Marketing a new photographic business

8 03 2009

Matt Raven

Possibly the greatest challenge a photographer faces when starting up their photography business is marketing correctly.

There are countless methods to use when promoting oneself; some better than others, some with pit falls, some costly and some that require many man hours. Different segments of the industry will respond differently to marketing strategies so it’s important to determine which strategy works best, often this can only be determined through trial and error.

Before you begin to market yourself there is necessary groundwork that is often overlooked:

  • Create yourself a relevant business image. Spend time creating quality logos, a professional website, slogan and the necessary admin forms your business will need. Get these professionally done as you’ll want to use the same material for as long as possible so that your brand becomes recognised.
  • Spend some money to get your business cards professionally printed – first impressions last.
  • Ascertain your target markets and specialities and match the two – your success rate will increase drastically if you have a structured marketing plan aimed at genuine potential clients.
  • Ensure you are equipped to provide a value service and quality product.

Once you’re ready to begin marketing you need to strive to achieve the following; you need to be remembered First, Well and Often. I’m not going to go into great depth regarding the philosophy behind this but the basic explanation is that you need to reach a point where you’re well regarded in the industry and the public and your customers are doing a great deal of your marketing for you.

I attended a marketing seminar where the speaker said that a buyer needs to have over a million interactions with a brand before it’s regarded as a “household” brand. This means you need to get your “identity” out there constantly, whether in the form of adverts, your business cards, magazine articles, exhibitions, word of mouth referrals or direct marketing, your customers need to be exposed to your brand regularly which often takes years to achieve.

Statistics show that most new businesses fail in the first two years of operation, this is largely due to a poorly structured marketing plan – let’s face it, if people don’t know about you how can you be expected to earn a decent income.

Then you get the businesses who come out with a bang but close down soon after..

The trick is consistency, far too many businesses neglect their marketing efforts as soon as business picks up (and businesses often commit to greater overheads due to affordability in this period) – and subsequently find their business slowing down again after the boom.

In order to stay ahead your marketing strategy (and budget) actually needs to increase with growth.

Marketing is a scary word for many new businesses as budgets are limited and people much prefer to spend money on a physical asset than something that is “wasted” at the end of the month. Often people spend large amounts on advertising once off and get absolutely no return on their investment too – so why bother?

Once again, marketing is about consistency – your brand needs to be out there for people to see. You might find you only get a response on your 4th advert placed in a specific medium, but that client turns out to be a regular income source for the business – it’s eventually worth it.

Ok, so you’ve set your business up and you’ve spent your entire budget already, what now?

There are numerous “free” channels available to marketers; I say “free” in inverted commas because these channels are usually time-intensive and require manual labour.

Some of these “free” marketing initiatives are in fact more effective than the paid channels as well.

  • One route is online networking sites for instance:

Networking sites are a fantastic way to meet people on a personal level; you can find target specific individuals and approach them directly through your online profile. By doing so your contact has immediate access to your profile, portfolio, contact information etc but more importantly they feel they are dealing with a real individual and not just an advert. Most sites are free, some have “premium services” that allow you to add certain features or get in touch with more people easier.

Visit www.saphotography.ning.com if you haven’t already – a great example of a networking site dedicated to the South African photographic industry.

Even though there are plenty free portfolio sites I still suggest also setting up a dedicated web page of your own, more important though is a “real” email address. Too many scamsters use free mail addresses such as the ones ending in @yahoo.com or @gmail.com – most commercial clients expect persons from an established business to have a business email address i.e. @myphotographybusiness.co.za for instance.

Little things like this (along with well designed and properly printed business cards) add to the credibility of a business.

  • Another route is listing your business service on directories:

Again there are several free directories available, some offering “premium” listings so that the listing ranks higher. The advantage of this route is that the customer comes looking for you. Remember to link your listing to your website – having several active links to your website increases your website rankings on search engines such as Google – this in turn can generate you additional leads from people browsing the web.

  • Door to door or pamphlet distribution:

This isn’t really free; you still need the pamphlets or business cards of course. This method is very erratic and will depend largely on where the pamphlets are distributed. On average you should however get a minimum of 1% response from this sort of marketing which actually isn’t too bad, and it’s good for brand awareness – be cautious however, this sort of marketing can be irritating for the recipient and if done incorrectly can damage your brand.

  • Online mail shots:

Again this isn’t really free as you pay for your bandwidth and mailer program or facility.

It’s an effective means of keeping in touch with your customers though, and I’d recommend creating a newsletter with interesting content to remind your clients of your capabilities. Building a database of potential clients is important and there are several ways to do this:

  • Search for people who might be interested in what you have to offer and ask them if they would like to be added to your database.
  • Put a link on your website inviting people to subscribe to your mail shots.
  • Create a viral campaign such as this one – www.photofilmcomp.co.za – where people are invited to refer their friends.

Just remember to always allow your clients to unsubscribe at any point to avoid being accused of spamming.

  • Networking meetings:

I still believe firmly that face to face marketing is extremely important; many people want to look you in the eye and feel that firm handshake before they spend their money. Not everyone has embraced the digital age, and some that have are made sceptical of doing online business due to the abundance of 419 scams and faked internet profiles.

Meeting someone in a networking environment allows you to interact on a much more personal level and generally you get to meet people who are in your business region and passionate about marketing.

Remember the marketing phrase “Own Your Post-Code”; try to get to know as many of your neighbours as possible. The more people you have speaking positively about your business, the easier your marketing job will become.

When marketing be as professional as possible, your “first impression” can just as easily prevent your business from growing if presented poorly. Don’t overpromise either, be sure that your customers get more than they expect as they will become part of your marketing team if they are impressed with the quality of your “product” and the service they receive.

As they say – “a bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush”, so make sure you treat your existing customers really well and prompt additional business from them where possible.

And (I hear people sighing “not again”..), PRICE YOURSELF CORRECTLY!

Under-pricing a competitor to get work is a very short sighted strategy, not only do you damage your competitors income source but you also cheapen yourself in the industry and make enemies – never a good thing when you’re starting out.

Eventually you’ll be working your behind off for peanuts while others make a decent income and still have time to market themselves properly to sustain a constant growth.

Establish yourself as an expert in your field

The last rule of marketing is to start NOW, if you don’t then someone else will – making your job even more difficult in the long run.

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