Once upon a time, before I became a photographer, marketing was my J-O-B.
First up was a marketing position at Coca-Cola Enterprises. And then as a marketing director gig at an advertising agency. So when I opened my first retail photography studio in 2001, I knew marketing and figuring out how to find photography clients would be something I needed to spend time on.
But doing the right thing when it comes to marketing is not enough. Avoiding the wrong thing is also a must. And as I watch and coach the photography industry, I’ve noticed the same 11 marketing mistakes pop up again and again. Even from the most experienced photographers!
Have you made any of these 11 marketing mistakes as you figure how to find photography clients?
If yes, don’t stress. They’re easy to correct, and I’ll even tell you how now.
1. Mimic your competitors’ marketing moves
When all else fails copy the marketing of your competitor right? After all, it must be working if they’re doing it! Well, not necessarily.
When I was an ad agency marketing director, I remember a client insisting on doing billboards because his competitor was. After a bit of digging, I learned the competitor’s family member worked for the billboard company. That’s the only reason his business was on the big billboard!
Advertising companies actually rely on the copycat mentality to drum up more revenue for their magazine, station or newspaper. Before you jump in just because you’re competitors are there, determine what it will really do for your business.
2. Dive into discounting
Sales and discounting make sense in certain situations, like these. But they should never be a marketing way of life. They’re not how to find photography clients, or at least clients you want.
Offering services on the cheap to attract new customers typically attracts cheap customers. They’re customers who care more about low prices than high quality…. like Groupon shoppers.
Sure, there are times all of us are looking for the lowest, rock-bottom rates. So we’ll use Groupon to score a half-price massage. But even if the massage is tops, it’s typically a one-time shot. We’re not heading out to get one every week at full price, or even ever again.
We don’t become loyal, longtime customers who help build a business. The same holds true when you use discounts to lure in new clients in the photography industry.
You’ll end up with distractions that force you to make crucial product and pricing decisions based on feedback from bargain hunters. Don’t go down that path. You may never come back.
Cheap pricing devalues your brand overall. What happens when you see a pair of designer jeans go on sale? Forever in your mind, those jeans are now worth less. You’ll never want to pay full price again.
And neither will your best clients. You’re teaching them to wait for sales. Why should they pay full price today when they know you’ll eventually run a sale tomorrow or the next day? This tactic only illustrates how to find photography clients who are trained never to pay top dollar.
Besides, someone will always be willing to go cheaper than you are. You’ll never be able to sustain a business in the photography industry, or any industry, if this is your strategy.
3. Scatter business cards at area shops
When was the last time you hired a professional from a business card on the counter of a local shop? Never is a good answer.
People don’t pick up a stranger’s business card for something as personal as photography of their family or their wedding. Instead, work with fellow business owners to create displays of your art for their walls. Include their families in those displays so they gush over you when someone asks about the photos.
4. Think marketing is optional
If your photography is good enough, clients will find you, right? And then those clients will run and tell all their friends how great you are so you don’t need to market a smidgeon. Wrong on both counts.
I didn’t become one of Professional Photographers of America most profitable photographers by believing either of those myths. I did it by working on marketing my business every single week. Usually an hour or two a week is all. But I have done it consistently for the past 18 years.
5. Stick behind your computer all day
I can’t stress this enough. Clients are not likely to suddenly appear in your home office or living room.
You need to get out of the house and into the community.
When you get out locally to shop, volunteer and connect with folks in your community, you’re building your personal brand.
And remember, we do business with people we like and know.
But if I never get a chance to meet you, I’ll never get a chance to like or know you.
6. Neglect to schedule marketing time
Yes, you’re busy. And you’d rather be taking photos, scrubbing the toilet or even painting your toenails than marketing.
But I’ve seen too many photographers fail due to failing to schedule time on their weekly calendar for marketing.
Eighteen years in the photography industry and I still schedule time each week for marketing. As I said, it’s only an hour or two. And it’s usually spent on these three very specific activities.
I treat marketing time like a client appointment.
It’s protected. Never rescheduled. And fulfilled every time.
Because without it, I don’t have clients. And without clients, I don’t have a photography business. I just have really expensive photography equipment that I’m not using.
7. Make your own marketing materials
Just because your clients have a nice camera doesn’t mean they’re suddenly great photographers. And just because you have Photoshop doesn’t mean you’re suddenly a master designer.
Don’t DIY when it comes to creating your logo and other marketing materials. Trade with a professional graphic designer. Or use professionally designed templates from Design Aglow or other pros that create designs for the photography industry.
Good design elevates your brand and signals you’re worth every penny.
It shows you’re willing to invest in yourself. And it’s at least one way to prompt clients to do the same.
8. Waste too much time on social media
Yes, it’s fun to connect and build relationships online. But no, that’s not marketing.
If a social platform is free and easy to use, you can bet every one of your competitors is on it, too. That’s why I focus my marketing on doing things my competitors wouldn’t dare.
My boutique business model at Sarah Petty Photography involves high-touch everything, including my marketing.
Amassing thousands of social media followers doesn’t translate to more paying clients. No one sees me on Facebook and thinks, “Oh, I want to hire her.” So I don’t use social media to prospect.
But I do use it to check in on current clients, and then connect with things going on in their lives. My clients are making a huge investment with me. My aim is to gain their trust through high-touch interactions from the start.
Maybe they receive one of my interactive, dog-whistle pieces in the mail. Or a note of joy when they accomplish something remarkable. Perhaps they see me volunteering at a charity they support.
Maybe a small business they frequent introduces me to them, or they see my displays on the walls.
Whatever it is, it’s not happening on Facebook or Twitter. Personalized, high-touch interactions are how to find photography clients, not a bunch of random tweets.
9. Seek out a magic mailing list
Just like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, a magic mailing list awaits. It’s packed with names that wondrously morph into clients once your postcard hits their mailbox. And if you believe that one, I have a proverbial bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.
So stop looking for a magic list, or a magic anything, that will deliver a truckload of clients in one fell swoop.
Instead, focus on building relationships, one at a time and in person.
Get out in your community.
We do business with people we like and trust.
Earn that trust one new client at a time.
Slow and steady is how to find photography clients who trust you and what you do.
10. Gamble on mass advertising
Selling ads was my career fresh out of college. Then in my ad agency days, I was the client buying ads from all the radio, TV stations and newspapers for my clients. So I’ve seen how mass advertising can effectively build businesses – for the right business model.
Most photographers don’t want (or need) 500 clients a year. If you do, then mass advertising like Facebook and Instagram ads, local magazine and television may be a great thing to include on your plan for how to find photography clients.
But photographers aiming for $100,000 a year only need 50 clients spending an average of $2,000 each.
You’re looking for a needle in a haystack if you’re trying to find them with mass advertising.
11. Forget to keep a client database
When business is slow, the first thing I do is go to my client database. Up to 75% of my portrait business each year comes from gushing, thrilled clients who are coming back for another session.
Do my clients just pick up the phone and call me out of the blue?
But it’s more likely I’m specifically marketing to them to come schedule a session. I do it through notes of joy, my dog-whistle marketing pieces and art I donate to charities they support. These are among these 13 other marketing activities I use.
Even if you’ve made one, two – or even all 11 – of these mistakes, you’re not doomed. You can quickly and easily change course.
And if you’re looking for more marketing advice, you can grab a FREE copy of the New York Times Bestselling book for photography businesses, Worth Every Penny, here.