Corporate headshots: Does your image matter?

Corporate headshots: Does your image matter?

Corporate headshot photographers would have us believe that without a professional portrait on our websites our businesses are doomed to fail. I’ve never really believed that, but lately I’ve been wondering – when it comes to small businesses, how much does image matter?

Ask yourself this

My first website photo

When I first started out, I dug up a photo of me taken at my last job for my website by the very talented Kane Vato. I like it. I’m smiling; it’s a good hair day (sort of – apart from the somewhat aggressive fringe). I think I look approachable but professional. Perfect. Sadly it’s now around five years old.


Brand building?

Then a few years later, I wrote some copy for a client, Sherbet Birdie, and she offered me a contra on some 1950s’ photography. I had three shots taken and decided that the one at my desk was cool and that I should put it on my website.

Like most of my brand building, it was done on a whim, with all of two minutes’ thought. (I had a very small human back then and was rather time poor.)

Since then my 1950s’ photo has become my trademark. In a sea of slightly tedious corporate copywriter shots, mine stands out a little. You either like it or loathe it and that’s fine by me.

But it’s also become a cross to bear.  It’s an image that I have to live up to.

Take this situation on a recent client call:

Me:                 “Why did you choose to work with me?”

Client one:    “Because you ranked so highly on Google.”

Client two:     “You liar, you said it was because she looked hot in the picture.”

Me:                  Embarrassed giggle.

<Long, awkward pause>

Client one:    “Thanks for that, mate.”

Thank God I didn’t have my Skype video turned on.

Or this client I met the other day (male again), who openly admitted that when he saw my website picture he thought ‘fwoar’ but when he saw my other Facebook page and he thought ‘meh’.
“You should stick to the 1950s stuff,” he told me. I didn’t dare ask what he thought of my unphotoshopped real-life self.

And here’s the problem

I don’t really look like my website photo. I don’t wear glasses, I can’t remember the last time I wore lipstick and though I don’t work in pyjamas, I rarely wear a sexy frock. (And I  generally refrain from sticking a pen provocatively in my mouth.)

So are some clients only employing me because they think I’m hot? And would they still employ me if they knew the truth?

My recent photo shoot

I recently had a photo shoot for my new book cover and quite frankly I hated the shots.

I hated them so much that I’ve scrapped them and rethought the whole cover concept. Yes, I looked a bit chubby and a touch like a man in drag, but it wasn’t just that.

I guess I realised I wasn’t 100% comfortable being the face of my own business.

I see so many women who market themselves as part of their business, with glorious shots of them sitting on desks, in casually expensive jumpers, their hair glossy, their teeth sparkling.

But I’m not a model, I’m a writer.

It’s my job to have a glorious brain, a firm grasp of grammar and a 95 wpm typing speed. It’s not my job to have perfectly plucked eyebrows and a pert bosom. Right?  Tell me I’m right – please.

As I see it I have three choices:

  • One: Employ a professional make-up artist, stylist and hairdresser to prepare me before every client meeting, every Skype call and every video I record.
  • Two: Keep pretending my Skype video is broken, refuse all client meetings and create a cartoon version of myself for use on branding and videos.
  • Three:  Accept my imperfect, slightly double-chinned self with open arms and get on with doing great work for my clients (even the ones who don’t fancy me much).

Over to you

How do you feel about using your image for business? Do you fret that the way you look could affect your business success?

Want to have a chat?

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Corporate headshots: Does your image matter? was last modified: by
  • Emily Read

    Well I don’t find women attractive, so I wouldn’t describe your picture as hot haha. BUT, I do like the way it’s 100% super full of personality. It’s fun, quirky, and not boring. And it really stands out, which is always important! I already chose to use my name for my business, so I have accepted the fact that I need to use my image too. That said, I hate my current photo (even tho it only appears in a coupla places), and have plans to get a new, fun, happy one in the very near future!

    • Well you don’t have a Gravatar set up so I can’t tell how hideous you really are!
      Yes choosing an eponymous domain name kind of asks you to shove your head everywhere. Thanks for the kind words Ms Read (great surname for a copywriter – is it real?)

      • Emily Read

        Is a “gravatar” the picture that I expected to appear next to my comment seeing as I commented while logged in via Google+?
        Yep, 100% legit last name! Top marks to my dad for that one.

        • It is, google gravatar and set it up (link it to your email) then it will appear on every blog you comment on. Well done Dad. I think Mr Toon for my silly but memorable second name as well!

  • Nicole Leedham

    As you know, I love your 1950s photo, and it does make you stand out among the rest of us that, you know, are just sitting there holding a cup of coffee. I’m not sure whether you look sexy since I don’t swing that way, but you certainly look fun-loving and quirky, while still being professional. So what are you going to use for your book cover now?

    • Well you see I love your coffee clutch and your brand name and yeah everything. You look so damned happy in your photo, I want you to write my copy AND be my best mate. I haven’t decided yet. But I thought that in a male dominated area (SEO) portraying myself as a 1950s housewife might not be the best plan. Something a bit more serious I reckon. Me in a badger outfit or something.

      • Lucy Smith

        You’d get a good share of the furry market, if nothing else.

        • There are a LOT of badger lovers out there. It’s a niche for sure.

  • the wordmistress

    Ahh I had to laugh; every time I look at my huge wall hanging wedding photo, I cringe because I always thought I looked like a man in drag on the day!! Happily, I’ve improved with age … and been divorced, so I can keep the photo FACING the wall now, behind a cupboard.

    You’re absolutely right; we’re copywriters whose brains (and creativity, expertise and exceptional way with words) are our bread and butter. I confess to having the glossy hair, possibly my best physical feature, but don’t shoot me … it’s not my fault lol. Meanwhile, everything else could do with an extreme makeover. Except my brain. It’s functioning pretty well and brings in the bucks.

    You’re awesome as you are, Kate. Even if that’s in jammies, many hairs out of place and chewing a pencil instead of posing seductively with it. I aspire to your greatness! 😀

    • Damn you and your glossy hair!! I have glossy teeth so and sparkling hair so I’m all good. I would write more but I’m busy chewing a pencil seductively. Thanks for reading Ms Gina!

      • the wordmistress

        Haha, we all have our strengths 😉 My pleasure.

  • Steve Manning

    Kate, I love your profile picture and from what I can gather, so does everyone else!
    It’s so unique and memorable and plays a role in helping you stand out from the crowd.
    Whether you look exactly like that, somewhat similar or nothing like it, doesn’t make a difference as far as I’m concerned. A good and professional client will hire you because you’re easy to work with, provide great service and write freaking awesome copy.
    You summed it up perfectly yourself: we’re writers, not models!

    • Ah thanks dude and look at you looking all dashing in black and white in your picture. Yeah totally – I guess I’ve put myself out there with a slightly sexy image so I am reaping what I’ve sown or something. But I just find it funny when I give people my business card and they look aghast and say ‘is that you’. My stock reply? “It was a good day.” Thanks for visiting Mr Manning.

      • Steve Manning

        Maybe you should put text on the image along the lines of ‘Any likeness to the real Kate Toon is purely coincidental…’
        Even better: ‘Location shot only’ like they do on real estate ads 🙂

        • Location shot only – that is GOLD. Using that for sure. Anyone would think you were creative or something.

  • Shae Baxter

    I love the photo of you with glasses and I think it’s become a signature look. It’s fun and I agree with Emily – it stands out. I recently had a photoshoot and I kept it really simple. I think the key is to just be yourself as cliche as it sounds

    • Yeah I saw your shots and thought they were awesome – I was ‘totes jelly’ as they say 🙂 I agree . You have to be yourself, albeit a slightly better looking version of yourself with some good lighting!

  • I like your first photo, it’s fresh and natural but secretly I would love to look like your 1950’s photos. I asked my husband on which photos he would hire your services and he said the 1950’s with you sitting behind the desk. After which I asked him if I should have a professional photo shoot done – he asked me if it’ll cost him money 🙂 Needless to say the photo shoot won’t happen anytime soon. No matter which photos you use you already are the shining star of the copywriting world!

    • I love your latest B&W shot, you look like a 1920s flapper. Yeah the money thing, why does everything have to cost MONEY!?? Thank dudes, I think of myself more like a black hole but one day I’ll be super nova!

  • Mitch Sullivan

    If it works (i.e. gets attention) then keep using it. So that’s one vote for option 3 from me.

    I do understand that these things are different for girls though. I’m glad I’m not a girl.

    • Ah but I’m not a girl either, I’m a 57 year old Bulgarian truck driver called Dave. I vote for option 3 too. thanks for read 🙂

      • Mitch Sullivan

        In that case, special kudos needs to go to the photo shoot make-up artist.

  • Bill Harper

    I don’t know, Kate. Somehow I doubt posing in a sexy frock would work for me. I’d have to shave my legs for a start, and I don’t own a hedge trimmer.

    But it’s definitely something I need to think about. The photo on my website is a few years old now, and certainly wasn’t professionally done. I was thinking of getting photographed wearing a suit (“Sharp dresser. Sharper Copy.”), but I *hate* wearing suits. And I’m not sure a guy wearing a Hawaiian shirt (what I usually wear) would work either.

    • Hmm I think you should COMBINE the Hawaiian shirt with the suit. Sharp with a twist is what you’re all about.

      • Bill Harper

        Yet another reason why I like you so much, Kate. That’s perfect! Now to see if my suit jacket still fits.

        Thank you!

  • I think your profile picture is really cool and yes, it makes you stand out. If I were you I’d keep using that for a while longer. Maybe you can add a more standard head shot on your About page that looks a bit more like you, so people know you don’t actually dress and behave like in that glamorous 50s photo.

    I’ve also pondered the question how long you can keep using a good profile picture. I had one I really liked but after about 6 years I felt I had to stop using it. Not that I’d actually changed all that much, but it started to feel insincere or something. Although I never liked any new photos I had taken as much as the old one, I replaced it anyway.

    Wondering if there’s some kind of ‘rule’ as to how old a professional profile pic can be before you should stop using it and replace it with a more recent one.

    • Yes I think any older than 5 years and it starts to become false advertising, although really why should anyone care how old you are? A good writer should be able to write for any target age group.

    • Bill Harper

      I’d say when your client walks into the room, you stand up to greet them, and they walk right past you because they don’t recognise you.

  • charlotte calder

    An honest, thought provoking and amusing as always tackle of a very vexed question Kate!

    • Indeed and Charlotte now you have such a lovely picture you really should set up your gravatar!

  • Lisa Gorton

    Kate, I think what attracted me to you at first was your profile picture and I’m totally straight. People like to look at aesthetically pleasing images and If you had a profile picture with Kevin at the BBQ I don’t think I would have read on. Sure, your glammed up and having a good hair day but it is still you, It’s part of your personality and it gives us an insight into your creativity and your clever marketing.

    • Ah thanks Lisa – that means a lot – especially given you’re a pro photographer! But as YOU know (one of the rare clients I’ve actually met) I’m even more lovely in the flesh!!

  • Your pic, Kate, has become your brand identity. It’s stronger and more memorable than than your logo (and that’s pretty cool too).

    If you were to sell your business tomorrow, I think the buyer would see the pic as a sellable asset. It conveys an idea as much as it shows who you are, so I reckon any buyer would want it as part of the whole package.

    And don’t be surprised if you see other copywriters nicking your ideas – especially the visuals.

    • Oh Kevin thanks! Funny you should mention copywriters nicking my ideas, I’ve just had someone ‘borrow’ my graphic panels from the homepage and another ‘use’ a whole page of copy.

      But what can you do? Yes my logo is a little basic – people have said I should redesign, but with such an ‘out there’ picture I think I need a straightforward brand.

      Thanks for commenting as always x

  • Clare Greig

    It’s the same as showing up in the real world. You wouldn’t go to an event with a bag over your head. It’s about building trust and being a “real person” online. As you would be if you had an office where clients can come and meet you physically. You need to do the same online. It’s not about ego here. Buying or booking a service online is a fairly un-nerving thing to when you have no idea who you are dealing with. So think of it just as showing up as a person as you would in the real world. Here I am, this is me. And just like if you were going to a client meeting you would turn up looking your best, hair smooth, lipstick on and looking as “hot” as you can.

    • Very good point Clare – you should be as real as you can be, but also make an effort to wash your fringe and brush your teeth. I guess that’s my point. Have I set the bar too high with such a foxy and stylised picture. I think I need to take the suggestion above and weave some more ‘real’ pictures of me through the site.
      THanks for commenting – always value your opinion.

      • Clare Greig

        I love your pic Kate, I reckon it’s ACE. I think it’s a mistake to use a cartoon or illustration but yours is real so I think it works really well. Love this post.

  • Belinda Weaver

    I think the key message that a professional headshot sends is “I give enough of a shit to make an effort” and that can be the edge you need to get an enquiry.

    Connections and relationships all start with a first impressions and we’re programmed to respond to faces…. Whether you bung yours on your homepage or just on your about page, I think a shitty pic costs you more!

    That said, it doesn’t I don’t cringe a bit at my “show pony pics”!

    • Sorry just saw this – yes I agree ‘a shitty pic costs you more’ that would have been a better blog title! It does help that you are a FHL – makes you really stand out.

  • Tom Harding

    The studio I work at tends to put heavy focus on staff portraits, so much so that when we redeveloped our website last year, we took full body shots of all employees and integrated a scrolling “meet the team” list. – Take a look –

    Personally, I think it’s had a very positive effect on the company’s image. To quote a cliche – it shows we’re young, dynamic and friendly (and have a sense of humour).

    I’m not on there as I only started earlier this year!

    • Yep that is super cool and fun to play with – it also shows diversity which makes me like your company even more. I mostly get photos taken from the neck up, but I really like this so I might be brave with the next shoot (and employ an expert photoshopper to smooth my lumps).

  • Good post. I personally love your picture, regardless of its questionable authenticity. It might be the creative side of me coming out, but I when companies and freelancers use images that tell me a story or something about them. I don’t expect that you dress up in 50s attire everyday. But it shows that you do explore/express various aspects of your personality. And that’s someone I want to work with.

    • Now that is what I wish I’d said in my post. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, by having a little bit of a creative ‘out there’ photo – it says a lot about who you are as a person, and as a writer. Thanks for reading and your excellent comment.