Marketing for photographers

Marketing concepts for the commercial and food photographer -mailers, emailers, promos, and promotions.

Marketing for photographers

I like to think of my food photography marketing efforts as planting seeds.  You plant (market) a seed here and you plant a seed there.  The thing is, you never know how well that one particular seed will do.  It may germinate. It may not.  It might grow a little or it may grow beyond your grandest dreams. 

You may never see the fruit from the seed or the seed may end up making the tree that feeds your family for years.  The more seeds you plant, the more likely it is that you will have one of these “home run” seeds.  If you don’t plant many seeds, you’re less likely you are to reap their harvest.  In other words, plant tons of seeds, all the time.  Some will pay off and most will not.  It’s truly a numbers game. 

Yes, of course a higher quality effort will out perform a lesser quality one, but even a lesser quality effort is better than none at all.  Plant – plant – and plant some more.

Budgeting and return on investment for the professional photographer

“I can’t afford to market right now.”  I don’t know haw many times I’ve heard that from my photographer friends. The truth is, you, as a photographer, can’t afford not to market.  Yes, marketing does cost money, but like the saying goes, "you have to spend money to make money."  And nothing applies to that saying more than marketing. The term in question is “Return on investment”.  In other words, if I spend X number of dollars, how much can I expect to get as a return on my investment.  In marketing, you never really know what you are going to get as a return on investment, Much depends on the quality of the marketing effort.  Is the marketing device of high enough quality?  Does the recipient of the marketing effort need your service?  From my experience, most of my marketing efforts do create a positive cash flow.  If I spend one hundred dollars, I can be pretty much assured that the effort will bring in much more than the original one hundred bucks.  Logic dictates that the more money you spend on marketing, the more money you will make.  To a point, that is true.  There is of course, a point of diminishing return.  There will be only so many things that you can do with your money.  Some marketing devices will be more profitable than others.   Sooner or later, you will run out of time or good ideas.  Your big challenge to stay motivated enough, committed enough, smart enough, and brave enough to keep up those marketing efforts.   In the back of your mind, you know I’m right, but when money is tight, it’s tough to decide to spend money of these kinds of things.  Your apprehension is understandable.  Your choice is to use your brain and do what you know will increase your bottom line and try to ignore the fear of spending your money when times are tough.

Repetition (7 hits) – There is this theory out there that it takes an average of seven contacts to get a potential photography client to respond.  I guess the idea is that the more you contact someone the more reputable you appear.  Personally, I don’t buy that one.  When you contact someone, one of three things happen:

#1, You make a terrible impression and your next attempt to contact them will probably result in a unopened envelope or an unreturned phone call.  No matter how many contacts you make (of a similar quality) you are very unlikely to turn this prospect into a client.  Your only hope is to have your next contact get through and make a much better impression, but it’s likely to be an up-hill effort.  A poor impression may not necessarily have to do with the quality of your work, by the way.  It may have to do with compatibility.  If you send a really nice artistic nude image to food client, you may have to wait a really long time for them to need your services.

#2. You make a mediocre impression and client may or may not want to “use” you at some time in the future.  In this case, being at the right place at the right time can really pay off.  If a quality postcard of yours lands on the client’s desk at the same time as an appropriate job, you have a real good chance at the project.  This is a good excuse to keep up the frequency of your marketing efforts.

#3.   The third scenario is that your marketing device simply blows your target client away.  The next time they have anything remotely related to the work you do, you da man, case closed!  No forgetting you.  The moral of the story is… Be as remarkable as you can as often as you can.

Small clients / great loyalty – Something I’ve learned over the years is that smaller clients tend to be more loyal that larger clients.  Not only that, smaller clients tend to use the same photographer more often than larger clients will.  Larger, more sophisticated clients, tend to hire specialist photographers for each different type of project.  Smaller, less sophisticated clients, will usually hire the same generalist photographer for ALL their photography needs.  That’s a good thing, if you’re that photographer.

Cheaper to keep clients than get new ones – Marketing is expensive, especially the “find new clients” part of your marketing budget.  Keeping clients, on the other hand, tends to be less expensive.  Produce good work, give them good service, be honest, treat them fairly and keep in touch once in a while, and everything should be fine.  Neglect your client or treat them wrongly, and you’ll find yourself giving some other photographer an opportunity to make your client happy.  What I’m trying to say is that clients are easier to keep than get.  Make sure that you keep the clients you already have, happy.   It’s economically a very good idea.

People tend to deal with friends – There are all kinds of clients and there are all kinds of client / vendor relationships.  One thing that I have noticed over the years is that many people tend to like to work with friends.  It may have to do with trust, it may be convenience or habit, I don’t know.  It’s just that it pays to be friends with your clients. The client’s job may depend on the quality of work of his vendors.  If you're friends with your vendor, you can count on them to go the extra mile for you when things get tough, and they can count on you too.  If you’re a good friend to someone, it usually pays off in photography and life in general.

Attrition – The question is not “if” you are going to lose the client, it’s  “when” you’re going to lose that client.  No matter how great your relationship, how long you’ve been working together, someday, your relationship will most likely end.  And that includes your last year’s BIGGEST client.  You may not lose them this year or even next, but some day, that client won’t be there.  What that means to you is you need to replace them, before they’re gone.  Don’t sit back and be content just because last year was a pretty good one.  Just ask yourself what you would do if your biggest client went away tomorrow? How about your two biggest clients?  For the sake of your business, you should probably think about these questions on a daily basis.  If you do, you might be motivated enough to keep marketing a high priority in your business, as it should be.

Filling a need and serving your first few years – This concept gets me in trouble on all the photography forums.  Many photography “career consultants” suggest that you begin your career by jumping right in and competing with the existing market by charging “the going rate."  I think that it is a much better idea for a new person to the industry to compete where he has the best chance of capturing a bit of market share.  In my opinion, the best way to do this is to come in at a better price than the competition.  Other than the occasional genius / artist, the typical photographer needs to learn as his career develops.  His career will have little chance of developing if he can’t get any work to learn on. By charging a little less than the established competition, the new-be has a chance to get some work and experience.  The more work and experience a photographer gets, the greater the chance of a future in the business.  Let the industry worry about itself.

Purple Cow -  I read this book on marketing not too long ago called “Purple Cow."  The book was about marketing in at post-television world. Its premise is that in the current environment of the internet age, information travels in different ways than it used to.   With forums, chat rooms, news groups, and email, information disseminates much faster and more effectively than it did in earlier days.  People get their information differently.  In the old days, a company created a product and them marketed it.  The more money spent on marketing usually translated into greater and greater sales of that product.  The actual quality of the product was secondary to the quality and quantity of the marketing.  In today’s word, the quality of a product or service is much more important than it used to be.  If a product isn’t “remarkable," it will more than likely fail.  The book suggests investing your time and money in creating a memorable product.  Technology will help get the word out.  The service must be remarkable.  You must be a remarkable photographer if you want to excel.  I’ll buy into this to some extent.  I know from experience how small a town’s creative community actually is.  Most Art Directors know each other as do Graphic Designers.  If you make a “remarkable” impression with one, you can almost be assured that the word will get out.  You will be the new Purple Cow, and little marketing efforts will be needed.  While on the other hand.  If you’re just a plain old black and white cow, like most of us, marketing is still a good way to get new clients.

Continuous marketing / timing – The problem with being busy and making a lot of money is that when you’re busy, it’s very easy to neglect your marketing efforts.  If you’re like the majority of photographers (including me) and you’re not the amazingly talented anomaly of an individual, you probably need to make marketing on an ongoing and regular activity.  Marketing works best if its done on a regular basis.  Regularly contacting target clients, without over doing it, is an effective way of enlarging your client base.   These regular contacts increase your chance of being at the right place at the right time and maybe walking away with a project or maybe even a long time client.  You have to balance it.  Be consistent without over doing it.  Most people error on the side of under-doing it.  Keep this in mind.

Paralysis by analysis – After all my talk on making sure that you only put out your very best quality work, I have to warn you about a problem we all need to watch out for.  If you worry too much about the quality of your work, you may run into the trap that many of us run into, paralysis by analysis.  The symptom of this disease is “no marketing at all."  Constantly questioning yourself can cause you to not do anything.  After all, doing nothing is easier than taking a chance by rolling the dice, putting your images (and ego) out there for everyone to critique.  It’s hard to go out on the limb and actually do the things you know you need to do. The only medication for this is problem is bravery.  You just have to suck it up and do something.  Not anything, but something good.   Roll the dice and just do your best.  Go for it!

Here are two books that I own that pertain to the subject of martketing. I can recommend them both.

P o r t f o l i o: These images are from Michael's portfolio. Click on any one of them to take you to see his on-line food photographer's portfolio.
© Michael Ray 2008