. Many photographers are looking to attract the affluent bride. Some do a great job at it, but I reasoned I wouldn’t reach my financial goals serving that market.” His plan is working. The studio will gross $1,000,000 this year.
One of his most effective business strengths is his personality—he talks fast and with enthusiasm. He’s a born salesman. Past sales positions prepped him for this role. He admits he didn’t set out to found one of Orange County’s largest wedding photography studios; he started off dabbling as a weekend shooter. Eventually, this led to a family portrait career in 1996. Along the way, he learned from mentors.
“A friend assisting Joe Photo introduced us. For three years, I learned the ropes, watching him work, and absorbing.”
In 2002, Kennedy went solo. By year two, things started rolling. He attributes salesmanship, networking, and marketing with industry vendors as huge business drivers. One of his most successful marketing tools was 4”x6” postcards other vendors used to promote their businesses. In exchange for taking their floral, wedding cake, tabletop, etc. card images, Kennedy asked for a credit line. He also created a website. “About 98 percent of my business comes from word-of-mouth referrals from, either past clients or industry vendors,” he says.
Another successful marketing tactic is displaying “just shot” images at weddings. While guests are dining, he’s downloading from his Nikon D2x and Nikon D200. Quick selections are made and then arranged into a slide show. The laptop with slide show goes on a table with his business cards for guests to view.
And he’s tapping the power of the blog. “I’ve heard how great they are for business. This couldn’t be more true! All my brides tell their friends about it and they love it.”
How Brides Know Him
Kennedy claims his hallmark style incorporates “non-posed poses” and he loves doing outdoor work. “One of my favorite images is of a bride coming down an outside stairway at a hotel in Laguna Beach. It was rainy and very windy day. That wasn’t going to stop her from getting pictures on the beach,” he recalls. “I told her let’s give it a try; I knew we would get some fun images.” Kennedy ran down the stairs ahead of her. “I was right—the expression on her face was great! She’s holding her dress down with the wind blowing like crazy. It didn’t faze her a bit.”
Kennedy gives customers plenty of imagery in his studio. They pass two huge plasma screens in the window, a lobby with more plasma screens, and then on to a meeting area with yet another plasma screen, where slide presentations run all the time. He displays sample albums, mini albums, and talks about his team.
Honing the Details
With such a busy studio operation, Kennedy has refined everything from travel to client selection to digital workflow. This is a man accustomed to covering seven to 10 weddings each weekend!
When considering which events to take on, he usually opts for local over destination gigs, citing an ability to shoot three weddings in a weekend and not just one in Jamaica or Hawaii.
When travel is involved, he goes as light as possible and takes his BlackBerry. He wishes he had purchased it a year ago. “For shoots, I bring just two cameras and keep a small bag over my shoulder with extra lenses. It’s is a cool looking leather bag that I’ve put padding in; not an official ‘camera bag.’ but it sure does work great and has a hip look.”
Work starts the moment he arrives at a site; he almost always works with a second photographer. The team prefers natural light, but will use Nikon SB-800 Speedlights if necessary. He never uses a tripod, preferring to shoot fast and move on. For an average wedding, they shoot 3,000-plus images.