You can transform your photography passion into a comfortable, six-figure income, even without superior technical ability or breathtaking photographs. These 7 marketing tactics will help you get there:
Understand What You Are Really Selling
Determine What You Want Your Life & Business to Be Like
Identify Your Ideal Client
Match Your Message to The Right Market
Engineer A System For Capturing Leads & Nurturing Them Towards the Sale
Become A True Entrepreneur
Models, Mentors, & Continuing Education
To say that building a profitable, long-term photography business is quick and easy is just plain false. Success in photography isn’t solely dependent upon capturing compelling images. Yes, quality is an important part of the success puzzle. But it’s merely an appendage to your ability to communicate your benefits to potential clients.
Photo Credit: An Mai
Understanding What You Are Really Selling
You are in the marketing business. No matter what type of photography you offer, your business is marketing.
I’ve worked with a lot of photographers that get visibly sick when I tell them this. Some of them even get angry at me, as if I’m accusing them of some heinous crime. I can see their disgust, written plainly on their face: Marketing?! How dare you! It’s as if it’s some badge of honor that they only work off of referrals.
Everything you do is marketing: the script you use on your first client communication, how you dress when meeting with prospective clients, the stationary you use, your brochures/business cards, packaging materials, how you deal with clients during the shoot, and on and on.
Marketing is something that permeates every single aspect of your company. Everything you do must be congruent with your marketing message for maximum effect. It’s all part of your offering to your client.
By understanding that you are actually in the marketing business, it completely transforms your whole outlook on the process.
Decide What You Want Your Business and Life to Be Like
The second step towards success is accepting the reality (and opportunity) to decide what you want your life to look like as well as changing the parts that you don’t like.
Be honest with yourself and take full responsibility for your current position and the state of your company. No longer are you going pay attention to the complaints around you blaming their poor performance on the economy, the unfairness of the competition, or the location they are in. It’s starts and ends with you.
When you stop accepting excuses, you start looking for solutions.
Set aside some time to think freely about what it is that you want from your business. Go as deep as you can with this because the more specific you are the easier it will be to know how to get there. Consider the day-to-day operations, what they will be, and how much/little you will be involved. Determine who it is you want to be working with on a regular basis, as well as any work that you will stop doing altogether.
Identify Your Ideal Client
The next step in our progression after determining what our ideal photography business looks like, is filling that business with our ideal clients!
If I were to ask you if all your clients were equally easy and enjoyable to work with you’d probably answer “I WISH!”
Clients are not all the same.
There are those that truly value the services you provide and trust you and your artistic judgment entirely. There are also the type of clients that never seem to be satisfied, regardless of how ‘above and beyond’ you go. Given the choice, I think you’d agree that you would certainly prefer to clone the first type of clients described above if possible.
I’ve got a powerful message for you: YOU CAN. You don’t have to take Mrs. Crazy or Mr. MicroManage anymore!
When I first started into photography, I tried to be ‘anything to anyone’ so that I could get the job. Do you do weddings? Yes! Will you do a headshot? Absolutely. Editorial work? Sure thing. Product photos? Yep. Family Reunion? Why, yes. Stock photography? Naturally.
I grabbed at whatever I could simply to stay alive. With so much competition for photography out there, how could I afford to be picky? And trust me, there were plenty of shoots that I simply DID NOT want to do. They didn’t excite or inspire me and consequently left me MORE tired, MORE drained, and LESS excited about what I was doing with my life. Sound familiar?
This happens to almost all photographers, whether they are just starting out or have been in the business for several years. Why? Because we don’t want to ‘limit’ ourselves to one or two specific markets.
So many people are afraid of leaving people out that they create generic, bland, boring marketing messages to everyone and to no one at the same time. You see, in order not to exclude anyone, you necessarily have to create a very broad, very vague marketing message.
When you don’t stand out, you don’t stand a chance.
Match Your Message To The Right Market
In order to communicate your message effectively to the right prospects, you must be able to match your message to the right market.
For example, you are not very likely to have much success advertising your $10,000 wedding package on Craigslist. Couples with that type of budget for photography generally do not spend time in the classifieds where most services are severely discounted and price-hagglers abound. You’d be wasting your time despite how well-crafted your message is.
In order to know where to market you must first know where to find your ideal client.
The more you know about them, the easier it will be to identify how and where to market your message.
Let’s say that your a wedding photographer and your ideal prospect is between the ages of 28-32, drives imported cards, has a college degree (or better), dines at trendy mid-tier restaurants, lives downtown, is a working professional, and is always on the go. Furthermore, you know from experience that the majority of these clients hire a wedding planner, invite 60-85 guests to their wedding, and are engaged longer than 12 months.
How would that knowledge alter your view of HOW and WHAT to market as well as WHERE to market your message to attract that type of client?
Think of how much more refined your marketing can be once you have all this information!
Now think about how much money you will save by knowing who to target and where to market your message, eliminating the need to spend money on people that weren’t going to buy from you in the first place!
Can you see how powerful this stuff really is? How much more likely those prospects will respond to a message that addresses THEIR specific situation and concerns?
This is where most photographers fall short. They avoid doing the “work” of knowing your ideal customers and continue on marketing the same generic message as nearly every other photographer out there with the exception of some trite tagline (as if that will tip the scales in your favor!).
Engineering A System For Capturing Leads & Nurturing Them Towards The Sale
This is a principle that really struck me when I read Michael Gerber’s famous book, The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It. If you haven’t read this book yet, go get a copy today and start reading. This is a must read for anyone running their own business.
One of the main points in the book is to structure your business as if you were going to franchise it in the future. In other words, create systems and processes that allow you to capture leads and contact them regularly thereafter, something that could be franchised or duplicated later on.
McDonalds is one of the greatest examples of this. Pull up to any one of their bazillion locations and you will find a picture-perfect model of consistency, from the way you look up to view the menu to the line on the inside of the cup showing how much ice to put in!
They have systems and processes for practically everything that could, and has occurred in their restaurants. Their systems are so well-documented and organized that you can plug nearly anyone into many of the positions in their restaurants and they will succeed. (Another one of Gerber’s main points).
In all likelihood, you have some kind of operations system in your business that allows you to provide high-quality photographs and service to your clients time after time.
BUT…I’d bet that for most of you, if I asked you to present your MARKETING system, you wouldn’t have anything to show me.
Do you have a marketing system?
If not, then what you have is money you spend (notice, I’m not using the term ‘invest’) on random acts of hope and faith (both often misplaced!). Is that the way you should be running your business?
To push even further:
Based on your current marketing promotions what are your sales going to be this week? ___________
Could you fill in a number that’s at all accurate? If your answer is anything BUT a number, then your current system is one of hope and faith.
With a marketing SYSTEM you get to go to bed knowing what’s going to happen in your business tomorrow, next week, and next month with reasonable certainty!
At the heart of your marketing system there needs to be a well-thought-out structure to capturing leads and continually nudging them along towards the sale.
For most photographers, their “system” means emailing a new client inquiry once or twice after the initial contact. And if they don’t hear from them after that, then they move on.
What if I were to tell you that MOST of my clients take 2-6 months after the initial contact before someone actually books me for their wedding? If I were simply to stop contacting them after only hearing from them once or twice, I’d be leaving the vast majority of my clients (tens of thousands of dollars each year) on the table for someone else to snatch up. No, thank you.
It’s not enough to simply follow up.
You need to be turning the focus off of YOU and onto THEM. This can be done by educating your prospects on what they need to know to make the best decision possible. Let them know what their realistic options are and the likely outcomes if they choose you, choose someone else, or don’t choose anyone at all.
Become A True Entrepreneur
Simply put, a business owner is someone who owns a business. Whereas an entrepeneur is someone who proactively uses all means necessary (ethical means, mind you) to grow the business. Let’s look an example to illustrate the distinction between the two.
Business Owner = A photographer who owns a photography studio
Entrepreneur = A photographer (or person) who owns a photography studio to build a list of customers (to which he regularly markets to), runs photography meet-up groups and workshops, partners with non-competing businesses to offer additional services (invitations, stationery, etc)
See the difference?
Entrepreneur does not set limitations on himself or his company to grow his business.
Two different opportunities to go from business owner to entrepreneur include Vertical and Horizontal expansion.
Vertical Expansion – Buying or re-creating the vendors or the businesses you buy from. Go up and down the supply chain and acquire those businesses. In photography, this may include a photo lab, proofing gallery, commercial printer, templates for album design, etc. Although a bit harder to do in our industry, this still can be done.
Horizontal Expansion – Buying, partnering with, or re-creating a kindred (but not competitive) business that your customers are currently buying from.
These could include offering a line of invitations or party favors, videography, or partnering with a floral shop, caterer, or DJ to offer those services as well. Horizontal expansion is generally a much easier way to really increase your profit per customer.
Realize that the asset is the value of the relationship that you have created with your customer.
They trust YOU, your suggestions, insights, and opinions, which translates into opportunity.
Models, Mentors, & Continuing Education
Have you ever turned on the TV to golf and seen a player who’s about to tee off? Close your eyes for a second and picture that scene in your mind.
You probably envisioned someone in goofy clothes concentrating entirely on what they were about to do. You also saw others around that person, spectators and officials alike, working together to provide that golfer with the best success environment possible by staying as still and silent as they could.
What does your office, your business, your mind look like compared to this?
The final principle I’m going to share that will help you increase your income is the need to have an environment that frequently and consistently gives strategic reinforcement.
You need the power of a place where the ambitious striver…the creative visionary…the starter-of-many things…the serious student…the wealth seeker is NOT ridiculed or written off!
You need a place where these people congregate, learn and grow, collaborate, are encouraged and celebrated. At minimum, you need to be listening to cd’s, reading newsletters, meeting with like-minded individuals, attending live events and constantly giving yourself a consistent message about what you’re trying to do.
What is dominating your thoughts, controls what you get!
Take a minute or two and write down what you want to get, what you really, really want and why, and put it on your wall so you can be laser-focused on what’s truly important to you.
Starting Your Business Transformation
These techniques will dramatically increase your ability to generate better, more qualified leads, book more events, increase your profit-per-customer, receive more referrals, and put more profit back into your pocket and afford you the lifestyle you been working for.
You need to actually do the work. Just because you’ve read what you need to doesn’t mean that anything in your business will actually change. Unless you make those changes.