In the previous article, I talked about the problems many photographers are facing right now, and some of the things you can do to stop a failing photography business from going completely over the edge and disappearing into oblivion.
One of those things was the idea of building a solid lead-generation system, but what does that actually mean, and where should you start?
“Hope” Is Not A Marketing Strategy
The vast majority of visitors on your website will remain anonymous, known to you only as an IP address, and nothing more. You cannot communicate with those people directly as they’ve chosen to remain in the shadows, as it were.
Most photographers, the ones without a lead-generation system, are condemned to watching all those visitors arrive and leave again, helpless to do anything other than hope they click the “contact us” link or pick up the phone before they’re gone for good.
Hoping and praying that website visitors will decide to become clients right away is no way to run a successful business and doing so wastes all the effort put into SEO and social media, for example.
In contrast, a lead is a visitor who has expressed more than a passing interest in what you do or have to offer. They may not have emailed you or called you on the phone directly, but they are definitely interested in learning more.
In other words, they’ve raised their hand as a potentially qualified prospect – someone you can build a relationship with and accompany on their journey toward becoming an actual client.
So how do you get someone to become a lead, and what is a lead-generation system?
The Essentials Of An Effective Website
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What Is A Lead-Generation System?
At its simplest form (and there really is no need to make this any more complicated than it needs to be):
A lead-generation system takes anonymous website visitors and connects with them in ways that help them get to know, like, and trust you…
From there, the system works to convert them into a known quantity (aka a lead) with a name, email address, or phone number.
Having initiated a relationship, your job is then to foster and build that relationship to the point where your normal sales conversations take over to help your new lead become a client.
Of course, your visitors won’t always convert into leads on their first visit because the chances of them being ready and comfortable doing so at that point are small.
Therefore, the process of relationship-building might take some time over multiple visits, just like it takes more than one date at the movies to get someone to want to marry you.
Why Does Your Website Exist?
One question to think about here is:
Why does your website exist in the first place?
The answer is not “because every business has to have one these days”, or “to show people my photography and what I can do”.
The actual answer is:
To get sales leads in the form of prospective clients.
That’s it – nothing else.
Showcasing your photography would be great if you were still an amateur photographer, but you’re now a business owner and serving the goals of the business must come first, right?
Your Website Is The Core Of The System
As you think more and more about marketing, especially your online marketing, you’ll see there are a lot of moving parts!
There’s your website, of course, but there’s a whole host of other components as well. For example:
- A blog…
- Social media…
- Video channels…
- Referrals from other websites and businesses…
- Paid advertising…
- Search engine optimization…
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all these things, and to then end up losing sight of where all the pieces fit together as part of the overall picture.
A simple model can help keep all of this in the right perspective:
Imagine a wheel, with a central hub and spokes radiating outward to the rim, just like the wheel on a bicycle.
Think of the central hub as being your website, with all the supporting channels on the rim at the end of the spokes.
In this model, all those spokes lead back to your website in some way or another.
So, in reality, your website is the core of your marketing system, and its job is simply to take incoming visitors from a variety of sources, connect with them, and then turn them into leads.
The Top Qualities Of An Effective Photography Website
Thinking of your website as being at the center of your marketing universe is all well and good, but you can’t stick any old website in that position and expect everything to start working perfectly.
There are obviously certain qualities your website needs to have before your lead-generation system will start working the way you want it to, and I’ve pulled together 9 of the top ones here for you.
#1: Clean And Simple Design
So many websites these days look cluttered and disorganized, making it hard for the reader to understand what the owner wants them to do. In many cases, they look complicated as if for the pure sake of being complicated.
All of which makes the website hard to use and only serves to confuse the visitor.
For example, a home page (like the directory in a shopping mall) should have on it only those items necessary to get the visitor to where she needs to be.
Everything else is superfluous to the goal of the page.
A clean and simple design presents only the elements needed for marketing, and everything else on the page should have a distinct purpose or be eliminated.
#2: Mobile Responsive Design
These days there is no excuse for having a website without responsive design, and even Google agrees and will penalize websites in the search results which are not considered mobile-friendly.
Mobile responsive really should be called “device responsive” because all it means is your website will adapt itself to suit the dimensions of the device it’s being viewed on, thereby eliminating any need for the user to scroll unnecessarily (especially horizontally), or pinch and expand the display to read the text.
#3: Intuitive User Experience And Fast Load Time
The quality of the user experience is becoming increasingly more important, especially in the eyes of Google, so you need to make sure the site is easy to navigate and doesn’t make the user have to stop and think about what to do at any given point.
The speed at which your pages load is also a major factor, with many users being less tolerant of slow pages. Keep your image files small enough to load quickly, and avoid using too many resource-heavy gadgets such as long and fancy slideshows.
#4: Readable Marketing Copy
Once you have someone on your website, you want them to be able to consume your content quickly and easily.
That means using a clear and good-sized font, with an optimal reading width of around 100 characters or so.
The font color should be dark on a light background, as opposed to reverse type with white text on a black background.
Text should not be right-justified, and you should avoid breaking up the left reading line of the page with images.
When using photographs smaller than the page width, align them to the right of the text so they don’t interrupt the flow of the text too much.
#5: Good Use Of White Space
It’s tempting to try to cram as much as possible into the available space of your web pages, but you’ll actually see better results by spacing things out a bit more and allowing the white space to create breathing room.
This leads to a cleaner-looking page, and helps to keep the mind of the reader focused on what you’re saying.
You can also use bullet lists, sub-headings, and breakout boxes to create natural blocks and stopping points in the copy on the page to slow down the skimmers and keep their attention.
#6: Valuable Testimonials
Testimonials are immensely valuable when it comes to making connections and establishing your credibility, and they can say things you can never say yourself!
Each photograph you use should be accompanied by a testimonial wherever possible, and your testimonials should be meaningful and help to convey your unique selling points.
Here’s an article about how to get great testimonials you’ll find very helpful for this.
#7: Clear And Obvious Calls To Action
Of course, nothing you do on your website is going to be of any use at all if you don’t work to convert your readers into actual leads!
Therefore, a strong and clear call to action of some kind should be present on each and every page of your website and on your blog posts. You can place these at the end of your page, after the main content, but the action must be glaringly obvious to the user.
Usually, in a lead-generation situation, the call to action is to get the user to sign up to your email list, but there are lots of other things you can ask them to do, such as call you on the phone, or join you on social media.
#8: Appropriate Layout Templates
Every page and post on your website should have the appropriate layout for that particular type of content.
For example, blog posts will look a certain way, but landing pages and sales pages usually have some of the page elements taken away, such as the navigation menu, footer elements, sidebars and other unwanted sources of distraction such as external links.
WordPress is great for this, and most themes have templates designed for specific purposes built into the theme.
#9: SEO Focused In The Right Places
Search engine optimization is on this list, not because I think you should do a lot of it, but because is should only be done where it’s actually needed.
What do I mean by this?
For SEO, you only have a small set of truly valuable keyword phrases to target across your whole website, so you have to reserve the SEO on those keywords for a small set of pages.
This is because you should only target one page at any given keyword.
If you’re using WordPress to build your photography website then I recommend you create pages for your important SEO keyword phrases, and don’t bother with SEO on your regular blog posts, which will likely be talking about time-related journal-style content anyway, and not topics people would actually be searching for.
The Tools You Need To Get Started
So how do you get started with all this, and what tools do you need?
Obviously, there are a lot of options out there, but here’s a quick list of my recommendations for someone starting out from scratch or revamping their online presence.
#1: Choose A Domain name
The domain you choose doesn’t matter as much as it used to, and there are no real SEO benefits to having a domain name with your keywords in it, so just pick one that fits your business name as closely as possible and go from there.
#2: Get Website Hosting
Most likely, you’ll register your domain name and buy hosting for it from the same company, and the one I recommend for photographers getting started is Blue Host. They offer affordable hosting plans and have a great track record and support.
#3: Install The WordPress software
Now you have your hosting account, you can install the WordPress software. You can either download it from WordPress.org and upload it to your hosting account, or you can use the 1-click install function if your hosting company offers it. I know Blue Host does, as do many others.
#4: Choose A Theme
Next, choose your theme. This is NOT as important as you might think, and you don’t need to get all sidetracked over picking a pretty-looking theme at this stage.
I personally recommend the fantastic set of WordPress themes from the awesome folks at Imagely (the same amazing people who developed the NextGen Gallery plugin). These are good themes for photographers who want a website that means business.
#5: Install The Critical Plugins
You’ll also want to install a few essential plugins to make life easier and to extend the functionality of the basic WordPress system. There are literally thousands of plugins available, but you only need a few to get started.
Yoast SEO is a plugin to manage your SEO, as if you couldn’t guess from the name!
Gravity Forms is one of the “must-have” plugins as far as I’m concerned. You can create awesome forms for your website, including email sign-ups, contact forms, feedback for testimonials, and even contests. I simply would not be without it.
The Social Warfare plugin is one of the best I’ve found for creating those nice-looking social sharing buttons for your blog posts and pages. No other social sharing plugin comes close to being as good, at least from the many I’ve tested over the last couple of years.
#6: Sign Up With An Email Marketing Provider
Finally, choose a good email service provider like ActiveCampaign (you can try them free for 14 days) to manage your email lists, messages, and autoresponders.
This is the critical piece of your marketing system and nothing else is worth doing if you leave this part out!
Closing Thought: A Quote By Amelia Earhart
Never interrupt someone doing what you said couldn’t be done…
If there’s one phrase that ought to be banned from the English language, it has to be “I can’t…”
More than ever before, especially in this modern day of social media, we’re constantly bombarded with videos and pictures of extraordinary people doing unbelievably amazing things.
Things we would have once thought impossible outside of a slick action movie.
And then, when we suggest someone try something new and different for them, they immediately hide behind “I can’t…”
What a shame.
There’s no room whatsoever for such limiting beliefs in the photography business!
Aside from the fact that it hinders progress and keeps you firmly stuck where you are, take a look around at all the other photographers out there…
99% of them are struggling like crazy to make a success of their business.
And they’re doing a terrible job of it because they’re all too scared to be different and try new marketing strategies.
Do you want to be like the rest of the herd, racing in unison toward inevitable oblivion?
Or, are you going to be brave and say “I can” to adopting a new mindset and taking a different path?
Instead of flooding your website with photographs and slideshows, why not try writing the stories of your images in words?
Rather than hoping people will fall in love with your photography, why not build an engaging lead-generation system?
If your answer is “no, I can’t”, please don’t interrupt the others who said “yes!” 🙂