After eight previous posts to help you build a stronger business, it's time we stepped away from what you're doing with your skill set and online presence and talked about finding clients. I've written about finding clients in the past, but never in this much detail.
Just remember that if your skill set is crap, (sorry, there's no better word to use in this case) finding clients and getting people to trust you means nothing. Any moron can get their first client. The challenge is getting them to come back a second time. You also want them to tell their friends. This is a word-of-mouth business and nothing spreads faster than horror stories. At the positive extreme, if you've done a great job and exceeded client expectations, nothing has more influence than past clients talking about you and showing your work.
Years ago, good buddy, Dean Collins used to say, “It takes more than a yellow pages ad and a roll of duct tape to be a photographer!” At least half of you are now saying, “What are the yellow pages?” *sigh*
Today finding clients is more appropriately 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? So, it seems like a great starting point to create a list about getting your name out there:
- Own Your Own Zipcode! Everybody is always worrying about building their business and they often look everywhere except in their own neighborhood. Here's where you literally need to get out and pound the pavement. Get to know every business within your zipcode. 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, post stories on your blog about vendors in your community, etc. You simply want to introduce yourself and offer to be helpful.
- 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.
- Social Media: It probably should be first on the list, since it represents such a huge vehicle to help you expand your reach. A short time 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 now 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 can proclaim to 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.
- 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 own community. If you plan on running a couple times in a week and then stopping to see the results, you’re wasting your money! You need consistency for a few weeks and advertising alone isn’t enough, but needs to go hand in hand with other vehicles.
- Develop a promotional schedule. This one is going to eventually get its own post, but our friend Vicki Taufer has created more ideas for Mom to get the kids photographed than Hallmark Cards could ever think of! Develop your own calendar of events and then keep your community stay up to date with each promotion.
- Have a blog! Refer back to my post on blogs for ideas on how to be more effective. Develop a 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.
- 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 to 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 simple as just 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!
- Network, network, network! You’ve got to talk to other vendors in the community and work together to hit your target.
- Set up a networking luncheon. I've repeatedly written about this in the past. The idea started with Dawn Shields, but here's the basics. Find a good solid cheap place for lunch that has a private or semi-private room. Then invite every business in the community that has in 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 hair 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. And remember, you don’t have to do this by yourself. It’s fine to partner with a children’s clothing store, a bridal salon, florist, limo service etc. Share your message space and share your cost.
- Buy a list and keep your own data base up to date. There are hundreds of companies selling lists all sorted by lifestyle topics and then 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!
The customers are out there, but you’ve got to make sure they know where you are and how to find you! Survival these days isn’t about the fittest, it’s about the most creative!
Illustration Credit: © frenta - Fotolia.com