We are all looking for the holy grail to help our work get noticed, so I thought I’d put together a list of ideas that might help you bring your company to the next level. You may not be the next Chris Buck or Terry Richardson, but you’ll being doing what 95% of the other people are not doing.
First, you need to sharpen your game. There is no better advertising than that of having stunning work that rocks the socks off of a potential client. When learning to photograph, we all go through a growth period to define who we are as a photographer. After shooting tens of thousands of photos, you’ll soon find out what works for you and what doesn’t. This is the early stages of developing a style that will start to define you as a photographer. The photos that you get excited about, will probably be the ones that start to define the little niche you are trying to build. So this is probably the first and most important thing you need to do decide, who you are and what you will shoot?
Develop a Web Presence
You have to have a website or images hosted somewhere that people can find them. Even if you use Flickr.com or some other free site, you need to get your work out there to prove your abilities.
If you are going to build a site on your own, there are a number of great options, probably the best being WordPress with tons of plugins and both free and premium themes available. WordPress is easy to optimize for Search Engine Optimization with plugins like the All in One SEO pack and the Google XML Sitemap Generator.
Of course you’ll need hosting for your site. Do not use a free hosting service, they are terrible and loaded with ads that just detract from a professional image. Also be wary of using shared hosting that may have thousands of other sites clogging up the datapath to your site. At one point we were hosted on a shared hosting site with over 4,500 other websites sharing the same IP address . Look at this chart below from our crawl stats for the site, before we moved to Westhost.com. This is the time in milliseconds that it took for Google to crawl us.
Once you have your hosting service, then you need to decide on design options. From my personal experience, forget the fancy flash intros and music. You can still use flash as I do on TerryDivyak.com, but keep it to a minimum. Editors and clients only have so much time to browse your site and if it’s slow or kludgy, then they move onto the next photographer. A well designed, easily navigable website with a short easy to remember domain name will keep viewers focused.
Create a Branding for your Company – If you are going to be a professional, then you want to look professional. I have company that requires a visible branding identity and have found some fantastic resources. First we wanted a logo that was professional, had a simple color scheme and would not be dated 5 years from now. We found great service at Thelogocompany.com.
The process is quite easy. You fill out a simple questionnaire on what your company does, what type of logo you want and any suggestions you might have for its design. Once you pay for the service, as many as five designers will work on your idea and within a few days present your with the options. I have to say all six of our initial designs were amazing. We then chose one that would define our company for the next 10-15 years and in another day or two, we had high resolution files of the logo for $149.00.
The business will also require clothing that has our logo, so we chose to use Queensboro.com. There was no setup for for the logo and all we did was send over the camera ready art from the logo company. Within a few weeks we had shirts, jackets and laptop cases emblazoned with the logo.
I am handing out business cards all the time. When I first started shooting I listed a number of bullet points on the card like travel, swimwear, senior portraits, sports etc. Now I just simplify my cards with the title of Photographer and all my contact information along with my web url address.
A couple of good options for business cards are VistaPrint.com and Moocards.com. I use Vista Print and feel that the premium glossy cards give a more professional look. Do not use the free cards, which will have Vista Print advertising on the back.
Modern Postcard has some really great options that I will be looking into as well.
Start handing out your business card to everyone you know and ask them for feedback on your website and your images. During casual conversation, probe the customer and ask for their email address. If they mention something like a special anniversary coming up or a birthday, send them a coupon for a discount or a gift certificate for your services or offer a freebie such as a larger enlargement or better frame. If they have a child who is a Junior in high school, send them a brochure or info on your senior portrait photos.
Beating the Bushes
My Mom used to be in sales years ago and she said that in order to get business, you have to go out and “Beat the Bushes”. Most business will be gained by your efforts in networking and being an evangelist for your work and your own career. For us creatives, this is probably the hardest part about being a freelancer. We just want to create and not worry about the business side.
So what can one do?
In researching this article, I looked at what others are doing by checking out some of the better forums I read, suggestions from fellow photographers I know and my own successes.
Phone Book – This is probably the worst place to focus your marketing dollars. Personally I have not picked up a phone book in the past two years. Even if you get in the phone book, you’ll probably be competing with the portrait mills and low ball companies that are priced lower than what one should shoot.
Optimize your website with SEO . Google is the new telephone book if you’re not search engine optimized, coming up on the first or second page, then you’re losing out on large opportunities. I use Google Insight, to see what keywords are being searched most often. Here’s an article I wrote earlier on using Insights. Seochat is also another great resource.
Create an Email Newsletter. You want to have a mechanism to have people sign up for a monthly newsletter or your RSS feed for your blog. Icontact.com has some great options for marketing to your email list including tracking performance, over 300 templates to create a professional look to your communications, surveys, etc.
Become a writer – Submit your photos along with an editorial to magazines or other publications that fit your niche. This not only creates exposure, but builds credibility. This should be in addition to your blogging.
Give away freebies – If you shoot athletes or sporting events, you can have your own custom logo water bottles created at Specialized.com. You’ll spend about $350.00 – $400 for a minimum quantity of 200 with shipping and setup fees.
Create Ten Unique Factors – Create at least ten unique factors that put you above everyone else in your niche. If you don’t have ten, then you need to brainstorm and determine how you can have ten. The last thing you want is a business that is easy to duplicate. You don’t want someone with a lower price to come in and take market share. However you do it, you have to be unique. This is probably the single most important thing I have learned from hiring a business consultant. Just like Geico, I just saved you $125 an hour for that advice.
Create a Blog – This serves two purposes, it helps build your rank in SEO and allows you to create something viral that others will always come back to. Be positive in your posts and share your technical (Strobist) information with others to build an audience.
Develop Relationships with the Person – Though the company is ultimately your client, you’ll need to develop relationships with the people who are decision makers. Art Directors are the ones purchasing your photography and if they move on to another job, they can help you by being your advocate at their new company.
Shoot Fresh Work – Get out and expand your work for yourself, not just your clients. By keeping a fresh book, people will see that you are staying up to date and it creates the viral effect of bringing people back to you. This gives you something to say when you are marketing via email instead of saying, “Hey come look at my old stuff“
Don’t be afraid of people stealing your images. I know I’ll get some flack for this, but the masses have come to expect that music and photography is free and they see no harm in stealing images off of websites. Face it, people are going to leach your stuff off the web and use it on blogs, for school projects etc. You can help police this by using Tineye.com to see where your images wind up or you can use it to your advantage. There is also a solid line (not using fine line here) between someone taking a few images and those passing your work off as their own.
When posting your images, keep the size relatively small, maybe no more than 600px on the longest side, and make sure you add a logo or website URL watermark of some sort to the photo. Yes, there are some people who will take the time to crop these out, but many won’t This is where you can get added exposure. I would also suggest not making the watermark so big that it detracts from the image. Dan Heller has a good article on watermarking.
Do Pro Bono Work – Sometimes working for free can pay off. Are there any local festivals you can partner with? A high visibility charity? Maybe the local homeless advocate newspaper is looking for contributors. This allows you to be a bit more creative as the client is not paying you, but add to your visibility in the community.
Pick up the phone – Suggestion from Andy Anderson “Scour Communication Arts, PDN, Graphis and the ADC books find people who’s art direction speaks to you. Remember its a collaboration, so and then contact them. They will be blown away you even took the time to call them.”
From another photographer Jon Hornstein “Always send an email in advance with a link to your work and mention that you’ll be calling them “later in the week.” You might also ask if they have a preferred time for you to call them. (Very few will write back but those who do already show an interest in your work. But call everyone even if they don’t write back.) Then when you call, be prepared to send the email again while you’re on the phone in case they didn’t see it or it got buried.
Have some news and an offer, keeping it brief (”I’m traveling the China in December and wanted to know it you were interested in . . .” or “I just finished a stock shoot of adventure travel and want to know if you were interested in possibly licensing some of the images on an exclusive basis before they are released as stock.”)
Then ask if this is a good time for them speak, or is there’s a better time for you to call back. Try to get a specific appointment time.
Ask them questions, such as what are there upcoming needs, what kind of work do they want to see that they aren’t seeing enough of, etc.
Always be respectful of their time. On the surface, it may seem like their job is to find fresh talent. In reality, most photo buyers have hole to fill in an ad or magazine article and their tendency is to go with the tested and reliable as opposed to the new and risky. Like everyone else, they typically have huge workloads and getting to know new talent is a luxury.
And don’t forget, you might be the 5th or 10th photographer who calls them that day.” From this link
Excuse Me can I Shoot Your Dog? – From this Blog Post “ Asking people if I can photograph their dogs has proven to be a very innovative and effective method to find new photography customers. I have tested other questions and have found varying degrees of success. Walking up to complete strangers and asking if you can take their picture might prove challenging by itself. However, asking a person with a dog (or a bird, cat or pot-bellied pig, or a python, etc.) if you can take their pet’s picture is the perfect conversation starter.”
Events and Weddings – If you shoot events or weddings, bring a laptop and run a slideshow of the 30-40 of the best images from the wedding so far. You can have your assistant prepare these while you shoot the reception. If money allows, bring in flat panel display for greater effect. Put a small table with your brochure and business cards in the high traffic locations as well.
Customer Service – And finally, for those customers you already have, treat them like your reputation depended on it because it does. Don’t be a prima donna, wanna be a rock star, photographer. Once a customer finds a good photographer they can rely on, they’ll stick with them for years. Besides, what were all the costs above to gain that client?
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