It's really easy. My best source is listening to all of you. I'm continually reading comments and questions in the various forums. I spend a considerable amount of time reading emails and physically talking to photographers as much as I can. It's also one of the best reasons to attend a convention - talking with photographers and vendors about what's going on in the industry.
I know I wrote about this at least once in the past...I was part of the marketing department at Polaroid, back in the days when it was a real manufacturing company. I was the manager for the Photo Specialty Dealers; the camera stores represented $125 million of Polaroid's business. I put together a few pretty good marketing programs, but in all honesty, none of them were my ideas.
All I had to do was listen to our retailers and the sales reps in the field. I'd ask, "What would it take to double your Polaroid sales next year?" The floodgates would open and idea after idea was shared with me. Whether a sales rep, a camera store manager or the sales clerk behind the counter, they'd open up.
The ideas were endless. I'd hear comments about packaging, pricing, billing terms, advertising and even suggestions about bundling with other Polaroid accessories and other manufacturers. The answers were all out there, but so few people ever asked and almost nobody ever listened.
Well, it's Marketing Monday and reminding you to use your ears and eyes more is a perfect topic this time of year. Here are some great resources for you:
- Talk to the clients you don't get. When you don't land the job, especially with a wedding or an event, contact the client and nicely ask what you missed. I've got a friend who's a realtor, and when his office doesn't get a listing, he'll call the homeowner and ask, "We take a lot of pride in our business and helping our clients. It's fine that you chose another company, but could you tell me what we were missing in our presentation?" He's a great guy and couldn't be nicer in these calls. People are generally open to sharing the reasons they chose another realtor. The feedback is invaluable, and it's helped him build a stronger business.
- Start a photography series for your neighborhood! You're the expert in photography, and it's holiday time. It's the perfect time for you to teach the moms, dads, and kids around you how to get better photographs through the holidays. And, in the process of helping them raise the bar on their images you've got an opportunity to listen to what they're trying to capture in their photographs. It's a great blueprint for you to show your skill set and in turn, better meet their needs for images.
- Do a networking luncheon. Get everybody in your area who has anything to do with your specialty outside of photography. The wedding industry is the easiest to use as an example. Find a little coffee shop or diner, nothing fancy, but they need to have a private room. Then invite other vendors to join you for lunch. Everybody pays their own tab, but it's lunch and casual, so the cost shouldn't be an issue. Included on the invitation list should be wedding planners, florists, bakers, caterers, travel agents, salons, bridal salons, tux shops, music promoters, limo companies, venues, etc. The whole idea is to get together and talk about business and build a stronger referral system in your community. You might even find some partners to bundle their services with yours.
- Start your own focus group. This is a little tougher, but with a partner or two, work on getting together with a few people who match the demographics of your target audience. While a professional focus group would have a moderator asking questions and the sponsors behind one-way mirrors listening and taking notes...your role is to build your personal, informal advisory board of a few people in the community.
- Join the local guild, camera club or PPA chapter. This is about networking and talking to other photographers and sharing, as well as developing, new ideas. I've written about Bruce Berg, at least four times in the past. His studio partners with two other studios who, for the last thirty-five years, have worked together at the slowest time of the year to promote the Lane County Children's Portrait Contest. These are competing companies who have worked to build a classic promotion involving the entire community and other partners. Your best resources for new ideas and partnerships will often be your competitors.
Here's the point...everybody I ask about how business has been each year, if they answer anything positive, they always add, "But I've never worked so hard in my life!" I've heard that same answer for the last ten years. Business is out there, but you've got to pay attention to what's missing in your market. You've got to promote yourself, be involved in community projects and make sure people know who you are.
It's not easy, but if you genuinely listen and pay attention to what's hot and what's not, you just might find a few of the answers you've been searching for.