Several years ago, shortly after launching my business, I attended a retreat with about 10 other photographers. As we went around the table talking about who we were, what we shot, etc, I was intimidated by those around me who had waaaaay more experience than I. So when my turn came to speak, I meekly said I was “kind-of” a photographer, or something to that effect. My now-dear-friend Feuza nearly launched herself across the table and said, “You ARE a photographer! Say it!” She made me repeat it until I said it with strength, clarity, and BELIEF. I haven’t stopped saying it, or believing it, since. And THAT, my friends, is the key to marketing yourself. Believe in yourself and speak up. Let everyone know that YOU ARE A PHOTOGRAPHER! Below are some tips to help you as you spread the word.
1. Be Friendly. Talk - TELL people about what you do. Find ways to insert photography into the conversation. For me this is natural because I don’t always see it as marketing, I see it as connecting with people. I genuinely like people and like to engage in conversation. A key to this, however, is not monopolizing the conversation. It needs to be a two way street. You can’t walk around plugging your business without reciprocity. That’s just obnoxious and will turn people off, the exact opposite of your goal. If you struggle to engage people in conversation, consider these conversation starters.
2. Dress the Part - Every single time you step out the door, you are marketing your business. If you run into a potential client, you want your first impression to be a positive, professional one. I take the time to dress in such a way that I won’t be embarrassed to tell people what I do. We are an image driven industry so how we present ourselves is important.
3. ALWAYS Carry Business Cards - If you encounter a potential client (Because you carried your lens mug and they asked about it!) and they ask for a card and you don’t have one, have one that is dog eared and smooshed from floating around in the bottom of your purse or being stashed for months in your wallet, or you have to search for one, it may leave a bad impression. It makes you look like you don't take your job seriously. I make sure I have a stack of them in my car, purse, wallet, all coat pockets, camera bag, memory card holder, and anywhere else I can think of!
4. Activate Your Sales Force - Make sure those who love you and are apt to talk about your business have your business cards. You may want to consider a loyalty program where those who refer to you get some kind of reward - prints, credits, something. My niece has even talked her teacher into taking a class with me and taking her family portrait!
5. Connect Your Passions - I love, love, love anything furry. Errr, that is, anything except furry with the subtitle, "rodent." When out and about, I frequently stop and ask if I can pet peoples' dogs. After asking about the dog's name, breed, etc, I often say something like this, "What a sweetie. I could tell Boomer is a labraweenie (Yes, there is such a thing!) because I spend a lot of time photographing at Linda's Doggie Stylin' Grooming Salon and have learned a ton about dog breeds. If you need a fantastic groomer, by the way, Linda's amazing." (It sounds a lot less stiff the way it plays out in real life!) Extrapolate to other things you like to photograph. Like newborns? Comment about how cute someone's baby is and ask how old she is. Then add that you just love working with babies - you're a photographer and have had a lot of newborn clients recently. Or if you haven't, you say that you HAVEN"T had many newborns recently and you miss them. Lay the groundwork for the conversation.
6. Connect with Other Local Businesses - Above, I mentioned Linda. I do a lot of work with her and we plug each other's businesses. We've worked together for the past few years and it has been a win-win arrangement. We've done stylized Christmas dog photographs together, dog pictures for her shop, and on-site portraits for clients. Linda takes daily photos of the dogs with her iPad, but I routinely stop by the shop and take free photos of the dogs that happen to be in on that day and post them on her Facebook page on a special gallery we've called Fantastically Furry Photographic Fridays. How did we get hooked up? I spoke up. I took my dog to be groomed there to check her out and liked what I saw and how she treated my pup. I knew I'd be happy to promote her and work with her so I simply asked if she had a working relationship with a photographer. She said, no, not yet, but she wanted to. Whallla. Perfect.
7. Volunteer with Organizations You Are Passionate About, Routinely - When I first started shooting I said, "Yes," almost anytime I was asked to shoot a charity event. "You'll make lots of contacts and be able to promote yourself," they said. Nope. Not so much. In my experience, it's best to volunteer your time because you WANT to and you BELIEVE in the cause and are willing to be involved frequently. My favorite local charity is Home of the Sparrow, an empowerment and education program that helps homeless women get back on their feet. I've shot numerous events for them and also work directly with the individual families, providing free sessions, prints, and digital downloads for them. I adore it. I get warm fuzzies just thinking about it.
Because I've been volunteering for Home of the Sparrow so long, I've made great relationships and contacts. I see many of the same people at the events and they know who I am. They know I'm "THE" photographer. They see me interact with others and know I'm friendly and competent. They see the final results of my work in the organization's publications and on the website. I get to interact with other photographers who also volunteer. We network. Consistency, and the relationships that have been fostered through this, have brought me work and publicity.
8. Create the Appearance of Productivity - So you are not shooting what you want or as much as you want? Then GO SHOOT! When I first started out, I photographed neighbors, friends, local dogs, etc just for the experience and the images. I'd post them on my website and FB page saying, "Look at the cutie I got to work with today." Just because you didn't get paid doesn't mean you weren't "working," building your portfolio. The perception of busyness begets busyness. When folks ask how your business is going, your answer is always something positive. If you are not shooting a lot, you say, "I really love what I do. The kids/families/models/pets (whatever you shoot) that I've worked with have been amazing. I have some openings in my calendar that I'm hoping to fill, so if you know of anyone who needs a headshot (or whatever you want to do), please pass them my name."
Along these lines, if you are looking for more work, consider posting something on FB/your website/e-mail blast that you have x number of openings in June on whatever-dates-you-want-to-shoot. Advise folks to contact you soon because those spots historically have filled up quickly! The perception of urgency may get dawdlers to book.
9. Join a Networking Group - The moment I founded my business, I joined a local LeTip, International group. It has been a great source of referrals, information, education, and help. It has taught me how to better promote my business through weekly "commercials" for myself as well as through regular speaking opportunities. Listening to the other in-house presenters has taught me invaluable information about business practices, legal issues, insurance, etc. For example, after hearing our lawyer speak about the importance of LLCs, I called him THAT DAY to set one up. Although there are membership fees, my profits from referrals more than cover those.
10. Be Seen with Your Camera! - I am rarely without my camera at my children's functions, whether they are school or sports or church related. On the front end, people often notice my "big" (I primarily shoot with my 70-200, 2.8.) or "fancy" camera and comment. I take that opportunity to say something like, "Ahh, I love this thing. My kids even call it my third child. I'm a professional photographer, though, so I kinda need this baby." Very often people ask me what kinds of things I shoot and I get to share more about my business. On the back end, I share the pictures with the parents. This benefits me in two ways, it generates good will because people like being thought about and like getting free stuff AND they are able to see the quality of my work. Know the laws and sensitivities where you are, however. In my personal situation, I am taking pictures of people I know - my kid's classmates, baseball team, etc. I know they are okay with me taking pictures and creating a password protected gallery for them.
11. Follow Up Fridays - This is the brainchild of my dear friend, fellow photographer, and baby whisperer, Dottie Foley. After all of that networking, FOLLOW UP on the interest generated. That person who said, "Oh, we have been thinking about having our family portrait taken for years. We really should get in touch with you?" CALL THEM. "Hey, we chatted about your long-planned, never actualized family photo. Are you serious about it? Would you like to plan it? I have a great summer special running. (Or, I have a great new park that I have access to. Or, some other incentive.)
The biggest thing I use to market myself are my relationships. When I chat with people about what I do, I'm not just giving a speech or commercial, I'm having a conversation. I genuinely want to know what my conversational partner does, too. What makes them tick? What's their story? I care about people and I hope that shines through whether I'm talking about photography, Home of the Sparrow, fuzzy faces, or networking. I try to live with an abundance mentality. We are all in this together.
Hopefully one or more of the tips that have helped me grow my business will help you, too. Please, comment if you have other ideas, helpful hints, or techniques to add. Let me know which items triggered a lightbulb moment, too! I love to hear from you!