Building a photography business depends on your understanding of business. Yes, talent is helpful but it is no guarantee of a successful photography career. Knowing what is coming in and what is going out related to finances helps make you profitable. Being mindful of the quality of your products and services builds your reputation. Just as important is understanding how to attract new clients and keep current customers so your business skills turn a profit. This is called marketing and marketing plays a role in every part of your photography business.
Marketing is not advertising
Advertising is the act of placing ads in various forms of media to attract new business, promote awareness or encourage people to take a specific action. Advertising is part of an overall marketing plan. Everything else you do is a part of marketing because it can affect whether someone buys from you or returns as a client.
How you answer the phone, how quickly you turn your photographs around, your presentation and sending a thank you card are all part of marketing. How you market develops your brand, your brand is your reputation. The customer experience makes a huge difference and plays a major role in whether someone returns for more work or refers you to their friends and associates. So, lets start there in our list of 11 marketing strategies.
Eleven marketing strategies
1. Plan the customer experience: Plan out the details of how your clients will experience working with you and your business. Begin with how you introduce yourself and carry it to the thank you card at the end of the assignment. How do you deliver your photographs? For some photographers, it is all about the presentation. For my clients, it’s about speed and ease of downloading the images. One thing I know is the more I communicate with my clients, the happier they are at the end of the assignments.
2. Mistakes: How do you handle errors or mistakes? Your brand depends on you handling issues with a fast response and reasonable resolutions. This is a marketing issue because a poor reputation will hurt your business. You will never please everyone. You can’t. Get your head of the sand and think about every possible situation that could go wrong and how you will handle it. Keep a solutions document easily accessible so you don’t need to reinvent your business protocols with each situation.
3. Social Media: Business is about people and building relationships. I don’t recommend you advertise in your social media stream, but I do recommend you market and help other people market for you with testimonials. Just like business offline, people are the key to the growth of your business. As a photographer you are fortunate that sharing your photographs is well received in the social media. Showing family and friends your latest images on Facebook can lead to referrals because your family and friends are already sold, and they trust you. Twitter, Flickr, 500px, Pinterest, Google+ may all lead to relationships and referrals that add to your bottom line.
4. Say hello: People like to be acknowledged. The best networkers are the ones who say hello, don’t focus on themselves, and introduce people to each other. It works. They remember you in a positive light and are more apt to refer you to others because they like you.
5. Pay people quickly: Believe me, I know this is a tough one, especially when your income is not consistent or you are waiting for people to pay you. You have to remember your vendors are part of your network. They are often in the same industry and they talk. People are more likely to say positive things about you and your business if you pay them on time or before they expect it. If you are having trouble, always keep in communication.
6. Combination Code: Honestly, we live in an age when anyone can be a photographer. Understanding how to compose images, achieve proper exposure ,and having your friends like your photographs are not the prerequisites to becoming a professional photographer. A camera is no longer a magic box in need of a qualified magician anymore. An excellent photograph is easily created by pulling your phone from your pocket and pressing a button. Professional photographers must do more than just take pretty pictures to attract clients. They need to offer something that separates them from the competition. Here is a hint: it’s not the claim of great service, the best guarantee or low prices. These are the cries of the uninformed business owner headed toward going out of business. Combine a technology, industry or an additional talent to your core photographic strength. This way when people select you as their photographer it’s because they want your style and services. They are usually willing to pay the price, too.
7. Increase your rates: This is one of the most counter intuitive things a photographer can do. It is true you may lose some clients and opportunities. You will may work less, but you will most likely make more money in the long run too. Every time I raise my rates I lose the clients that take too much of my time and don’t want to pay for it. I find new clients who believe quality photographers charge more and are willing to pay the price for the best. I like these clients, you will too.
8. Become the expert: This works very well for me. Writing books for photographers, speaking, and consulting has placed me as an expert in the fields of photography and marketing. This is another place where social media is beneficial. All of my online and offline activity related to photography also has led to people sharing and linking to my websites, which boosts my profile and ranking in the search engines. This makes it easier for prospects to find my photography services, which leads to new clients and food on the table.
9. Ask for the sale: Yes, this is a sales technique and it should be part of your marketing plan. When you are communicating with a prospect about your services, don’t leave the conversation without giving someone the opportunity buy from you. Ask for the sale or at least a commitment to buy from you. Have paperwork ready in person or a PDF to email immediately. You don’t need to be pushy. I assure you the act of asking will often end the prospects search for a photographer and increase your income.
10. Media: As a longtime newspaper and magazine photographer it pains me to write this suggestion. The fact is most media outlets don’t have much of a budget. If they do, take it. Always ask for some type of compensation — it doesn’t need to be cash. Photographers need to look at media as an advertising platform. Note: A one-time shoot does not count; It needs to be a consistent gig.
As a regular contributor to magazines and newspapers I’ve made more money through networking and building business relationships with the people I meet in the field. One magazine I work with is an advertising/trade relationship. No, I don’t gain much from the advertisements. Nonetheless, this relationship is priceless. They do refer work to me from time to time. More importantly, I have photographed some of the most high-profile people in my community for the magazine covers. I photograph governors, mayors, presidents and CEOs of major corporations. The relationship with this magazine boosts my portfolio, my status as a photographer and it helps me close more deals.
11. Email: Don’t forget email. It is one of the most powerful online marketing channels available. I don’t recommend buying lists, but if the list is clean and from a reputable resource, there is nothing wrong with testing. I recommend you collect your own emails by offering newsletters. This fits well with becoming the expert. You may trade emails for a photograph or your best photography tips. Lastly, when you meet people, ask them to circle their email on their business card and in turn you will send them your newsletter, photo tips or portfolio updates. I mean really, who doesn’t want to see the latest work from a photographer they know?
Remember, everything you do is marketing. This is especially true if it is seen by the public or the are results felt by the client. Always examine what you are doing and you can build a profitable photography business.