Our annual Photographer's Guide to Photo Contests ranks a number…
by Selina Maitreya
Photographers have asked me for years for
the magic formula for success in business. I’ve said there was none. I
was wrong. When I look closely at the steps taken by photographers who
have achieved successes, I see a different variation of the same
process; I call the formula, THE MIX.
First of all, let
me be clear, the successful photographers I am talking about are not
the Annie Leibovitzs, of the world. I am talking about photographers
you may never hear of, or read about in PDN. They may sit next to you
at an APA and ASMP meetings. You might have seen their post on aphotoeditor.com
but most likely you’ll never even know they exist. However, they are
successful, as each one at different times in their career has reached
their creative and financial goals. They have achieved their success,
by employing not one or two steps of the MIX but by putting all of the
essential steps needed into place. They went for The Full Monty they
worked the complete mix. That’s the key.
You don’t need every sales option, but some components can’t be left out. You will need to choose one option from each section of the process.
(Each of these must be included)
- A talent based body of work ready to sell, (this means a defined visual approach around a specific subject with enough samples to build trust in potential clients.)
- A deep database of appropriate contacts (and a smaller more researched group of contacts for in person visits)
- 4-5 different marketing/sales channels including direct sales (see below for options)
- Marketing materials that are visually branded to move the visual message forward
- Patience (allowing for a 2-4 year timeline before seeing consistent results)
** Notice that I wrote that those who were successful worked ALL of the steps above not just one or two of them. While there are eight to ten options for sales and marketing tools, you will need to employ at least four or five of them.
Keith Gentile, the owner and CEO of Agency Access (one of the nations top database suppliers to photographers) has chosen to broaden his company’s service options as he knows that a good database is only one tool that photographers need to employ.
“Effective marketing for any business, starts with branding and style combined with an up-to-date database. Marketing is a simple equation and is effective when diversified and done consistently. Agency Access believes in multi tiered marketing and that’s why we offer services that speak to the many tasks photographers have.”
Notice the words “diversified” and “consistent”?
For years I have met photographers who get a piece of the MIX but who don’t jump in completely. Maybe they get the vision piece and then decided to send direct mail out to promote themselves. That’s it, direct mail. Maybe four to six times a year, period. Then there are creatives who believe in sending out visual email once a month. End of story. Of course if they just came back from a photo expo in NYC and heard a panel of art buyers talk about how much email they get, they decide to no longer send email, now they are onto social networking.
Get the drift? Photographers now understand that they need to market but most have not yet embraced the concept of incorporating the MIX.
THE WHOLE ENCHILADA
Lets look at why you need the whole enchilada. (If you find yourself saying “but I can afford to do it all” make a note, but read on).
Everything starts with a complete visual product.
No vision? No need for anything else. All subsequent steps rely on a body of work. ALL your sales and marketing tools are worthless if you don’t have the goods. Lets take a look at why.
Lets assume a buyer has a project (finally). They refer back to one of your marketing tools, and call to ask for your print book. If you don’t have one (because you’re convinced that nobody looks at print books), there goes the assignment. Maybe the next interested creative goes to your site looking for a “deep example” of the type of vision needed for their assignment and all they see is one or two things they are looking for mixed in with lots of other types of photography. The “body of work “needed isn’t there and you’ve wasted their time and your money. They wont be calling again.
Clearly, a vision based body of work, is number one.
So, lets assume you have the vision piece down. Who are you going to sell to? If you have the vision and you are selling to the wrong contacts, you won’t find success. You need a database of potential buyers (contacts who may have your type of assignment in the future) that you have chosen carefully and thoughtfully. This database needs to be large enough to support your outreach efforts (direct mail, visual email) and it needs to include a second, more select group (a segment of the larger database), for in person portfolio visits. Work on this.
So now, lets assume you’ve got the vision-based body of work, and you have developed your database. Now, you need to commit to four or five different sales channels. Yes four or five!
Sales channel ops:
BOLD = Must haves
- Visual email
- Visual direct mail
- In person portfolio showings
- In person networking opportunities
- Social online networking
- Portal placement
- Print sourcebook
You will need to develop a plan of approach that represents the must have options and two or three other avenues for visibility. BUT before you move forward you must decide on how much of a financial investment you will make this year. Yes, I’m talking budget! Crazy? No, it’s smart.
BUDGET, WHO ME?
It’s amazing how many photographers look at me blankly when I ask them “how much money can you spend in the next 12 months on your sales and marketing program?” The answer I usually get is “I don’t know, it depends on how much I make.” Wrong answer. While it may seem to make sense “to spend as you go,” creating a budget before the money is in the bank is actually a good business practice. It also builds excellent energy.
When you put your attention on creating a budget, you are giving yourself a goal to attain. You will need to set a figure that you can afford to spend. You will hold yourself accountable to your resources. In order to set a budget you will need to become aware of where you are in your process of professional growth. You will also review advertising options and ultimately commit to moving forward on 4-5 different sales and marketing avenues. There’s a lot of effort involved here, and lots of “showing up.” Being attentive to your process, and showing up, is good business.
The practices of investigation and commitment will provide you with the steps you need to put in place, and they will energize the universal field surrounding you. “We are our attention” says teacher Depak Chopra. “We become what we put our attention on.” If your goal is to build a successful business and you are putting your “attention” on the first steps, (building a budget and the sales trails that will bring the success to you) you are then creating the energy that will bring you a successful conclusion. The energy doesn’t just appear; your efforts bring it about. You create and direct the energy with YOUR effort and “attention.” Are you following along? You create your reality.
If this is a bit too esoteric for you, consider the very practical truth that in order to develop a budget you will need to determine not only how much you will spend but how you will allocate the funds you project to spend. At the end of your budget research process, you will have determined which tools you will use in order to move your business forward. All you need to do then is to put the steps in place! You are miles ahead of the photographer who waits until the last minute to choose images for the mailer that should have gone out 3 months ago and has no clue what his next step will be as he’s waiting for the money to came in before he will know how much he can spend. Are you catching the drift here?
HOW TO SET A YEARLY BUDGET
Let’s begin by looking at your business. Determine your goal for t his year’s campaign. What purpose will this budget serve? Find your answers by examining your current place in the market and where you seek to be. For example, if you are a new photographer with 3 years or less in the industry your job is to build identity and visibility in the market place. You are most likely building the majority of your sales and marketing tools. Your print book, your website, your database, your direct mail an email visuals will need to be designed and branded together. If this sounds familiar, you will be spending your budget on the foundation steps needed to get your name repeatedly in front of buyers. Building these core tools is your priority.
What if your business is more mature?
You’ve been shooting for over 10 years, you have a stable of clients and are looking to grow your business within the same industry and you want to obtain more creative assignments as you build your client roster. Your goal is to be seen as a creative collaborator and you want to work on national accounts. Do you have the body of work for a national audience? If not, allocate your funds and work with a top-notch consultant who can help you build the visuals you need to attract a national client base.
If your body of work is in place and your product is ready to go to market, you might hire a marketing assistant, who can research potential national clients and get you in person appointments, send your book out and facilitate your out reach (visual email and direct mail) program. Anna Adesanya and Rodney Washington offer these services and Agency Access provides them as well. Budget totals will vary and the way the money is allocated will be different for each talent however there are some guidelines that you can consider when setting your yearly budget.
BUILD SALES TOOLS FIRST
If you are a new photographer and have yet to create the sales and marketing tools you need, forget the new digital back, commit to building a print book and web site. Check to see how much it will cost you to do this. Consider that you will need a print book (2-3 copies) a web site, a database membership, and email and direct mail. These are basic tools that every photographer needs in order to sell and market. There are many options and price points for developing these tools. Look around and make decisions that will allow you to develop each tool. Plan on spending somewhere between $2500-7,500 for this type of start up. Tooling up at this stage is a significant expense.
If you are tooled up and are looking to build more visibility on a national and international scale, look toward portal buys, or print ads in publications that your clients read. If you are looking to further your reputation as a creative collaborator, think about working with an art director or graphic designer and copywriter and have them develop a beautiful direct mail campaign that is visually driven.
Plan out of town sales trips to see selected buyers researched by your marketing assistant. Photographers who have been in business for five years or more should consider planning to spend between 8-10% of their yearly income on sales and marketing expenses. If this seems high to you consider that all photographers need to build the following “must have” sales channels and that investing in them costs money.
Sales Channels might look like:
- Direct Mail that leads to web site hits and calls for your print portfolio
- Visual Email sends that lead to web site hits and calls for your print portfolio
- Direct Mail and Visual Email that front ends calls for in person portfolio showings
- In Person Portfolio Showings followed by personalized thank you notes, limited edition prints articles of interest to contacts both online and in print.
Additional tools that you can add as needed and budget allows include, additional portal placement, print ads in industry publications and press.
DEVELOP A PLAN
You will need to develop a plan of approach that includes all of the must have options listed above. Spend time looking around at all the suppliers and options for each tool you need. Determine the total investment needed and see if indeed you can afford the cost of building your program at this point. Break your plan into two six-month segments. If the figure needed is truly beyond what you project you can afford to spend in the next twelve months prioritize your spending for the first six months.
Perhaps the concept oriented, intricately designed direct mail piece is on hold and instead, you send a well designed post card. Or, have two copies of your print portfolio made instead of three. If you projected three out of town sales trips but your budget needs slashing, go down to one trip and see how you might be able to cut expenses for future trips. Put off the web site designed specifically for you by the hot web designer you want to hire and choose a site from a template provider like www.aphotofolio.com, Rob Haggart’s service.
Can you see at this point how helpful it is to plan, research needed fees and then prioritize your spending before you actually start the process? I hope so, because planning ahead serves your business in both practical and energetic ways. As your business is being built to ultimately serve you, your presence and attention is needed.
While you are addressing your paid sales and marketing expenses you will also need to build in Social Networking Tools. The good news is that they cost you nothing financially, but are powered by a very valuable resource, your time.
SOCIAL NETWORKING TOOLS
“The Social networking community is primarily filled with pro-sumers, the professional shooters have yet to join in record numbers,” opines social networking expert Jack Hollingsworth. A seasoned pro, and past ASMP presenter Jack is very familiar with worlds of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Under the handle of “Photojack” Jack advices, educates and informs Twitter pals about the trends he sees in the world of online social media. “Commercial pros who have not yet jumped into the world of social media are missing a great opportunity” says our man Jack. He goes on to explain that “Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn all provide opportunities for photographers to build their visibility, however commercial pros need to be smart about the way they approach this new tool.”
Jack is right, you can build your visibility and awareness of your product online but only thru the action of not “selling.” Online social media is all about networking and giving info (NOT PHOTOS) away. How can you navigate the waters? By knowing how you can “share” in each community in a way that benefits you and your tribe.
Every photographer should have a LinkedIn page and treat it as a business “networking” opportunity. Think BNI. BNI is a national networking group that professionals join. They attend weekly meetings and commit to helping others build their network of interested buyers. LinkedIn is your online network. But as with the 3-d model you need to put your time in. Here are some ideas to get you started.
- Post your profile make it all about business.
- Don’t highlight and talk about you, put your positioning statement here.
- Post a link to any recent assignments that you feel visually walk the talk of your positioning statement.
- List any awards you have b een given, any PR articles written about you or your business. If your current clients aren’t giving you the type of work your positioning statement speaks to, create self-assignments and post those. Make these links your status updates. Post the links on your blog and be sure your blog has easy access to your website where your full body of work is housed. You have just built a sales trial.
- Join LinkedIn groups making sure to join groups that your buyers frequent not just photographer based groups. If you live in an outlying area and there is no group for creative professionals for “Acton Massachusetts,” create one. Make sure you write a profile for members that contain your buyers ID. See who shows up.
- Look to answer questions people post especially those regarding photography. Post questions on LinkedIn and post answers on your website, create a trail from the LinkedIn page to your website.
- Make yourself visible. What you don’t want to do is join LinkedIn and then lay low in the background. Become comfortable living in the foreground.
- Post topics and information that build your value to readers of LinkedIn.
On Facebook get more personal but not too personal. If you shoot people in the landscape, its ok here to show landscape shots that are not commercial, maybe a scene you saw on your morning walk… If you are a food photographer share a shot from your favorite restaurant or a shot of your favorite guilty pleasure. Still life shooter? Go to the local farmer’s market and shoot a great still life of the veggies in the stalls in the late afternoon light. Are you getting the picture here? Show images that are not off topic from what you do, but are more personal in nature and always shot well.
Posting updates about what you are doing and links to interesting articles that you or others have found is a good idea. Remember to always edit yourself well. By thoughtfully selecting what you choose to share. The idea is to use Facebook to give buyers more of an idea of the person behind the camera without bringing them completely into your personal life.
Stay away from religion, politics and last weekend’s party picks of you guzzling your twelfth beer from an iced cold mug while your significant other looks on in disgust. =)
My favorite online social tool is Twitter. 140 characters, with people sharing some very cool information.
While LinkedIn is your networking group and Facebook is a glimpse into you on a more personal level, Twitter shows your personal side through the information you choose to share, and it ‘s wonderful for up to the minute quick updates. The first step is to decide what you will tweet about. Once again make sure your tweets pertain to your business (at least 80% of the time) and reflect your personal interests as well.
For example, I am a spiritual teacher and obviously, a consultant to photographers. I love photography, information that speaks to a positive mindset, and expansive thinking. So I look for people to follow who speak or tweet or share information on these topics. In addition, I follow photographers who may become clients and can benefit from reading what I have to share. As I send out tweets (retweet information from others or items I find that speak to a positive mindset, or on the topic of photography), I am showing my potential clients (my current twitter followers) how I view the world. My tweets are limited to these topics with a few messages that are a bit more “personal” without going off my main themes or launching onto the kind of personal information that I only share with my closest friends….
While Tweeting does not “get me hired” it gives me more visibility and it provides a fuller picture of who I am to potential partners. This should be pretty easy for you. If your tweet topics are based on your work (which was chosen as you love for instance to shoot architecture) then your topics, buildings, light, architectural restoration etc. is integral to which you are.
PULLING IT ALL TOGETHER
Here’s is what marketing looked like before social networking
Here ‘s what it looks like now.
The key is to layer your new social networking tools on top of traditional ones. Lets see how this might work. Maybe you are just starting out as a pro. You have tons of time but little money. You do have a body of work, your focus is editorial stories and you want to service non-profits and magazines. You shoot images that reflect people in their environment, portraits moments, and connection.
Build your own database. Choose to bypass commercial lists and create yours by going to the library, and going on line making sure to include publications, nonprofit organizations, and educational institutions. Make sales calls, direct mail and email your main focus. Build in a heavy online social networking presence, searching out contacts in all of the areas you have highlighted. Aim to see eight to ten people a month with your portfolio and devote two to three hours per day to online activities.
When on portfolio visits, ask contacts if they are on LinkedIn and inquire about friending them on Facebook. Visits are powerful social networking opportunities and asking contacts about their social networking habits while on appointments gives you the chance to find out where they’re available on the Internet. Go back to your office, friend them and link in. Once they respond look at the associations they belong to. If the online communities are open and it looks like other buyers might be there join in. Look to see what you can add to the mix. In a week or so, peruse the follower lists of your contacts. If there are other contacts that they have that are possible contacts for you and you want an introduction, ask.
As there are many marketing tools online and off don’t feel as if you need them all, you don’t. Intelligently, with careful thought, review your goals, your place in the market, your budget and your time. Decide what your priorities will be and begin to draw the tools from each area that you will use this year. Always include, sales calls, utilize direct and visual email and then choose your social networking tools.
This is a lot to digest. Read it over a few times and then dive in and begin to create a MIX, one that is perfect for you and will take your business to the next level !
Selina Maitreya was the first consultant to photographers in the U.S. Working side by side with talent for the past 30 years she is the author of two best selling books Portfolios That Sell and How To Succeed in Commercial Photography, Insights From A Leading Consultant (Allworth press). Her latest educational tool is The View From Here a 9 hour 12 chapter MP3 program.
For more information on Selina’s consulting services for photographers contact her at email@example.com.You can also follow Selina on twitter, join her on Facebook, or look her up on LinkedIn.