Learning how to market your photography business is an exercise in meta-communication. It’s about understanding not only what message you’re sending to your audience, but how and why you’re conveying that message.
In other words, marketing means more than figuring out the best way to say “buy my prints” or “hire me for your wedding.” You’ll need to determine your one-of-a-kind style, perspective, skill set, and capabilities, along with what sorts of customers would consider your photography services truly valuable.
Unlike so many aspects of running a business, marketing is harder to make sense of on a theoretical, strategic level than it is to execute. Once you understand your message, it’s relatively simple (though not always easy) to communicate.
Marketing 101: What It Is, and Its Role in Your Business
If marketing has posed a major challenge to you so far and you’ve been struggling to stand out, try this two-minute thought experiment:
1. Imagine yourself in a different line of business. Let’s say you’re a fashion designer.
2. Think about the world of fashion. Picture the whole thing at once, as a hierarchy: from mass-produced, inexpensive apparel at the bottom to high-end, avant-garde runway looks at the top.
3. Imagine what kind of clothing you’d like to create: Tops, bottoms, dresses, hats, shoes? What would they look like? What would they be made of? Is it formal, everyday casual, or athletic wear?
4. Now, consider where you fit in the hierarchy. Where would you sell your clothes—for example Target, H&M, boutique stores, or exclusively online?
5. Concentrate on the kinds of people who would shop at the store or stores you have in mind: How old are these people? Where do they live? What do they do for a living? How much are they willing to pay for new clothing?
6. Next, zoom into the moment someone sees one of your garments on the rack, picks it out, and tries it on. Get into the imaginary customer’s head: What drew them to this piece of clothing? What does it say about them?
7. Dig in deep, and really ponder this person’s mindset: What kinds of music are they into? What did they eat for breakfast? What are they wearing at the moment? How often do they shop for new clothing? How do they feel about themselves? What are their dreams, fears, and aspirations?
Congratulations—you’ve just figured out your target market. You have an idea of your customers’ demographic, psychographic, and behavioral profiles. Put it all together and you have the beginnings of a marketing strategy.
With that in mind, your job is to a) reach your target audience, b) convert its members into paying customers, and c) build long-lasting relationships with those customers. You’ll need to tell a story that will both attract customers to and keep them interested in your business.
The only difference is that instead of clothing, you’re selling photography services or prints. Otherwise, the same fundamental considerations apply.
Of course, there’s more to it than what you’ve read here, but hopefully, this brief foray into Marketing 101 has given you an overall framework with which to structure your marketing efforts.
For now, enough with the conceptual stuff—let’s look at a few proven ways to execute your marketing strategy.
Marketing to Attract Customers
Your Online Presence
In order to be found, you need to be present. And, in 2016, that means you need to be present online. Notice that I didn’t suggest you should build a website? Yeah, we’ve gotten flak for that before… but think about your own internet habits: Where do you encounter most of the images you see online? For a large—and growing—number of people, the answer would be Instagram and Facebook. In fact, some photographers can and do survive on those two platforms alone.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to your online presence. If you need a high level of control and flexibility, and have some money and time to spare, go with a website. Otherwise, you can enjoy many of the same benefits through a mix of social media and portfolio hosting services. You can even register a domain name and have it redirect to your Tumblr. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter where your online presence is or what it looks like as long as you can direct your clients and contacts somewhere—anywhere.
Online and off, there are tons of directories in which photographers can list their services. SnapKnot, Workbook, and the Photography Directory Project are a few popular options (there’s also our platform 😉 ). Measured individually, these listing sites may not dramatically increase your booking rates, but if you list your business on several (at least 10), I can almost guarantee you’ll start to see requests trickle in. As directories tend to be free or dirt-cheap, they’re a minor but worthwhile investment. Combine these with ongoing social media activity, and your visibility in search will improve as well.
Join a community. Any community. Comment on other photographers’ Facebook pages, share your content, and make as much noise as possible. Attend networking events in your area, become part of a LinkedIn group, register for an internet forum, or sign up for PPA. Wherever you go, follow your passion and make inroads with the people you admire.
Communities give you access to potential customers, colleagues, mentors, and friends, all of whom can transform your business. Some photographers join industry groups, while others spend their time networking with other photographers. The latter may not sound immediately beneficial, until you consider the distinct specialty and value proposition you bring to the table. Prove yourself a worthy photographer within a certain niche, and your peers will start referring their customers to you.
If you can afford it, try advertising. Right now is a great time to get into Facebook Ads in particular. Google’s ad package is somewhat costly and convoluted for beginning photographers, whereas Facebook’s option is relatively inexpensive and offers advanced targeting capabilities.
If you’re a wedding photographer, for instance, you can target your ads toward newly engaged couples, couples who recently moved in together, people who have shopped for engagement rings, and more; then, you can further segment your audience by details such as location, annual income, age, languages spoken, and so on—get creative!
Even if you don’t end up running an ad, Facebook Ads is a great tool to get a general sense of the size of your target market and the money-making opportunities therein.
Marketing to Keep Customers Interested
Once you’ve overcome the first hurdle and customers have started emailing and calling you, you face perhaps an even greater challenge: keeping them interested in your work. Doing so takes a combination of flair and old-fashioned, quality service.
You could launch the greatest outreach campaign of all time and drive millions of people to your website (or portfolio, or social media profile), but unless they stay there, you won’t have accomplished anything. The key is your portfolio, which you should already know how to optimize if you’ve read our previous article on the subject.
Inexpensive, tactile, and portable, business cards remain an effective marketing tactic when you’re aiming to stay top of mind and relevant to anyone you meet in-person. Bring them with you to conferences, trade shows, meetings, shoots—anywhere you’ll come into contact with people.
Customer Relationship Management
From beginning to end, emphasize kindness, integrity, honesty, and consistency throughout your interactions with clients. Your personality is a deciding factor in whether people choose to continue working with you. You’ll need to appear professional but open; friendly but capable.
The key concept here is trust. Hardly any salesperson intends to connect with a customer once and only once. And yet, as consumers, we sometimes feel like the people and businesses attempting to sell things to us are intruding into our lives—even when we’ve worked with those people and businesses before. That’s because, whether they’re familiar or not, spammers lack our trust. We don’t feel that the sales pitch comes from a personal place or provides us with enough value. We doubt the aggressive, unsolicited offer has our best interests at heart.
Don’t let your business transform into a spam operation. Maintain a personal touch through customer relationship management and use automated marketing only when it facilitates—rather than obstructs—an ongoing exchange with your customers.
At the same time, don’t be afraid to reach out, but make sure you have a reason for it. Follow through and follow up with helpful, authentic offers:
– “I wanted to thank you, so here’s a coupon for 15% off another shoot next year for your family.”
– “It was great meeting you! I’m sending along an extra image I really liked from today’s session.”
– “This article reminded me of the conversation we had—would love to hear your thoughts.”
– “The question you asked me a while back inspired me to record this video for my YouTube channel. Please check it out and let me know what you think!”
How you approach your contacts matters, too. Try a combination of phone and email follow-up.
As with specialties, every photographer needs to carve their own path by harnessing a unique marketing strategy. Yours may combine all, some, or none of the elements listed above. The only way to know what works and doesn’t work for you is to try things and test out different tactics as your circumstances and budget allow.
And speaking of budgets, if yours is tight—and I mean shoestring tight—read our guide to making the most of a $50 marketing plan.