Photography Marketing Tips
The photography industry is one of the hardest markets to tap into and make a successful career out of. Digital cameras have made it ridiculously easy for anyone to take photos and because of this there are far too many people who grab an SLR camera from Costco and call themselves photographers, yet they know very little about lighting and composition. And what’s even more frustrating is every hipster in America now can take a decent looking photo from their iPhone with Instagram and get thousands of followers. So how do you make a name for yourself and market your business? What’s the best way to get photography clients? Use these photography marketing tips to help, you may get more business as a result.
1) Be Amazing at Your Craft and Build Your Portfolio First!
Everyone has his or her own steps, strategies and means of marketing a photography business, but most professional photographers will agree that the first step to any successful photo career is to first become an exceptional photographer. You don’t necessarily need to become the next Joe McNally or Cliff Maunter, but you should get to the point where you can be comfortable enough with the quality of your work that you know clients will be extremely impressed with. Ask others to critique your work, but do not, I repeat, do not ask people you know (ex. friends, family, significant others) to evaluate your work. You need honest, blunt opinions; this is the only way you will become a better photographer. Learn from your mistakes and improve upon your successes. I strongly recommend that you find another professional who’s been in the industry for a long time to become a personal mentor; he or she can give you business advice and critique your work.
You may now ask, how do I build my portfolio if I don’t have clients? My advice is to try and assist other photographers in the industry and build your portfolio that way, even if it means working for free. My goal was to become a wedding and event photographer, so I started my career as an intern with the Orange Country Register and being the editor of my college newspaper. I put in hours and hours of slave labor and it all paid off because I made connections, learned how to take photos in a professional environment and honed my lighting and composition skills. Because of the credibility I earned shooting for one of the largest newspapers in the country, I was able to get my foot in the door with professional wedding photographers and asked to assist them. After about two years of “training” I was ready to start thinking about a career.
2) Specify Your Target Audience
At this point you should already know what category of photography you want to specialize in, however the next important step is to identify your target audience. Let’s say you want to become a portrait photographer. In order to be a successful portrait photographer, you cannot be broad with your photography (at least not early in your career), you need to have a focus. Are you going to be primarily a senior portrait photographer, corporate photographer, sports photographer, etc? Focusing on a specific category will help you dominate a particular market; you want to spend most of your marketing efforts in only a couple categories as opposed to “doing some marketing here and some there”, but we will talk a little more about this in step 5. It will also help to research the market, learn their purchasing habits and how much clients are paying for photography services in the area.
3) Build a Business Plan and Identity
It’s important to have a business plan to stick to. Obviously as your business grows and you obtain clients things may change, but it’s always nice to have something to follow and set goals. A business plan will help you stay on track and measure your results. You need to research your industry, identify the market and come up with ideas on how you can create a unique niche for your business to attract customers. How are you going to create an identity for yourself? What is so special about you that will make people book you as opposed to the photographer down the street? These are questions you should be asking yourself sooner than later to help you have an advantage over the competition.
To help build a business plan, I recommend creating a SWOT analysis. Take 10 minutes to write down on a piece of paper your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Check out the example to the right:
4) Build a Website that Makes You Look Awesome and Legit
Having a clean, professionally-built website is your #1 marketing tool. It provides clients a place to refer to, gives you credibility, helps you with marketing strategies and is a place to show off your portfolio. Keep it simple, elegant and easy to navigate. The way the site is designed is a reflection of you and your business, so make sure your style of photography complements it. The average person spends 8 seconds on a website. If you do not grab a person’s attention in a positive way in 8 seconds, you have failed. One way you can measure this is to install Google Analytics on your site, and identify your bounce rate percentage.
5) Focus on 2-3 Marketing Avenues
A lot of professional photographers all make the same mistake starting out, and I’ll admit I did too at first. Spreading out your marketing amongst different avenues and not focusing in 2-3 specific areas is a waste of your time. At the beginning of my career my thought process was, “If I market myself everywhere, it will give me more opportunities to be noticed!” Unless you can afford to hire someone full-time to do nothing but provide marketing for your business, this is generally a bad idea and an ineffective strategy. You want to capitalize a specific marketing area and focus your money, time and energy there as opposed to “doing a little here, and a little there”. There are a lot of effective places to market your business but admittedly it can be difficult to choose which ones are most comfortable for you, so you may need to experiment a little bit. Because of my Internet marketing background, I decided to take an SEO/SEM approach to my business and try to rank on the first page of Google for specific keywords. Is this the right way to market your business? While it may be for me, it may not be for you. I know professional photographers who make their living by advertising on Facebook and do little to no SEO. You need to analyze your specific market, look at what other photographers are doing and make a determination on what will be most effective for your business. There are so many places to market but when you pick your two to three you should have goals to try and dominate them. A few examples would be building relationships with vendors, advertising/publishing in bridal magazines, utilizing Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and/or Youtube, advertise on the Wedding Wire network, join preferred vendor lists, use Model Mayhem and general advertising.
6) Make Connections and Network
Making connections and networking is important in any business. No matter what stage you’re at with your business, networking is essential. If people get to know you in the industry, you build a name and establish credibility. Be helpful, friendly and professional to everyone because you never know who will give you a referral. Good people to network with would be coordinators, venues, business owners, clubs, organizations and even other photographers.
7) Client Referrals
This strategy technically could go in step 5, however my personal opinion is that every successful business owner should build a relationship with their clients. Nashville-based photography team Zach and Jodi use clients as their #1 marketing tool and frequently teach workshops educating photographers on how to get all of their business based on client referrals. It’s an extremely effective strategy that photographers should incorporate into their marketing plan. Court your client, make them feel special and go the extra mile to please them because nothing gives you more credibility when a client praises your work to another potential client. If you can make your client work for you, they can be the ultimate marketing piece.
This article won’t have all the answers and I’m not claiming to be the master at marketing, but I hope this will give you some direction for the pro’s just starting out. Ultimately it’s up to you to experiment and determine what the best marketing strategies are for you. Everything I’ve learned has been from personal experience, trial and error and formal training. I obtained a communications degree from California State University, Fullerton focusing on Advertising, Marketing and Journalism yet most of the marketing strategies I’ve learned are from real world situations.
Sean Lara is a Fort Collins Wedding Photographer based in Fort Collins, Colorado.