Fifty bucks can go a long way. It could buy you 10 pounds of jelly beans, a small drone, a night in a two-person bunkhouse in Blodgett, Oregon, or even this handmade R2D2-inspired tutu.
Or, if you’re an independent professional photographer, you could use that $50 to save your business.
One of the toughest questions any new photographer faces is how to effectively market their business. With so many possible avenues—advertising, email, social media, search engine optimization, video—your ideal strategy may not be clear, let alone affordable. If you’ve already spent hundreds or thousands of dollars on space, equipment, and startup costs, you may not have much left over for the demanding and unpredictable work of winning clients.
If you’re able to put aside your tutu or jelly beans order, however, you can achieve success with a one-time marketing budget of only $50—and here’s just one possible way to do it.
Social Media Advertising – $30.00
If you’ve never tried social media advertising, now is a great time to enter the fray. The industry is in the midst of an accelerated period of growth, which means there are more options than ever but still relatively few barriers to entry compared with traditional print and online advertising. Social media advertising is remarkably effective as well, at least for now: on Facebook alone, ads earn 8–9 times more clicks than other forms of web advertising.
Which platform delivers the best ROI? Take a look at what each one offers in terms of tools and audience size. Marketers seem to agree that, with extensive hypertargeting features and over 1.5 billion active users, Facebook leads the pack. YouTube, which takes advantage of Google AdWords and nets 4 billion views per day, is another powerful option, while Instagram and (to a lesser extent) Twitter are emerging as viable alternatives.
For $30, you can spend one dollar per day on Facebook ads and expect to earn approximately 4,000 impressions during one month, according to bestselling author, marketer, and Moz contributor Brian Carter. If you choose this route, be aware of a couple caveats:
- You’ll need to segment your audience very carefully. If you’re a wedding photographer in Portland, for instance, you might target users who are engaged and who live or have recently moved to the area. Target by location, income, purchasing behaviors, interests—whatever qualities your ideal client possesses.
- You’re advertising for leads, not conversions. The people you reach through this tactic will likely call you, so be ready to answer their questions and win them over.
For more information, check out Facebook’s advertising portal or download Roundpeg’s digital advertising guide.
Edit: If you try this you might notice that Facebook has a minimum of a $5 a day budget. This is for “cost per click” payments. If you choose to try this tactic, you will need to change your payment method from click to impressions. You can find more information on this Facebook support thread. (thanks to Lauren Schaller for pointing this out).
Business Cards – ≤$4.95 (Frequently on Sale)
Yes, business cards. The 400-year-old marketing tactic remains effective at least in the field of photography, where visual impact, tangible products, and immediate accessibility matter. Plus, for no more than $5, you’re paying next to nothing for dozens of chances at exposure. Leave your business cards at cafés, bars, parties, hotel lobbies, trade shows, and other events.
Give them to potential clients to make a huge impression. Business cards are particularly effective if you offer pro bono work, e.g. free photo shoots for nonprofits or local causes. When people ask you about your work, you’ll certainly want to have your contact information ready.
Overnight prints offers 50 business cards for $4.95 (when they aren’t discounted even further on sale), so stock up.
Thank You Cards – $10.00
Why thank you cards? Saying thank you isn’t just a nice thing to do—it’s also a proven closing tactic. When people receive something, they generally feel compelled to give back. Robert Cialdini and other social psychologists call it the “reciprocity principle.”
So, after you meet up with a client or potential client, try to get their address in order to send them a handwritten thank you card with one of your images on the front. You’ll not only harness potentially better sales through reciprocation, but you’ll also stand out from competitors, and your prospect will have a copy of your work to reference.
Photo printing service Snapfish offers plenty of affordable options for all kinds of marketing activities, but their thank–you cards are one of the best deals available. The cards retail in bundles of six for about $10, and Snapfish usually offers even more for first-time buyers. If you create an account right now, for instance, you can get six cards for free. You shouldn’t need many more than that to start.
Email Template and Newsletter – $5.00
The rest of your $50 budget should go toward email outreach and list management. Once you start getting leads, those individuals and businesses will do one of two things: call or email you. There isn’t much you can do aside from practice (and in severe cases, vocal coaching) to present yourself better over the phone or in video chat, but you do have an opportunity to appear as a consummate professional and blow away your competition through email.
While your competitors send generic emails with white backgrounds, no images, and dinky signatures, email templates allow you to take your communication to the next level. The right template features your latest work, looks sharp on any device, and gives your clients and prospects various follow-up activities. For example, they can follow your social media presence, read your blog, or order your prints—all from each email. Purchase an all-purpose email template that lets you swap out the content and images with anything you want.
A quick search for email templates on Fiverr brings up tons of results, like this one. Look at your options and do your research before making a purchase. Once you have your template, dedicate some time each month to building your list, working on your newsletter, or otherwise adding value to your ongoing communications with clients and leads.
There’s your $50, and guess what? We even saved a nickel.
Again, this is only one way to spend a shoestring budget on marketing, and it’s best for newcomers. This article is meant to generate ideas rather than put forth a doctrine. Your strategy might incorporate all, some, or none of the tactics above. And once you’ve started obtaining clients, your approach will necessarily evolve. In any case, here are a few activities that cost nothing (but time) and support any marketing strategy:
Respond – $0.00
…and respond quickly. As you’re looking for leads, your availability and speed in getting back to prospects is pivotal.
Go to Events – $0.00
Attends as many events as possible, and don’t shy away from networking. Approach people. Talk to strangers. Get out there in your local community (and bring your business cards).
You might also make inroads by offering to shoot charity events for free. Attendees will inevitably talk to you about your craft, opening the window for lead generation through the exchange of phone numbers and email addresses. If you do offer complimentary services, make sure you don’t end up labeled as the “free event photographer” and heed the wise words of advice offered by the professionals quoted in this PetaPixel article.
Learn More Skills – $0.00
There’s always more to learn about Photoshop, Lightroom, and other photo editing and management software. But beyond the essentials, spend some of your time learning tricks and tools that will supplement your work—for example:
- graphic design
- web development
- video production
Between CodeAcademy, HubSpot Academy, MIT’s OpenCourseWare, and countless how-to guides and videos, there are plenty of free resources out there. You can learn just about anything on the internet.
These skills will make your business more attractive to potential clients, but just as importantly, you’ll save money when you can produce high-quality results in specialized marketing roles by yourself rather than hiring a contractor.
Collaborate – $0.00 and up
Market your business through your relationships with other professionals, such as event planners, designers, and retailers. Both parties can win more customers and sales by offering co-promotions or sharing lists.
You might also want to consider launching or joining a referral program. While this tactic does often involve payment, you’ll only be charged if it works, so here it is in the free section. Promote a referral program and you’ll get leads sent to you.
Cold Call/Email – $0.00
I know, I know. No one likes cold calling, but it’s totally worth it, especially when it comes to email: people actually respond to unsolicited messages much better than you may think. The key is purpose. Don’t just reach out to everyone; have a reason for the communication and have something to offer.
Take a look at Corrine’s story in the comments of this Improve Photography article: she was horrified by real estate photography she saw, so she offered her services to a realtor and now she has a business. Sometimes all you have to do is ask.
Check out Bloom to streamline your admin.