Ahh, welcome to marketing.
We’ve talked about the benefits of part time photography, how to price your work, what images are solid options for making you money, and now we’ll come to the threshold: Your First Customer.
Let’s be clear from the start: marketing is about getting your name and product in front of people who need, or know someone who needs, what you have to offer at the price you ask in trade. Or, as John Jantsch puts it, you want to get folks with a need, to know, like and trust you.
Odds are, your very first customers will be family and friends, and that’s perfectly fine – that’s how you build your portfolio and get the ball rolling. They’ll give you a nice set of images, invaluable experience, feedback, and kind testimonials to get you started.
No doubt, other than for fun and practice, you should offer friends and family the same pricing system as everyone else. If you’re using my suggested prices and policies, it’s a no-risk investment for them and the prices are such that anyone can afford them safely.
Getting your first customer
While the word “marketing” draws a blank stare from many photographers, there are a number of ways to get your name and product (your art and abilities) out in front of a buying market. And thanks to the Digital Age (the same Digital Age many grognards say has upended their industry), we’re going to get your work out there at little to no cost.
I have a laundry list of free and very low-cost ways to market your business (read my brief list at the end of this article), all ripe for their own articles, but let’s get you started with the cheapest, easiest way to land your first customer.
Social Media Marketing
Social media, MySpace specifically, by far sends me the most business of any marketing I do. It’s also absolutely free and easy as writing e-mail, if you’re even somewhat of a people person.
Running a good photography business is about building relationships – photos are just the common subject over which to bond.
Social media gives you so many opportunities to find potential clients, introduce yourself and your art, establish a rapport and grow a profitable long-term relationship. You can read what people are talking about, get a feel for their lifestyle and family, easily see who is getting engaged or having a baby, and the “social” part of social media gives you the situational go-ahead to interact with people about their lives.
For most people, it’s hard to walk up to a pregnant woman at the grocery store and say…
“Congratulations! When are you due? Have you picked out a name? I am a photographer and would love to do maternity photos with you. Here’s my portfolio – do you like it? Would you like to get together for a photo shoot?”
And God help you if the woman only looks pregnant!
It’s a lot easier to be surfing MySpace and happen upon someone in your zip code with a profile photo showing their pregnant belly. Then you can read their profile, get some details, and send over an introductory message:
“Hey there Jane, I saw your profile photo and wanted to congratulate you on your baby! My son was born two years ago and has been nothing but fun since day one. I run a photography business here in town and I’m working on my maternity portfolio right now; you can see some of my work on my profile. I would love to set up a shoot with you if you would be interested!”
Season to taste (and to match your personality), of course.
One in a hundred people will give you that “uuuuhm okaaaay” look or response, whether you make the offer in person or online. Most photographers don’t approach potential clients directly for fear of rejection. If you’re pleasant and are able to just chat casually with them, trust me when I say that most people will be thrilled.
And that’s assuming you go for the direct approach. You’ll have as much if not more success if you just go about casually chatting with people and adding them to your friends list. When you send someone a message or leave a comment on their page (regardless of the topic), the first thing they will do is visit your profile – where they will see you are a photographer and see the quality of your work. Mission accomplished.
(Brief aside: Never be ashamed of the quality of your work. Photographers are notoriously hard on themselves and rabid perfectionists – you have to start from somewhere! If you’re reading this, I’d bet good money you are notably better at photography than your client base. And if you’re following along with my suggested pricing and policies, potential clients will always know exactly what they’re getting, and they’ll know they are getting a good value. Better art will come with time and practice – and with it, bigger sales and more profits for you.)
In the course of discussion, you’ll always either be asked about or have the opportunity to talk about your photography. Never be afraid to offer people photo shoots. Most people are flattered by the offer, and even if they aren’t in the market at that time, you’ve established top-of-mind awareness: when they think local photographer, for themselves or others, they’ll think of you, and know where to find you.
Setting up and using your MySpace profile
(These concepts apply the same to Facebook, I just don’t have a profile on there – yet!)
When you set up your MySpace profile, try using a display name of something like John @ John Doe Photography. I use James @ Outlaw Photography, for example. Enter your real name and allow it to be shown, so you look more like a real person than a possible spammer.
Fill out as much personal information as you like. Be sure that your photography and business are mentioned, but not hyped.
“I love photographing people and am blessed to do it professionally. You can view my work in my photo album or at OutlawPhotography.net. Drop me a message or e-mail me at James@outlawphotography.net if you would like to set up a photo shoot.”
…is far less abrasive than:
“FREE PHOTO SHOOTS!!!! MSG ME!!! i specialize in maternity landscape newborn automotive commercial industrial pets antiques seniors children families and weddings in the Texas Hill Country Bandera Fredericksburg Boerne Kerrville Hondo San Antonio area… CHECK ME OUT AT www.geocities.com/soho/113131/kitty.html”
Next up, post some of your best photos to your profile’s photo album. If you don’t have a feel for how many, go for 10-20 to start. I have hundreds on mine, usually four images per photo shoot, sorted by year into albums.
Visit the Browse Users page under the Friends menu. Search for folks local to your zip code. If you’re in a city, tighten the search – if you’re in a rural area like me (Bandera, TX, pop: 957), widen it out to include surrounding towns.
As one marketer so perfectly put it: Own Your Zip Code. Start by visiting the profiles of people within five miles of your zip code. Check out their profiles, see what they’re talking about, look at their photos, and send them a message to say hello. Be as basic as you want:
“Hey there! I’m new to MySpace and I’m adding people from around Bandera to my profile. I saw you love U2 – did you go to their concert last year? I was there and it was truly awesome. I have some photos from the show in my photo album.”
One by one, you’ll gain access to and build rapport with people from your community. As they visit your profile, see your photos and see that you are a professional photographer, you’ll begin getting inquiries about your prices and booking. As you book these people and shoot with them, you’ll start seeing your photos appear on their profiles – which then appears on all of their friends’ profiles – and the cycle begins.
This is just a small sampling of what you can do with MySpace and social media to reach out and collect your first customers – and to build an ever-larger set of customers over time whose own profiles will serve as the best referral you can’t buy.
10 (other) ways to market your photography
Not feeling the Social Media vibe? Some folks are just that way and you know what? That’s perfectly fine – being a part time professional photographer should be fun and rewarding, and you should never have to do any kind of marketing you aren’t comfortable with.
Here are 10 other ways, in brief, you can land your first customer (all of which I have done and can vouch for as working quite well):
- Classifieds – Craigslist or your local newspaper. Advertise online for free or in small local papers for a few dollars a week. It’s the least expensive newspaper advertising you can buy, and some of the best read. I have gotten many, many lucrative clients (especially for baby photos) through this venue.
- Offer to pick up competitors’ excess work – This one might seem a long-shot, but every photographer at some time is unable to meet someone’s needs because of time or price. They are happy to refer work to a fellow photographer who can take on that client – it makes them look good, and it nets you business.
- Free press – Talk with your local newspaper and get in a press release about your new business, get their business writer to do a feature on you, hold a grand opening event (like a half-day photo shoot at the park) to be featured in the paper’s event calendar, submit photos of local sports and events in exchange for bylines (including your name and web site). Try advertising in their classified section for a month first – often this will grease the wheels when you ask for some PR. Local radio and TV stations are also worth contacting for possible PR.
- Co-op marketing – This is one that the big-boy boutique studios use. Find a business with the same customer base as you and do a contest, drawing, or event together. As an example, if you’re a baby photographer, visit your local children’s resale store and offer them three photo shoots with files on CD to give away to their best customers. You’ll do the shoots using wardrobe provided by the store, then give the store framed 20×30 prints to hang on their walls – alongside your business cards, of course.
- Bulletin boards – Be sure your business card is tacked onto every bulletin board in your community. Ever see those “For Sale” sheets of paper with the phone numbers at the bottom, cut individually so people can tear a number right off? Make up your own for your photography services! Many businesses, including your local Visitor’s Bureau, are also happy to display your brochures and business cards.
- Volunteer – Non-profits can always use more volunteers, and as a photographer, you have a unique gift to give. Work with local charities to photograph their events, membership, and marketing images. You will help a good cause and build an immediate fan base among members.
- Shoot local sports and events – From Little League to Friday Night varsity football, pet parades to Fourth of July fireworks, communities love to see photos of their friends, neighbors, children, and themselves. Work with organizers to be able to display images from these events on your web site, and to promote your web site at the event. Offer to sell prints from the photos as a fundraiser for the event or organization (such as sports photos for the Athletic Booster Club) as a way to grease the wheels and gain access and permission. Your web site traffic will go up by leaps and bounds.
- Networking – Being present and involved in the community is one of the best ways to build loyalty and recognition. Attend Chamber of Commerce mixers and business association meetings, high school Project Graduation meetings, Little League board meetings, Kiwanis Club car washes, Education Foundation gatherings, any kind of event where people will get together, share ideas, and work for a common cause. Participate as a member of the community and offer your own ideas. Bring your camera.
- Models – Beginning photographers get along just fine with beginning models. Use sites like OneModelPlace to set up a photography profile and meet models in your area. Do TFCD (Trade For CD) shoots with them to build your portfolio. They may not be paying customers (at first!), but they can help you practice and grow your art while building your portfolio. And as always, the better your portfolio, the more people will take notice.
- The Modern Marketing Triumvirate: Your business cards, web site, and e-mail newsletter – These are three of the least expensive weapons in your marketing arsenal, and three of the most effective. Your business cards lead folks to your web site (the best brochure ever), your web site leads people to subscribe to your e-mail newsletter, and your e-mail newsletter gives you a free list of people who are actively interested in your services, along with the permission to market to them.
I’ll expound on each of these marketing opportunities in future articles. They are all wildly powerful, free or inexpensive, and can serve to keep you booked solid.
Own Your Zip Code
So you’ve got your name out there and people are beginning to buzz about your work! What do you do when that first potential client calls and asks about prices and booking? What do you need for your shoot? For your proof viewing session? What about model releases, referrals, testimonials? Come back tomorrow to find out.
Again – Own Your Zip Code. Whether you start with MySpace or visiting with people in your own neighborhood, your end goal is to ensure that anyone who needs photography services – on your block, on your street, in your subdivision, in your town – knows who you are and what you can do for them.
Remember: Be social, don’t fear being direct in asking for people’s business, and let your art and your profile do your selling for you.
- Head over to MySpace or Facebook and set up your profile as a professional photographer. Use the steps outlined above to maximize your profile’s selling power, then start visiting with the locals. You will make so many great contacts and friends this way, and the more you participate, the more your business will grow.
- Play around with some of the other marketing ideas mentioned above. Pick any one as a supplement to your social media marketing and try it out. As with all marketing, ask every person who contacts you, “How did you hear about us?” Make note of which marketing efforts are getting you the most attention. Then, track who books with you, and make note of which marketing efforts are getting you the most bookings. Then, track who buys from you, and make note of which marketing efforts are getting you the most profitable clients.
- For more great marketing ideas, I can wholeheartedly recommend anything (books or blogs) by Seth Godin, John Jantsch, or Michael Port. For a good Marketing 101 education, start with Michael Port’s “Book Yourself Solid,” follow up with Jantsch’s “Duct Tape Marketing,” then graduate to Godin’s numerous excellent books. His book, “The Dip,” will show you how the challenges you face now as a newly-minted part time professional photographer are necessary and welcome along the road to success. Don’t fear The Dip – embrace it.
- Brainstorm session: What opportunities do you see in your neighborhood or your town to show your target market (parents of newborns, high school seniors, brides to be, all of the above) who you are and what you can do for them? What’s stopping you? File this in your Brainstorms folder.
- This article is just the first of many on marketing to be featured here at PartTimePhoto.com. If you like what you’ve learned here, please don’t hesitate to click the “Subscribe” link at the top of any page of this site.
- What’s the best marketing advice you’ve ever been given? What marketing effort has produced your best clients? Leave a comment below, e-mail me, or call or text me at 830-688-1564.
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