5 Deal Breakers that Turn Away Clients

Part 3 of 5: By Jamie M Swanson

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5 Deal Breakers that Turn Away Clients

Part 3 of 5: By Jamie M Swanson

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Here’s what we know so far:

Part 2: Who Are These New Clients?

  • Business Owners need a steady stream of new images to market their business (and they don't want to DIY it. They are happy to hire an expert that saves them time and takes high-quality images that grow their personal brand)
  • Personal Brand Photography genuinely helps people grow their business.
  • Approximately 1 in 11 people in the United States is running a small business, so there’s plenty of potential new clients (and this number continues to grow).

It was late 2017 when I decided to start growing my personal brand and wanted to hire a photographer to take some photos for me.

Having been a photographer myself since 2008, and a leader in the industry since 2011, I didn’t expect this to be a challenge at all.

I could not have been more wrong.

There was no one in my state at the time that showed me they REALLY understood my needs as an entrepreneur.

No one showed me (at least not on their websites) that they knew how this was different from a typical portrait session or an old-school headshot.

It was mind boggling.

So I searched everywhere in the world, being willing to fly someone in who really got it.

And I only found 4 people anywhere online that showed me they truly understood what I was looking for and how it could help me grow my business.

That’s when I had my “Harry Potter Moment”.

It was just like that moment when Hagrid finds the young Harry Potter, who has been neglected and hated all his life, and tells him something that changes his life forever.

“Yer a wizard, Harry”.


And suddenly, everything makes sense.

All the weird things that had happened in his life in the past, that seemed like magic, actually was.

He got perfect clarity, and suddenly knew he had a greater purpose and identity to adopt.

That’s exactly what happened with me as well.

No, I’m sadly not magical. I’m just a common muggle (sigh).

BUT, in that moment, I realized that I could help save the photography industry by teaching photographers all about Personal Brand Photography.

I am connected to thousands of online entrepreneurs that need this and want this.

So I felt this deep calling to lead the Personal Brand Photography movement because I KNEW this was only going to grow.

That’s why I am writing this series.

That’s why I’m about to share with you the deal breakers that I kept seeing over and over.

Because most of these deal breakers are old, outdated best practices that are still being taught by many leaders in our industry, and you’ll lose each and every personal brand photography client you find by continuing to practice these.

A Word of Warning:

I said this before, but it’s worth saying again.

Some of these are going to be hard to hear.


Others may make you take a huge sigh of relief (like no In-Person Sales!)

But regardless, these truly are deal breakers, so come into this list with an open mind, and I’ll do my best to explain why they will turn clients away.

Deal Breaker #1: Outdated Pricing & Sales Models

There are 2 big things to understand here.

First, we absolutely are not selling prints or doing upsells here.

We need to be giving full-resolution digital images that our clients can use both online, in print, or even on billboards if they want to.

Not only that, but we are giving them almost full commercial rights so they can use these in their businesses.

Before the internet, commercial usage prices were set based on distribution locations, channels, and time.

It was super complicated, and SUPER expensive.

When the internet came along, it changed everything.

You client has far less control as to how far and wide an image may be shared once it’s put online, and they're not going to want to take a post down after a specific amount of time.

So that pricing model is totally outdated and won’t work (and it’ll turn every client away).

Second, you can’t do In-Person Sales.

If you do in-person sales and require them to spend all that extra time picking and buying images (and not knowing how much they’ll end up paying in the end), you’ve lost them.

Not only do businesses need to be able to budget up front for expenses, but time is their greatest asset.

They can’t make more of it.

They will happily pay more up front knowing exactly what they are getting and not having to spend more time and money later in a sales meeting to get the images they want.

We are going to offer them a simple, time-effective pricing and sales model.

They know exactly how much they will be paying up-front and they’ll get almost full commercial usage rights.

Deal Breaker #2: Watermarks & Image Credit Requirements

In the past, I was all for watermarking your images and requiring your clients to credit you with a link to your page, website, or social media accounts whenever they used the images online.

But with Personal Brand Photography, our goal is to grow THEIR brand, not ours.

And if we’re working with particularly high-profile clients, they often get paid thousands of dollars for a single mention so it’s totally inappropriate for us to expect them to do this EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. they use one of our images.

Plus, if it’s being used in a Facebook Ad, they would basically be paying to send traffic to our site as well as theirs.

It doesn’t make sense. In any way.

Our #1 goal has to be to help grow THEIR brand and business, not ours.

So no watermarks allowed.


And while you can tell them that credit is appreciated if they want to do that, you’d never REQUIRE them to credit you.

Basically, don't do what I used to do when I first started my photography business:

bad editing zombie photo

(I have no idea what ever made me think that this totally rad “zombie” edit would ever be cool….

But this, my friend, is some of my earliest professional work. I pulled it out just for your amusement. It’s so bad.

And with work like this, if I was able to improve and make business work, so can you!)

Dealbreaker #3: Not Allowing Them to Edit the Photos


This one is the one that is most difficult for most photographers to accept.

We are growing THEIR brand, not ours.

If they have a proprietary Instagram filter they slap on everything, we have to let them do it.

If they’re working with a terrible graphic designer who things black and white with a bit of spot coloring on it is a good idea, we have to let them do it.

It’s SO painful.

I know.

But if we don’t allow them to edit the photo or modify it however they need to, it’s a complete dealbreaker.

For example, I got to see one of my images on a 60 FOOT screen at a TRIBE Live in 2018, and they did all sorts of editing to it.

If I hadn’t allowed them to edit the photos (and if they didn’t have the full-resolution image), there’s no way this would have happened.

And I can’t tell you how awesome it felt as a photographer to see my work being displayed in front of all those people on such a huge screen.

(In fact, I’ve gotten several dozen inquiries because of this one session with Stu & Amy McLaren since then, even without watermarks and without requiring credit!)

Check it out:
Tribe Live 2018 60 Foot photo by jamie m swanson on the screen of Stu McLaren and Amy McLaren
And here's the original photo I took of them:

Deal Breaker #4: Not Understanding Web Use

This might seem like a subtle thing, but it is really important to understand.

You’ve got to adjust your compositions and how you photograph your clients to fit the various ways they use images in their business.

For example, my original photo of Stu & Amy above might be fine for Instagram (my thoughts when taking it), but it wasn’t ideal for the 60’ screen and they ended up having to do a relatively awkward crop.

So here’s a few things to keep in mind as you’re shooting personal brand photography images:

Shoot Landscape
Shoot more in landscape orientation than in portrait orientation UNLESS this is exclusively for Instagram and your client specifically asks for portrait orientation.

(It’s really hard to crop a vertical photo into a Facebook ad or website banner image!)

Avoid the Center!
AVOID putting anyone in the center of the image! Keep subjects on the edges (looking INTO the photo, not out) to give maximum flexibility with cropping for various online platforms and needs.

Zoom out!
Leave lots of white space! Your client may want to put a quote or some informational text over the image, and they will need space so they aren’t covering the focus!

Here’s an image of a fabric line I did for Alison Glass and how she needed lots of space above the fabric for text.

Alison Glass Fabric Handcrafted Photo by Jamie M Swanson

In the end, you’ve absolutely got to understand how your client will be using the images so you know exactly what composition and format is best for their needs.

Dealbreaker #5: Photos Don’t Reflect Their Brand

To truly reflect someone’s personal brand in the images we take, you can’t just treat this like a typical portrait session where you just show up and shoot without a plan.

We MUST understand who our client’s audience is and create a set of images that will help them connect with their followers in a meaningful way.

This is at the heart of Personal Brand Photography.

You’ve absolutely got to spend some time getting to know your clients, their needs, the type of person they are trying to connect with, and planning out how to create images that strengthen their brand and create that connection.

In fact, I believe the best way to do this is through story-based images.

I’ve created an entire StorySession System which I’ll walk you through later in this series that helps you understand how to do this.

But I want to be SUPER clear about something first.

Personal Brand Photography is NOT Glamour Photography.

You can’t just add a new session to your business and call it Personal Brand Photography but still just treat it like a slightly-more-personal headshot or glamour shoot.

Your clients will be disappointed.

Like my friend here:


Likewise, you can’t just take the same ol’ generic image of a person in front of their laptop, on their phone, or chatting with a glass of wine.

Yes, they may want these as part of it, but only if it really fits their brand and tells their story.

And we’ll talk about more about that soon.

Are you excited yet?

I know that some of these are really hard to accept (especially Deal Breaker #3!)

If this didn’t freak you out completely, and you’re excited to add this to your business, then I have even more free awesomeness to share with you!

In the next two parts of this series, I’m going to tell you why most people reading this right now will fail (unless they do this ONE specific thing!) and I’m  going to walk you through the entire StorySession System I’ve created to help you know exactly how to take incredible Personal Brand Photography images and find and book these clients for yourself.

So let’s keep going!


  • Many former best practices that used to help you grow your business are now outdated, turning clients away and losing you business.
  • You cannot treat Personal Brand Photography clients like traditional consumer clients.