If you’re a good boudoir photographer, you have a very definite sense of what makes a client look their best: how to light them, style them and pose them.
If you’re a good marketer, you know how to make your business look its very best with the right brand voice, logo, marketing materials, etc.
If you consider yourself both of these things, you’re a master of enhancing identities.
As a brand consultant to more than a dozen photographers across the United States and Canada, I find that there is one major aspect of the total brand identity that many photographers overlook: their stylists.
Finding the right stylist, or HMUA, is more than a game of trial and error. It’s a decision that affects not only how your images will look, but also how your business looks to your target audience. Consider the fact that your stylist spends more than half the session time with your client. She is instantly both the “face maker” and the “face” of your brand during that session. She (or he if you’re so lucky!) is a decision that is worthy of your time, attention, and….wait for it…. your money.
She has the skills. But does she/he have the skills needed to grow with your business?
In my past years, I’ve worked with some wonderful HMUAs who can style a woman pretty as a peach. When I asked for a wild eyed, rock-infused look for a model’s portfolio, they could not execute. The result was the same one-trick-“pretty hair”- with-a-slightly-smokier-eye. If I cannot supply the clients with the variety of looks they need, she is not the stylist to take me forward.
Does he/she herself have “the look” you want for your clients to remember you by?
Flashback two years ago. I hired a perfectly fine stylist who was frequently available, adequately talented and, best of all, inexpensive. This said, she was not very bright, had terrible (as in extremely unstylish) roots in her hair, noticeably loud gum chewing, pants that were always too small, and an ever-present thong hanging out (also too small). While I really and truly try to find beauty in every woman, indeed this did not scream “This is a high end studio!” to my clients. It was not a fit.
My current HMUA is a well educated, beautiful, beautiful soul with magenta, lilac, or sometimes sunflower-yellow hair. She has a nose ring, wears spider web fishnets and combat boots with her lacy dress. Is this OK with me? Absolutely. My business is about the creation of ART. She looks like an artist. She is high-end authenticity. Score!
Is extroversion essential?
Every brand should have an experiential takeaway among its clients. My best friend wants every client to walk away like they just partied for an hour. He wants loud dance music, champagne flowing, body-rocking goodness for the whole session. For me, my sessions are a transformative experience, a cathartic emotional journey.
Considering that the HMUA time is essentially foreplay to the client session, the amount of Chatty Cathy we need from each of our stylists is vastly different. He seeks a peppy conversationalist, whereas I love the quiet, calming, zen nature of my HMUA. Think about your ideal client. Who is she, and which would she prefer? Consider your HMUA accordingly.
Do I need a ‘stable’?
When assembling your team of thoroughbred stylists, it never hurts to have a backup HMUA if your stylist is not available. However, I’d always recommend you aim for consistency above all else, so your quality signature look remains steady. I can always tell the difference in my images when I use different stylists.
Great, loyal stylists are worth their weight in gold. The question is not “How Much Should I Pay Today”, but rather, what is this service worth to me?
I believe in compensating stylists well above the average rate in my market. Why? Because I know that every other photographer is looking for a bargain here. Better pay rates mean that I am always going to be their top scheduling priority, their best efforts, and their greatest enthusiasm towards my clients.
Even when we do test shoots, I believe in paying them get the best possible results. Their supplies are expensive, as is their education, so you owe them their worth.
Depending on the nature of your business, and the laws of your state, you can pay them as employees, independent contractors, or have clients pay them directly (thereby avoiding your need to account for their earnings). It is best to consult with an accountant.
Should I give them files?
I see this question all the time across forums. Yes, you should give them files! Spread your brand love far and wide. Keep them happy. Keep their portfolios well-stocked with your work. If you are good to them, they can be your greatest advocate, referral source and provide additional online reach. Social media is funny like that. (wink, wink.)
Should we have a contract?
It’s always great to have things in writing from a legal perspective. However, this largely depends on the specific laws of your state and the nature of your business. To protect your brand, you may wish to consider things like non-disclosure agreements, Independent Contractor work agreements, stylist guidelines/lookbooks or other expectations to abide by.
Considering the amount of time your stylists spend with your clients, they are providing the foreplay to your session and the memories of it long after. Who will stylishly represent your brand?