Marketing Monday is the perfect time to help you develop a list of things you should be doing NOW, before the rush of the fourth quarter's seasonality hits! This list is only meant to be a beginning and certainly isn't all-inclusive. I'm hoping it will plant the seed for some of you to be more active in building your business!
Just remember, if your skill set sucks, finding clients and getting people to trust you means nothing. Any moron can get their first customer. The challenge is getting them to come back a second time, and tell all their friends. This is a word-of-mouth business, and nothing spreads faster than horror stories. But, at the positive extreme, if you've done an excellent job and exceeded client expectations, nothing has more influence than past clients talking about you and sharing your work.
Today finding clients is better described as making sure clients can find you! What good is working hard to create the finest images of your life if nobody knows who you are?
- Your database: Obviously if you're just starting out, you don't have much of a database. However, for those artists who have been established at least a couple of years, I'm always surprised how everyone forgets their past clients. First, come up with something you want to share - maybe it's a new style or technique, new services, a new blog or a special promotion. Second, put it in a personal letter with your signature. You've got to remind people who you are and create top-of-mind awareness whenever they think about photography. And, while email is great - a personal letter with your signature is going to get through the noise far better.
- Own your zip code! Get out and pound the pavement! Get to know every business within your zip code. Offer your services. You might be the most focused wedding photographer on the planet, but that doesn't mean you can't help a business owner in the community with a new head shot; capture images at an event for the Chamber of Commerce; or post stories on your blog about vendors in your community, etc. You only need to introduce yourself and offer to be helpful whenever it comes to anything under the imaging umbrella.
- Be active in your community! The best way to get people to know you’re out there is through personal contact! Get involved in a charity or two, the local school system, your church, community centers, etc. And, it doesn't have to always be with a camera in your hands - this is about being helpful and giving back.
- Social Media: It probably should be first on the list, since it represents such a huge vehicle to help you expand your reach. Be active on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, with topics targeting your customer base. A few years ago my pal, Scott Bourne, picked up a huge commercial job, just because he chose to follow somebody interesting on Twitter. That “follow” led to his new client seeing his images and hiring him for a specific project.
- SEO and SEM: I can’t proclaim to be an expert, but I certainly do respect the people who are! Make sure you’re working with somebody who knows how to develop your website with the appropriate tags to bring you to the top of the search engines where your target audience can connect.
- Advertising: It’s still important, even in the age of social media! You don’t need to spend a fortune, just be consistent. You need to be in the same spot of the local paper, magazine, whatever the vehicle is in your community. If you plan on running a couple of times in a week and then stopping to see the results, you’re wasting your money! You need consistency for a couple of months, and advertising alone isn’t enough, but needs to go hand in hand with other vehicles both in print and online.
- Develop a promotional schedule. I've written a lot about Vicki Taufer over the years. She created a complete promotional calendar with more picture ideas for Mom than Hallmark could ever think of! Develop your own calendar of events and then keep your community up to date with each promotion. And the fall is loaded with potential for Halloween, back to school, Thanksgiving and the December holidays. Plus, images from these events becomes terrific content for your blog.
- Have a blog! I've shared so many posts on blogging, including topic ideas. This is a reminder to fill your blog with posts about topics of interest to your target audience. If it’s brides, then start to develop content of interest to them. If your target is Mom and the kids, then start writing about tips to get the kids to relax in front of the camera or better yet, talk about what makes a day-in-the-life shoot so special. Give clothing suggestions, times of day, etc. And remember, if you're not blogging at least twice a week - then give it up until you have a stash of posts to help you be more consistent.
- Know your target! At least 95% of the purchase decisions to hire a professional photographer, in the portrait social specialties are made by women! So, if you’re advertising in Guns and Ammo, it’s a mistake! If you know your target, then you can design a look and feel of your site that appeals to that audience. Fill it with content equally appealing.
- Publicity doesn’t happen by accident! You need to publish publicity releases that get your name out there. Sometimes it’s as easy as publishing an image of you working as a volunteer on a project with the local Chamber of Commerce. Maybe it’s a program you did for career day at the local elementary school on being a photographer. The point is that you have to take the initiative to talk about you! And publicity isn't exclusive to print media. Build an email base of key people of influence in your community, organizations with a connection to a need for photography, online targets like forums and websites of interest to your target audience. Check out companies like newswire.com for their expertise to help you spread the word.
- Network, network, network! You’ve got to talk to other vendors in the community and work together to hit your target. Look for partners who might want to share the cost of a direct mail piece for example. A wedding photographer together with a florist and travel agent make perfect partners.
- Set up a networking luncheon. I've repeatedly written about this in the past. Find a good solid cheap place for lunch that has a private or semi-private room. Then invite every business in the community having an interest in the same target audience. If you're a wedding photographer, for example, then it's going to be anybody in the wedding business, which includes, bridal salons, caterers, travel agents, florists, limo companies, bakeries, music promoters, tux shops, wedding planners, venue managers, and salons. Come up with a flat fee for lunch and then invite them to join you once a month. Imagine the network you can build sitting between a florist and a bridal salon!
- Direct mail is back with a vengeance. Design a postcard and then mail it once a quarter. Check out Marathon Press for any of their marketing continuity programs. For example, here's the link to their program for seniors, which I just wrote about recently.
- Buy a list and keep building your own data base up to date. There are hundreds of companies selling lists all sorted by lifestyle topics and zip codes! And, keep your own data base up to date. Every wedding you photograph has the potential to provide children and family clients down the road. Keep in touch with your past clients!
- Thank your past clients: Follow David Ziser's idea and do a free portrait sitting on the first anniversary of a past wedding client. Imagine the word-of-mouth horsepower when a bride tells her friends about her photographer remembering her anniversary. Dean Collins used to do something similar. For example, he'd contact the president of a company whose annual report or catalog he photographed and as a "thanks" do a free family portrait for the holidays. This is all about relationship building - your strongest marketing tool.
I started this by writing it's not an art form, but it does take work. No deep thinking rocket science - just time and planning. The customers are out there, but you’ve got to make sure they know who you are, where you are, and how to find you!
The goal for your business should be to thrive, not just survive!