“In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.” Ecclesiastes 11:6, The King James Bible
“Er’ry day I’m hust-a-lin'” – Rick Ross
If you’re not getting any business, it may well be because nobody knows you’re a photographer.
[Geez, it’s the little things that get us sometimes, right?]
Okay, your mom knows, a few Facebook friends have seen your announcement about going pro, but shaking hands with someone at the PTO meeting, or stepping past someone on the sidewalk – how do they know you’re a professional photographer?
We all fall into the passive marketing trap: “I’m just going to quietly hang my shingle over here and see who wants to book.”
We feel safer this way, as though each booking is a pleasant surprise.
But with the competition the digital age has brought, getting those first (and continuing) paid shoots is a hustler’s game.
You’re gonna have to work for it.
Let me focus here on just the “How would they know?” question.
When it comes to marketing, you never know what will work at all, much less work best (if you did, you’d be busy counting your money instead of reading this) – you truly never know which seeds will grow.
I’m a fan of planting lots and lots of seeds.
When someone calls or e-mails to book, you want them to say, “I see you everywhere!”
Not you personally (though there’s some of that)…
Your art. Your name. Your business. Your brand.
When people see you on the street, how do they know you’re a professional photographer?
Does your clothing tell them? Do you have an embroidered shirt or hat? A nice magnetic name tag? A lanyard with your business card, photographer credentials, or press pass (from your freelance work for the local paper)?
Are you carrying your camera? Not your smartphone, not your point and shoot – I mean the big one that says, “I’m serious about my art.” (if you’re still sporting the P&S or even smartphone camera, no disrespect – you know I believe like Chase Jarvis the best camera is the one you have with you – if you’re sans-dSLR, work what’cha got; be seen taking interesting photos, no matter what you use to capture them)
Are you being seen taking photos? Have you considered incorporating a high-traffic location into your free / portfolio-building shoots so you can be seen shooting in public? What about doing a shoot in a high-traffic area just so you can be seen? A weekly shoot at the same public location (a friendly cafe, a scenic downtown sidewalk), same time, every week?
How about a custom-printed camera strap? Or strap cover? With your business name, or your web portfolio address (especially if it’s the same as your business name!).
Do you have an elevator pitch? A tagline? A short and intriguing, 30-second introduction to your photography business and how you differentiate from everyone else? When you meet someone, do you share this with them? Do you tell people you’re a professional photographer? I tell folks, “By day I’m a journalist, but by 5 o’clock I’m a senior portrait photographer.” Then I can expand: “I love the energy, excitement, and bold personalities of seniors. I’m just a big kid, and I love getting to be creative in making photos the seniors and their parents can enjoy forever.” It doesn’t even have to be a great shpeel – but know your honest talking points ahead of time.
How do you feel about your business cards? If you’re not excited to hand them out, go back to the drawing board – or better yet, hire a designer (through Fiverr, through 99designs, trade-out with a designer friend, by whatever means you can) and let them do the design work for you. Put those business cards everywhere. Those It Works! reps we all know and love from Facebook? They’re masters of putting their business cards on every bulletin board and counter top in the county.
Where do your people shop? Where do they get their hair done? Where do they take their kids for play dates? Where do they stop for coffee? Are you there? Are you shopping, eating, drinking, and frequenting the places your target market does? Whether you do or don’t, do you have a flyer there? A partnership? A display? Portraits hanging on the walls? If you’re a children’s photographer, does your local pediatrician have your portraits of his patients hanging on the walls of his waiting rooms and exam rooms?
Are you a sponsor of the events your people attend? Are you a volunteer with the charities your people support? If you’re a senior photographer, are you the official photographer for the prom fashion show fundraiser? Are you on the after-graduation church lock-in party committee? If you’re a pet photographer, are you a volunteer with the local welfare society? Are you showing your alignment with your clients’ interests and values?
Do you donate gift certificates to the silent auction fundraisers supporting the organizations that are important to your people? Are you a Friend of those organizations online? Do you sit on their boards or committees? Do you Share their important posts, and help get the word out? Do you offer your unique talents as an artist, designer, or marketer to support their campaigns?
Are your photos appearing in the newspaper from the events important to your clients? Have you contacted the newspaper to offer your services in covering those events in exchange for a byline? Maybe even, eventually, for advertising credit? Explore the same opportunities with your nearest metro or regional magazine. If you’re located in a large metro area, is there a nearby county or town with a small newspaper that would be excited to work with you?
The same with your local radio station – have you offered your services (typically personality headshots and event coverage) to them in exchange for a shout-out on air, and on their website and social media channels?
Do you have any local bloggers who serve your market? Can you write a guest post with photo or produce a photo story on their topic? Trade out headshots for a mention? Check around in your local artsy and craftsy circles for great artist bloggers to do cooperative work with.
Your local chamber of commerce, convention and visitors bureau, business association, historical commission, and event planners are always looking for great promotional photos for their marketing materials and web sites. Focus here on producing art for their local materials, such as the tent cards that go up on restaurant tables a month before a big event – and asking openly for referrals (most chambers of commerce are just referral businesses anyway).
This is just a spotlight on a few ways you can F8 and Be There in your community; to be where your people are. I’m sure you have an explosion of your own ideas right now.
Brainstorm, make a big list, and make it happen. Don’t by shy; don’t hide the fact that you’re a working, professional photographer.
Put it on your calendar as part of your quarterly, monthly, even weekly review: proactively and consciously answer the question, “How would they know I’m a professional photographer?”
- Start with the tips above, and make your own list of ways you can F8 and Be There for your clients. Today, how would people you meet or see on the street know you’re a professional photographer? What are the times or places they should know, but don’t, because you aren’t prepared – or don’t yet have a way to tell them? As always, start with the low-hanging fruit (shooting in public, a magnetic name tag or lanyard with photo / press card, knowing your tagline and elevator pitch) and work your way through your list.
- Brainstorm session: get out your pen and paper. Are there any businesses or business people in your market whom you see “everywhere”? What can you learn from their example? Who do you believe are the best marketers in your community (as a business or individual)? What are they doing that you’re not (yet) to earn that position in your mind? Now let’s pretend: if you were that good of a marketer, the best marketer in your community, what would you do? How would you be marketing your business? What creative, fun ideas would you come up with? Often just disconnecting your Self from the equation frees up the creative juices. File this away in your Brainstorms folder.
- Those ‘best marketers in the community’ you just identified? Get on the horn and ask each one to a lunch or coffee. Learn from their success (and they’ll surely talk about the failures in their journey), and skip the learning curve.
- My writing at PartTimePhoto.com exists to serve your needs as an amateur photographer making the transition to paid professional. I appreciate and welcome your readership, and invite you to subscribe to my e-mail newsletter at the top of any page of this site.
- What’s the biggest struggle holding you back right now? E-mail me your answer (yes, right now!), and let’s make a breakthrough today.
- If anything in this post has spoken to and inspired you, please comment below, drop me an e-mail, or call or text me at 830-688-1564 and let me know. I’d love to hear how you use these ideas to better your part time photography business!
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- How do I get my first photography client? – Your First Customer Series, Part 4
- Marketing your photography business by the holidays (71 ideas) for April
- How to use coop marketing to instantly build your client list
- Why do I feel like I’m getting nowhere with my photography business?