Even our grandest ideas begin with a spark, and sometimes change the course of our success. My mission is to gather education from industry experts and help generate those new ideas photography businesses.
I love outer space — you can tell from my Pinterest boards. It’s amazing to think almost everything in the universe begins with a spark. Even ideas.
This business sparked five years ago, when my friend, who is a photographer moved from Los Angeles to Sacramento, CA. Starting her business from scratch, in a new city where she knew not a soul, she relied on my knowledge of search engines to establish the online foundation of her business. It worked. Her business quickly ranked on Google search results, and she became successful. That’s when it — the spark for this business — happened.
“Photographers are starving for this information,” I was told. “You should package it into a guide.”
An outstanding idea.
I created and sold two businesses
That little spark was all I needed to create an ebook about search engine optimization (SEO), and then another one. After two years I sold Photographers SEO and started a broader one called Photography Web Marketing. I wrote five more ebooks, then sold the latter business in 2012.
I learned two things from this experience.
#1: A niche focus adds to your expertise and reduces competition.
Thousands of SEO experts struggle for success on the web (except Rand Fishkin). Had I been a generalist, I would have been a nobody. By focusing on the photography industry, I became an instant success. Nobody else was doing SEO for photographers, which made me the world’s foremost expert in a niche with zero competition.
Starting small awarded me instant business and credibility, and as I grew I was able to expand. Now, five years into the photography industry, I have the experience and network necessary to talk credibly about the broader topic of business education.
Many photographers can learn from this. If you’re a Los Angeles wedding photographer it will take years before you can compete with established businesses there. Instead, begin with a focus on one small city (Glendale), one venue (Chevy Chase Country Club), or one theme (backyard weddings). Bookings will flow quickly as you gain the experience required to expand your target.
#2: It is difficult to do anything alone.
I can’t think of a single successful business person who made the big time without help. Even U.S. presidents have outsourced the biggest speeches of our country’s history to speech writers.
As small business owners, we carry the burden of having to know and implement everything ourselves. We’re stuck with the paperwork, accounting, blogging and delivery — the list goes on and on.
Small tasks weighed me down significantly. In my last business I could quickly create a blog post, but spent hours editing, finding photos, and posting to social media accounts. Valuable time was lost making connections with partners, finding new clients, and expanding my revenue.
With Photography Spark, I plan to bring you more knowledge than my own. I want to pool together the collective knowledge of the best business minds in photography to tell us how to success in the key areas of business, like marketing, customer management, legal, accounting, and workflow.
I hired Kathy Campbell, virtual assistant for photographers and expert pinner, to help me with my Pinterest boards. I’m working with designers and editors on every blog post to make each one is the best it can be. I’m looking for photographers who want to contribute by doing product reviews or sharing their experiences with fellow photographers.
This new team helps me deliver a better product to my customers, and I don’t have to hide it. Would spending $100 on help this week free up enough time to spark your business growth? The answer is yes.
My workflow for starting a brand and website
This is my third time creating a brand and website. Kind of like my children at home, the third one seems so easy compared to the first! If I had only known what I know now the first time around. I figured you’d be interested to see my workflow for creating a new brand identity.
1.Define a target client
A business starts with an audience. I figured out my target client.
- 25 to 45 years old;
- with two to five years of photography experience; and
- needs help and ideas for managing a business.
Identifying your target client is an important first step. Without a target client in mind, your branding, pricing and tone of voice may be all wrong — and could actually be stopping you from bringing in the type of clients you want .
2. Choose a business name
Next, I brainstormed some business names. I came up with about 30 ideas that I narrowed down to about a dozen. I made sure these names were all available on GoDaddy (the domain name), Facebook and Pinterest. I took this list to a small group of friends and partners and had them pick their favorite. To my surprise, everyone gravitated toward the same one (and it wasn’t my first choice… I’m glad I asked them). At this point I was certain which name I would choose. To confirm I was making the right choice, I surveyed my target clients. With a couple hundred responses, it was clear that Photography Spark was the winner.
I learned to get feedback from my clients BEFORE making a major change. It’s not easy to change a business name, so for major business decisions some upfront research can save huge heartaches later. There’s something to be said for letting others be a part of the decision. Some of you out there are thinking, “I helped name Zach’s business.” That alone strengthens our relationship.
3. Design a logo
The biggest advice I have about logo design is to hire a professional designer. The logo is a main element that ultimately will influence overall perception — and even the pricing — of your business.
The logo needs to scale for multiple uses. For example, my logo above works fine with white text when I’m using it on my own website, but if it appears on a site with a white background you won’t be able to read it! So I had an alternate, color version designed. My social media pages and favicon (in the URL bar) have a variation of the logo showing just the icon, since the logo text isn’t readable at a small size.
4. Choose a website template
I like templates because you know exactly what a website will look like before you buy it. No back and forth with a designer. Best of all, templates are affordable and can be up and running in no time.
I had to have a responsive design — a website that compresses itself based on the size of the browser window. Make this window smaller and see what happens! It’s great for phones and tablet devices and I don’t even need a separate mobile site.
It didn’t take long for me to find an awesome theme from Theme Forest called Lucky Times, which is the basis for the Photography Spark website. In one day I bought the template, plus a domain name from GoDaddy and hosting from BlueHost. It took less than 24 hours.
5. Set up social media accounts
Shortly after building the website, I claimed my Facebook and Pinterest pages and uploaded my logos. I hired Kathy from the Photog’s Helper to built out a few Pinterest boards so that they would be populated in time for the launch (and so I could focus on everything else). Don’t be afraid to get help!
6. Set up an email management system
I started my email account with Aweber (although MailChimp is a bit more friendly for beginners). Setting up email is essential because the best thing I can do for a new business is to start collecting leads. My main goal for launch is to capture as many email addresses as possible. If you don’t get someone to register with you, it is the equivalent of handing out a business card and expecting them to call you (and they never do). If you have the customer’s information, you can contact them in the future to ensure a sale.
7. Create an incentive product
People don’t hand over their email addresses easily. That’s why I created an incentive for people to sign up for my emails — a free PDF. I spent several hours creating content I knew my clients would love. Then I sent it to a designer to make it look nice. You can do the same by writing something in Word and saving it as a PDF. Perhaps a “What to Wear” guide, or a list of preferred vendors in your city — a quick freebie that requires registration. You don’t want to lose those new web visitors.
8. Establish a referral program
I wanted to make it easy for my first customer to refer me. So I set up a referral program even before I had anything to sell. In doing so I can have my key partners promote the launch with me.
9. Send a teaser to partners and contacts
About three weeks before the planned launch, I had phone calls with key partners and emailed all my partners and contacts with a teaser. I wanted to get the launch on their radar before it happened so they would be expecting the launch. The advance notice gave me opportunity take part in some of my partners’ marketing plans. I would have been too late and missed the promotion if they didn’t know about it early enough. The buzz has customers already asking me for products, kind of like having a line outside the store waiting for you to open (that’s a good thing).
10. Plan a giveaway
I planned to give away an iPad Mini during my launch using Rafflecopter. For the cost of an iPad Mini, I created a reason for potential customers to visit my site, share the news, and either enter their email address or Like me on Facebook. It’s a cheap way to gain an instant following and generate buzz. For example, a partner is more likely to promote my iPad Mini contest and promote my new business launch. A giveaway is an easier method for getting people to talk about you.
11. Create some blog posts
I didn’t want people showing up without a finished business there to greet them. I created a handful of quality blog posts ahead of time. When the first customers arrive, they will be so impressed with the experience that they want to come back.
Launching your new business is the fun part. I’m sending a quick email to everyone I’ve ever met, telling them to come check out my awesome information, enter the contest and sign up for the freebie incentive. And of course I plan to check my new website’s traffic levels, email subscriber numbers, and social stats about every five minutes.
In what areas of business do you struggle?
I’m not a photographer, can you believe it? At least not a professional one with a business (this darn blogging keeps getting in the way). So it helps to get feedback from you about the topics and issues you want to read more about. Many of the posts I’ve written in the past came from your suggestions.
Please post a comment below. What part of your business needs a spark this year? What makes that aspect a struggle for you? I bet hundreds of other photographers have the same problem you do, but are too afraid to admit it.