First Byte: First Bytes are 1-2 minute summaries and suggestions that tie directly to a specific blog post. I'm hoping they're helpful in expanding the topic of the post itself.
It's really pretty simple...As professional photographers you're regularly changing poses, lighting and composition. You add more variables by changing lenses, the exposure and depth of field. Well, it's not much different when I'm writing.
There are so many topics under the umbrella of marketing and business, but the best source is listening to all of you. I'm constantly reading comments and questions in the various forums. I spend a huge amount of time reading emails and physically talking to photographers as much as I can. In fact, it's one of the best reasons to attend a convention...talking with photographers about what's going on in their markets.
I know I wrote about the following in a post once...Years ago 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. I wrote a few pretty good marketing programs, but in all honesty, none of them were really my ideas. All I had to do was listen to our retailers and the sales reps in the field.
I'd constantly ask, "What would it take to double your Polaroid sales next year?" The flood gates 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 simply 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 nobody ever really listened.
So, here are a few thoughts about how you can implement the same kind of feedback for your market.
- 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 good friend who's a realtor and when his office doesn't get a listing he'll call the home owner and simply 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 normally open to sharing the reasons they chose another realtor. The feedback is invaluable and it's helped him build a stronger business.
- 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. Included on the invitation list should be florists, bakers, caterers, travel agents, salons, bridal salons, tux shops, music promoters, limo companies, venues etc. The whole idea is to just 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 own 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 is partners with two other studios who, for the last thirty 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 community and other partners. Your best resources for new ideas and partnerships will often be your competitors.
Here's the point...everybody I've asked about business this 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 4-5 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 truly 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 all year long.