One Photographer’s Plan to Crush 2012

One Photographer’s Plan to Crush 2012

The 2012 Photo Business Plan Workbook has quickly become one of PhotoShelter’s most-downloaded guides. Nearly 20,000 photographers have accessed the workbook, and we’re guessing it’s because the topic is so universally important. Everyone wants to be better at business and we all want to know more smart steps to success.

The workbook offers a comprehensive “To Do” list in 9 major components of business, including SEO, social media, and building a killer photography website. For some of us, this is all the guidance we need. But some of us learn better by example, so we’ve been talking with Laura Berman, an agricultural and garden stock photographer at GreenFuse Photos whose 2012 New Year’s resolution is to use the workbook to amp up her photo business (see other resolutions from top photographers in 28 Resolutions From 28 Seasoned Photographers).

Since making the resolution, Laura has cracked down and gotten to work. She laid out 3 major goals:

  1. Create a concrete marketing plan, complete with a list of current & future marketing activities and desired return-on-investment (ROI).
  2. Get serious about SEO with a keyword hit list and plan for building backlinks.
  3. Tune-up my website so that it’s more than just a portfolio – it’s also my best sales and marketing tool.

In the past few weeks, Laura has documented her progress and shared it with us. Here is her story.

1. Create a marketing plan

Even the word “marketing plan” can sound daunting, but don’t get tripped up on terminology. When you consider different activities in each category, think about how people in different parts of the “sales cycle” would react. One-time marketing efforts rarely pay off – you often need multiple campaigns through multiple channels to get on people’s radars and convert them into customers.

In the workbook, we suggest:

  • Creating a list of current and future marketing activities.
  • Making a rough estimate of time and money spent on each activity.
  • Calculating a ROI (return on investment) for each initiative.

Below is Laura’s marketing plan:

Laura’s “time to complete” and “cost” are both calculations of the investment she would need to put into any given activity. Her next step would be to determine a rough ROI to determine which of these efforts would turn out to be the best use of her time. Start by defining what your “return” would be – is it to gain new leads? Sell a certain number of prints? Get booked for a particular shoot? Then look at how much time/money you would need to spend, and decide whether you can afford to move forward.

Creating two distinct portfolios is scheduled to take Laura approximately 20 hours, which is a good chunk of time. But given what has sold for her in the past year, Laura has been able to narrow her target audience down to agricultural/plant photo buyers and garden photo buyers. Now she wants to further segment her work in order to penetrate each niche.

“Sending irrelevant material is a sure way not  to get noticed,” she says, “especially when positioning myself as an expert in a specific niche. Creating two portfolios and the promo materials to accompany them is necessary because the potential clients do not have the same photo needs.”

Once Laura has built out her online portfolios, she will send promos to potential buyers and clients. The plan is to set up a new mailer service (MailChimp, Exact Target, etc.) and send out a monthly email to a list of well-researched magazines and agencies. She also wants to send a hard mailer three times per year.

“Every photo buyer has their preference,” says Laura. “Email is less output of cash but is only one aspect of direct mail. It will depend on open rates to determine the ROI for emailing.”

The same goes for hard mailers, which she wants to test with a small, target pool, since she estimates it could cost upwards of $700. “Hard copy promos can solidify and remind someone who has shown an interest in the past,” she reasons.

If you’re struggling with the idea of ROI, go Laura’s route: create your marketing plan around desired activities, and then do small tests to estimate the long term ROI. Hard data is the best data when it comes to spending your time and money.

2. Build my SEO

Photographers are often vexed by SEO because it seems like a moving target. The frustration might be warranted, but the fact of the matter is that everyone uses search engines to find services and products online. The goal of SEO is unsolicited traffic – people looking for your products and services without knowing who you are.

If you’re unfamiliar with the basic principles of SEO, check our the section “Build Your SEO” in the 2012 Photo Business Plan Workbook.

In the workbook, we suggest:

  • Creating a keyword hit list of 20-50 terms that you want your website to rank for.
  • Use your keyword hit list to inform your website’s copy.
  • Use MajesticSEO to perform a backlink analysis.
  • Build links to your website.

To her credit, Laura admits to falling into the category of photographers frustrated by SEO. “One of my main goals is to improve my SEO. I’m not showing up in any Google search, even when I have tons of photos on a particular subject (i.e. ‘farmer’s markets’).”

It’s true that Laura’s website should probably be ranking higher than it is currently. After taking a closer look at her website’s setup, Laura realized that she was “masking” her PhotoShelter website on her domains and – this essentially put all the rich SEO content inside an iframe, which Google does not index. Since then, Laura removed the masking so that search engines can read her site’s content.

Moving forward, Laura plans to work on building her SEO in very specific areas. “Because I have a very specific niche, I’m most likely to be found for very specific searches,” she says. “Meaning, ‘Costoluto Genovese tomato’, rather than ‘farm photos’.” Here’s a portion of what she came up with for her keyword hit list:

Laura used Google AdWords Traffic Estimator to assess her keywords’ competition and monthly search traffic. She then Googled the terms to see where her website ranks – “0” indicates that Green Fuse Photos does not currently rank. The last column shows what websites are ranking for her keywords, aka her new competition.

She has concluded that another reason for her poor SEO is due to lack of backlinks. “I see one-time blog posts from other people on the same subject, and they’re on Google’s first page,” she says.

MajesticSEO shows that the domain: has 285 backlinks.

Part of Laura’s marketing plan is to set up a WordPress blog on Graph Paper Press, which she can then seamlessly integrate with her PhotoShelter site. Then she’ll strive to do a bi-weekly blog post, and link to her PhotoShelter galleries and infuse her keyword hit list to help build good SEO. Her next step would be to get other domains to link to her website.

3. Tune-up my website

A tune-up for your website often goes hand in hand with all your other marketing efforts. Strategically captioned photos are good for SEO. Clean and crisp layouts and design helps clients easily navigate your site. Social sharing buttons help spread word of mouth. And so on and so forth.

Laura has a beautiful site with GreenFuse Photography, but she recognizes that there are some internal factors that could use updating.

In the workbook, we suggest:

  • Determine what features your website needs to have to best serve your customers.
  • Audit your website to understand where it is falling short for your customers.
  • Install Google Analytics to gain insight into how people are using your website and where they are coming from.

“Many of my earliest photos have wrong keywords, and missing captions and titles,” Laura explains. “There are also lots of duplicate and similar photos. I need to weed out the non-essentials and replace them with newer work.”

Ideally this would help streamline the buying process for potential customers who find Laura’s site via organic search, plus show off her strongest images. Captions should also make it easier for both search engines and humans to find what they’re looking for.

Fortunately, Laura already has Google Analytics set up for her PhotoShelter website. There’s a ton of information available inside the analytics, but Laura should pay attention to the fact that over 50% of her total traffic comes from search engines – one more reason SEO is crucial for her to get ahead in 2012.

Laura’s organic traffic has already been steadily increasing since January 2012. Next, she should take a look at which keywords people are searching for that cause them to visit her website, and work on optimizing the pages with that content. She can note stats like Pages/Visit and Avg. Time on Site to gauge if visitors are able to find what they’re looking for.

As Laura continues to work on SEO and tune up her website, it will be important to monitor Google Analytics to track her progress and make adjustments along the way.


Before you jump in, please take some time to consider your goals for the year. Having a clear sense of what you want to achieve in 2012 will help you think strategically about the tactics that will be required to get there. The more specific you can be, the better. Clear goals will also provide a yardstick that you can measure your progress against at various milestones throughout the year.

With the Photo Business Plan Workbook, you can turbo charge your business in 21 hours. To get a move on your plan like Laura Berman has, download the free Photo Business Plan Workbook – and let us know how it’s changed your approach to your photography business.

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There are 5 comments for this article
  1. Rick Brown at 12:13 pm

    I am constantly looking at ways to improve my SEO as I believe that there are some things making it worse than it should be that I do not understand. Plus my social marketing isn’t that successful.

    So when I saw “… Laura realized that she was “masking” her PhotoShelter website on her domains and – …” I knew I had to ask for a better explanation. So what does this mean exactly?

    • Lauren Margolis at 12:16 pm

      @rick This essentially means that she had an iframe within her website, so that the URL never changed even when visitors navigated to different pages. This approach is bad for SEO because search engines cannot or do not index iframes, meaning that they cannot read any of the content – which is essential for building SEO.

  2. selina maitreya at 7:16 am

    Laura’s vision and her focus on showing a specific type of work with a defined visual approach is key to this entire effort. Without her commitment there the steps outlined here would reap little in todays market.Good for Laura that she did the heavy lifting initially!

    • Lauren Margolis at 3:28 pm

      @special events permit I’m pretty sure web-based iframes are not indexed by Google, but I would suggest looking into this further before taking action.

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