WE COULD LEARN a lot from the American approach to marketing, which is to be bold and brash and confident in your ability and very comfortable about telling the world exactly what you have to offer. It’s too easy to sit back and to expect your clients to come looking for you, but the simple fact is that your work could be outstanding and people still won’t be beating a path to your door because they don’t know you’re out there.
Creative people in particular can struggle with the mechanics of running a business but it’s important to realise that the actual picture-making process is just part of the story. Getting a grip on marketing is also crucial, and there is nothing distasteful about shouting about your skills and achievements and making the world aware that you’ve got a service to offer.
Take a look through our list of suggestions to see if there’s something you could benefit from. And always be on the lookout for good ideas: you can never afford to stand still and you should be evolving all the time and looking for fresh ways to sell yourself.
1. MAKE THE MOST OF GOOGLEʼS FREE BUSINESS SERVICE
With Google My Business, you can ensure information about your business, including map references, can easily be found by potential customers looking for photographers online. The best part is, it’s free: visit google.co.uk/business to find out how to get started.
2 . GET A VIDEO BIO
Think about whether you should be hosting an About Me video on your website. Do an Internet trawl to see what others are doing to get some ideas (see panel, overleaf). These need to be short and sweet and to the point, and their aim is to introduce you as a personality and to set you apart from bland, faceless websites. Definitely no hard sell here.
3. WORK OUT YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA STRATEGY
The nature of social media is that it’s evolving continuously, so think about your clients and choose the right way to go. Facebook still has lots of followers but there are plenty of younger, more agile options out there, such as Instagram, that are giving you choices. The big issue with social media is that it can become a time-consuming chore, so consider saving time by using a free app such as If This Then That (IFTTT) or Hootsuite to automate your posts. This allows you to post in one place and then have it automatically post that same content on to other platforms, saving time and widening your reach.
5. CONSIDER WHETHER A BLOG IS RIGHT FOR YOU
Blogs can still work but are becoming less widely used and need to be constantly updated. This is the only way that Google will know that your site is still active and it will boost your rankings. It’s also important to blog about things that your clients want to know: don’t worry so much about attracting other photographers, since these are not the people who pay your bills. For example, wedding photographers may want to put out a series on their blog with tips for brides for getting better wedding photography, whereas portrait photographers may post about what to wear to a session. Providing information to your clients helps them to value you and see you as an authority about the subject.
6, PAIR UP WITH OTHER SMALL BUSINESSES…
If you operate a portrait business consider setting up a day or so of mini sessions, each a maximum of an hour long, that can be competitively priced and offer access to something you’ve set up. For this, it’s worth networking with other, non-photographic businesses; for example, a business that offers fancy dress outfits, with a make-up artist to offer makeovers
followed by a photo shoot, or you could hire fairy costumes for children, pictures for people’s social media sites, official portraits for local business owners. Photographer Julia Boggio offers portrait sessions at a local lavender farm (see panel, page 38) when the crop is in full season and also teams up with people such as maternity consultant Hattie Weeks to offer new parents a bespoke portrait session. Think out of the box and come up with something original and engaging: smaller bookings are easier to place than one big one and can be more profitable.
7. …AND WITH OTHER PHOTOGRAPHERS, TOO
Network with other photographers in your line of photographic business. Don’t treat other photographers as the enemy: you can actually co-promote each other, agree to assist if they have bookings at times you don’t and pass on referrals if a booking comes in that you can’t accommodate. Be choosy by all means and make sure the photographers you work with are on the same wavelength and reliable: some photographers even arrange joint training days between themselves to pick up new skills and to acquire fresh images for the website.
8. ENTER COMPETITIONS ON A REGULAR BASIS
There are plenty of them around. If all you ever do is to shout about how good you are, chances are people will take that with a pinch of salt. If, however, you’ve got independent approval from recognised experts in their field – say a prize in a competition aimed at professional wedding photographers – then shout about this fact and use it to promote your business. It will set you apart from others in your area.
9. OFFER YOURSELF AS A PRIZE IN A COMPETITION OR PROMOTION
Don’t be tempted to give away your work on a regular basis, but set up maybe one big event a year where there is a genuinely decent prize on offer. A free wedding shoot will attract people in, and could bring in a lot of extra business, enough to cover the cost and a lot more. More importantly it’s publicity for the business and gets your name out there, especially if you set it up in conjunction with a local newspaper. Think about your target market and make sure that the competition is aimed at this sector: if you’re looking upmarket, for example, show the kind of packages that you’re offering and talk about the value of the prize so that people entering have an idea of your normal costs.
10. BECOME A LOCAL NEWS CELEBRITY!
Talking of local newspapers, offer to contribute a regular feature to a local paper or free sheet, where you can share general photographic tips.
From the paper’s perspective it’s a cheap page filler, but for you it’s a way of spreading the word about your business and adding to your credibility as an acknowledged expert. You should aim to contribute to some of the many photographic magazines out there as well, since again this gives you the opportunity to share with your clientele the fact that experts in your field consider you have something to offer.
11. ENCOURAGE WORD OF MOUTH RECOMMENDATIONS
Your clients could be your biggest asset in terms of introducing new customers. Offer them a free gift or a small discount on any future photo shoots should they be able to bring any new bookings to you: it’s word of mouth publicity, which is the most powerful form of advertising there is.
12. NURTURE THE CUSTOMERS YOU ALREADY HAVE
As well as attracting new customers, it’s vital to look after your existing clients and make them feel wanted and valuable. If you know such things as the date of their marriage or the birth dates of their children then consider a personal email at that time: maybe a first anniversary photo shoot at a special price, the offer of regular shoots during a baby’s first year, a ‘cake smash’ or the like for a subsequent birthday. If you look after a client you could become ‘their’ photographer and always in mind for future bookings.
13. PROMOTE YOUR BUSINESS CLOSE TO HOME
Get your name out there in your community. You can do this by offering prizes at community events, giving talks to local organisations, advertising in community newsletters, taking a stall at a local fete and maybe setting up a photo competition there that you judge. There are all kinds of ways to get your face known and people like to work with those that are local.
14. GO ON ACTIVE SERVICE AND JOIN UP TODAY
Be an active member of the various trade associations, such as the MPA, BIPP, SWPP, AOP, Guild of Photographers or even the RPS and do the work to get your distinctions. People like to think that the person they’re dealing with belongs to a professional body and, on a personal level, mixing with others at events such as the Societies’ Convention each January opens your mind to new ideas and different ways of doing things.
15. KEEP YOUR SKILL SET FRESH
Acquire new skills. Don’t ever get into a rut where you just do the same thing all the time and never move on. Aim to be always learning, and when you acquire a fresh skill put it to work and add it to your repertoire. With cameras now available across the board that offer high-quality video as well as stills you could, for example, add a simple film to your wedding coverage as an extra incentive for a booking. Go for just visuals with a soundtrack so that you don’t have to edit audio and have an assistant piece it together for showing at the reception.
All About Me
In the modern world people like to feel they know something about the person they’re booking to join them on their wedding day. One way of introducing yourself to potential clients is to produce an About Me video. The aim of this is to reveal a little bit about your personality and to show examples of your work in a controlled way. It can be quite simple, it needs to be short – at the most maybe a minute-and-a-half – and it has to be upbeat and watchable.
One of those who has taken the decision to place an About Me film on his home page is Manchester-based wedding photographer Sean Peters. “I produced it around eight months ago,” he says, “and really it grew out of a Facebook Business Page, which allows the head banner to be animated. Once I’d made a video for this space it made sense to host it on the website as well.
“While no one has yet said to me that they booked me on the strength of seeing the video, it’s easy to host, puts across good information and it makes my site stand out from some of the others out there.” www.sppv.net
Julia Boggio is constantly on the lookout for ways to develop her business and a few years ago decided she wanted to grow the location family photography side. “I had been offering location photography for years,” she says, “but most of my clients associated me with studio work, so I wanted something that would show our greater range of services. I knew that the nearby Mayfield Lavender field would really appeal to my clients, with its beautiful vista of undulating purple. “The first thing to do was to create a portfolio, so I had something to show clients. Next, I wrote the story and marketing materials. Finally: launch! Our launch consisted of newsletters, personal emails and phone calls to select clients to tell them about the new service. The first year, I had a few takers. The next year a few more. It’s like the idea had to bed into their heads for a bit before they took the plunge.
“I tend to try and group my lavender field shoots onto one or two days. The good news is that the sessions don’t need to be more than an hour long. It’s not like a normal location shoot in, for example, London – where you’d be walking around and looking for different places to shoot. You’re in a lavender field. That’s it. The harder part is to think up multiple poses for a wide variety of shots, working with the sun in an open field at all hours of the day, and avoiding bees (impossible). My sessions tend to last one hour, which I have found to be long enough.”
16. KEEP ADDING FRESH STRINGS TO YOUR BOW
Think about extra ways to generate income. If you’re a wedding photographer, for example, think about such things as a photo booth at the reception, that you set up and administer. Companies such as Mitsubishi now offer dye-sub printers that can virtually run themselves, and attendees at an event can log on and print out their own prints from smartphones as well. Do a deal with your client that gives you a decent profit on media costs and then guests can have free access to the printer for a set time. It’s hugely popular, gets the party going with a swing and clients are happy to pay a little extra for the service.
17. SEEK OUT AN INDEPENDENT VIEW OF YOUR BUSINESS
Book a business review from someone impartial, who will come in and take a look at your business from top to bottom. Sometimes you’re so close to it all that you lose sight of the fact that you need to be growing things. A fresh pair of eyes can often see something that you’ve not even thought about.
18. TREAT YOUR JOB AS A JOB, NOT AS A HOBBY
Be professional in everything you do. This starts with your letter heading, company logo and a well-produced, professional looking website – well worth paying a little extra for, since this is your shop window – and then you need to follow this through. Answering the phone should only ever be done by someone primed to promote the business – no calls at home answered by children or with a dog barking in the background for example – and show up for jobs looking smart and presentable. Some photographers will wear printed polo shirts with their company logo on, which are cheap to buy and can work in certain places, such as at an event. They’re not really suitable for such things as weddings and upmarket parties, however, where a smart suit will be a better choice.
19. DON’T GET CARRIED AWAY AT THE CHECKOUT
Don’t get gear-focused. Many of those who become professional photographers do so because they love gear, but hold yourself back and adopt a policy that everything you buy has to earn its keep. It’s perfectly possible to start up a business and grow it using slightly older kit or even second-hand gear. And don’t be afraid to rent in bits and pieces as and when they’re needed. Think about the cashflow at all times and don’t tie up more than you need, especially in the beginning.
20. DON’T BE AFRAID TO BLOW YOUR OWN TRUMPET
Don’t be shy. The world is full of photographers who shout about how great they are, but the ones with the biggest profiles are rarely the best. But you should be confident about yourself and your product and willing to tell the world about it. Think about giving a talk at the next SWPP Convention, for example, to share some aspect of your work that others might be interested in – how to upsell an album, for example – and if you’re passionate about what you’re doing word will spread.
21. KEEP YOUR EAR TO THE GROUND
Keep an open mind when you’re looking for ideas. It’s perfectly OK to borrow and adapt the ideas of others but don’t imagine you have to confine yourself to the photographic market. There may well be other small businesses in areas as diverse as interior design through to cake makers who will equally have some great and innovative thoughts that you can borrow from. Just keep looking.
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