The world of commercial photography is associated with high stress…
We want to help you think through key areas to help grow your photo business and reach more potential clients. Building your photography business is a process, which means there is no one-stop-shop formula for success to “hit the jackpot.” But the good news is that if you plug away in a few major areas, you’ll start to solidify your brand, attract more eyeballs to your website, and be top-of-mind for potential buyers and clients.
Here are four major questions you should address to help build a strong photo business:
1. Who is your audience?
Defining and understanding your audience is crucial to shaping your business, your products, your brand, and your marketing efforts as whole. Without clearly defining who you’re targeting, you can’t clearly define why you’re reaching out to certain folks over others. As a result, your business will lack focus (at best) and look sloppy and out of sync (at worst).
For example, if you’re a landscape photographer, your audience isn’t women’s lifestyle and fashion editors. This may seem obvious, but being able to clearly articulate who you’re targeting (and not targeting) will help you strategically focus your services and marketing efforts to appeal to the right group.
What may not be as obvious is the case of the photographer who has multiple specialties, as many (if not most) do these days. You may do editorial work during the week but shoot weddings on the weekends for that extra bump in income. What then? Well, you’ll still want to clearly define each audience for each specialty you have—and you’ll want to have a marketing strategy suited for each as well. A one-size- fits-all approach may cause confusion or a feeling among prospective clients that you’re really not the “expert” at any one thing—or at least at the thing they care most about. In short, they won’t find you relevant for their needs. Truly understanding your target market also gives you several advantages. Most importantly, you know what appeals to them.
- To define your target audience, write out answers to the following questions:
What are their likes and dislikes?
What are their buying habits and seasons?
What kind of photography do they consume and why?
How old are they?
What is their income level?
Where do they live?
What are their hobbies?
Where do they hang out? (online and off)
What are their major needs and pain points?
The last one is especially key. If you’re unaware of your target market’s key pain points and needs, it’s OK to ask directly. Find a handful of folks in this community—essentially an informal focus group—and ask about their buying habits, issues they encounter, and more.
- Next think through the services and products you provide. Then brainstorm a list of ways in which those services and products are relevant to your target audience. How can your business satisfy a need of theirs? How do your competitors fail to meet them?
2. What is your unique selling point?
As you get a hold on your audience’s needs, this will help you identify your unique selling point – or what your business offers that helps you stand out from the pack and to keep you top of mind. Differentiating your brand and your services from your competitors can be the ultimate key to getting new business through the door.
So, first you need to make a determination: What is it that you offer your target customers? Can you clearly state this? Is your unique offering based on a specialty (e.g. underwater photography) or certain access (e.g. US military) or skill (e.g. lighting)? Or, is your unique offering based on the service delivered or tangible product the customer will be purchasing (e.g. boudoir portrait sessions or photo-wrapped Mini Coopers)?
A good first step to determine your unique selling point is to survey your competition and determine whether they have service offerings that you could replicate and then improve upon. Next, if you sell products, analyze what has sold for you in the past year. Can you pinpoint why they sold well? What about those products was attractive to buyers? Also, think about the clients or projects that have been particularly successful. What about these projects made them so? Focus in on these factors or traits and make them known to your clients and prospects.
- After you’ve thought through the identity of your target market and how your business can address their needs, write out a statement that clearly defines your services, products, and audience. Fill in the blanks here:
“For (your target market) who wants / needs (reason to buy your product/service), (your name, business, product or service) is a (specialty) photographer that provides (your key benefit). Unlike other photographers in this space, my key differentiator is (how you uniquely address the client’s needs).”
- Note: This is your positioning statement—it can also be considered your “elevator pitch”—or what you can say when you get just a few moments to convince a prospect they should hire you for their next project.
3. What’s your marketing plan?
Your potential clients are just as busy as you are, which means you need a strategy this year to make it easier for them to find and work with you. Creating a full-scale marketing plan may sound daunting, but sitting down to flesh out a strategy to reach your target market is key to making marketing a business-as-usual activity instead of an intimidating task you’d prefer to put off.
We recommend you think about each marketing category (see below) and consider activities you can do within each and the return that each activity may produce. When you think about these activities, consider how people in different parts of the “sales cycle” would react. For example, you might send a postcard to photo buyers and editors you’ve causally connected with this past year, but put together a photo book to send your “top 10” contacts to make a longer lasting impression.
- Make a list of major marketing categories that you think you can reasonably address and your budget will allow. Some categories we recommend considering are:
Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
Direct mail (postcards, books)
Events (trade shows, portfolio reviews)
Email marketing (email newsletters, promotions)
Local advertising (ads in local newspapers, magazines, etc)
- With the categories you address, create a spreadsheet with some activities you’ll do in each, rough estimates of the time you think you may spend on them per week, and the associated costs. How can you begin to integrate these marketing efforts into your weekly and daily routines? Prioritize them according to the response they are likely to produce.
4. Is your website as great as you are?
When it comes to your photography business, your website is everything. It’s your greatest marketing tool. It’s your virtual business card, a reflection of your professionalism, and (should be) a way to easily connect with you or transact with clients who want to license your work or buy your prints and products.
So as a first step, if you don’t consider your website as the pinnacle tool of your business, then it’s time to start. Think about your own experience online. As soon as you come to a site that feels stale and out of date, you’re inclined to click out. To keep your own site fresh, you want to plan out a series of regular updates—refreshing a portfolio or gallery, a new blog post on your latest shoot, etc. Regularly updating your website can also help improve your ranking on major search engines, which rank sites with fresh content favorably. To have a competitive and highly functional website this year, here are a few items your site should have:
- Clear contact information and “About” page
- Well organized portfolio sections or galleries
- E-commerce capabilities (if you sell prints or stock)
- File delivery (so you can send files to clients with your brand)
- Blog that is updated regularly (we recommend at least once a week)
- To help inform what part of your site to tackle first, use a tool like Google Analytics to track which content is most compelling to new visitors and which content people rarely click on.
- Approach your website from the point of view of a potential buyer. We surveyed over 5,000 photo buyers worldwide who told us features of websites they prefer to see. See details in our Survey: What Buyers Want from Photographers and determine if your site hits the mark. If you’re unsure, consider hiring a website consultant to determine how you can improve your site from a functional and aesthetic standpoint.
Determining the needs of your audience, articulating your unique selling point, fleshing out a marketing plan, and optimizing your website are the pillars of great photography business. The most important thing to remember though is that a thriving business doesn’t happen overnight. Smart planning and research can be just as important as smart execution.
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