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No photographer wants to get into the photography business with the aim of becoming a marketing expert. But the reality is that if you don’t focus on the marketing and business end of photography, your business will not be able to survive long enough to do the fun stuff. It stinks, but this is the truth.
Luckily, the learning curve at the beginning is the toughest part, and as you get used to the business side, everything will come much more naturally to you. Eventually, you might even learn to enjoy it, or at least appreciate the work, after you see how powerful it can be in getting you where you want to go.
So here are 10 of the most important strategies you can start right away to make sure your photography business succeeds.
Nobody wants to be that annoying marketer that always pushes their business on their friends and acquaintances. However, this fear can push photographers way too far in the opposite direction, never working with the people that have grown to trust them the most. Your personal network is your strongest asset and even more so at the beginning of your photography business. These are the people who will give you your first jobs and introduce you to your first clients.
Photography is unique in that no matter what genre you are involved in, people in your network will most likely need your services at some point, whether it’s wedding or event photography, business portraiture, family portraiture, or print selling. So let your network know what you do and how you can help them.
Create a mailing list and send out an announcement to your network. Show your best work, talk about your photography business, and make sure to explain how you can help people. How can your business benefit them? They will not know unless you tell them. In addition, make sure to ask for referrals.
Whenever you say the word marketing these days, for some reason everyone immediately starts talking about social media. That is funny, because as important as social media is, it should be one of the last steps to think about for any marketing plan.
Your first step should be working within your local community. Similar to the last point, these are people who know you. You are just down the street from them. There are businesses of all types in your community that can probably use your work, so create a plan for how to get in front of them.
Keep in mind that you only get one first impression, so be smart about how you reach out. First and foremost, figure out how you can benefit them. If you are going to reach out to someone, you need to know how their business or life will be better with your services and explain how you can help. Always be kind and courteous with their time, and if possible see if you can get an introduction before contacting someone cold. Does anyone in your personal network know the person you want to contact? That’s always a great first step, but if not, just reach out yourself.
The more you are seen, the more people in your community will notice you and start to think about working with you. Whether it’s local events, business events, fundraisers, you name it, you should make the point to be there, particularly at first. This is the way to create new relationships and to spread your reach.
Similarly, reach out to the other photographers in your area. Many photographers will assist others when they need help and vice versus, and this will help strengthen everyone as a whole. It can be easy for photographers to feel competitive with each other but avoid this. The ones that work together and refer each other will do much better in the long-run than the ones who try to do it all on their own.
Use a mailing list provider such as MailChimp or Aweber to keep up with your clients, personal network, and fans. Email lists have the highest engagement of any form of marketing, and it is the way for you to stay on people’s minds.
Ask people if you can add them to your list, and always have them opt into the subscription. Put signup forms or popups on your website that encourage people to join. Consider giving away something to encourage them to do so, such as free computer wallpapers of your photography.
When sending out emails, create content that your list will enjoy. Do not sell too often with it. The more benefit and interest that you provide for the people on your list, the more they will enjoy it and the more they will like you. Then when you sell, they will be primed to purchase your services or product. When it’s time to sell, sell.
Personal projects will not bring new clients to you right away, and they will take away time from building your business and making a living. This is the tougher side of doing projects, but they are immensely important for the long term growth of your business and for growing your voice as a photographer. A project can be done slowly over a long period of time, so you can build it into your weekly schedule.
Think of an idea that will resonate with both you and your community. This is a way of keeping your passion for photography alive. It will also help to set you apart from the other photographers in your community. It will show people that you are an interesting person. They will be more interested in working with you, even if the paid work you do is a completely different genre. It will be a way for you to gain press coverage and something for you to talk about to engage people. All in all, a personal project will make marketing yourself so much easier, and it will feel much more natural.
There is no point in building your photography business or marketing your work if you are not going to respond quickly to inquiries. Respond quickly at every step of the process throughout a job as well. Responding quickly does not have to mean within the hour, although sometimes that can help when getting a new inquiry. It can mean responding within 12 hours or a day, as long as you are consistent and prompt.
Fortunately for you, a lot of photographers are terrible at this, so this will quickly set you apart. It will show people that you are a responsible person, and it will make them more comfortable working with you.
Building your network is a lifetime process. As you go further and further in your career, you will begin to create connections with people who can do more and more for you (and who are tougher to get in contact with).
Whichever point in your career you are at, and whatever level your skill level as a photographer, start at that point and build connections there. Then over time, work your way up the ladder. Be patient, be smart, and don’t try to push too hard at first, particularly with people who don’t know you. First impressions are impossible to get back. Grow your network carefully and consistently.
It can help to create a client management system. You can start off with an excel document at first and eventually grow to a more robust system, such as Sprout Studio. Keep in contact with your best clients, and even consider sending them holiday cards or a small gift to stay on their minds. A small gesture can go a long way, and it is much easier to get an existing client to come back than it is to reach a new one.
Think about your website as your number one selling tool. Whatever your primary service is, your site should be developed for the specific purpose of leading people to hire you for that service or for purchasing one of your products.
Study the basics of copywriting, create specific sales pages for your offerings, and even consider creating sales funnels that lead people to an end goal. These can be very powerful ways of priming people to want to work with you.
SEO, or ranking highly in search engines, is a long term strategy that takes some studying to understand how to do (beyond what we will be able to cover completely here). My belief is that you should always focus on local networking first, as that has the ability to get you very quick gains, whereas an SEO campaign can take years to truly get you where you want to be.
But that being said, SEO should not be ignored, because most people will use Google to find the right photographer for them. Always remember, the goal of Google is to serve up the most relevant websites for the query topic. If you want to rank for a specific term, make sure to create the best possible page that will answer that query. Without this, an SEO strategy will not work.
Google runs on links, so you need to figure out how to get other related websites to link to yours. It’s interesting because while it may seem annoying to gain these links, Google is actually forcing you to do things you should be doing in the first place.
Network with websites that you would like to be featured on, and figure out how you can provide that site with some value before you contact them. You will get nowhere if you just ask for something, but if you contact them willing to help them out, it will help immensely. As you grow with your abilities and your marketing, your opportunities for getting covered will grow as well. Internet marketing gets much easier over time.
This is another area where a personal project can help grow your business. People want to share interesting topics, so even if you are not generating income from the project directly, you can use the project to get covered on websites and to make people more aware of you, which will ultimately help improve SEO and grow your network and mailing list.
All of this is way too much to do in a feverish month of working. Similarly, your marketing skills will grow gradually, so take your time and be strategic about how you work through your marketing plan. You do not want to spend a whole month contacting everyone you can only to burn out soon after.
Set aside a daily block of time to build your business. Contact a few people every day or every few days. Use the feedback from those to tweak your next pitch. Over time, you will figure out what works and what does not work. A small amount of work each day will eventually snowball into much bigger things.
The main theme throughout this article is that you need to put yourself out there. The work will not just come to you. Create an organized plan, stick to it, and go for it. Be both careful and relentless. That is what is needed.
It may seem like there is a huge wall in front of you that is impossible to cross. But if you chip away at it a little bit each day, within a few years you will find that you have opened up many paths through it.
For even more business help – join the Focus Summit 2017 Online Business and Marketing Conference for Photographers on Sept 26-28th 2017. We will cover marketing, business development, law, SEO, branding, blogging, and much more. Use the code “DPS” for a $50 discount.