I want to see you take your business from busy (with the wrong clients) to as busy as you want to be with the right clients.
That’s what we do here at Joy of Marketing – research and develop the best photography marketing ideas for professional photographers. And then share them with you.
We even have our own testing ground, Sarah Petty Photography, a boutique portrait studio in Springfield, IL, where we use what we teach to attract photography clients to grow our own 18 year old, 6-figure photography business.
Here are 13 of our best photography marketing ideas – in one monster blog post. They are exactly what you need to be doing if you want to grow a 6-figure photography business.
These photography marketing ideas have helped me sell over $3 million dollars in portraits since I started my photography business 18 years ago….and are what I teach in detail in my best-selling Be Worth Every Penny marketing coaching program.
CAUTION: You don’t need to do ALL 13 activities right now. But these are the foundation for what it takes to attract enough clients to sustain a 6 figure photography business.
You’ve got this. Let’s go!
I made this video for you In case you prefer watching me explaining these 13 marketing activities:
1. Build a Customer Database
Your customers are the greatest asset in your business. And a customer database is the best way to make them an effective tool for your growth. I looked for a great web-based database for my leads and customers, but couldn’t find one that fit. So I built my own.
I categorize clients 20 different ways to ensure that the right amount of attention goes to the right client.
Here are a few of my categories:
- current clients
- past clients who haven’t been in lately
- mistakes (give them extra love)
- potential charitable partners
- potential co-marketing partners
- and so many more.
A good customer database is vital – it’s like a little black book for your business. Don’t start your marketing efforts from scratch, use your database. When business is slow, you will always know where to turn.
2. Write Notes of Joy
This sounds so simple! It really is. All you need to do is write and send notes to people you’ve photographed in the past and people you’d like to photograph in the future.
Scour the newspaper & social media for people doing cool things. Find people you’d like to photograph. Add them to your database and then write them a personal note. Tell them why you’d like to photograph them. Use note cards that feature your photography.
Not sure what to write? Grab a copy of the 60 word note I wrote that landed me a $10,750.32 portrait order here.
3. Find co-marketing partners
Look for professionals or businesses where your ideal client spends money that aren’t in competition with you.
Where does your perfect client eat dinner?
Where do their kids do gymnastics?
Where do they do yoga?
Where do they buy cars?
Co-market with businesses who share your target audience, but aren’t your competitor.
Real estate agents, boutique clothing store owners, veterinarians, orthodontists, pre-schools, ob/gyns, etc. There are so many!
Reach out to those businesses and float the idea of working together on a co-marketing co-campaign. There are many many ways to do it. Mail, complimentary gift cards to each others’ business given as a Christmas gift for top clients. Email mentions, shared events… Cross-pollination is a powerful thing.
If you want to get more specific instructions on how to choose a partner, how to approach them, and how to manage the relationship, join me in my next webinar!
4. Donate to Silent Auctions
Silent auctions are a tremendous opportunity for a portrait photographer. I donate to 15—or more—every year. And I always get a client thanks to fine-tuning my system. They happen all the time, all over the place. You just have to look. First, Google Silent Auction [your city] and see what you find.
Every private school has at least one a year, if not more. So do most charities. Reach out to the ones you have a connection with, or whose causes you really believe in. It’s great to donate your photography to a worthy cause!
They all need valuable services to auction off and will be so thrilled that you reached out to them.
The next step is to fine-tune your process.
You’re giving something of real value to be auction off, but you have more to offer—for purchase—when it’s time to photograph the winning bidder.
They’ll get something really good for their charitable investment, and with a little more investment, they could get something great!
There are so many steps to doing this right. I had to learn the hard way but now I get a client every time. I have a whole lesson on how to get clients from auctions in my Be Worth Every Penny marketing program.
5. Engage Your Network
This should already be a part of your overall business plan, but it’s easy to forget. Your family and friends were probably your first models, first fans and first clients. (I know mine were!)
They are your most faithful source of referrals, because they love you! The thing is, as your business grows, they can forget that you still need them!
They already think you’re the most amazing photographer they’ve ever met! They just forget to be actively marketing for you. You need to remind them, and then reward them.
Rewarding friends and family may fit into your overall referral program (more on that in a minute), or it can be an informal thing just between you. If a friend sends you a client, bake them a pie or a batch of your famous cookies. Send them flowers with a sweet thank you note. Make sure they know how meaningful and vital their referrals are to you.
If you ever feel disheartened or doubt your own ability, there is nothing like a referral to really boost your spirits! But your friends and family need you to remind them how important it is that they drop your name whenever it makes sense.
Getting your friends and family marketing for you is as simple as asking your mom for advice. Keep it natural and conversational – you’re not selling a pyramid scheme.
6. Share Your Expertise
You have a tremendous amount of knowledge that you’ve gathered over the years. Share it! Do you know how to pose a baby? Do you know to dress for a flattering head shot? Do you know a trick for shooting in harsh sunlight or in low-lighting conditions?
There are groups meeting all over your town. Their members all take photos and all want to take better photos. Reach out to them and offer your services as a guest speaker. Prepare a 15-20 minute presentation on photography basics and go try it out! Bring some of your “dog whistles” (see #7 for what I mean here) and a few samples of your work to demonstrate the principles you’re teaching.
Here are a few places to start:
- High school art or yearbook class
- New moms group at the hospital
- Junior League
- Church group
- Community mom’s day out
- Chamber of Commerce
- Local service clubs (Lions, Kiwanis, Rotary, etc.)
- BNI or other business networking group
- Anywhere people in your target audience gather, you can speak!
When you walk through the door, you’re immediately seen as a photography expert before you even open your mouth. In one brief encounter, you will meet 10-20 potential clients (or referral sources) and they will all perceive you as an expert. And people pay more for experts!
7. Create Your Own “Dog Whistle”
Dog whistles are great because only dogs can hear them.
And it’s a metaphor for marketing to get the right clients.
You want a marketing piece that only the right clients find appealing. Forget about business cards – they don’t wow anybody. And you are not boring.
Create something with that *zing* factor that will captivate your potential client and baffle your un-client. They can spin, twist, unfold and dazzle. If I hand one of these to the right client, I can tell immediately. And so can they.
Think of it as the Harry Potter Sorting Hat of business cards. The right dog whistle really is magical.
(If you don’t already have one, you can learn more about The Power of a Dynamic Dog Whistle here.)
8. Partner with charities
You’ve already dipped your toe into the non-profit pond with the silent auction donations.
These are your ideal clients! People with disposable income donate to charities. And people who donate to charities are the perfect photography client!
What do you really believe in? Who do you want to help? Who do you want to photograph?
Physically disabled children? Reach out to the Shriners.
The homeless? Call the nearest mission.
Single mothers? Mentally challenged adults? For every tender part of your heart, there is a charity out there wishing you would partner with them.
I’ve had the privilege of working with Ronald McDonald House, the NICU at St. John’s Hospital in my city, Animal Protective League, Susan G. Komen and more. Find a charity that speaks to your heart.
Call them up. Ask if they have any upcoming events you could photograph.
Do their board members need new amazing head-shots for their website? Invite them to stop by your studio—or come to them—for pro bono pro portraits.
You are both giving and creating many business opportunities. Who do you want to reach out to first? Tell us in the comments – maybe your idea will help somebody else!
I include a checklist in the charitable marketing lesson of my Be Worth Every Penny marketing program.
What you say when you approach the charity and the proposal you present are key to finding a partnership that is a match made in heaven.
This can be a tricky conversation, but I show you what to say and how to talk financial commitment for expenses the event may incur. And don’t forget, a theme with well-branded designs and marketing materials are also key to a successful event that attracts the right clients for your business.
9. Get Featured
It’s easier than you think, if you know the right steps.
Magazines, newspapers and blogs are always in need of good stories. What kind of stories do they publish? Can you think of a piece around photography that highlights your expertise and benefits their audience? Of course you can!
You can get featured in the local–or even national–media. But it won’t happen by sending a press release. Those are not all that valuable. Pitch stories you know their readers would like, get to know the decision makers and share your ideas with them. Even if they don’t love your idea, the next time they have an idea that needs a photographer featured, guess who will be on the top of their list to contact? YOU!
There are two keys to this one: networking and persistence. As you grow and strengthen your network, you will come to know more people with pull at publications. But there is no substitute for good old fashioned asking.
Continue to do this, and the more you are featured the more you will be respected and recognized as an expert, a leader in the community and a great choice for portraits.
10. Create a Referral Program
It’s good to bake your brother a pie every time he sends you business. It’s even better to create a thorough and professional referral program that helps your favorite vendors, friends, family and best clients send you new clients.
Perhaps you’re a wedding photographer. The venues you have photographed in should refer you clients. In Lesson 8 of my Be Worth Every Penny Marketing Program, I teach you how and when to ask for those referrals.
And we like to focus NOT on sending coffee or pies here, but really on providing something they want.
What kind of reward would you be willing to trade for a referral? What do they really need?
- Images for their website?
- Displays for their store?
- Photo note cards they can send to their clients?
- Product photography?
- Photos of their business?
- Photography session credit?
It’s totally okay to use rewards to incentivize your referral sources. When you photograph a client, let them know how grateful for their business and that you’d love to be the photographer they refer their friends to. Offer them an incentive.
You need to position yourself as eager to work with their clients and friends, but not desperate. It’s a balance, but not that hard to strike. Sit down and think through what a new client is worth to you, and what your ideal clients would love to receive. This is a great opportunity to do some co-marketing with another local business owner.
11. Host an Event
Everybody loves an event! There are hundreds of small business owners looking for a chance to network. There are thousands of animal lovers eager to support a pet-friendly cause. And there are millions of people with no plans on a Tuesday who would love a charitable excuse to get out of the house. They all want to come to your event!
You don’t even have to have a studio. Partner with other businesses on a shared event – they’ll be thrilled!
Host a Puppy Love Event to raise money for pet charities and get exposure to people who own pets. First, reach out to animal hospitals, shelters and pet stores. Use their networks to promote your event, and ask the hospitals and stores to donate goods and services. You can donate people-and-pets mini portrait sessions, and ask the humans to make a suggested donation to the participating charity.
Create a Holiday Home Tour to raise money for your local NICU. Show off how you decorate your home with family photography. Reach out to your neighbors with the most festive holiday decor and invite them to participate – they’ll be flattered!
Coordinate an Area-of-Town Business Event. Pull together businesses from nearby and throw a party! Choose a part of town near your studio, or where you know a few business owners. Market the event together with the Chamber of Commerce and the businesses nearby.
Throw a Local Hero Birthday Bash – Host an event celebrating the birthday of a historical local hero. Who founded your town? Which local made some meaningful contributions to society, arts, civil rights, or culture? Pick a person and coordinate with other local businesses to create an event that honors the hero and creates enough buzz to get people out of their homes. This can be long-deceased historical hero – OR – a living, breathing hero.
Many photographers don’t have a retail studio location, which is just fine. You don’t need a studio to host an event. Instead, co-host an event with a business that provides products and services to new moms like a yoga studio, ob/gyn, chiropractor, massage therapist, etc.
The Specifics – So who pays for what? Well it depends on several factors. I include these along with my event planning checklist, timeline, promotional marketing templates and themes in the Be Worth Every Penny marketing coaching program.
12. Use value-added incentives
Don’t run a discount, instead offer a value-added incentive.
Clinique does a great job at the whole “free gift with purchase” thing. When I read “Get this free kit worth $49 with any $25 purchase,” I can’t resist. And neither will your clients.
A few of my favorite value-added incentives are
- 25 free graduation announcements with a minimum order in April
- Animoto videos as a bonus for reaching a certain investment
- Sticky albums as a way to make it easy for clients to share images from their session (and YOU to get referrals),
- 25 free holiday cards for sessions booked in September
- Include birth announcements at no charge
- Or even wedding save-the-dates
Your value-added incentive can be used as a promotional one-and-done deal to get clients in the door without discounting your services. Or you can use a value-added incentive as an enticement to encourage clients to invest more.
Get creative. Give what you would love to get. Give something your clients value, but maybe can’t even buy from you. And whatever you do, don’t discount.
13. Send an Amazing Holiday Card
This is different than what you may be thinking….
This time, it’s your family on the card, showing up in the mailboxes of your friends and clients and future clients. Nothing gets people talking about you and your photography better than you, in your photography.
Show them what they could be doing with their family. Be creative, fun and funky. Go all out! Do it right, and you’ll see your family’s holiday card displayed prominently on the mantle of your future clients!
When I create my family holiday card I want it to be the one that makes everyone say “Oh My Gosh that is soooo cool!”
Think of it as a marketing move that takes your love for your family, mixes it with your love of photography and then sends it out as a demonstration of your love for your clients. It’s like a holiday card, only made entirely from love.
Who do you want to mail some love to this year? Time to go back to the database and start making a list. (And checking it twice!)
It’s great to read about proven marketing moves. It can make you smarter. It can make you more confident! But if you only read, and do not do the things, the overall impact can actually be negative. So here are three goals you need to set for yourself:
1. Try 3 of these activities in the next twelve months.
2. Track the success of each marketing activity.
3. Determine the most successful marketing activities, repeat them and add another one or two activities next year.
And if you need detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to pull off killer marketing strategies, selling tactics, and more, check out the New York Times Bestselling book for business, Worth Every Penny (p.s. you can get it for free here).