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My $1,600 photography advertising mistake

My $1,600 photography advertising mistakeI wasted $1,600 on advertising last year. How many ads did I get for that? One. Yup. One whopping big full-page ad in a local magazine. What did I get out of it? A big, fat, juicy nothing. Not one phone call. Not one email inquiry. Not even more traffic on my website. So what am I going to do? Tell you how to advertise and how NOT to advertise if you’re looking to go into photography as a business.

Why do we advertise?

Most of us photographers are creatives. We’re looking to pull the business out of our creativity and make it pay us. What’s one thing the majority of creatives suffer with? Business sense. How’s that supposed to work, eh? We want to go into business but are too artsy fartsy to have a clue. Most people know one thing about business: you have to advertise. And for someone with a little money to spare starting up their business, splashing out on some advertising is often a dismal first move. We don’t like to sell ourselves, so taking out an ad or juicing up the balance on our Google or Facebook ads account seems to be the way to go if we want to avoid actually selling.

Why didn’t my magazine ad work?

I thought the magazine ad was a sure thing. I thought it was perfect because it went straight into the school bags and homes of my target market: people with children in a wealthy area. In retrospect, it didn’t work because:

  • It was in print. You couldn’t click the URL and get right into my website. Parents don’t have time to remember to take that page to their computer, type the URL and visit me online.
  • I mistakenly thought I was advertising for sales when really, I was advertising for brand recognition. Advertising doesn’t directly equal sales or money. It equals “oh, hey…there’s that photographer again”. Great if you want to build a reputation and get your brand in front of people’s eyes. Not great if you want to book sessions.
  • I only did it once. It takes at least three months of continual advertising get people to act on what they’re seeing.

What would I have done differently?

If I were going to do a print ad again, I would have spent that money on many quarter-page ads and not one big whopping full-page ad. I would go into it knowing that I was building a reputation, getting my work in front of people’s eyes. I wouldn’t sit by the phone and wait for the work to roll in. The crash-and-burn disappointment from that mistake was a really hard lesson to learn. It hurt big time. It hurt my confidence and it hurt my finances. I’m still smarting from it even as I’m writing this. Ouch.

How to advertise for sales, not just for recognition?

You can’t get away from it. You have to SELL yourself. Save your money and hit the streets. This is what I do:

  • Set up tables at wedding fairs. MEET PEOPLE. Get their details. Contact them a few days later. Book a meeting to discuss their wedding. Book the wedding. Simple! But you have to get out there and put a face to your work and that ain’t always easy.
  • When I see a beautifully pregnant mamma, I give her my card. I tell her that I shoot maternity and newborns.
  • I give my card to women with engagement rings.
  • I give my card to everyone!

For every 20 people you connect with, you might only get 1 session but you’re still building your brand and now that I’ve been doing that for a couple years, some clients heard about me from more than one friend and I got the same reaction {for free} that I got from my $1,600 ad: “Oh, hey…there’s that photographer again!”

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Elizabeth Halford
Elizabeth Halford

is a photographer and advertising creative producer in Orlando, FL. She wrote her first article for dPS in 2010. Her most popular one racked up over 100k shares!

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