The Business Savvy Photographer: Marketing Your Photography Business

“A company that doesn’t have a marketing plan is like someone winking in the dark. You know what you are doing, but no one else does.”

– Author Unknown

I have seen this too many times in the past 30 years. Photographers with great image making skills who are struggling to find the next assignment and photographers with average skills that are booked well in advance. This comes down to one thing and that ‘one thing’ is ‘Marketing’. If you are not telling everyone you meet what you do, how you do it and how you can help them, then you are missing opportunities. This is networking and it will be something you will do every day.

Remember, we all know people who know people. They may not need your services right now, but someone they know may. If you make enough of an impression on them they will spread the word for you. Remember your networking tools: business cards; handouts; and always following up. These days we have to peddle twice as fast to get ahead, especially in the photography industry. There are countless photographers on the market willing to do the job and fulfill the needs of the client. If you are not out there, actively pursuing new business, you may not be around in a few years.

What is the Plan?

If you don’t know where you are going, any map will get you there. People hear me say this often. Maybe too often, but that isn’t going to stop me. SLOW DOWN and THINK! Without a plan you will be putting out inconsistent marketing material, mediocre social tweets and bland blogs. Your plan has to have a purpose and a direction, a beginning, middle and end. This is what the big guys call an advertising campaign. It’s been thought about and has purpose. Additionally, you must be able to measure the results in some way to see if it is working. Even if this is just monitoring the traffic on your website. Everyone’s plan or campaign will be a bit different and this will depend on many factors, but mostly on what type of photography you do. I am guessing that if you are reading this article you are already a professional photographer, or on your way to becoming one. So take some time and create a series of ideas for your marketing road map and how you plan to execute them.

The choices are almost endless but your online presence is paramount. This is where most new customers will get their first impression of you and your work. Your website, blog, LinkedIn account, Facebook page, online galleries, e-commerce, print delivery, stock sales, etc. All of this should be in place, have consistent branding and functioning perfectly. There is nothing more irritating to the general consumer these days than a frustrating online experience.
Now you need to think about your ground game. What I mean by this is you will be taking prospective client meetings, attending networking parties, a lunch here, a dinner there, portfolio reviews, industry meetings, conventions, and trade shows. Places where you will get to talk to people while they are talking to you in real time. For a successful ground game you will need marketing materials that represent what you do. People love to take something away from trade shows and conventions. This is where your photographs become the hero again, so let your work showcase your talents.

Who prints your collateral is important, but there are plenty of great printers with online upload capabilities to assist you with your order. Don’t, however, confuse photographic printing with postcard and calendar printing. If you are planning to frame and hang your work for interior design or a trade booth, photographic printing is always the best choice. If you need hand outs or a direct mail campaign (yes direct mail still works) go with offset, or what ever trendy name they are giving it now. One of my favorites is Modern Postcard in Carlsbad, CA. They deal with photographers all day and understand our needs. Talk to friends, do your research and find a reputable company. Their product is a direct reflection on you. If you are font challenged then hire a designer to help create your collateral materials. If you can’t afford one try and barter with one for services rendered. Most will be happy to partner as long as everyone is treated fairly.

So let’s recap.

Your branding is done, your marketing materials are designed and printed, your online presence is strong (ie: web site up and functioning, Facebook page, LinkedIn page and Twitter account). You are planning on a series of e-mail blasts, a direct mail piece and you have joined the local photographers association that suits you. You will be getting a booth in the next wedding or B2B marketing expo and plan on attending the next convention of your specialty. This is a good start; but it doesn’t stop there. So what else can you do? How about hosting an open house at your studio once you are up and running, don’t forget to make some snappys while the guests are there. What about a gallery opening featuring some of your fine art work, matted, framed, numbered and signed, ready for purchase. Set up a free portrait photo booth at an annual art show. Better be ready with those business cards that will direct them to your online gallery so they can see the photographs and maybe even buy one. For those with bigger budgets, consider outdoor advertising such as the local transit system or billboards!

Granted, you are now wondering how you will pay for all of this. Yes, advertising will cost you some of your hard earned dollars and how much should you spend is always the number one question. The actual percentage will vary from person to person but a good bet is to allocate about 5 to 8 percent of gross sales, more if you can afford it. So if your new start-up grosses about $35,000 to $50,000 you will need to budget anywhere from $1,750 to $4,000. As your business grows your ad budget needs to grow with it, expanding your market share.

This is all well and good and in a perfect world everyone would have and execute a great marketing plan. However this is not a perfect world and we all have financial obligations to meet everyday. So everyone’s ability to purchase advertising will be different, however, as a start-up photographer you probably won’t have too many other expenses to deal with. You will most likely start your business in your home or apartment, so no studio rent to contend with. Any assistants you hire will be for a specific job and therefore sub contractors, so no employee tax obligations. You probably already have a mobile phone and if you dedicate it to your business it becomes a business expense. Statistics have shown that most businesses fail within the first five years. So in the beginning, your marketing and advertising plan and budget needs to be aggressive. Try to spend every extra dime on something that will get you more visibility in your marketplace.

Stay tuned for additional tips on target marketing, social media and how to keep you SEO humming along. When you are not behind the camera you should be out in front of your business.

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    • That information, while helpful for many, was very overwhelming for me. I don't have a 'brand' (what is that, anyway?), I don't do Twitter, I have a photography Facebook page with only 127 likes, I barely ever check my Linkedin account, and not really sure why I have one in the first place. I have spur of the moment, badly designed business cards from Vista Print, and the only photography I do is mostly free and it's off swing dances and car shows, with occasional photos of my dogs. I am college educated in photography, I'm $30,000 in student loan debt, and I was never taught the business of photography in college, but I've watched countless You Tube videos by professional photographers on how to start your own photography business and feel like none of it applies to me. I have absolutely no business sense. Zero, zilch, nada. And it's frustrating to see those people with business sense, business degrees, and the like just suddenly decide to buy a bunch of gear, take a few online photography course, and they're off and running and successful in their own business within a year. That just boggles the mind. 

      Any advice for moody artist types like me who love photography, are fairly experienced in photography, but just can't seem to get out of the rut and take off? 

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    • I hear you, its not easy when you feel like you're in a rut.  But...take a deep breath...and think about that feeling you feel when looking at other photographers - rather than looking at other photographers and getting mad at what they're accomplishing, look at it and admire their ability to overcome obstacles along the way.   I'm sure they encounter the same challenges everyone else does, they just figure out a way to deal with them.  Are they always successful? Probably not, they stumble and fall, BUT they get up again and again....and again. Try to focus yourself and use that energy you feel that pisses you off looking at other photographers and what they're doing - and use it to fuel your fire. Break big steps into smaller ones that are much easier to accomplish along the way.  We've heard it before...but its true...attitude is everything - believe in yourself and others can and will believe in you.  If you don't start there - its like building a house on a foundation 50% complete.  Invest in yourself, believe in yourself...because if you don't - no one else will.

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