How commercial photographers can market themselves

All commercial photographers should have some sort of a marketing strategy. The reality in this day and age is that it is not a prudent approach to rely on talent and reputation alone to build long term, commercial success.

Why you have to market yourself

1. People forget you

A terrible truth! When I first pointed this out to the owner of an agency I worked with, his face fell. He’d put his heart and soul into the work he had done for his clients, but we had to face up to the fact it was true. It happens because clients are extremely busy, pressured people. And they move around – different departments, different jobs. As a supplier, you have to stay top of mind, so it’s your name that comes to mind, or is on hand when they need to commission some work.

2. You’ve got competition

Your competition is any photographer out there who has got a flair for marketing and self-promotion. You may see marketing from other photographers whose work you don’t rate – but don’t fall into the trap of dismissing their chances of picking up work, or even to judge the value of the marketing channels they are using. There is a good chance that the great self-marketing photographer can pick up more jobs than the marketing shy, but more talented photographer. After all, your target audience, your potential clients may not be the best judge of photographic flair – they have to rely on the marketing and the ‘sell’ to make their decision.

3. Make it easy for people to find you

Even if you have a website, you can’t rely on one way traffic. You have to drive people to your site, to your work, and to your phone number!

The marketing rules

The rules for a one person business are the same as for any business:-

  • Know your target audience
  • Ensure you have a marketing plan which includes a range of different marketing channels
  • Have a strategy for each channel – different marketing channels play to different strengths
  • Be clear about what your message is – if you can concentrate on a niche or a specialism your marketing will be more successful
  • Do it regularly – little and often is the best approach. Small business guru, Nigel Botterill recommends that all businesses that are serious about growth, spend 90 minutes quality time a day on the marketing of their own business
  • Build up frequency. There is no such thing as a one hit wonder in marketing. Don’t waste your money on doing something once.
  • Follow up. So you’ve sent a mailing – now ring everyone up to see what they thought, a conversation might lead to a commission or some useful information that you can act on in the future.

Your marketing plan

We’ve talked about social media strategies recently, so we’re giving that a miss and concentrating on other things you can be doing.

1. Mailers

In the digital age people forget about print, but is a great way for photographers to be creative and put their images in front of potential clients, along with some more information about themselves.
Of course, it can be a significant investment, but you will find printers very accommodating and they will give you great, free advice about the types of paper and printing techniques that can be used to manage the cost. Often they will provide you with samples so you can literally get a feel for what your finished mailer will be like.

It is often as cheap to double the quantity, so print extra and remail the same people a few months later with a reminder letter.

Don’t forget to follow up your mailers with a phone call or an email at least – and don’t do it once. Stay in touch with people and try and start to build a relationship with them. (Social media can be used here; follow them on twitter, link in with them, etc.)

2. Networking

Any social event is a networking opportunity for a small business. We came across one photographer who’d met his best client after acting on the same advice – by starting up a conversation at a football match.

There are more formal networking events all over the country, and plenty of them are free – or offer a trial for free. There are some real advocates from these groups who find them a genuine and cost effective source of business. Go along to a few and see how they work or if they suit you. Don’t dismiss it until you’ve tried it.

3. Self-promotion

How can you raise awareness about yourself in your locality (or area of specialism) and create some sort of celebrity around yourself?

  • Be active and proactive; get involved with events
  • Brand your car (some people do it!)
  • Use other businesses to promote your images by supplying them with framed versions
  • Get to know local/regional newspapers, editorial blogs and websites to get yourself featured.
  • Do something for charity – help a worthwhile cause and raise your own profile into the bargain – an acceptable tactic used by many businesses of all sizes

4. Do projects for free

This is not about doing commissions for free for others, it’s all about you. Find interesting businesses that link into your own specialism, and work in partnership with them to create images and a story which you can use as part of your overall promotion strategy. If you use these experiences in the right way, they can lead to commissions.

Measuring success

In reality it can be quite difficult to measure the success of any activity directly. But this can’t be a reason not to become a proactive marketer of your own talent. Eventually though, because you are the person doing all the promotional work, you will get an instinctive feel for what works for you, and also how to improve what you are doing over time.

We’ve said it before; it is a long term game – keep the faith and keep going. Like everything else, it gets better and easier to do and to fit into your time, and that’s when you’re more likely to see the payback.

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