This is the longest blog post on Photography Spark at more than 5,000 words. It took about 40 hours to create, so I hope you’ll share it using the social media icons above. It may take you a while to get through all this, but it’s well worth the time. Marketing is how you will grow your business! In my nearly 15 years of marketing I’ve come across too many great ideas to count. Actually, I can count about 80 of them. They are all listed here to boost your photography business strategy across social media, SEO, offline marketing, email marketing, and networking. I know you’re probably on a tight budget, so I’ve tried to keep the majority of these free or low-cost. The “car wrap” idea is obviously expensive, but it’s too funny to leave out! This is pretty much everything I could think of, but I hope you will contact me with more of your own!
1. Conduct a focus group. Gather a small group of people to answer questions and give opinions about various aspects of your business. Ask questions about your business name, logo, packaging, pricing and website. Find out what types of marketing they pay the most attention to. Learn about their experiences with other photographers, including pain points. This direct feedback loop can quickly identify opportunities and weaknesses in your operations and business strategy.
2. Narrow your focus. If you’re trying to be the #1 photographer in Los Angeles, your sights might be set too high for the short term. But I bet you can become the top Catholic church wedding photographer, or the best Loyola High School senior photographer in a short period of time. After dominating a small market, broaden your reach.
This strategy is personal to me. About six years ago I was a general small business consultant, competing with thousands on the web. I adjusted my target audience to be ultra-specific (photographers seeking help with SEO). After two years I broadened to photography marketing, then two years later expanded to photography business.
3. Set your ideal client. You should know without a doubt the type of person you want to work with, including their gender, age, location, budget — even their attitude. I have no problem turning away customers who can’t afford me, or those who I can tell will be high maintenance. Customers who aren’t ideal create an expense for your business by adding time and stress. Accepting these bad customers will lead to more of the same, and pretty soon your entire business will be to serve the clients you don’t want. Read photographer Alison Yin’s perspective.
4. Choose a web design suited for photos. The Photocrati WordPress theme is one of the most popular individual themes of all-time for photographers. Built specifically for photographers running WordPress websites, it comes with 60 built-in designs and the ability to customize, save, share, and create your own new designs (all without coding). In 2014, Photocrati released a major update with beautiful full-screen designs and ensured all designs are fully responsive. The built-in gallery and e-commerce system allows photographers to sell prints without requiring a third-party source. The design possibilities are limitless, so join the WordPress photography community at Photocrati.
5. Make your galleries pop. NextGEN Gallery is already well known as the most popular gallery plugin for WordPress. Now Photocrati — the WordPress photography people — have launched NextGEN Pro as an all-in-one e-commerce and proofing solution for photographers who want to sell their photographs on WordPress. NextGEN Pro includes new gallery displays, a powerful lightbox, stunning responsive design, social sharing and commenting for individual photos, digital downloads, and more. And it’s all within your website with your own branding. Start selling photographs with WordPress using NextGEN Pro today.
6. Make photos look like film. Love that light, airy, pastel look but don’t shoot film? Many Lightroom presets are over the top, muddy and require a lot of tweaking to get good skin tones. Mastin Labs has film presets based on film scans from a real Fuji Frontier scanner so that you can get the look you want.
7. Create an Infographic. Infographics share data in a cool, visual way. They’re hot on social media and social sharing right now. Create them easily using sites like infogr.am or Piktochart. Click the image below for an example infographic by PhotoShelter.
8. Write a list post. You’re reading a post of lists right now, which is simply an article with a specific number of ways to do something. These types of posts are magnetic content for readers on your site, in newsletters, on social media, or even within a YouTube video. You may want to educate clients on 5 ideas for organizing photos, 7 hot local wedding venues, or 10 ways to prepare for a session. More list posts from Photography Spark include 7 Must-Have Contacts, 5 Ways Mobile Apps Boost Business, 12 Pinterest Tools, 7 Money Making Ideas, and 9 Ways to Optimize YouTube.
9. Write an ebook. Ebooks are nothing more than a glorified Word document transformed into a PDF. They range in size from a few pages to hundreds of pages. Writing an ebook instantly makes you an “author” and opens doors to more networking opportunities, such as podcast interviews. Ebooks are a great incentive for readers to sign up for your email newsletter (see my free ebook example). Put together an ebook quickly by asking valued partners to each contribute a page or section (here’s an example ebook where I was a contributor).
10. Create a 101 Guide. 101 guides give readers a basic foundation about your topic of expertise. You can create a 101 Guide to Getting Married, choosing vendors, wall displays, album creation — the list goes on and on. The 101 concept catches people very early in the buying cycle and nurtures them along until they are ready to hire you.
11. Design an online magazine. Marketing with magazines or welcome guides is a great way to display your expertise, inspire and inform your clients. Using beautifully designed templates by Magazine Mama will help save you time and set you above your competitors. You can print your guide or easily create a .pdf and send via e-mail. All Magazine Mama templates include text that has been strategically written to build trust between your business and potential clients. Get 20% off your purchase with code Spark20 at checkout.
11. Record instructional videos. Videos are a great way to educate and engage, and they often take less time to create than a blog post. Remember, people don’t go to YouTube to be sold something; they go for entertainment or education.
12. Target other photographers. Photographers are constantly looking for resources, education and inspiration — and they love to share what they find. Therefore, articles about the business of photography help build great online PR and they showcase your expertise as a teacher/mentor of others. Create a section of your site targeted to photographers. See an example on the left side of Lena Hyde’s portrait site (she’s also the founder of Design Aglow).
13. Develop a custom landing page. Imagine if your website had a dedicated page for attracting visitors who are intent on looking for a wedding photographer. The bride and groom who visit that page could have the opportunity to download a document which could help them plan their wedding. Get viewers’ attention with the purpose of converting them into leads. Why? Because leads convert into paying customers. New Jersey wedding photographer Vanessa Joy said it well: “… an innovative and creative way to gain exposure to your target market in a way that’s unobtrusive and helpful to your prospective clients is a marketing initiative that I see succeeding for many photographers”. Learn more tips in the Wedding Photographer Conversion Kit.
14. Offer client apps. Create custom digital albums for your clients that work on iOS, Android and Windows Phone 8+. Improve your word-of-mouth referrals and book more clients with ShootProof Mobile Apps. Impress your clients and share your brand. Save $40 with code PREZ40.
15. Be mobile-friendly. Expect 30% or more of your web traffic to come via mobile devices. That means your website must cater to smartphone users on the go. Make sure your site is responsive (or has a mobile version), simplify navigation, compress images for fast loading, and allow users to tap your phone number to call you.
16. Show your headshot. In my first year of business, I thought I could hide behind a business logo and hide myself online. That didn’t work so well. The moment I added my face to my site, social media outlets and forums, I became instantly recognizable. I received more comments on my blog, more questions were asked, and I receive many more inquiries. A person is more approachable than a corporate entity, so make sure you show yourself!
Social Media Marketing Ideas
17. Show your handles. Include your social media usernames everywhere possible, including on business cards, marketing brochures, your email signature, forum signatures and website. I’m @zachprez everywhere (even on LinkedIn and YouTube).
18. Create a welcome video on YouTube. Everyone has a headshot that introduces themselves, but few photographers have a video. Create a short video about you, post to YouTube, and embed it on your website so potential clients can see you and hear a few reasons why they should hire you.
19. Create a Vine marketing video. Here’s a cool example from Sweetshot Photography promoting headshots in less than 6 seconds.
20. See who’s Pinning you. Visit pinterest.com/source/photographyspark.com/ (replace my domain name with your own) to see all of the images users have Pinned from your website. Leave thank-you notes in the comments.
21. Create resourceful Pinterest boards. OffBeat Bride showcases 46 boards of helpful wedding ideas that range from alternative wedding rings to uneven wedding parties.
22. Post a quote. Quotations are some of the most widely shared posts on social media. Place an inspirational quote on one of your photos using Pinwords.
23. Send secret promotions via Instagram. Send a direct message to a handful of people. Learn more about Instagram Direct.
24. Add Pages to Watch on Facebook. Track competitors and organizations of interest on Facebook. You can learn a lot about what others post to their accounts. Watch what successful companies do, and emulate them. Learn more about Pages to Watch.
25. Let Facebook fans tag themselves. Under Settings > General > Tagging Ability you can “Allow others to tag photos and videos posted.”
26. Pin your best Facebook post. Create the best first impression for new visitors to your Facebook page by sticking your best post to the top of the page. I suggest a post that uses a powerful image and links to your best website gallery or blog post. In the top right of a Facebook post, expand the dropdown area and select “Pin to Top.”
27. Claim a Facebook vanity URL. The default URL for Facebook business pages can be long and annoying. They’re not something you can easily remember or use in marketing. Visit facebook.com/username to claim a short URL like mine: http://facebook.com/thephotospark.
28. Try a Facebook ad campaign. I recommend News Feed ads instead of “right channel” ads and promoted posts. Use a unique offer for the ad (something not available or promoted to your general audience) so you can track how many sales came as a result of the campaign. See this page for Perfect Facebook Ads to help get clients.
29. Run a contest. Part of the entry process should be to share your page with friends. Offer a free session or a print credit to a random winner you select.
30. Add social share icons to your website. Make it easy for users to share your webpages across social media in one click. I recommend including icons for Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest (most photography clients aren’t active on Google+ and LinkedIn). Most website platforms have an area where you can activate this feature (ask your website provider) or install a plugin. I use the RtSocial plugin for WordPress, which loads quickly and includes Pinterest.
31. Add social follow widgets to your website. Most potential clients won’t make a purchasing decision during their first visit to your website. Get them to follow you on social media so they can continue to see your work (and buy from you later). The right sidebar or footer of your site is a great place to display a Facebook Like Box or Pinterest profile widget, which entice users to follow you with a single click.
32. Use a social commenting system on your blog. Most photographers let users comment on their blog posts. Livefyre is a free commenting system with social integration that allows users to show their profile picture and share their comments across social media.
33. Add yourself to Google Local. Google My Business puts your business info on Search, Maps and Google+ so that customers can find you no matter what device they’re using. Visit google.com/business.
34. Get Google keyword ideas from a related search. Search for a phrase related to your business, then scroll to the bottom of the search results page to see what Google suggests as related searches. Create webpages about those topics or just use the list for ideas about new audiences or venues. This example suggests a popular local venue (Flower Farm), “studios” as a potential hot keyword, and a local photography community (Professional Photographers of Sacramento).
35. Craft compelling meta descriptions. Search engines display a summary of each page in their results. Make your listing stand out and entice users to click by making sure your top pages have compelling meta descriptions.
36. Optimize for Google Image Search. Google often displays images on search results pages. Improve your chances of showing here by adding alternate text and a caption for photos on your website. Learn more about image optimization.
37. Distribute photos to partners. Your Google rank increases when other websites feature your work and link to your website. Anytime you capture another business in a photo — for example, a wedding DJ or a newborn prop — send the image to the company being featured. Those companies would love to have professional images of their work and will often showcase them on their websites and social media.
38. Solicit positive Google reviews. Google uses reviews as a ranking factor for local business search results, like the Sacramento wedding photographer search term shown below. A good time to ask for a review is during the proofing process. Ask clients for a review during your in-person sales session, or include a link to your reviews page when you email clients the link to their proofing gallery. Be careful not to overload Google with a bunch of reviews at once, which can be considered a type of spam.
To find the URL for your Reviews page, search your business name in Google, click the >> arrow next to your map result, then click the Write a Review button.
39. Buy a custom domain name. A self-owned domain name is essential for search engines and general branding. If you’re squatting on a free URL such as mybusiness.wordpress.com or an about.me page, Google won’t put much trust in them.
40. Don’t change an existing domain name. Do you think Google would rather refer a brand-new photography business or one that has been in business for five years? Search engines measure your experience by the age of your domain name, and older is better. It can be tempting to change your domain name to include more keywords, but I would not recommend it for domain names that are more than a few years old.
41. Own your name in search. When a potential client searches your name, you’d hope that all of the search results are about you and not someone else with the same name, or a directory listing that includes your competitors! Make sure your About Page has your name in the Title. Register accounts at places like YouTube, Google+ LinkedIn, and Yelp, which will create new pages for your name (you’ll need to maintain these regularly to see results). Write articles for other websites so those pages can rank for your name. See my personal search results.
42. Teach yourself SEO. My Recipes to Rank Higher cookbook has easy-to-follow recipes that can quickly impact your position in search engines.
How quickly could you book a session if you had 500 people on your email subscription list? Simply send a single email and I’m sure one of those subscribers would book you. What could you do with a list of 5,000 email addresses? The more subscribers you have, the easier it is to make a sale, whether it’s a Black Friday sale or senior model call.
I believe building a list is the most important marketing action any website owner can take. I started collecting email addresses before I even had a website. After all, there would be nobody to visit my site on Day 1 if I didn’t email them to say that my website exists.
Facebook is scaling back on showing Page posts in clients’ news feeds, so it’s more important than ever to take ownership of your email communication.
43. Utilize an email management system. If you’re still using Gmail or Entourage to send mass emails, you’re likely not reaching your customers. A professional email system improves deliverability (the chance of reaching a user’s inbox) and complies with spam laws. I’ve used a half dozen email providers over the years and recommend MailerLite (affiliate) to all photographers. It’s free to use (up to 1,000 contacts) and had great pre-built templates and a wide range of online support articles.
44. Create an email opt-in. Legally, you can’t send a mass promotional email to all your clients without their prior consent (called an opt-in). Give users a way to sign up for your email communication with a form on your website. I make it very clear how users can sign up for my stuff, including a pop-up form, right sidebar module, email sign-up page, and integration with my Facebook page.
45. Incentivize subscribers. Most people aren’t dying to get more emails. They hold onto their email address closely for fear of getting too much spam. Thus, you’ll need a little incentive for people to hand over their personal information. Get more signups by offering something in exchange, like a free download (I suggest a wall display guide) or discount/special offer.
46. Send a regular newsletter. After building a subscriber list, send regular email communications (1-2 per month) to keep readers engaged. Strive to include education and entertainment in your emails, such as a guide to holiday photo gifts, ways to plan for a wedding, or what to expect from a boudoir session. If you’re only talking about your latest sessions, people will get bored and stop opening your messages.
47. Build an autoresponder series. An autoresponder is a series of pre-written messages that are sent to readers in an order and frequency that you decide. A wedding photographer might build a series of five weekly “welcome” emails for a new bride that discuss venue, preparation and ordering. You can even create an email course such as “5 lessons for portrait photo sessions” to teach potential clients about a subject in hopes that they will hire you after learning this great information. Read more about autoresponders on Copyblogger.
48. Optimize your email signature. Create a professional email signature to showcase your photography. Easily brand your emails and promote your portfolio, albums and work through your email signature. See photographer signature examples from Wisestamp.
49. Host a photo contest. Everyone likes to win, so why not let your clients (and their friends) submit their best photos and you select the winners? This can be a fun way to engage your target market and get them to share your website. The winner will definitely talk about their big win, so you might want to choose an influential person (a top referrer or someone with a lot of Facebook friends) as the winner. Post the winning submissions to your blog and discuss what made those photos great. Your critique will make you look like an expert.
50. Run a caption contest. Engage people by asking them to caption your photos. This is a great activity for your blog, Facebook or Pinterest page to get clients to talk about and share this fun activity. Wishpond has an app for that.
51. Host a sweepstakes. Running a sweepstakes sounds like a big project, but it can be a simple promotional drawing in which prizes are given away at no charge to the participants. Oftentimes, participants enter the contest by completing an action, such as an email sign up or by following you on social media. Collaborate with a few partners who will each donate an item and then everyone promotes to multiply the exposure. Use Rafflecopter to manage entries and select a winner. Check out Rachel’s Favorite Things Birthday Giveaway example.
52. Enter a photo contest. Contest websites feature the photography winners and most times the runners-up, too. It only takes a moment to submit a photo and could result in some positive press. See some of the top photo contests here.
53. Send images to local vendors. Getting your photos featured on other websites is great for public relations, branding and search rank. Your vendor partners may not have professional photos of their products or services and would gladly feature those on their website or social media — and promote you in the process. Take the time to send your photos of wedding DJs, event coordinators, and even prop companies like that newborn beanie you bought on ETSY.
54. Collaborate on a free resource. Get five fellow vendors to each contribute a one-page Word document with helpful tips or ideas. Then put them all together into a single document/PDF that each of you can distribute to your client lists. Something like “6 Wedding Ideas to Help You Plan” could include a song list from a DJ, sample floral arrangements from a florist, an outline for group photos (from you), etc. You’ll get exposure to client lists of five other partners and have a great “hook” for your website to capture new subscribers.
55. Contribute a guest post. You can get almost any vendor to feature you by writing a post for his or her blog. A great example would be to write a post about how flowers make a huge impact on wedding albums and give that to a local florist to use on their website. A portrait photographer could author some quick tips for shooting at home and send it to a mom blog. It will promote your brand to an entirely new audience in your market.
56. Speak at an event. Let’s say you’re a featured speaker at a local business or photography meetup. That business/group will want to encourage attendance and will naturally talk about you on their website and social media accounts in an effort to get people to attend. You’ll be positioned as an expert in your field with an opportunity to connect with new clients or partners at the event.
57. Start a referral program. The only thing better than a new client is a new “affiliate” who will refer you tons of clients. Incentivize customers for referring their friends with a loyalty program. My tax guy sends me a $10 Starbucks card every time I send someone his way, and it makes me want to tell more people about him. Sometimes it can be as simple as reminding clients that you’re always looking for new referrals. I’ve seen the biggest referral programs among senior photographers, who often have swag and exclusive parties for their groups of senior reps. Here’s a very well done example by Tyler Brown Photography.
58. Record a Google Hangout. Hangouts are an easy way to create video content and stream directly to YouTube. All you need is a person to ask you some questions and you answer them. I prefer these to article writing since they’re so quick to make, usually anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour long. Or you can begin to interview others in your industry as a way to make new connections with powerful influencers. In both ways, the participating person is likely to promote the published interview, giving you face time to new audiences.
Offline Marketing Ideas
59. Market some mini sessions. Mini sessions allow potential clients to test the waters and see what it’s like to work with you. My first experience with my family photographer was through a group mini session. Five years later, all of us are still loyal clients. Add some flare to your mini session marketing with an “accordion fold” information brochure, session reminder card, Facebook timeline cover photo, and Facebook announcement. See the 5-piece modern mini session kit from Galler.ee.
60. Place postcards at a local business. A popular restaurant near my house has a stack of postcards from a local photographer next to the cash register. Thousands of people each week will notice them at checkout while waiting for their credit cards to process. This is a brilliant way to be seen with minimal expense. This also works well with window posters or fliers placed by a newspaper stand.
61. Wrap your vehicle. I can’t think of a bolder promotion than getting a car wrap with your photography branding. Double down by making your corporate vehicle a smart car to attract attention.
62. Send a door opener. The marketing phrase “door opener” came from the door-to-door salesmen who would give a free gift to those who opened their door for an in-home demo or sales discussion. Today, door opener campaigns mail a gift to a potential partner or client in hopes of gaining their attention and scheduling a meeting. A wedding photographer might send a wine package to a wedding coordinator or desired venue as a means of asking for an introduction. Here’s an example from Kudzu Creative.
63. Sponsor a local sports team. Providing a sponsorship to a local soccer or tee-ball team can get you some news coverage in the community. I’ve coached kids soccer for a few years and hate the traditional photos that never turn out! If you can take or donate some professional team photos you’ll surely earn new portrait business from those families.
64. Offer your service as a prize. Schools and associations are always trying to raise money through auction donations. Giving away a session might be one way to attract visibility at the auction event.
65. Make a calendar. Send a branded calendar to clients at the beginning of each year. You can even sell them.
Photo credit: Grant Kaye
66. Host a party or open house. If you have a studio, host a open house for people to check out your space. Or invite your best customers to an exclusive event (great for senior reps).
67. Order awesome business cards. I don’t have to tell you how important a photo’s size, thickness and paper quality is. Shouldn’t your business card have the same impact as your prints? Moo offers deluxe thicknesses, custom sizes and — best of all — a different photo design on each card!
68. Write for a magazine. Getting published in your local news and review magazine or trade publication builds trust that you’re a top expert in your field. This is free advertising with potential to reach thousands in your market. Proudly display this recognition on your website and social media. Sometimes I’m more interested in writing simply to spark a relationship with the publisher, who can offer many other advantages or promotional opportunities.
69. Apply for business awards. Many news channels and media outlets host voting competitions for the best local businesses. Oftentimes simply nominating yourself will get you a feature on a website. A win would obviously result in great positive press for your business. See this example from KCRA 3 in Sacramento.
70. Write a press release. A press release acts as a media “announcement” that talks about something your business accomplished that may be newsworthy. If you won the best local business (above) that would be a great thing to write a press release about. Releases are mostly read by media publishers (not clients) and may lead to interviews or backlinks to your website. Professional releases range in price from $99 to $499. Sometimes you can achieve the same effect by writing and distributing the press release yourself via personal email to some local publishers or blogs. Read When Press Releases Do (and Don’t) Help Your Marketing.
71. Use a QR Code. You’ve most likely seen this technology on real estate signs and shop windows. Simply scan the QR code with your phone and it can open a webpage with more information. It’s a trendy way to capture mobile engagement and could be used in any number of settings, from thank-you cards to event banners. Mobile Barcodes has some cool free options.
72. Change your name. Change your name to something unique or easy to remember/spell. A friend of mine had a hard name to remember and spell (Arcularious). She changed her branding to user her middle name (Maria), which is easy to remember. Consider a unique name so when people Google you, your new identity will be the only results (since nobody else exists with that name).
73. Create a Groupon. First, a word of caution: Groupon can devalue your brand and attract price-shoppers. Yet, Groupon is a valid marketing opportunity for some photographers who need a quick burst of awareness and are simply looking for some instant sales. When you create a Groupon, you’ll get a new page that can rank on Google searches for your name, as well as a place to put reviews. See this Groupon example from Xsight Photography.
74. Offer a free consultation. Customers often need more than a business card or first website visit to hire you. Give them something in exchange for their consideration. A wedding venue tour, studio walkthrough or album review on an iPad are all great examples of a consultation.
75. Brand your USB flash drives. The latest trend in digital photo delivery isn’t DVDs (since Macbooks don’t have a disc drive) or the boring Dropbox. Professional photographers deliver digital photos via a custom branded flash drive. Check out personalized drives at Pexagon (affiliate).
Marketing Training Ideas
76. Subscribe to a podcast. Learn how-to strategies to become more profitable as a photographer and the specific action items to quickly implement positive change in your business. Listen to discussions with the most successful photographers and business leaders on the Sprouting Photographer Podcast. Hear Zach’s interview here.
77. Join a forum. Forums are an ideal place for learning. With access to a group of peers just like you, you’ll see people asking the same questions as you, and better yet, answering those questions. I’m a member of Chic Critique (affiliate). Here’s 8 Awesome Reasons to Join a Forum.
78. Attend a photography meetup. Meetups are a great place to learn free information from speakers and mentors who can guide you face to face in your city. Check out Professional Photographers of America for a meetup near you.
79. Register for a Conference. Conferences can be a fun learning experience and are great for networking. At nationwide conferences you can meet people just like you who are from a different city, so they won’t be a competitor. Look for breakout training sessions in business, inspiration, or your specific niche (like seniors). The biggest national conference is Imaging USA.
80. Enroll in business training. If you’re looking for a fast way to the top, start by learning from experts in your field who have already been successful. Their wisdom and insight can guide you on the best path while saving you from costly mistakes. CreativeLive features free workshops in photography, as well as photography class bundles.