Finding clients to hire you can be a complicated and expensive process. This article explores a free and simple marketing technique that has proven to be extremely effective.
I’m not good at marketing. I had a lucky break in 2013 when someone discovered my work on Flickr. Since then, they’ve sent me all over the world and are responsible for 80% of my income. I won the photography lottery.
Because of this break, I had the impression that I had marketing all figured out. That illusion was shattered when I launched my architectural photography business. I posted work online and this time, no incredible offers came through.
The past four years have been a struggle of learning and experimenting to get my work in front of the right eyes. I’ve tried email campaigns, mail campaigns, paid advertising on social media, and even cold calls. None of those efforts resulted in enough work to be a viable business.
This year, I stumbled upon a simple technique that seems to have made a drastic impact on my marketing. I am enthusiastic and excited in what I do, and I don’t hide this in front of others.
For years, I had been downplaying what I do and how incredible my job is. Part of the reason is the guilt I feel when I leave my family to travel the world. I don’t want to come home to let them know about the amazing time they missed out on. In addition, I come from a culture that values understatement and generally down plays achievements.
Recently, I was out for drinks with my “lottery” client. They introduced me to their bosses and said to them, “this is Jon, we pay him to travel the world taking photos.” Even now, I cringe when I think of my response, “Yeah, it’s a fun job, but it’s not as amazing as what people think. I spend months away from home and more time driving and flying than actually photographing.”
Here was an opportunity to share my excitement for what I do and to simultaneously express my gratitude. Instead, I focussed on the bad part of the job. Since then, I’ve radically shifted the way I talk about what I do. I still can’t believe that I get paid to travel the world and to take photographs. If I were independently wealthy, I’d do the job for free. In fact, before I was hired to be a travel photographer, I used to pay to go on trips just to do the photography that I now get paid to do. Today, I don’t subdue this childlike wonder at all and this extends to my architectural photography business.
Interestingly, work started to trickle in — magically it seemed to me. What I discovered is that people were talking about me. My excitement about my work became contagious.
Almost every working photographer I know attributes word of mouth as their main source of business. Word of mouth is powerful because it plays on a desire to be the insider. We all like to be the person who discovers the great new place to eat, the incredible new app, or an interesting photographer. The only way you can be the insider is by telling everyone about your discovery.
Chances are that your friends know what you do. Have you given them the opportunity to be an insider? Do your friends recommend you because they’re doing you a favor, or do they recommend you because they want to be an insider. If the people you meet sense your excitement about what you do, they’ll feel like the insider when they recommend you to potential clients. I’d go as far to say that the excitement you convey over your work has a bigger impact on someone than the quality of your images.
Here are some things to consider when talking about your work:
- Most people who work regular day jobs find it fascinating to talk to someone who is “out of the system.” Become someone’s break from the mundane.
- Do you have an interesting story of how you became a photographer? I shared mine with someone yesterday who proceeded to show me their arms and exclaimed, “I’ve got goosebumps.” My images have never had this effect.
- Are you doing something you love — something that you would do for free if you didn’t need the income? Express your love for what you do. People want to enable others to do what they love.
- Don’t underplay your successes. Where would you rather eat, the James Beard award winning restaurant or the restaurant with the empty seats?
- Think carefully about how you word your social media posts. Who are you going to hire to photograph your wedding? The photographer with the standard, “it was such a privilege to photograph your beautiful day” post or the photographer with the excited, genuine post; “it was incredible seeing your obvious love for each other. There were so many special moments to capture, it made it a pleasure to photograph your wedding!”
If you’ve been holding back your enthusiasm for what you do, unleash your excitement. It is free, easy and effective. The worst that can happen is that someone might roll their eyes at your over the top exuberance. Disguising your excitement on the other hand, may cost you opportunities.