Viewed from the outside, being a professional photographer looks simple and easy, doesn’t it?
I mean, how hard can it be? Get yourself a good camera, take great photos, decide on a name and set up a business, build a website to show off your work, and you’re off to the races, right?
Yeah, right, another lesson in something easier said than done.
It’s not too long before the harsh reality sets in and you find yourself struggling to get more photography clients and ripping your hair out trying to market your photography business.
At that point, the ugly truth is out.
Being a professional photographer is anything BUT simple!
Sadly, it’s easy to be fooled by the lie that being a pro photographer is a glamorous way to make a living, or a chance to escape “working for the man” to start living life on your own terms.
Time for a reality check, wouldn’t you say?
Why is it people aren’t falling over themselves in the rush to pay you good money for the wonderful work you do?
And then, of course, there’s the real kick in the butt:
How come it seems like nobody in your community has ever heard of you?
The Truth Most Photographers Don't Know About Marketing
Discover the truth most professional photographers don't know about how to market a photography business to the right people...
Magic Bullets Are For Superheroes, Not Photographers
There are a lot of so-called “gurus” out there, all ready and willing to sell you the latest secrets. While I personally don’t care for the word itself because of its many interpretations and associations, I believe there are many good coaches and mentors out there who are doing a great job.
But I don’t consider myself to be a guru because I feel it implies that I have ALL the answers (which I don’t), or that there’s some “magic” or mystical secret behind what I teach and how I help people (which there isn’t).
To give people like yourself such an inaccurate impression would be deceptive and, to be frank, utter nonsense.
As nice as it would be, I don’t have ALL the answers to life, the universe, and everything. If I did, I would be living a charmed life, writing this from a comfortable beach lounger on my private Caribbean island, and Richard Branson would be paying me rent just to visit.
Clearly, that’s not the case, and Sir Branson isn’t beating down my door to pick my brains, although he’s always more than welcome to pop in for a cup of tea whenever he feels like it!
So what’s the issue with “gurus”?
Simply put, there are a LOT of people promising success in the photography industry through some easy “system” or another. Simply pay for access to their box of magic tricks, and you’ll be the next photography rock star, just like them, with no hard work required.
You see them all over the place, with hyped-up claims like these:
- Turn your photography website into an ATM machine!
- Earn more money than you can dream about, while you sleep!
- The secret system to amazing wedding photography success!
There’s no shortage of such things but systems like these don’t work (at least not in the way most people expect).
Nonetheless, many honest and hard-working photographers continue to fall prey to these scams through a desperate need to find something – anything – to help them find more clients and make a decent living.
They’re lured in with the promise of a solution to every photographer’s marketing problems, but are then subjected to little more than a slick sales pitch for the next box of magic secrets.
So what is it these “gurus” are not telling everyone?
The Wrong Way To Market Your Photography Business
Before we get into the details, take out a piece of paper, grab yourself a pen or pencil, and write down all the ways you currently market your photography during an average workweek.
Take as much time as you like, and leave nothing out.
It’s important for you to see first-hand where your valuable time is going.
Here are some examples to get you started:
- Directing people to visit your website…
- Networking with people, and handing out business cards…
- Sending emails to potential clients and the people on your mailing list…
- Blogging about your latest wedding or photography session…
- Posting photos and videos on Facebook…
- Buying ads on Google AdWords…
- Creating profiles on directory websites…
- Fiddling around with your website design or theme…
- Paying an SEO company (or doing your own SEO) to boost your search engine rankings…
- Attending meetings with other professionals and business groups…
- Maintaining your Facebook page…
- Running last-minute specials and discounts…
There are certainly lots more, but these should give you some ideas to get started.
And, with your list in hand, here’s another ugly truth.
Much of the time you spend on those activities might simply be a total waste of time.
In fact, I spoke with a photographer last week who told me he would have been no worse off if he’d spent every day of the summer sitting in the pub instead of working on his business.
That’s a terrible way for anyone to feel about their business, don’t you think?
But it’s a simple fact.
Photographers everywhere, including you, are wasting countless hours each week on marketing efforts that are NOT helping their bottom line in any way. In fact, they have so much blind belief in those secret systems and magic bullets that they start all over again each Monday morning, doing the same things they did last week, even though they didn’t work the first time around.
Kind of makes running a business feel more like a roll of the dice, doesn’t it?
Is this the life you wanted for yourself when you started your photography business?
No, I didn’t think so!
Stop for a moment, take a hard look at the list you just made and estimate how much time you spend on those activities during the average week.
The answer might shock you!
No wonder photographers feel like they never have enough time to actually get out there and create photographs!
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, you devote an average of 40 hours a week to your photography business.
Yes, I know you probably work way more than if you count the hours spent chained to your computer at night, editing, which creates a whole other set of problems, but bear with me here.
Aside from marketing, somewhere in that 40 hours, you also have to squeeze in a bunch of other business activities, most of which are even less exciting or interesting than marketing.
- Keeping the accounts straight and balancing the books…
- Studio management (yes, even if you work from home)…
- Answering the telephone (hopefully!)…
- Replying to emails…
- Planning and strategizing for the future of your business, even if the “future” is only as far away as next week…
- Studying and practicing your photography techniques…
- Meeting with potential clients…
- Traveling to and from assignments…
- Actually creating the photographs (imagine that!)…
- Editing and retouching (yes, those long evening hours enslaved by your computer)…
- Conducting sales presentations…
- Preparing and fulfilling orders…
- And a whole lot more “stuff”…
The list just goes on and on, so how in the world are you supposed to have the time for all that, and keep your sanity in the process?
And that list didn’t even include any marketing tasks!
Clearly, if the time you spend on all the marketing chores you listed earlier fails to produce tangible results in the form of paying clients , then it’s time wasted, wouldn’t you agree?
I don’t know about you, but I seriously think wasting time is a tragic shame.
Time is your second most valuable asset in business (your attitude is number one) and there’s no way to reclaim lost time once it’s gone!
And, these days, who do you know with so much time they can just fritter and waste it away on stuff that doesn’t work when they have so much else they have to do in a day?
Simply getting normal day-to-day stuff done is enough to drive most of us crazy.
Believe me, I know how you feel!
You need to get your business working NOW so you can focus on what you love, instead of pulling your hair out through stress and worry over where the next client is coming from.
But how can you do that?
We already know those “magic systems” don’t work, and neither did many of the other things you tried, even though they were fairly sound in principle.
One reason is the gurus out there don’t understand YOUR specific business like you do, and what works for one business isn’t always right for another. In some cases, the “secrets” they teach might have worked wonders for them, but the specific waves they rode on are long over and no longer work.
A Better Way To Market Your Photography
Another photographer told me she was flat-out bored with running her business, and she was only excited about the photography itself.
For a moment, I thought I’d misheard what she said, and couldn’t believe my ears when she repeated it.
My advice to her?
Probably not what she wanted to hear, but it was most likely what she needed:
If it’s really this bad, just close the business down and focus on doing photography as a hobby because trying to run a business when you can’t love the business and marketing will eventually suck every ounce of passion you thought you had about photography right out of you, leaving nothing but pure resentment in its place.
I’ve seen it happen way too often.
Really, anyone who claims to be bored while running their business clearly isn’t doing it right because, as we’ve seen, there’s a LOT to do, so we may as well learn to love it.
And, there’s no “easy” button.
Nothing you can do will reduce the number of hats you need in the operation of your business, short of employing someone or building a team of people to support you.
Can you afford to hire other people yet?
Of course, it would be great to have a personal assistant or a studio manager, but that’s not an option for most photographers.
If you can’t cut down the tasks you have to do, and you can’t afford to hire someone else to do the stuff you don’t have time for, the only remaining option is to become more efficient at the tasks you are stuck with.
And marketing turns out to be one of those BIG efficiency bottlenecks where photographers are wasting too much time and effort on strategies and tactics that either don’t work, or are just not appropriate for their specific business.
At this point, it might help to revisit the definition of how I see marketing:
Marketing means competing for, and earning, the attention and interest of your ideal client. Good marketing educates your prospects on who you are, what you stand for and believe in, why you do what you do, and how they can benefit from hiring you.
- It’s NOT about “getting your name out there”, or doing free photography sessions because the “client” assures (read “lies to”) you that they’ll tell all their friends about how great you are…
- It’s NOT about posting photos on Facebook, getting more “likes”, and reminding people to book that session with you before it’s too late unless you’ve actually earned their attention…
- It’s NOT about creating that last-minute emergency marketing promotion, born from desperation, and sending out a pleading email to encourage people to get a deal…
- It’s definitely NOT about offering a Groupon or other daily deal, based on the (false) assumption that it will expand your client-base…
- It’s NOT about publishing a blog post with the 100 best photos from a recent wedding, and expecting people to flock to it, all wanting to hire you…
- It’s NOT about having a pretty website or showing off a fancy slideshow set to music on your home page…
- It’s NOT about people booking a session with you from your website without first talking with you personally…
- It’s NOT about fooling Google into ranking your website high in the search engines with the latest SEO tricks…
- Finally, it’s NOT about who has the best-looking pricing page on their website, or the cheapest prices for what people get…
- Wow, that’s an awful lot of NOTs!
So What IS Effective Marketing All About?
The important word here is “effective”.
Because any marketing effort you might expend is going to be pointless if it doesn’t generate new leads.
Notice I said “leads” there, and not “bookings”.
Print sales, and booking clients for weddings, portrait sessions, or commercial assignments falls squarely under the umbrella of photography sales, not marketing, and it’s not your website’s job to do your selling for you – that’s YOUR job and should really be done 1-on-1 with your clients.
- Marketing is about having a conversation with your prospect, and making a meaningful connection with them through your copy (that’s the words and vocabulary you use), your photography, and the social proof or testimonials from existing happy clients.
- Marketing informs and educates your prospects on WHY you do what you do, as well as what you do and gives people someone real to connect with.
- Marketing creates real value (not in monetary terms, but in emotional ways) for the prospect, so that she understands you are the best choice as a photographer if she fits the profile of your ideal client.
- Marketing is about managing (not controlling or manipulating) the thought-sequence your prospect follows when she interacts with your website, so that she arrives at the right conclusion naturally and at the right time.
- Marketing helps search engines understand what you do, who you do it for, and where you do it, so they can promote your business in the search results when it’s a good match for what people are searching for.
- Marketing is all about helping others achieve their goals or solving their problems by connecting them with the right people.
- Marketing is all about building productive relationships with like-minded business owners who serve the same people you do.
- Marketing creates a space for genuine conversations on social media by demonstrating that you honestly care about your prospect as a real person, and not just as another follower or fan.
- Marketing is about sharing and helping first, and maybe getting something back in return later on. Karma is a powerful and highly-overlooked force in marketing.
- Marketing can build and cultivate real relationships with actual people.
- Oh, and the people who take time out of their day to read your website or blog are welcome visitors with real needs and desires, not just “traffic” or statistics on a Google Analytics page.
Why Is All This So Important?
I know I’ve belabored these points, but they’re the things the gurus aren’t telling you and, in some cases, hope you never find out because that would show their magic systems up for what they really are – empty promises built on the false hope of achieving big things with as little effort as possible.
Those marketing characteristics I just went through aren’t just important – they’re CRITICAL to your success and they do require time and effort!
But before you roll up your sleeves to dig into this with everything you’ve got, you need to know it will all be worth the effort.
Because, after all is said and done, the photography you create (regardless of the type of photography you specialize in) will have a deep and positive impact on your clients’ lives for a very long time to come.
In many cases, your photographs will be the first thing someone will grab when a tornado is bearing down on their home and they have to make a run for safety.
Think about that for a second.
Something you created in the blink of an eye becomes SO important to someone else that it’s one of the first things they would save during an impending disaster.
It’s a humbling thought, isn’t it?
More humbling still is that YOU are the ONLY person in the world who can create it for them. No one else can create those photographs in exactly the same way you do, and those people’s lives will be diminished if they never have the opportunity to work with you simply because you screwed up your marketing and they failed to find you.
If they fail to cross paths with you, if they remain unaware that you’re even out there for them, what a tragedy that would be for everyone!
So, if you don’t understand how to market your photography business, or you’re stuck with some kind of Frankenstein marketing strategy that’s cobbled together from bits and pieces you found here and there, then it’s time to STOP and take stock of where you are and where you want to go.
Photography Marketing: Some Action Tips
Rather than just rant on about what’s wrong with marketing today, I want to make sure you also have some actionable tips you can take away and start using to improve your marketing.
#1: It’s ALL Marketing!
First, try to think of everything you do in your business that “touches” a client or prospect as a form of marketing.
Not the sleazy “all about me” kind of marketing, but the “here’s a positive experience for you” kind. Every web page, email, phone call, meeting, social interaction, blog post, photo session – all of those – are essential pieces of your marketing, and you have to know who it is you’re talking to at all times, as if they were right there in the room with you.
#2: Question Everything!
You might be amazed at how much you do in your business that’s based in some way or another on a false assumption. Many times, the reason why you’re doing something a certain way can be traced only to the vague notion that everyone else is doing things the same way, but you don’t really know the fundamental principle that governs why it’s done that way.
False assumptions can represent a clear and present danger, so take a good cold look at each of the five main phases of your business and question EVERYTHING about them until you’ve challenged every possible assumption to prove itself one way or the other.
By the way, those five phases I referred to above are these:
- Attract the right clients with targeted marketing and effective search engine optimization.
- Connect with website visitors and prospects in a meaningful way, through appropriate emotional hooks that elicit a positive “gut” response. Shared beliefs and values are a great way to forge a connection with the right people.
- Convert prospects into viable leads through compelling marketing copy and strong calls to action. This results in productive sales conversations and firm bookings or sales.
- Produce the actual photography. This is also a huge part of your marketing efforts, since the client is now personally experiencing the act of working with you. A positive experience at this point leads to glowing testimonials and powerful word of mouth marketing as well as higher sales of the end product.
- Relate with people. Sadly, most photographers seem to screw up here by assuming that their clients won’t want to hear from them again after working with them once. This is a HUGE mistake, and email marketing (as well as social engagement) can go a long way to maintaining great client relationships, resulting in repeat business and valuable referrals.
To illustrate what I mean, here’s an example of a challenged assumption that came up for a wedding photographer in a recent Prime Focus Q&A call:
Assumption: “We work hard to tell the story of your wedding day” as a phrase to be used as a differentiating factor.
The assumption here is that being a dedicated storyteller of weddings can set a photographer apart from the competition but, if we think about the statement, and challenge the basic assumption, it rapidly loses any real meaning.
The problem is this:
How can a wedding photographer actually avoid telling the story of someone’s wedding day, even if they wanted to, unless they were just flat-out lazy or incompetent? How many brides would knowingly hire a photographer who won’t tell the story of her wedding day?
Probably not too many, unless all they cared about was the cost.
It quickly becomes obvious that the statement as it is has no real meaning as a differentiator, other than stating the obvious, so the photographer would be well-advised to explore the idea more deeply to uncover the real benefits the bride and groom would experience as a result of that photographer’s dedication to capturing their day in a unique way.
#3: Plan To Save Time
One of the low-hanging fruits here is to try to reclaim as much of your wasted time as possible, and you’ll be amazed at how much more productive you’ll become as a result.
- Schedule your Facebook and social media usage for those times when your clients are the most active, and stay off it when you’re working on other things.
- Instead, leverage the power of scheduled posting for social media with a tool like Buffer.
- Turn off your phone and shut off your email to eliminate unnecessary distractions when working on important projects.
- Set aside specific times of day for you to read and reply to emails or return telephone calls.
- Allocate time for you to focus on the marketing channels and strategies that work best for you.
- Set boundaries to help separate your personal life from business. For example, don’t return business-related phone calls or emails at night or on days that you set aside for yourself (yes, you do need time for you and your family!). If the fear of losing a client prevents you from doing this then you should look at understanding the basis for that fear so you can eliminate it.
- You should also set very specific and achievable goals, and have some kind of a plan. Work on your goals every day, even if it’s just one bit at a time.
- Creating reliable systems and templates for all the routine tasks in your business can also reduce the time and effort expended on executing them.
- Don’t allow panic to take over your thinking, and put an immediate stop to emergency marketing! Instead, create planned promotions that have ample time for your marketing activities baked right into them.