A proven 5-step formula to market yourself as a photographer
There are many ways to market your photography business and sometimes it’s hard to know where to focus. Whether you're just getting started or have been in business for years, you still have the same need – to get the phone ringing. With so many different channels for marketing, you need to choose wisely.
While there’s no shortcut to marketing your photography business, there are some methods that are more effective than others, and that’s where you should focus. Today I’m going to show you how to market your photography business from the ground-up, no matter where you are in the business today. The best part is that most of these grassroots marketing techniques are free, so not only are they effective, but they will also give you an exponential return on your investment.
What is marketing?
Let’s take a step back, first. You know that marketing is one of the foundations for a success photography business, but what really is marketing? It can be a scary and overwhelming topic at times, and so let me break it down into it’s simplest form:
Talking about marketing in this context makes it a bit easier to handle, doesn’t it? There are a few keywords that I use here, very intentionally, that I’d like to point out:
- Communicating: Marketing is a dialog and so you must choose the right language.
- Specific group of people: You must know who you are trying to communicate to.
- Awareness: You should communicate it in a way that establishes familiarity.
- You: You need to know who you are as a photographer, and how to best communicate that.
- What you do: What about your work or your approach is unique, special or different? What’s your unique selling proposition?
You can see now that marketing can really only be effective once you’ve defined your target audience, understand effective communication, have strong self-awareness and know your brand.
Before you can even begin to market yourself, my suggestion would be to ask yourself the following:
- Who am I as a photographer?
- What makes me different?
- Who is my target market?
- What kind of message do they want to hear?
- How can I best communicate to them?
This is where so many photographers get it wrong. They start off trying to market themselves without understanding these underlying foundations, and then they wonder why their marketing isn’t working. If you approach marketing with this much intention, I promise you that you’ll have your phone ringing off the hook!
The goal of marketing
I want to make a quick distinction here before we go too much deeper. There are two types of marketing approaches; two separate goals, essentially. While they aren’t necessarily mutually independent, it’s still important to define them first. The two types of marketing objectives are:
- Brand awareness – When you market to establish familiarity in your market and stay top-of-mind.
- Lead generation – Marketing with a call-to-action so that you can quickly bring in new business.
Great marketing efforts will accomplish both goals – brand awareness and lead generation. However, in the earlier stages of your business or when you are making a transition, lead generation is more important because you need to start bringing clients into your door and book some business. Once you are established and booking clients steadily, you can shift over to the brand awareness style marketing campaigns to maintain a top-of-mind presence in your market.
Establishing the foundation
I promise we’ll get to the “how” of marketing really soon! We need to have a quick conversation about the basics. You know that you wouldn’t try and build a house without a foundation and so similarly, you can’t start to market yourself as a photographer without the right foundation.
I know how exciting it can be to get going; you’ve got the bug, you love photography and you just want to get people in your door. Slow down though, because rushing yourself to market is a guaranteed way to start off on the wrong foot.
Before anything, you must have a solid foundation in photography. Here’s my suggested flow:
- Acquire the photographic skill set: Learn about lighting, posing, composition, creativity, and other photographic foundations.
- Practice as a photographer: Apply your learnings; practice, experiment and try new things. Learn the ropes by 2nd shooting.
- Market yourself : Start putting together your marketing plan.
The point here is that you should start to market yourself only once you’ve honed your skills as a photographer. If you recall our definition of marketing – making an audience aware of you – then if you do so without solid photography skills, your efforts will be lost because you’ll be marketing bad photography.
I have to say it quickly (you knew I would) – you must also spend some time honing your business skills as a photographer. Learn more about sales, pricing, marketing, branding, customer service, and so on.
Ok – no more context and foundations. Let’s get right into the “how-to” of marketing yourself!
The 5-step plan to market your photography business
Remember when I said at the beginning that there’s no “shortcut” to market yourself as a photographer? Well, it’s true! Marketing yourself will be a lot of work, it will take time and you must be persistent in your efforts. There are many ways you can spend your money and efforts with regards to marketing, but I’m going to share with you a 5-step plan to market your photography business if you’re just getting started, or are going through a transition.
Step #1 – Website
Your website is your digital storefront. Most of your clients will be looking you up online at some point, even if they hear about you elsewhere. It’s where they’ll turn to check out your work, see if you’ll be a good fit and (hopefully) it’s where they’ll get in touch with you.
I’ve written an entire article on the importance of your website, and how you can get going on yours, but here are 7 points that you’ll want to consider for your website:
- Show off large images in your galleries.
- Show a picture of yourself.
- Keep the design simple and clean.
- No background music.
- Make it easy for your visitors to get in touch with you.
- Display your “starting at” prices.
- Tell visitors why you do what you do, and don’t just talk about how much you love photography.
Go with a WordPress-based website, and invest in a solid photography theme or template, like those from Photocrati or ProPhoto Blogs. For established photographers, my recommendation is to hire a web developer and have them build you a custom website (built on WordPress). If you’re just getting going though, I wouldn’t suggest that yet; wait to build a reputation, develop a deeper understanding for your market and your brand and then invest in a custom website.
Step #2 – Facebook
You probably are thinking that I’m going to suggest starting a Facebook business page for your photography business, but I’m not. Don’t do it yet. Use your personal profile at first, instead. Having a Facebook business pages is an incredible marketing initiative and you can build a great audience and following there, but if you’re just getting started, then your Facebook business page will be up against two negative factors – lack of engagement and lack of an audience.
This means that it’ll be harder to bring people to your Facebook page, and once they’re there, it’ll be even harder still to get them to interact with you, and even if they do interact, it’ll be even harder again to get them to consistently see your updates in their newsfeed.
This advice is certainly against the grain, but after having done social media consulting and management for some of the greatest photographers in the industry, my suggestion stands. Use your personal profile to post images at first, build a reputation with your current friends list and then go from there. Once you have momentum, I’d suggest starting a business page and transitioning to that channel.
Step #3 – Photographer referrals
Get involved in the local photography community in your area. You should have already done this if you were “practicing” your skill set and 2nd shooting in our foundations discussion earlier. Establish solid relationships with other photographers in your area, because when they get inquiries for dates they’re not available for or for clients they’re not the right fit for, you can be the one who gets the overflow. Referrals from other photographers will be one of the best sources of leads.
Step #4 – Build relationships in your market
Once you know what kind of photography you want to be doing, it’s important to look for strategic alliances; other businesses you can build relationships with. Much like how a good deal of referrals will come from building relationships with other photographers, just the same can be said for building relationships with other businesses that also serve your target client.
For example, if you’re a newborn photographer, then meet with, network and build a relationship with the local 3D-Ultrasound clinic. If you’re a family portrait photographer, then meet with, network and build a relationship with a local children’s boutique. If you’re a wedding photographer, network with florists, decorators, cake artists, dress markers, and so on.
You get the point; be intentional about meeting like-minded business owners who also serve your target market. Offer your services to them at no cost. Build trust and rapport with them. Relationships will go a long way.
Step #5 – Networking
Networking in your local community is key to getting the word out about your business. Photographers seem to shy away from this form of marketing, but when done right, it can be very effective. Again, the underlying theme here is relationships; approach everything with the genuine intent of establishing rapport, building trust and creating an alliance.
Look for local networking events with the Chamber of Commerce, the downtown BIA, Rotary Club, or any other small business association. My favourite is BNI – a very structured, but highly effective form of network marketing.
There we have it – the 5-steps to market your photography business if you’re just getting going, or are in a transition. Remember that marketing is hard work and takes time; don’t expect results after the first week. You need to let relationships form, establish trust, create familiarity and prove yourself.
I’d say that a good estimation is that you can look at a 6-month to 1-year waiting period from the time you start this process until you can hope to have a steady flow of inquiries.
Use this waiting period as a time to continue to learn, grow and refine your skills as a photographer and a business owner. Study up and practice photographic techniques, but also focus on business foundations. Above all else, remember to enjoy the process!