How To Make Money With Photography
So far, you’ve worked hard at attracting the attention of your ideal clients, and they’re busy browsing your website and becoming progressively more engaged with your content.
So far, so good. These people are intensely interested in what you have to offer, but they’re still not clients.
They’re almost there, but you could still lose them if you’re not careful.
It’s like watching a school of fish nibbling at the bait.
You can see them swirling around just beneath the surface, interested in what you’ve got for them, but it’s still up to you to hook and then land them.
This is the most critical step of all because if you mess up now, everything up to this point becomes a wasted effort.
We’re talking about turning your visitors into leads you can follow up with, or talk to in person, in order to have them become clients or buyers.
This is a process marketers refer to as “conversion”…
How To Convert Your Website Visitors Into Leads
Here's how to convert your photography website visitors into leads with whom you can follow up to turn into valuable photography clients...
What Does Conversion Mean?
Very simply, we’re talking about the process of taking an anonymous website visitor and converting them into a lead with whom you can have a real conversation, either by email or on the telephone.
Obviously, the telephone is preferred over email, as you stand a much greater chance of success if you can talk to them in person, but getting someone to at least connect with you via email is a great start.
But what conversion methods are open to you?
I just mentioned two of them—email and the telephone—but you could also convert someone into a Facebook fan, a Twitter follower, or simply have them share your content on social media. Even taking the small step of leaving a comment on your blog can be considered as a conversion step, as long as it helps further your goal of moving them a step closer to working with you.
To maximize the effectiveness of your online marketing, it helps to sort these different types of conversion into an order of preference.
For example, direct communication (such as a telephone call) might have the highest priority, and joining an email list might be next.
If the prospect fails to take either of those actions, then connecting with you on social media could be the next goal, followed by leaving a comment or sharing your content with others.
Once you know the relative importance of your conversion goals, you can structure your calls to action to give preference to the more desirable goals.
Don’t Allow Poor Conversion To Derail Your Business
As I’ve already stated a number of times, the ultimate goal of your website is to generate leads and inquiries so you can turn those people into valuable paying clients.
This is also the point at which so many photographers trip up, for a variety of reasons.
- Their fear of being seen as “selling” prevents them from being assertive enough.
- A lack of clarity over what the conversion process should look like creates confusion.
- The mistaken assumption that prospects will know what they need to do without being told results in lost opportunities.
- Improper or incomplete implementation of the tools needed for proper conversion creates inefficiency.
- Attention “leakage” and lost visitors can be caused by unwanted distractions during the conversion process.
I can understand having an aversion to “selling” because I personally suffered from it myself when I started out in business.
Up until then, I’d had a simple life working behind a desk as a computer programmer, never having to sell much of anything to anyone. So, when I found myself directly responsible for the money coming into my own business, and with the pressure of having to make sales in order for that to happen, it was quite a shock!
But this is where the full importance of everything we’ve talked about so far becomes clear:
Because the truth is, if you’ve done your job well up to this point by attracting the right people and developing deep connections with them (albeit in a virtual sense), you probably don’t need to sell to them in any way that might be seen as negative.
What you do need to do is illuminate and shorten the path they should take to express their interest and further their relationship with you.
And you can’t rely on your visitors to instinctively know what that path is without you actually showing them the way.
Right now, you might not be clear about what your own conversion process should look like, but this is what I’m here to help you with, and I’ll show you some of the tools needed to make it work in, together with tips on how to use them effectively.
Attention “leakage” is another problem that can steal your potential clients right from under your nose.
Going back to our fishing analogy at the beginning, imagine you have fish swirling around your bait, almost ready to bite, and then an inconsiderate someone starts throwing stones into the nearby water. The resulting distraction is more than enough to scatter your desired fish in all directions, right?
Likewise, in the marketing world there’s no shortage of distractions, all ready to pull your potential clients away from you at the critical moment.
Of course, you can’t do anything about the multitude of potential distractions in your visitor’s own environment, but your website and pages are also prone to distractions, so you must do whatever you can to minimize those.
Your Conversion Toolkit
You can find a lot of tools and tricks around the Internet to help with conversion, but you certainly don’t need them all to make this work, and some of the strategies I’ve seen are suspect at best.
To save you wasted time and effort, and to get you moving quickly, here are the top 4 conversion strategies I recommend you start with.
Not only are these based in solid and proven marketing principles, they’ll keep your business going for a long time to come.
The 4 tools I recommend are:
- Opt-in forms…
- Landing pages…
- Email autoresponders (follow-up sequences)…
Let’s take a look at each of these in a bit more detail.
A lead-magnet is designed to do exactly as the name suggests:
Attract the attention and interest of those people most likely to be good leads for your business; leads being the folks who raise their hand to identify themselves to let you know they’re interested in learning more about you and what you do.
The most effective lead-magnets are those that appeal strongly to your ideal clients and help them solve a problem, overcome a roadblock, or give them invaluable information in their search for a photographer.
They can take various forms such as an eBook, PDF download, a video series, a checklist, or even software tools.
The most common form of lead-magnet is the PDF or eBook, and it’s critical that you keep it short and to the point, with a clear call to action for the reader to take the next step on their journey to becoming a client.
You could simply put the lead-magnet on your website as a free download, but doing so would allow anyone to access it without first letting you know who they are, so I don’t recommend that.
Instead, you want to offer the lead-magnet to interested people in exchange for their email address.
They’re also required to provide their actual email address (as opposed to a fake one), since you’ll be delivering it to them via a link in an email. If they use a fake address in an attempt to circumvent the system, they simply won’t receive it.
Some tips to bear in mind when dealing with lead-magnets:
- Give it a compelling title that clearly conveys what they’ll get and how it benefits them.
- Keep it short and easy to consume.
- Include links to other valuable resources on your website within the text.
- Use testimonials wherever possible.
- Keep images and photographs to just the essentials that support the points you make in the text.
- Deliver on what you promised!
- Include obvious, strong, calls to action throughout the lead-magnet.
- Upload the finished document to an online location (somewhere on your website, Dropbox, an Amazon S3 bucket etc.)
- Provide the link to the download in the welcome email they’ll receive after signing up for the lead-magnet.
Email Opt-In Forms
In order for people to get your lead-magnet, they’ll need to sign up for your email list, which they’ll do by filling out an opt-in form on your website.
An opt-in form is a simple web form where you request the person’s email address and have them click a button to subscribe. Once they click the button, their email address is automatically sent to your email service provider to be added to your email list.
After that happens (an invisible process to the user) the visitor may be directed to a special thank-you page where you can confirm their subscription, give them instructions on what to do next, and let them know what to expect from the relationship.
As an optional extra, you can also present them with a new-subscriber special offer of some kind on the thank-you page, which has been shown to convert quite well.
Where do you get these forms from?
The place to start is your email service provider. They will usually provide the appropriate HTML code you can paste onto your website, which creates the opt-in form. These forms are okay, but they can often look quite ugly and are not designed with your branding in mind, so you’ll need to tinker with them a bit to make them fit in better.
The method I personally use is through the Gravity Forms plugin (you need to have a WordPress website and blog for this to work). You use the plugin to set up a form and then simply attach a feed from your form to your email service provider to tell them which list to add the email address to.
A third option would be to use an opt-in plugin or pop-up software. There are lots of these around, with new ones coming along all the time, so the best thing is to head over to Google and do a quick search.
Some tips on getting the best from your email opt-in forms:
- Do invest in an account with a reputable email marketing service provider, such as Active Campaign.
- Never add people to your email list manually unless they’ve already given you their express permission!
- Your form should be clear and prominently-placed, together with a brief explanation of what they’ll get in exchange for their email address.
- The best places for your form are at the top of your pages, at the head of a sidebar, and in the page footer.
- You can also experiment with including sign-up forms within your content, such as midway through a blog post.
- Your “about” page is one of the best places to include your opt-in form.
- Don’t be tempted to ask for anything other than an email address unless absolutely necessary. Every additional field you add creates more “friction” and reduces the number of sign-ups.
- Avoid using the word “submit” on the button. Try “Get My Free Copy” or something related to the lead-magnet.
- Include some reassurance that their information is 100% safe with you and won’t be shared.
Opt-In Landing Pages
In addition to the email sign-up forms you place on your website, it’s advisable to have an opt-in landing page.
Sometimes called a “squeeze page”, this type of page is dedicated solely to the purpose of getting someone to opt-in to your email list.
Why would you need this as well as the email opt-in forms you already have on the rest of your website?
Simply put, to increase the number of opt-ins you get.
For a website and blog where you have email opt-in forms placed as I described in the previous section, the typical conversion rate is between 2% and 5%. So, for every 100 visitors, you might get anywhere from 2 to 5 new subscribers.
Not terrible, but not great either.
In contrast, a dedicated opt-in landing page can often convert at more like 50% to 80% or more, depending on how well it’s optimized for the audience—a huge increase.
In addition, the URL for your dedicated opt-in page can be used as the destination page for online ads, such as Facebook ads or Google AdWords.
You can also link to your opt-in page from within blog posts and other resources on your website.
And, when it comes to tracking and measuring your lead-generation efforts, you can use the visitor stats and behavior metrics of your landing page to analyze your performance and identify possible optimization improvements.
Some tips on building a well-converting opt-in landing page:
- If possible use a page template where you can remove all unnecessary page elements, such as sidebars, navigation, and footers.
- Give your landing page a compelling title that communicates the end benefits of your lead-magnet.
- Include a brief description for the lead-magnet and why they might need it.
- Outline the 3–5 top benefits with bullet points.
- Make the opt-in form clear and obvious.
- Testimonials at the end can help to boost conversion.
Email Marketing Follow-Up
Once someone signs up to your email list, you’ll need to do at least some follow-up to nurture the relationship and encourage them to keep moving toward the goal of hiring you.
The amount of time this process takes varies tremendously, and can be anything from a few days to many months.
In wedding photography, for example, the process may be quite short because there’s an obvious deadline in the form of the wedding date.
For portrait photographers, the timescale can extend until the prospect reaches the point at which they don’t want to put it off any longer.
Fine art photographers probably have the hardest time with this because it could take months for someone to become ready to buy from you, but it’s still worth the effort!
The keys here are not to give up too soon, and to keep the channels of communication open and flowing because you really don’t know when someone will change from being a passive lead to actively becoming a customer.
Here are some email marketing follow-up tips:
- Do make sure you send an automatic welcome email as soon as someone signs up to your email list. Include the download link for your lead-magnet as well as details on what they can expect moving forward.
- Let people know they can always reach you by replying to any of your emails.
- Send your new subscribers an initial autoresponder (follow-up) sequence over the course of the first few weeks after they subscribe.
- The initial sequence is intended to solidify the relationship, and get them used to seeing your emails and taking some form of action, such as reading a blog post or article.
- Include emails in the sequence designed to interact with them directly, such as asking them to call or email you to chat about the kind of photography they’re looking for.
- You can also relate your first sequence of emails to the topics in your lead-magnet by expanding on them in further detail.
- You can gradually increase the interval between emails as the move through the sequence.
- After the initial sequence is over, keep in touch with your subscribers on a regular basis. For example, once per week, or twice per month. Once per month may be stretching it out too much.
Of course, having conversion goals is great, but you also need to know how well your website performs at making those conversions, especially the important ones.
There’s a great saying in marketing circles that says, “you can’t improve what you can’t measure”.
So how can you track your conversions, and measure them over time to identify where you need to make improvements?
This is where tools like Google Analytics or Clicky come in very handy. I use both of these, and find Clicky to be especially useful, as it’s a lot easier (and fun) to see things happening on your website in real time.
Conversion is usually expressed as a percentage, called the conversion rate, and it improves the accuracy of these numbers if you have dedicated conversion pages and result pages.
The conversion pages are where you present your call to action, while the results pages are where someone ends up if they take the action you want them to.
As long as you have your website set up in a logical way, with your converting pages and result pages set up as distinct URLs, it’s an easy number to calculate:
Simply divide the number of visits to your conversion results page into the number of visits to your conversion page, and then express that as a percentage.
For example, if you see 100 visits to the conversion page and 35 visits to the results page over the same time period, that will give you a conversion rate of 35%.
You can keep a record of this data over time in a spreadsheet, for example, to give you a good indication of how well your conversion is working.
The Concept Of Friction In Marketing
As you gain more experience with the conversion process, one major concept you’ll come across sooner or later is the idea of friction.
Of course, we’re familiar with friction in the real world.
For example, we’d have a hard time stopping our car at a traffic light without the friction caused by applying the brakes. On the other hand, a lack of friction allows an ice-skater to glide gracefully around the rink.
Having too much friction is a big enemy of conversion, and we need to identify any excessive friction in the conversion process and aim to reduce it.
So where does friction come from on a web page or in the conversion process?
It can actually stem from a variety of sources, the most common of which include having too many input fields on a form, confusion in the presentation of the message, unclear or ambiguous calls to action, distractions, and a whole host of other factors, some of which are quite subtle.
As you track and measure your results over time, if you notice lower-than-expected conversion rates for a page, it’s likely there are sources of friction in the process you need to identify and remove.
The one I see most, for example, is where a form asks for too much information all at once from the prospect, leading to intimidation and form abandonment.
Optimizing Conversion Pages
Forms are one of the most common conversion tools because we ask the visitor to supply information, which identifies them as a potential lead.
The problem I often see with this area is two-fold.
#1: Too Many Input Fields
First, many web forms I encounter have too many fields to fill out. Let’s take a wedding photographer as an example, where they might have a form for prospective brides to get in touch for more information about booking the photographer.
Such a form might ask for the bride’s name, email address, wedding date, venue, phone number, and a box for them to include specific questions, with a submit button at the end, possibly accompanied by one of those really annoying CAPTCHA things designed to reduce spam.
This sounds like an awful lot of information for someone to give out all at once, when it’s most likely the first time they’ve encountered your website!
Simply reducing the number of required fields to the bare essentials makes a huge difference to the conversion rate in such cases.
#2: Using Generalized Forms
The second big problem I see here is trying to use a “one size fits all” form where prospects are presented with the same form regardless of the type of photography being offered, or even the aim of the conversion.
It makes much more sense to have a dedicated form for each photographic specialty and to customize each of them for the best results.
Use The Correct Button Text
On the subject of forms, the next thing problem is something many photographers often overlook—the actual text and words they use on form buttons or other calls to action.
Going back to our example of the wedding photography enquiry form, as well as all the fields the user has to fill out, there’s a button they need to click at the bottom to submit the form.
For some reason, that word “submit” has become synonymous with web forms and we rarely give it a second thought, therefore most of the time we simply use the default text of “submit” for our own button text.
But that can be a real conversion killer, lurking in plain sight, but managing to go relatively unnoticed.
The words we use on a button actually have a purpose, which is to give a final nudge in the right direction, and to get the visitor to click the button and complete the action we want them to take.
Think for a moment about the meaning of the word “submit”—it’s really not a nice word at all, and few people want to submit to us, right?
In other words, choose button text to make the user feel more comfortable about completing the action on the page.
So instead of the word “submit”, an effective tactic is to use text on the button that completes the sentence “I want to…” in the mind of the prospect.
For example, “Get More Information”, or “Get In Touch With Bob” both work very well.
“I want to submit” has a negative connotation, so I recommend avoiding it like the plague!
Calls To Action
The text we use on buttons, or in a link someone must click to complete the conversion, is what we refer to as a “call to action”, and it’s one of the most important elements in the entire conversion process because, without it, there is no conversion.
But this is another place where I see a lot of photographers drop the ball.
It’s a shame to have gone to all the effort of attracting the right people to the website, and making an all-important connection with them, only to see them leave without doing what you wanted them to do!
The call to action is the final step separating the successful generation of a qualified lead from just another visitor who wandered off to your competitors as a lost opportunity.
So there’s a lot resting on the quality of your calls to action, right?
If they’re too weak, too wordy, ambiguous, or they simply blend unnoticed into the background, there’s a good chance few people will follow your request and your conversion rate will suffer.
To make sure that doesn’t happen, your calls to action must stand out from the rest of the page and be absolutely crystal clear.
By the way, if you dislike the idea of sales for some reason, this is no time to worry about being seen as too pushy. Of course, you still want to avoid page elements that are over-the-top or unnecessarily hyped up, but your calls to action must be clear and to the point at all costs.
Maintain A Single Clear Purpose
This brings me to an important point for any page on your website where you want to achieve a conversion, which is the need to maintain a singularity of purpose.
What do I mean by that?
Have you ever been in a situation where your boss comes to you and she says something like, “hey, I need you to get this really important thing done and, oh there are these other tasks we’d like you to work on when you get a chance, and please don’t forget that little thing we talked about last week at the staff meeting…”?
Whoa – that’s a lot of stuff, right?
Not only do you have a new task, you also have to remember the details of all the other things she mentioned. Suddenly, your brain feels overwhelmed and confused.
If you’re not careful, and you fail to manage this type of thing, the same can happen on your website, on the pages where you want someone to take a definitive form of action.
By giving your visitors too much to think about, there’s a large chance they’ll wind up confused and do nothing.
For example, let’s say you have a blog post where you want the reader to sign up for a special portrait session you have going on. The post talks about the type of session, the date and location, and asks the reader to fill out a short form if they’re interested in finding out more.
Sounds simple, right?
Except, imagine what happens if the same blog post has a “please leave a comment” call to action at the end as well as a request to “share this post with your friends”, and an email sign-up form for something unrelated to the session offer—all competing for their attention.
Unless the main call to action is highlighted so brilliantly that it stands far out from the rest, you might find that no one does anything because there are too many things going on at the same time on the page and there’s no singularity of purpose.
Explain The Real Benefits
Another thing that can stand in the way of a successful conversion is failing to clearly explain the benefits of taking the action you want.
You don’t have to go into tremendous detail, but you should aim to communicate how the visitor will benefit.
But what do we mean by the word “benefit”?
In the vast majority of cases a benefit is something intangible, which the visitor experiences as a result of what you’re offering, rather than the actual thing itself.
But, most often, I see an attempt to list benefits that actually turn out to be features.
Here’s an example…
One important feature of your portrait sessions might be that you dedicate a whole morning or afternoon to photographing a family. The benefit to the client is they feel less rushed, more relaxed, and more likely to get the portraits they want—it’s not the extra time itself that’s important to them, but the result of it.
So when constructing pages where you list benefits, it’s always worth digging deeper, starting with the features or products themselves, and then translating those into less tangible and more emotional benefits that the visitor can relate to more easily as a desirable outcome.
The benefits we just talked about can easily be communicated through well-worded bullet lists, but we must also pay attention to the overall clarity of the message we’re trying to get across on the page.
Clarity is More Important Than Length
One of the questions I get asked a lot about pages aiming for a specific conversion is, “how long does the page need to be?”
There’s no definitive answer, as any given page should be as long or as short as it needs to be to get the point across and address any potential objections or reasons people might hesitate to complete the action.
But one factor that’s common to all high-performing conversion pages is clarity.
The clearer you communicate your message the better off you’ll be.
So make sure the words you use are easily understood, free of ambiguity, and create a lasting mental impression or emotional reaction.
Don’t use 40 words when you can get away with 10, and there’s no need to overcomplicate what you’re saying just to make it sound important.
Also, your vocabulary should be in tune with the audience you’re talking to and the expectations you want to create in their minds. For example, don’t use the word “shoot” if you’re trying to set up an exclusive or high-end portrait session.
Avoid Passive Calls To Action
In addition, your message should be assertive and free of language that might be considered passive or even apologetic. Remember, you’re running a business, and there’s no need to make excuses for making an offer to your target audience, or to beat around the bush.
This is especially important when it comes time to spell out any policies or restrictions you might have.
Keep it all very business-like and to the point, which will help to eliminate potential confusion or misunderstandings further on down the line.
Testimonials Add Credibility
Another question I often get asked is, “how can I make what I’m saying on my conversion pages more believable?”
Credibility is essential for persuasion, and we’re certainly trying to persuade someone to take a specific action, so believability is obviously important.
A great tool for this is a testimonial.
Concise testimonials add credibility to the benefits we talked about earlier, and can add a small but effective nudge in the right direction for anyone who might be on the fence.
In fact, testimonials should be a key part of any page on your website where you want people to take action, since the testimonial acts as social proof—something we all use as a form of permission, if you like, to take the same action we see others have already taken.
Testimonials work very well when placed close to the call to action on the page, and it’s a good idea to edit your testimonials if necessary to highlight points that speak about your unique differentiators. But do be careful not to distort the testimonial so much that it feels fake.
A major roadblock to conversion is a sense of risk, and it’s your job as a marketer to eliminate as much of that risk as possible, or at least move the risk from the visitor on to yourself.
There are many things that can be perceived as risky in these instances, and not all of them revolve around the financial cost involved, if there is one.
Many risk elements are intangible and have to do with the prospect’s comfort zone with respect to that element. A great example is a lot of people feel self-conscious or uncomfortable in front of the camera, and signing up for a portrait session introduces the risk of them disliking the final result.
Other risks may be the cost of a session and uncertainty over what happens if they don’t have a great experience, or they end up not liking the finished photographs.
This is where having a strong guarantee can mitigate the risk in the prospect’s eyes and increase their level of confidence, resulting in a higher conversion rate.
Creating A Sense Of Urgency
There’s also something else standing in the way of successful conversion, and that’s a sense of urgency on the part of the prospect. In other words, how much do they want to take the action you want them to right now?
If there’s no urgent need to do so, they might defer the action until another time, and we all know that really means “never”, right?
We’re all guilty of putting things off until a more convenient time, but those “perfect” times don’t happen, and we suddenly wake up one day wondering where all the time went.
A great example is trying to encourage parents to have their kids photographed.
Parents are super-busy, always running from one important thing to the next with hardly a moment to spare, so it’s easy for them to put off having their children’s portraits created until some magical time in the future when they “have the time”. Of course, it never happens, and then one day they’re watching their kids drive off to college and are left wondering why they never had photographs made when they had the chance.
Reminding parents of photographing their young children now, while they still can, is a way of creating a sense of urgency.
Other methods include limiting the number of spots for an offer, having a closing date, or placing an expiration date on a coupon.
Whichever method you look at, it’s always worthwhile to have something to create a sense of urgency for people to take action.
Finally, make sure you take time to eliminate as many distractions as you can from your conversion pages—essentially, anything without a direct role to play in the conversion process should be removed.
This is why you will very often see landing pages on a website where the navigation menu, sidebars and footers have all been removed, leaving only the important content and the call to action.