Why you’re not winning new clients

Are you talking to businesses or consumers?

Whether you like marketing or not, most commercial photographers recognise that they need to spend some of their time marketing themselves and their business, if they want to win new clients and get more commissions.

The internet makes it easy for people who haven’t had any formal training in marketing to pick up some of the basics, and the fact that social media is such an important part of our own lives, means many of us can easily turn our hand to adapting that as a marketing tool.

Despite the fact that we are constantly told that marketing – and social media in particular – are effective and vital for us all to win more clients, many photographers remain cynical; they put many hours into their marketing and social media activity, but don’t actually see any reward. Yes, they may see healthy levels of traffic on their sites, but no bookings.

So, what’s the problem?

When you run a business, you become acutely aware of the massive amounts of stuff on the internet telling you all about marketing. However much effort you put in, its hard not to feel like a donkey with a carrot on a stick, there is always something else you should be doing or trying or testing, and you never feel like you are getting anywhere, and still your phones not ringing – apart from those old contacts you can always rely on.

In truth, there may be a range of reasons why your marketing activity may not be working for you, but there is one very big piece of the marketing jigsaw which is missing from many commercial photographers’ understanding of marketing.

Are you talking to people or businesses?

There are two types of marketing, the most popular by miles, and the most understood, is marketing to consumers. The second type is marketing to businesses.

If you’re Coke (or Tesco or a coffee shop on your local high street), you need to market to consumers – which includes all of us, just everyone going about their regular daily lives. If you are a wedding photographer, you should be marketing to consumers too. Twitter, facebook, Pinterest, Flickr, and so on; all the social media channels used heavily by consumers are great ways to reach the very people who will buy your product off you.

But, if you are a commercial photographer you’re selling a business product to a business audience, so you should be marketing to businesses not consumers, and this demands a completely different approach. Yes you can use social media, but in a selective and specific way. If all your current marketing is mainly reaching consumers (or just other photographers), the fact is you’re not going to get any photography commissions from it.

We read so much about businesses flocking to social media channels chasing after their customers, because they know that’s where their customers are. But when we’re rushing to copy their tactics, we often overlook the fact that their customers are consumers, but as commercial photographers, our customers are businesses.

So you need to recognise that you are in the business to business market and you have to be very selective about targeting and reaching the right people with your marketing to make sure your precious time and effort is being spent only on trying to connect with people who are likely to commission photography.

We’ve experienced a number of social media experts first hand who recommend spending hours building your twitter follower base, and promote the idea that the more followers you have the ‘better and more credible you look.’ They suggest that the more followers you have, the more traffic you’ll get and the more work you’ll get, and then recommended you pretty much follow the world and his dog. Similarly, I’ve worked with SEO experts who recommend building as many links as possible because that’s the only way I’ll get ranked by Google.

If your customer are consumers, this is good advice, but it’s not such good advice for the commercial photography sector. Classic business to business marketing is about building smaller audiences which are very highly targeted, but these principles have been largely forgotten in the age of social media and our desire for quick wins. I’d even go so far as to say that many or these business to business principles aren’t even known by many self-proclaimed social media experts. So if you’re tempted to focus on quantity you’ll only end up speaking to the wrong people and your efforts won’t result in any paid work.

Commercial photographers need spend their marketing time on quality; finding and building contacts and dialogues with other business who use and commission commercial photography. Yes it will feel slow at times and you won’t get the rush you get when you see you’ve added 100 followers in 3 days or had 500 hits to your website, but if you can stick it out and stay focused and consistent with your approach, you’re likely to be more successful more quickly than by taking the volume route. So be brave and go against the ‘consumer’ trend and go where your clients are.

How you can reach businesses

There are lots of ways you can research and find businesses that you want to work with and approach them with messages that show that you can offer them something useful too.

You can still use twitter, but remember you’re looking for businesses. Smaller businesses and business owners will use twitter, but many of the larger companies will employ a junior or a PR team to run their twitter activity, so check out the details of the person running the account before you follow them. Use your time wisely by keeping your tweeting geared towards creating conversations with businesses,

Use linked in – that has a strong business audience but it’s more about words than pictures, you’ll need to add content into the forums or your page that drives people to your website

Research businesses in your local area and create your own database. Make sure you find names and get email addresses, there’s no point sending anything without a name on. Send them emails, mailers, phone calls, link in with them. You don’t need to stalk them, but you do need to contact them regularly if you want to get a job out of them. They won’t react after one mailer or email.

Consider networking events – there are lots of them out there with different models and styles. You need to try a few out to see if any suit you, or you get a positive feel for them.

Get in touch with your local media, magazines, newspapers and websites and see if you can create a story for them. There are some good local business websites which are very cheap to advertise on and connect with other businesses. See what there is in your area that you can tap into.

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