What a street beggar can teach us about marketing and sales

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on August 6, 2014

in PartTimePhoto.com News

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How about this:

A peddler can stand at any intersection here in San Antonio and bank more tax-free money in a half hour than I can after taxes in two at my day job.


F8 and Be There, mates: he is where his clients are with a compelling message that inspires them to take action, to put their money into his pocket.

It’s not his art: he has no product per se, other than the feeling of compassion and giving which his clients enjoy when they contribute to his life.

It’s not his business: he has a process for acquiring clients, but it’s not his policies or procedures or follow-up: his clients are sold on investing in him before the exchange of value is even made.

His marketing is basic, inelegant, but in arguably effective – and here’s the powerful secret: he asks.

He asks.

He holds his sign, stands dead center where his clients are, and looks them straight in the eye.

He asks for the business. He asks for the sale.

And he doesn’t get it.

Not right away.

Not the first car to pull up, not the second or third. At a busy intersection in San Antonio, how many cars, how many people, how many potential clients look right at him, but don’t buy?

But our beggar friend knows his numbers – if not consciously, then on instinct, on experience.

He knows if he stays in front of his target market long enough with a powerful enough message, and asks for the business, he’ll get it – he’ll get enough to satisfy his every financial need.

Where is your marketing, friends? Are you asking the right people, at the right time, in the right way, for their business?

You could walk the streets of your town, camera and smartphone in hand, and hustle money into your pocket.

All you have to do is ask.

In the bigger picture of running a successful part time photography business, of booking yourself solid with clients you love who pay you more than you ever thought you could earn with your art, you’re going to use myriad methods in your marketing mix to earn success. In time, your marketing plan is going to become a well-oiled machine with many parts, all working together fluidly to keep you shooting and depositing checks in the bank.

But you will always have to ask.

One day, your art may become so good that it makes the ask for you.

But you have to ask.

You will always have to stand in the center of your target market’s world with a powerful message, a clear value, and ask them for their business.

It’s not your pricing.

It’s not your name.

It’s not your camera gear.

It’s your marketing.

Go find your people.

Show them how you can make their lives better with your art.

Then ask them to do business with you.

Next Steps

  • You knew I was going to push you out of your comfort zone today. Let’s do an exercise in local government: Find your local city hall, walk in their doors, and tell them you want to walk around town on the weekends and offer to take people’s photo for money. Ask them what kind of license you need, what kind of ‘signage’ you can carry, if there’s a public place you can ‘set up’. Every city ordinance will be different, so learn what yours is, and how you could make it happen if you wanted to try your hand at busking your art in your city.
  • Look up all the local Market Days and booth opportunities in your city and surrounding cities. Find out about vendor fees and what it would take to set up a booth at these events (which could just entail two chairs, one for you and your subject, and your camera).
  • Go downtown. Go to a coffeeshop. Do some street photography. Ask folks if you can make their portrait. Then ask if you can e-mail them the portrait you made. No money need change hands, this is just an exercise in getting yourself, your camera, and your art in front of people. All you have to do is ask.
  • Brainstorm session: Get out your pen and paper. From what you’ve learned above, make a list of Next Steps, baby steps, to be able to walk around your city or set up in a certain area of your city to make people’s portraits for money. What are some locations that combine nice light, a nice background, and enough foot traffic that you could score some $5 bills doing street photography? Pretend that you’re building a successful business model for only busking your photography in your city. What would that business look like? What would you charge? How many people per hour would you need to shoot to put enough money in your pocket, after taxes and overhead, to leave a big grin on your face? Is this something you want to try just for fun (and profit!)? File this away in your Brainstorms folder.
  • 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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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve Arensberg August 23, 2014 at 10:17 am

Love this – it’s so true. The art of the hustle. It’s that hunger and that hustle that separates those who DO from those who WANT TO. I’m going to figure out how I can apply your “Street Busk Marketing” steps to my own art…

Your post also reminds me of an experiment Simon Sinek did with a street beggar, which he talks about in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8grVwcPZnuw. (The experiment part starts at 20:40, if you want to cut to the chase, but the whole talk is very worth your time.)

Thanks for the great ideas!


Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor September 6, 2014 at 4:20 pm

Wonderful link Steve, thank you for sharing it!

One of my very first jobs was as a busboy and bar-back at the Cabaret Dancehall here in Bandera, Texas. I was highly inexperienced with anything that looked like real work, but I tried to be very thorough and friendly.

But hustle? I didn’t know what hustle looked like until the owner brought in a specialist on a big event weekend.

This guy was a blur.

In the time it would take me to wash a tub of dishes, he could do three.

By the time I’d get to the cooler, he’d have made two trips, carrying twice as much beer.

And while on the clock, I never saw him slow down, not even by the end of the night when the last cowboy and cowgirl had walked out the door. He was mopping, cleaning the dance floor, collecting beer bottles and trash bags.

He sweat. And he earned every drop.

He had the exact same job description and responsibilities as me, be he had hustle like I’d never seen. And because of it, he was so sought-after an employee that his time was special-ordered, reserved in advance, by the highest-paying venues.

I’d wager that man never had to ask for a job in his life – anyone who saw him work knew his worth.

I learned a lot from that busboy.


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