The "slow season," which doesn't have to be slow at all, is rapidly coming to a close. On every small business owner's mind should be finding new customers. I'm still surprised at the number of photographers who act like it's a seasonal thing. It's as if finding clients is something you do at the beginning of the year and then you're done until the following year. Well, since it's March and still considered the start of the year, so I guess my timing for some of you is right. As your read this post, I hope you'll think about a different approach in 2017.
Building your client base is something you should be doing 365 days a year. And right now with Spring seasonality right around the corner (Mother's Day, Graduation and Father's Day), it's the perfect time to think about finding new clients. Being a professional photographer means you never stop learning and building your skill set. Being a small business owner means you never stop working to build your database of potential clients.
It's Marketing Monday - time to share some ideas to help you find new customers! While no single blog post could cover everything on the topic - maybe these suggestions will give you a foundation to build on.
Your Current Database: Once again, I'm surprised at the number of businesses who get so focused on finding new customers, they forget to take care of their old ones. Being in business, especially as a professional photographer, is all about building relationships, and there's no better place to start than reconnecting with past clients. Keep in touch via email, phone calls, and even personal notes/letters.
A few years back I did a podcast with my good friend Angela Carson, a children and family portrait artist from the Detroit area. I remember her talking about her business being over sixty percent repeat clients. That's because she establishes relationships with each one all year long. She's tracking birthdays, anniversaries and family milestones, but she's not selling - she's just being there and building the relationship with the family.
Direct Mail: Direct mail is back with a vengeance. Think about how much noise there is in our lives and how many emails you delete every day without ever opening anything. Design a postcard mailer showing your images with a short call to action for a portrait sitting, a free promotional offer, etc. If we've learned nothing else from retail, promotions get our attention. You don’t have to discount your basic pricing but provide added value.
If you're stuck coming up with ideas for added value, call your lab. All you have to do is ask, "What's new?" Then, sit back and listen. From new products to new materials they're printing on, a great lab has an ongoing collection of great photo-centric ideas from which to choose.
Look for Partners: You don’t need to do the postcard by yourself. A children’s photographer might partner with a children’s clothing store. A wedding photographer has potential partners with florists, wedding planners, venues, salons, limo companies, etc. A senior photographer might partner with a sports store, teen-focused clothing store, etc.
The advantages of non-competing partnerships like this are simple – first, you’re sharing the cost of production and mailing. Second, each company has its followers, and you’re giving each other credibility as you reach out to the community. Third, each partner becomes an ambassador for the other participants. You’ve got a much stronger message cross-promoting each others services and delivering a unified message than standing alone.
Buy a list: You don’t have to spend a fortune. If you Google "mailing lists," you’ll come up with dozens of companies. Most companies selling lists will have a minimum quantity, they’ll customize a list for you based on your needs, and you can buy it by zip code.
Many have email lists available as well. Often they do not release the lists, which with challenges with spam is really to your advantage. Let them handle the deployment! If you’re going to do an email blast, think through your goals. Email isn't enough on its own. It has to be combined with other activities, e.g. direct mail.
As you build your list via direct mail or email, don't forget the local Chamber of Commerce and every business in your area. You need that relationship with other companies who target/service the same customers you’re after. You also never know when a postcard on children’s portraiture, for example, is going to get a manager of a company like a bank to start thinking about new headshots for their executives.
Use Your Blog: If you've worked hard to build your blog and have a solid readership base, remember to convert your mailing pieces into blog posts. For example, cross-promoting with a couple of other vendors in the community is perfect for content - especially when you position it in a "how-to" kind of post. A children's photographer, cross-promoting with a kid's clothing store might talk about what to wear for a portrait sitting and work into the copy the special promotion being offered by the partners.
Last but not least, remember this is a word-of-mouth business...
Nothing helps your business more than exceeding customer expectations and producing a quality product. In the same respect, nothing can hurt you more than a reputation that’s underwhelming!