I know a lot of you have been in business for a little while, but many of you are relatively new. When launching anything new, take your time and do it one step at a time. You can't rush perfection! If you're just starting out it's a little different approach, since your goal is going to be twofold - getting your business started, while at the same time building brand-awareness for you and your company.
I'm going to assume you understand the importance of a strong skill set! I'm taking it for granted you understand exposure, composition and already work with a great lab! Seriously, don't underestimate the importance of the skills to create great images - no amount of publicity, networking and marketing will help you get established if people don't love your work!
I absolutely believe this is where it all starts. You need to be involved and I've written a lot about it. People like buying products and services from companies they perceive as giving something back. You're looking for the community to be good to you, so you'd better be good to your community.
There are lots of ways to get involved and most involve volunteer work - PTA, Chamber of Commerce, Lions Club, Rotary, Exchange Club, Kiwanis, community events, Little League dinners, soccer events, even helping out at a specific event that might be a fund-raiser. The key is getting people to know who you are and while you might be the new kid in town, you want everybody to understand it's your town too and you're there to help.
New business - new community means building a new network. You need to get to know every business in town, especially those that might be targeting the same consumers you are. For example, a wedding photographer needs to get to know the florist, the limo company, bridal salon, wedding planners, venues etc. A children's photographer should get to know the local children's shops, pediatricians, barbers and salons etc. A commercial shooter should invest some time in getting to know any business that might be producing catalogs, brochures, annual reports etc.
I still love the Dawn Shields model. Dawn is in Missouri and established a monthly networking luncheon of everybody associated with the wedding business. Everyone pays ten dollars for lunch and they get together once a month to just network, talk about business etc. In the process they all get to know each other.
When networking, this isn't just about building awareness with non-competing companies - get to know your competitors. The strongest photographers in our industry have a network of counterparts they refer business to as well. They work together and often cross-promote each other. Let's face it, at some point you'll have a conflict and won't be able to take on a new assignment. Or, maybe you won't have the skill-set, but you'll have a friend who does.
An effective network isn't just about the number of people you know, but how well they compliment each other and fill in the gaps for what you might personally be missing. It's all about having friends who cover your short suits, while you in turn can help them.
Advertising and Publicity:
You need to advertise and get your name out there. If you're just starting out in the senior market, I still love the idea of photographing a half dozen seniors for free and letting them spread the word. "Ambassador" programs like this have been around for years. If you're just starting out in weddings you need to let people know you're there. There are tons of publications, both in print and online that offer wedding photographers advertising opportunities.
It might be time to design a postcard and do a mailing, either by yourself or preferably to reduce costs, with a couple of those non-competing companies in your network. Share the cost of the mailing and hit your target audience with some high impact promotional packages. And when doing that postcard, don't forget your own holiday cards. I've written a ton about the importance of using your own images in your holiday cards. It might be April, but it's not too early to start thinking about a November mailing!
On the publicity side, there's so much information to talk about. Publicity in the local paper doesn't happen by accident and nobody can do it as good as you can yourself! The key to great publicity is to simply become a machine, sending out releases on a regular basis to the local paper, Chamber of Commerce, even some of the local associations you might belong to.
Don't forget to stay focused on being involved in events that can become newsworthy. Even attending an event like SCU's Summer Session, can be a spring board for you to publicize new skills, industry icons you're working with and your goal to add new levels of support for your community.
From your website to your blog to utilizing Twitter as a marketing tool, you need to have a presence. No, you need more than a presence, you need a solid non-stop plan with consistent participation. This is a blog series all on its own and I'll expand it more next week. The key for right now is to think through being consistent and my suggestion is posting to your blog no less than twice a week.
I touched on it briefly in the section on advertising, but in any business today you need that "hook", something that gets your target audience excited and brings them through your door. Think about your own buying trends as a consumer and it can be anything you've ever bought. How many times have you bought something after being stimulated by a special limited time offer?
Your business is no different and getting started in a new community as a professional photographer demands the same excitement. As a new photographer though, at least from my perspective, it's easier. A promotion can be as simple as an open house, inviting the community in to see what you're doing. If you don't have a studio or a formal storefront, a gallery opening might just do the trick and you can tie it in with a local venue. Even a coffee shop like Starbucks needs their walls decorated and might just give you the venue to present some great images.
Then there are formal promotions around holidays, purchase offers and buy-one-get-one campaigns. Joining forces with another company, for example, teaming up with a limo company at Homecoming for a portrait tied together with the limo company's services. Next month is prom season and there are so many opportunities to team up with florists, tux shops, gown shops, limo companies and venues.
Then there are events that just tie in the community and a specific target audience. Vicki Taufer's "Dog Days of Summer" program has become legendary. Kay Eskridge put a little different twist on it of her own and kicked it off in the Phoenix area. The key is creating an event that gets the community excited.
Speaking of Vicki Taufer, when she first started as a children's photographer she went to the local children's store and photographed the owner's kids and all the clerk's kids. Imagine the power she had with her images all over the store. A customer would be at the register checking out and notice the pictures the clerk had of her kids on display. You couldn't ask for a stronger word-of-mouth promotion!
The list of things you can do to get your business literally launched goes on and on, but remember this quote from Zig Ziglar:
"If you wait until all the lights are green before you leave home, you'll never get started on your trip to the top!"
Illustration Credit: © Ben Chams - Fotolia.com