Websites, blogs, social media, video, not to mention all the other outposts and assets we have to deal with in the online world—it’s enough to make your head spin, right?
In part one of this series, we looked at the biggest challenges photographers have to face when getting a business started, and some ideas to cope with those. In fact, you don’t even have to be brand new to the business to have problems finding new clients—many photographers struggle with that one for several years before either throwing in the towel or finding a solution.
Hopefully, quitting is not in your nature or your future, so in part two I want to focus our attention onto the topic of marketing and starting on that journey down the road to finding new clients.
After all, without clients, there are no sales, and without sales, there’s no revenue and the business will literally starve itself to death, and that’s just no fun for anyone.
You Must Embrace The Idea Of Being In Business
One of the curious things in this industry today is that so many people are really excited to say they’re a professional photographer, but then they get all itchy in the pants whenever someone mentions those icky business-related things like sales, pricing, business goals, and marketing.
It really is strange—in one breath, they’re extremely proud of doing photography for a living and they enjoy the respect from others that often comes with being seen as a talented and creative business owner.
But in the next, they cringe and shrink back from the real things that matter in business ownership, such as marketing, treating them almost as though they’re a necessary evil that just comes with the territory and have to be dealt with.
The sad part is those internal beliefs about sales and marketing can seep out and infect everything the photographer says and does around their business and also during important interactions with people. Much of that anxiety (more than most photographers might imagine, actually) is unintentionally communicated to their prospects and clients, making the overall experience of working with them feel somehow tainted.
No wonder they have a hard time attracting prospects, booking clients, or making sales because, when you look at it like that, when photographers aren’t fully committed to every aspect of their business, poor performance is almost inevitable, isn’t it?
So the point I really want to make here is that you are running a business, and there’s no escaping that, so you might as well learn to love doing it or it will drive you crazy in the long term.
Instead of resenting marketing and sales, and all that other good stuff, try embracing them and giving them a big hug, because those are the things that will ensure your future prosperity.
Besides, if owning and running your own business and being your own boss isn’t FUN for you, then why bother at all?
I mean, you got into photography because you love photography, and because photography is fun for you, so why spoil all that if doing it as a business is going to make you feel like you just ate a plateful of frog brains or something?
I’m pretty sure someone’s going to email me after hearing this with their latest delicious frog brain recipe, but that was the worst thing I could imagine eating at 10am when I put this together.
How To Build An Online Photography Marketing Empire
Before you can market your photography business online, you should have an online empire to be the marketing machine in your search for new clients.
What Does Marketing Mean Today?
I think perhaps one of the reasons why so many photographers dislike marketing is they see it as almost dirty or sleazy, or something those evil corporate types get up to in order to brainwash people into buying their stuff.
But, really, that’s not how it is it all, especially in today’s world.
Since the Internet gave regular people a voice and the ability for that voice to be heard, there’s been something of a consumer revolution going on. They no longer have to sit there and simply accept whatever advertising garbage we throw at them, nor can businesses hide their flaws and mistakes behind impenetrable corporate walls that have more in common with a fortress than a business.
One of the big shockers for many companies in the new social world, for example, was that their very own consumers could act as highly effective marketers, but not always in the ways they wanted them to.
For the first time in history, negative marketing became just as powerful as the regular kind, a type of marketing antimatter, if you like, that caused a lot of brand damage to some companies like Comcast, Dell, Coca Cola and the Gap, to name just a few.
As recently as just a few days before I put this together, for example, we’ve seen this in action when negative marketing delivered a devastating blow to that personal brand we know as the comedian Bill Cosby. Regardless of the true facts, he may be the first person taken down by an Internet meme, and one of his own making to boot, after he invited people to create a meme about him that backfired quite spectacularly.
All off this serves to highlight the simple truth that marketing is all about one thing.
It’s not about trying to be clever and manipulative with fancy words, or tricking people into buying things they don’t want—those days are long gone and may those “Mad Men” enjoy their retirement somewhere pleasant.
No, it’s all about communicating who you are as a photographer, what photography really means to you on a deep level, and how you can help people bring out the very best of themselves through your creative eye and the lens of your camera.
Marketing is also a two-way conversation between you, the photographer, and the people you’re meant to serve.
As a two-way channel, it often means listening just as much as talking, and we all need to adopt an “engagement” mindset, rather than a purely “broadcaster” mindset, although that can sometimes get confusing as we do need to become broadcasters in the media sense, just not in the traditional way of making a lot of noise about ourselves.
So What’s An “Online Empire”?
Okay, the word “empire” might be a bit strong, and I know it risks conjuring up images of legions of angry stormtroopers trying to blast good folks like Luke Skywalker into smithereens, but it’s kind of like an empire in a way.
Because it’s your corner of the Internet, a place you control and have full dominion over.
Just don’t let it all go to your head and turn yourself into the evil emperor, or something like that, because those guys are never the popular ones at parties.
Getting back to business here, what’s an online empire mean in the context of your photography business?
Really, it’s the collection of all your assets and outposts that make up the total of your online presence.
That includes your website, blog, YouTube channel, social media profiles, as well as that all-star of your online marketing activities, your email list
And, because all of these outposts are interlinked and connected, it’s important to keep everything as consistent as possible across all of them. Profile photos, bios, and the way you communicate should be the same wherever anyone comes into contact with you online so that your personal brand can help build the foundation of a meaningful relationship with your audience.
Why You Need To Create A Marketing Platform
But an empire is not the same thing as a marketing platform.
A platform is the primary stage, if you like, from which you communicate, and it’s also a place where you have complete ownership and control over everything that happens on it.
For example, your website, on a domain that you own, is a great platform. You determine what it looks like, what content is published on it, and no one else can rip it out from under your feet or dictate changes in your policies.
Facebook, on the other hand, is not a good candidate as a primary platform for your marketing for several reasons.
First, it’s main function is as a social channel, rather than for blatantly promotional marketing.
But secondly, you don’t own Facebook unless your name happens to be Mark Zuckerberg. By the way, if your name really is Mark Zuckerberg and you happen to be here that’s awesome.
The thing about free platforms like Facebook (sorry, Mark, I’m not really picking on you personally) is that they can (and do) change the rules on you without notice or the platform itself can even be taken out right from under you. The great folks over at Copyblogger call the practice of relying too much on these types of platforms as digital sharecropping and it can be a giant-killer if you put too much of your business equity into it.
And, just to show Mark that he’s not the only one out there, and that I’m not turning into a Facebook basher, the same goes for all those free blog sites, Google+ and Pinterest etc.
When it all boils down, if you really want to create a solid and secure online presence, you really do need to have control over your platform because a message with no stage from which to spread it is of no use to you.
The Anatomy Of A Typical Photography Marketing Platform
So what does a typical platform look like for today’s professional photographer?
Essentially, it’s very simple. In fact, there’s no need to overcomplicate it just for the sake of it, and I personally think that’s what a lot of us tend to do when faced with something we imagine should be complicated because we don’t fully understand it.
At its most basic, a platform can simply be your website.
That’s really all there is to it.
Were you expecting something more complicated?
There’s really no need.
Your website can say everything you need to say about your business and you can turn it into a very effective stage for your business message without too much effort. Regardless of how many people see it, it’s still a great platform for you.
In fact, your website is really the center of your online universe, the place to which all roads inevitably lead.
Your Website: The Capital City Of Your Empire
Like the Emerald City in the land of Oz, all roads ultimately find their way to your website. It’s the central hub of all your online marketing efforts, the place where your platform is strongest and your voice the most clear (note, I didn’t say “loudest” because that’s a bit counter to our new philosophy of marketing).
As I said, everything should work at sending visitors back to your Internet base—your website:
- Your social media profiles link back to your website.
- The videos you upload to YouTube or Vimeo direct viewers to visit your website.
- The emails you send to your list give your subscribers a link to follow that leads back to your website.
- Any paid advertising you do should go to a dedicated landing page.
As you can see, the website is where it all happens.
It’s where you create and cement those important relationships with your prospects and clients, and it’s where you make offers, demonstrate your expertise, and show people why you do what you do and how their lives can benefit from your photography.
For all these reasons, and a lot more besides, it’s important to create a website designed to take on that platform role and not just behave as a shop window with some pretty photos on display. A well-built website must focus first on achieving its primary function, which is to generate leads for your business.
But does that mean it can’t look nice too?
Of course not, but I would always place function over design any day of the week if I was starting over.
Really, what you have to say to your target clients is far more important than a pretty font and some embellishments, wouldn’t you agree? It’s certainly something to think about and you can get a lot more on this topic in a great chat I had on the Photography Marketing Masters podcast with David Risley from the Blog Marketing Academy.
Giving Your Photography Business A Personality
The big danger with most websites is that they can end up looking somewhat stuffy and too business-like, with no real personality.
When you consider that we’re in a people-centric business, a personality sounds like it could be a good asset, right?
Even if you’re a landscape photographer who only comes out for an hour at sunrise and then spends the rest of the day hidden behind a computer creating amazing artwork, you still need to deal with the people who will buy what you’ve created, unless you want to end up having to sell your camera to pay this month’s telephone bill.
That said, whenever I mention the idea of infusing our personality into our websites, I’m met with a lot of resistance for some reason!
“I can’t do that! I’m not that interesting!”
“Who cares what I had for breakfast or what my cat did last night?”
That second one is probably true, and that would be going a bit too far, for sure. But, if you really think other people won’t find you interesting, how in the world do you expect them to be interested in what you have to offer?
It’s a fact that people buy from people. They don’t buy so readily from faceless corporations with all the personality of a three day old sandwich or a plate of frog brains (sorry, I didn’t mean to bring those up again).
Of course, unless we have some interesting psychological problems, it’s only natural to see ourselves as less interesting than other people, but I’m not suggesting you have to grow an ego the size of the Empire State Building or blow your own trumpet all day long.
By personality, I mean show that you’re a normal human being just like everyone else with likes and dislikes, values and beliefs. Reveal things about yourself that can form the basis of common interest.
Take me, for example.
I have to admit I was really bad at this when I started blogging, and I’m still amazed that anyone read a single word I had to say for those first few years. I fell into this terrible mode of writing for a long time that even a three day old sandwich would pity.
Over time, I’ve tried to fix that, and many of you know things about me that I never used to show because I mistakenly thought they weren’t important or interesting.
For example, I love Doctor Who, cooking, any TV show with Gordon Ramsay in it, and eating healthily (although I do have a rather large bag of Skittles here on my desk as I write this). Does everyone on the planet like Doctor Who and Gordon Ramsay? No, which of course is a shame, but still.
My business hero is Sir Richard Branson, and I was even lucky enough to meet him once. Of course, we were on one of his Virgin flights from Manchester to Boston, so he couldn’t exactly run away from me, but I’m still counting it.
Anyway, enough about me for now, but do you see how showing some more of your personality can help make you seem more real to others and reveal areas of common interest?
I firmly believe this can only help to endear people to you and your business, and further your success with your online marketing.
Your Blog Is The Pulse Of Your Business
Talking about personality, your business is very much like a living thing with a pulse, and we need to show signs of life to the people who visit and interact with us, otherwise we run the risk of looking like a store that’s never open.
For example, there are things happening all the time in and around your business, as well as in areas that border on what you do in your community and through other business owners who serve the same people you do.
What’s the best platform for the pulse of your business?
Simple: Your blog.
And, by blog, I mean a blog created on your own domain using the WordPress software installed on your site where you can control the theme, plugins and content, not one of those free blogs.
Without digressing into a lengthy discussion about blogging, my top recommendations would be these:
- Create a post about once per week—more than that just takes up too much time.
- Promote your blog posts to your social networks and make it easy for clients to share posts that feature their photographs.
- Don’t overload your posts with photos—believe it or not, less is often more in that case.
- Don’t get tangled up in worries about being a good writer—the best way to communicate on your blog is to be conversational.
- Forget about SEO on your blog posts—it’s just another thing than can hobble your writing and hold you back. There are plenty of other places where SEO is important but blog posts aren’t one of them.
But what can you do if you’re not already busy with clients? Won’t you run out of ideas to blog about?
No, not at all! Your imagination is the only limiting factor here, and even if you’re not busy with photography sessions all the time, and you feel as though you don’t always have something to blog about, there are plenty of topics to talk about on your blog.
If you haven’t already downloaded your free copy of my guide with 23 ideas for your blog, you can get a hold of that by signing up using the form at the top of the page.
Let Your Business Hair Down A Bit On Social Media
Continuing on with the personality theme, the next place I want to touch on is social media.
This is where so many people seem to start going off-track with their marketing, especially on Facebook, because they mistake the social platform for a traditional marketing platform and as a place to broadcast the company message, instead of as a place to build and nurture relationships with clients.
Rather than posting updates about your latest promotion, offer, or limited-edition mini-sessions, consider engaging your fans instead with topics that interest them and then gently encouraging those who are most engaged over to your website to a landing page where they can sign up for something.
In other words, have a conversation with your fans first before promoting something that you know will be a good fit for them. If they don’t seem like a good fit then don’t push it on them.
Above all else, remember that social media is a very informal platform, so it’s okay to relax, let your hair down a bit, and have some fun with your fans.
Email Keeps You In Touch With Your Citizens
The last part of the online empire that I want to chat about is email marketing, and this is also an area that often causes some resistance at first because it’s natural for many of us to associate email marketing with spam.
And no one likes spam less than me.
But that’s not what it’s about at all!
Email marketing is, in fact, the most successful marketing channel we have available to us, even more effective in generating sales than social media, but we have to get over some of those preconceived ideas and start building an email list of interested people.
To do that, you’ll want to create something of value and interest to your ideal clients they can get in exchange for their email address, and then you can follow up with them via autoresponders and other emails.
Over time those people will remember who you are and will be more likely to respond to offers etc. as long as you use the majority of your emails to provide interest and value.
If you work hard to build your list over time, it will serve you very well into the future, as you’ll always have a ready made audience and you won’t feel as if you’re reinventing your business every day.
There’s obviously a lot more to all this, and you can check out another interview with Ian Brodie, where we talk about email marketing in a lot more detail to get some great tips and ideas.
So there you have it for today—building an online empire is the first step in creating a marketing system that will continue to work hard for you for as long as you have your business, and it’s all built on authenticity and those very important relationships you have with your prospects and clients.
In Why Marketing Often Fails When You’re Starting Out As A Professional Photographer we’re going to look at why most marketing efforts don’t perform as well as expected when you’re starting out or you don’t have a large audience, together with some ideas on how you can get around that obstacle.