How To Make Money With Photography
Earlier, I talked about why photographers are struggling and about some of the fundamentals needed to create a solid foundation for an effective marketing strategy.
In this section, I’ll dive into the first part of this strategy—the attraction phase.
What Do We Mean By Attraction?
Basically, it boils down to maximizing the number of visitors to your website each day who match the criteria of your ideal client as closely as possible.
But please don’t confuse this with just wanting more traffic.
All online marketers are looking for ways to generate more traffic, as if it will solve all their problems. Unfortunately, throwing more visitors at a website won’t necessarily make it perform any better.
It’s like trying to make your car go faster by pumping more gas into the engine—it might work up to a point but then stops being effective and can even stall the engine by flooding it.
Therefore, don’t get too focused on website traffic here, or look at marketing your photography simply as a numbers game.
You could have thousands of website visitors each day, but it won’t do you any good at all if only a few of them are close to being your target market.
On the other hand, your business could do very well from only a handful of well-targeted visitors who you attracted with content that resonated deeply with them.
By the way, I don’t like the word “traffic” when used to talk about your website visitors. It implies a way of thinking that dehumanizes them and turns them into nothing more than statistics. Once you stop thinking of your target market as real people, you risk losing sight of the human touch in your business and being drawn back into the mentality of “more must be better”.
What You’re Really Competing For
How To Attract The Right People To Your Website
Marketing isn't about attracting everyone to your photography website, only the RIGHT people who fit the profile of your ideal clients. Here's how...
Life these days is hectic, and we’re all way busier than we want to be, with what seems like a million things jostling for our attention.
And it’s only gotten worse since we allowed smartphones to invade every part of our lives.
More than ever before, attention is at a premium, and we must work harder to capture it.
This is why so much traditional advertising no longer works, and we now live in the (better) world of content marketing (which is so helpful and valuable, people would gladly pay for it).
But here’s the problem.
There’s already so much great content out there, so many photographers’ websites, and so many marketing channels through which people are exposed to it all, that getting noticed is incredibly hard.
To get around this problem, you have to make sure your photography, written content, social media, website, and blog are at least 10x better than anything else your prospects might have seen from your competitors.
Not impossible, but it’s a necessary challenge that truly separates the amateurs and wannabes from the real professionals.
Oh, and there’s more…
Having captured someone’s attention, you must then convert their attention into interest, otherwise you’re going to lose them just as quickly. Essentially, the interest you create at this point must be strong enough for them to resist the lure of all the other distractions coming at them at the same time.
How To Overcome These Challenges
Understandably, you might think there’s little chance of rising above the other photographers in your community.
But the good news is you only have to rise above them, not every other photographer in the country, right? This makes your job a lot easier.
Here are 5 things to think about to help your business shine:
- What qualities are people attracted to about you and your photography?
- Do you know the deep reasons why you do what you do?
- Do you know who your ideal clients are in detail?
- Do you understand the full range of benefits people enjoy from the experience you provide?
- Look for the emotional (subjective) hooks you can use to capture their attention.
It Starts With You
Clearly, the end result of your business is expressed in your photography.
Take a hard look at what you do and evaluate it through the eyes of a potential client. Is there a consistent style? Is it technically excellent? Artistically creative? Does it have definable qualities you don’t see in the photos of your competitors?
In addition, it’s you—the photographer—who people are actually going to do business with.
How would you define your personality, style, approach, philosophy and general demeanor?
Do you communicate these qualities through the words you use on your website?
Hint: photographs are not enough on their own to do this job effectively.
Why Are You A Photographer?
Next, ask yourself why you do what you do.
What drives you to get up in a morning and be a photographer day after day despite the challenges?
It’s not enough to claim a passion for photography, or an undying love of working with people—you must go deeper.
Every time you think you have the answer, ask yourself if this is something every client could reasonably expect from their photographer?
If the answer is “yes”, pick up the introspective shovel and keep on digging until you come up with reasons specific to you.
You will most likely benefit from brainstorming this with someone who can act as a sounding board.
Who Do You Serve?
We’ve already talked about your ideal clients, but remember that the more you know about them the better off you’re going to be in the long run.
The Experience Is Everything
What is it like for someone to work with you? Not just on the photography session or assignment itself, but from the first moment they interacted with you to the day they received the finished photographs and beyond.
You probably can’t fully answer this by yourself, so talk with your past clients to dig deep and uncover the reasons why they hired you instead of someone else, and what they most enjoyed about working with you. Don’t forget to ask them what they feel could have been improved, no matter how small or trivial it might sound to them.
Everyone Buys For Emotional Reasons
Investing in photography is a subjective, often emotional decision, regardless of the type of photography.
You therefore need to be on the lookout for the emotional hooks you can use in your marketing to communicate the real benefits.
As an analogy, nobody buys an electric drill because they want a cool-looking drill set. They buy it because they need to put a hole in something to solve a problem they have.
But, above all, what does the experience of working with you feel like? Do you go above and beyond the call of duty to make sure your clients are thrilled beyond all expectations?
If not (and we can all improve in this area), continually look for ways to enhance the experience.
Attraction Tools And Tactics
How do you go about attracting the right people to your website?
Of all the tactics and tools we have at our disposal, which ones are the most effective?
Personally, I use 8 different ways to attract people to my own websites, and you can do the same thing for your website too:
- Search engine optimization (SEO)…
- Content marketing…
- Social media…
- Video marketing…
- Paid advertising…
- Direct referrals…
- Email marketing…
Let’s take a quick look at these in turn, starting with everyone’s favorite: SEO.
Search engine optimization seems to confuse everyone!
Not surprising, given its roots in some deeply technical stuff, and it’s shrouded in mystery because Google won’t share how their search engine actually works (a smart move on their part since that would make it even more vulnerable to search spammers who prefer to exploit the loopholes in Google’s systems rather than create any actual decent content of their own).
SEO has developed a reputation for being highly technical, time-consuming, and some folks even see it as a waste of time because they feel Google keeps changing the rules every time they turn around.
But it’s not like that at all!
It might be a surprise to discover that this idea of Google changing the rules is actually false.
In fact, Google hasn’t changed the rules of SEO in any major way since the day they first launched their search engine!
But what about all these updates and strange algorithm changes with animal names like Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird? Surely, those have changed the SEO rules in a big way?
Actually, no, they haven’t.
Yes, they’ve changed the way a lot of people practice SEO—but practicing it and sticking to the rules of the game are two different things.
In fact, there’s only one major rule for SEO and, if we stick to it, there’s no need to worry about being slapped by Google again in the future or the next time they unleash another angry animal onto the world of search engine optimization.
That rule is simply to:
Help Google to help their customers more easily find the most relevant content for what they’re looking for.
That’s it, nothing more.
The problems start when Internet marketers try to manipulate the Google search results by exploiting the way the search algorithm works, or any loopholes or areas of weakness they might discover.
Here are a few basic things you can do with SEO, and then you don’t need to waste any more time worrying about it.
First, create relevant and interesting content for your target market. This means using actual words on your website, and using enough of them for Google to be able to make an assessment of what each of your pages is about. The more effort you can put in at this point to make your content interesting and useful to the people who matter to your business, the better.
And don’t waste time trying to crowbar keywords into your content at this stage. You can do that after you’ve written the marketing copy, and it’s only necessary in small doses.
When it comes to keywords, remember that any given page on your website can be optimized only for one or two primary keywords, and make sure you don’t have multiple pages on the website competing for those same keywords.
Incidentally, this is why you don’t need to worry about doing any serious SEO on your regular blog posts.
There are simply too many posts and not enough keywords for your photography business to have one post per keyword, and you run the risk of multiple posts trying to rank for the same thing, thereby diluting your SEO efforts.
Next, use your chosen keywords strategically in your copy, and sparingly. There is no need to repeat them more than 2 or 3 times on a page and Google is now smart enough to recognize alternate versions of phrases that have the same or similar semantic meaning.
The critical places for keywords in your copy are in the page title, and the URL of the page (not the domain name part, but the bit that identifies that page on your site, sometimes called the permalink if you use something like WordPress). You should also place keywords in the main page headline, a sub-heading, and in the text.
Finally, you can use keywords in the file names of your photographs, as well as in the ALT and TITLE text and the caption.
To tie things up, you should try to link related pages together in your website through internal links, which will give Google a better sense of which are the most important pages on your website.
And that’s pretty much all you need to do for SEO on the website itself.
Outside of your website, you should use link-building strategies to get other websites to link to you, which will be the main driving force behind increasing your search results rankings.
Further Reading: SEO For Photographers Made Simple
Next, I want to talk about content marketing, and how it can attract the right people.
This is a tool you can also use in the connection phase of your marketing plan, so I’ll be talking about its role in that later on.
What is content marketing?
Essentially, it’s exactly what the name suggests—content you create on your website that has a marketing function.
Essentially, it’s used to communicate the most important parts of your marketing message to your ideal clients in ways that don’t look or feel like hardcore marketing.
Here’s how the content marketing institute defines it:
Content marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience—with the objective of driving profitable customer action…
Your visitors will be attracted to your content because they’re looking for information about something, or searching for the answer to a question. If your content is interesting, valuable, and relevant, they’ll feel more engaged with it, which in turn helps them to get to know, like and trust you as a brand they might like to work with or hire.
Let’s say, for example, you’re a wedding photographer. The traditional way would be to just have web pages devoted to telling people about what you do and to show off some photographs, with maybe a few testimonials thrown in and a contact page for those who want to find out more.
That’s okay, but you have to be a truly great photographer, or very well-known and sought-after in your community, to make that work effectively.
While we still need to have those types of pages, you can enhance them by including more content to answer some of your potential brides’ questions or help them with common challenges they might encounter when planning a wedding. This might include videos, resource pages with FAQ’s and SAQ’s (should-ask questions), how-to guides and lists of tips and creative ideas.
Those content-rich pages will naturally develop their own SEO for the keywords they target, attracting visitors through the search engines. And, if you make them shareable through social media, they can also serve as hotspots on your website where new visitors can arrive from places like Facebook and Pinterest etc.
Content marketing can also serve as a great visitor retention strategy.
If you make your pages as interesting and engaging as possible, your visitors will stay longer on the website and look at more of what you have to say, dramatically increasing the chances of them becoming a lead.
Our third attraction tool is social media, something we’re all very familiar with these days with the proliferation of Facebook and other social networks.
The key to success with social media is to remember these are social networks and not direct marketing platforms where we can broadcast blatant marketing messages that don’t fit in with the more personal feel of the social network itself.
We see examples of misuse all the time on Facebook, for instance. Just take a look at your news feed and you’ll soon notice ads that stick out like a sore thumb because they’re obviously marketing pieces designed to sell something directly.
How do you feel when you see those types of ads? Are you more or less likely to respond to them?
Then there are the other kinds of marketing messages.
These aren’t ads, as such, but status updates on business pages that say things like “don’t forget to book your mini session with us—only two days left!” or “we’re having a sale—save 50% off a portrait session”.
Those types of social media updates are of very little interest to most people because they come across as being too corporate-like and feel somewhat needy or even smell of desperation, so be very careful about using those.
Instead, focus on creating social media posts that feel more in tune with the personality of the network you’re posting on, and have something of interest for your intended audience.
For example, one of the best things you can do on your business Facebook page is to post updates where you share other people’s content that you know your audience will like.
This is where knowing your ideal clients well, and understanding their likes and dislikes comes in handy. This will position you as a great resource for your ideal clients and then they’ll be much more likely to respond positively when you post the occasional update of your own.
In the end, the ultimate aim of social media in your marketing is to drive visitors back to your website, but you first need to get them engaged with you and the personality of your business brand.
Do that, and you’ll have social media fans who are in love with what you do.
Further Reading: The Top 10 Social Media Marketing Mistakes
The next tool to think about is blogging, which is one of the big guns in the online marketing arsenal of weapons we can use.
A blog is a powerful tool, and it’s there to show off the personality of your business and to reveal the human side of what you do.
It offers your clients and prospects a window into your life as a professional photographer and allows them to become more immersed in the joy you have at serving the people you’re so lucky to work with.
Unfortunately, a lot of photographers either don’t have a blog, or they misuse their blog in ways that do more harm than good for their business. Others simply post too little or overlook the amazing power that a blog has in being able to communicate the heart and soul of their business and connect with their clients.
As with content marketing, a blog can attract new clients from the search engines through SEO, but remember what I said earlier about not consciously worrying about SEO on every blog post you create.
Most posts are somehow time-related.
For example, images from a recent session or wedding, or personal updates and observations from you, the photographer. Rarely do blog posts talk about something you might think of as being evergreen, meaning it will be just as relevant next year as it is today, and there are usually no important keywords to consider in those cases.
That doesn’t mean posts are no good for attracting visitors.
By sharing your posts via email and social media, or even through video marketing, you can create a steady stream of visitors, some of whom will be new to your brand.
On the other hand, you can also use your blog to create static pages, which are the pages you can do SEO on. For example, these will be your content marketing pages, resource pages, or small information hubs on your website that you can use to attract visitors through SEO and other means.
Therefore, when it comes to your blog, the best advice I can give you is to know the difference between posts and pages, and use them appropriately. Also, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to post something new every day. One post per week is more than enough, and it will give you more time to promote those posts and engage in other marketing activities.
Of course, one of the big problems with writing a blog is knowing what to write about.
Here are some basic topic ideas to get you started:
- Featured images from a session
- Showcase part of your business
- Feature a recent client
- Feature a favorite photography location
- Feature another business
- Basic photography tips
- How-to article
- Seasonal topics
- Your personal thoughts on photography
- Expanded testimonials from clients
- Commentary on something of mutual interest
- An answer to a FAQ
- Personal photography project
- Guest post from another business
- Community outreach
Here are couple of other things to bear in mind with your blog posts.
First, don’t go crazy with photos! You’ll make a much better impression in your posts if you focus the story on just a few of your best images.
Keep your blog posts simple. The rule of thumb here is “one idea, one post”. In other words, don’t talk about wedding photography, portraits, and pet photos all in the same post.
And remember, write for real people—the human beings you want to work with—not search engines.
Google is not going to hire you, nor do they care about what you do. People do care, so write your blog posts for them first, and then make any necessary small tweaks to help Google better understand what you’re writing about.
Further Reading: The Top 10 Blogging Mistakes
Video marketing is another very powerful tool you can use to drive targeted visitors to your website.
Very simply, by creating short but useful videos and then uploading those to sites like YouTube and Vimeo, you can put them to use to send new visitors to your website by making sure you do some very basic SEO on them.
The whole topic of video marketing is huge, and we don’t have time to go into all the details here. Fortunately, there’s a great episode on the Photography Marketing Masters podcast where I interviewed Steven Washer, who’s one of the best experts there is on video marketing. In the interview, he goes into great detail on the most effective ways to make video work hard for you, so check it out if you haven’t already listened to it.
Next up is paid advertising, sometimes called search engine marketing, or SEM for short.
This is where some people get a little nervous because it falls outside the comfort zone of marketing where everything is more or less free, and now we have to pay someone like Facebook or Google to advertise our websites.
But paid advertising can be effective, and a great choice for any photographer who’s SEO isn’t quite up to speed, or for someone who wants a quick influx of visitors for, let’s say, a promotion or new service offering.
Of the two main options available—Facebook ads and Google AdWords—Facebook is the best one for most photographers to start with because ads on Facebook are a lot cheaper than those on Google AdWords and can be targeted with much higher precision.
Paid advertising is another massive topic, but here are a few things to consider when creating Facebook ads.
First, identify who it is you want to target, as precisely as possible. It’s no use advertising to people who aren’t located close enough to take advantage of your services.
Next, use what Facebook calls the unpublished post as ads that will appear in the news feed of your targeted audience—the smaller ads on the right side of the news feed are not quite as effective. You can also boost existing posts for this purpose, or create a hidden post on your business page, which you can then turn into an ad.
If your ad sends visitors to your website, don’t send them to your homepage or any other generic page within your website. Instead, create a landing page specifically intended as the destination for the ad. Ideally, the landing page should be intended to generate a lead, not a direct sale.
Finally, the cost of running ads on Facebook is different for mobile ads and those shown on the desktop version. The mobile ads tend to be a little less expensive. To make the best use of this, create separate ads for mobile and desktop uses in your campaigns.
If you follow these simple guidelines, you’ll start making some good returns on your investment in ads and then you’ll be ready for some of the more advanced features they have to offer.
Of course, direct referrals is another way to send visitors to your website, and these can come from a variety of sources, both online and offline.
For example, you can partner with other local businesses or organizations whereby you each agree to promote the other business occasionally, through website links, blog posts, comments, emails, or other means.
In the offline world, networking with other business owners can be a great help, and you can even create dedicated landing pages for each contact to direct traffic to, which allows you to track your most effective referrers and also present customized content just for those people.
Vendor networks are another great resource for this, and we commonly see those in the wedding industry, for example, where vendors who share the same target market will recommend you to their clients.
The last tool I want to mention here is email marketing, which often creates a mixed response from photographers.
Some like it, while others seem to think it’s intrusive for prospects and clients.
In actual fact, email marketing has constantly been shown to be the single most effective form of marketing we have available to us—even more effective than social media.
What’s interesting is that email marketing isn’t a direct visitor-attraction strategy, as such, but behaves like one when it’s used correctly.
What does this mean?
Well, in order for someone to be on your email list to begin with, they need to have had some prior connection or business relationship with you. Don’t buy email lists or add people at random to your mailing lists.
Therefore, it stands to reason that the people on your list should already know who you are, right?
But, the one thing email marketing is good at is reinforcing your brand in the minds of your prospects, and keeping you at the top of their thoughts when it comes time to hire a photographer.
In that sense, email marketing acts as a repeating attractor to your website through constant communication with those most likely to want to hire you at some point. It might not be right now, tomorrow, or next week. But it will likely happen at some point further down the line.
If you’re absent from their radar when the time comes, guess what? They’ll hire someone else.
There’s a great interview on the podcast where I talked to email marketing expert Ian Brodie, where we go into a lot more detail about email marketing and how you can put it to use in your business.