Clever Marketing - 4 Unconventional Ways To Better Market Yourself For Free

Clever Marketing - 4 Unconventional Ways To Better Market Yourself For Free

When teaching workshops and talking to other photographers, I’m constantly asked how I market myself to gain more exposure and business. While there are no surefire ways to insure your success when it comes to marketing, I have found four really unconventional ways to better market myself.

While there are effective ways to market your business better, all of them come at a cost. Facebook ads, mailers and print ads all serve their place in the industry, and can be very beneficial when done correctly. However, the odds of you getting any of that for free is nearly impossible. So let me teach you some strategies I’ve used to better market myself.

The Coffee Shop Retouch

I’m constantly in coffee shops retouching images. On paper, this seems ridiculous, as my desktop computer is far more superior than the laptop I own. To top is off, my laptop’s screen doesn’t calibrate well, and ends up being quite a bit warmer than my properly calibrated IPS screens attached to my office computer. However, I’m able to market myself while I work, using the curiosity of others as my main tactic.

You see, when I’m sitting at a coffee shop editing, I’m sitting there with my Wacom tablet in my hand, and diligently working at 200% zoom within Photoshop. To the average person who doesn’t know what a Wacom tablet is, this is interesting; and to the person who is familiar with Wacom tablets, this is even more interesting.

If I pick a particularly chatting and louder coffee shop, I usually have a couple people come up to me throughout the retouching process and ask what I’m doing. I’ll then proceed to show them, with before and afters of the work I’ve created. This almost always ends with them being generally impressed and asking for my business card. To date, coffee shop meetings have brought me over $1600 in additional sales this year, the best part of all, is I’m getting work done in the process.

The Community’s Photographer

We all work for free at one point or another, whether we want to admit it or not, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't come with some free marketing. Often, when working a community event for the sake of promoting yourself, you're not left with much opportunity other than handing out a few business cards to the attendees. However, promotion shouldn't have to start and end at the few business cards. A few weeks leading up to the event, contact local community newspapers, explaining the event and and your role as the photographer. Often, they'll like to highlight the event (as they are a community paper) and if done right, will feature you in the process. Not only will this strategy benefit your career, but the event you're working for will be impressed with the extra press coverage.

And you can find ways to get some free press for any reason at all. Something people often fail to realize is that local media is always looking for ways to run stories on the community. Reach out to news morning shows, and other creatives in the industry, you might find a way to get yourself some free press. Here in Albuquerque, I'm on the news or a TV series pretty often, and the sole reason I'm awarded these great opportunities is that I ask to be apart of them. Not only are they fun, but also an exceptional way to get yourself and business some free press and marketing opportunities.

The Elusive 'Exclusive' Coupon

We've all posted a last minute "25% off this weekend only" last minute promotion to Facebook. The end result is that people will show interest, but rarely will any actual business come from it. I've found using "exclusive" coupons has been far more successful on booking last minute sessions to help pay the bills at the end of the month.

By exclusive coupons, I mean coupons that aren't really exclusive at all, but appear to be to the average viewer. Every 5 or 6 months, I'll post a link to my local market's subreddit on the ever so popular reddit. I start the post with how much I appreciate reddit, and how they've helped me in the past to build my business and kept my business afloat. As a way to show my gratitude, I offer the members of that community a coupon for 25% off my services for the next couple weeks. Rather than being "downvoted to oblivion" the post is usually met with positivity, and will often sit on the top of the subreddit for a few days. The end result is that I get interaction with potential clients, more local "likes" on my Facebook, and an additional booking or two. This year, the 'exclusive' coupons have gotten me over $2300 in sales.

The Cat's Curiosity

Minimalist marketing certainly has it's advantages. While technically, this technique isn't free, I have done it for under $5 and an afternoon to prep and set up.

Domain names have become incredibly cheap over the years (often can be found for around $1/year), and allowed us to buy them for different projects based on a fleeing idea instead of a set in stone concept. Personally, I own over 75 different domain names, a couple of them being used, but many of them are nothing more than just a redirect to my website, working as a place holder for a concept I'll develop later. But I also buy domain names for the sake of quick promotions.

For example, I bought the domain name, and then made a word file with nothing more than just "" typed on it multiple times. Printing a couple sheets, and with some packing tape, I started pasting it on various coffee shop billboards and other locations around town. The lack of information sparks the interest of those walking by, and will often get them to check out the website. Where does it lead? But to my "Portrait Info" portion of my website, where I discuss my knowledge as a photographer, and pair it with reviews, examples and links to book photo sessions - a giant collaboration of little bits of info to win people over in 60 seconds or less. While I'm not sure how much business this has lead me, it has resulted in about 20 new views to my website a day, with it costing me under $5 total.

Some people might look at this strategy as spam, but I've gotten nothing but a positive response for it. I make sure I'm not posting any of my little clippings on anything where adverts aren't allowed, to insure that it doesn't come off as spam to my potential clients. The key to this one is location, insuring you're not vandalizing other peoples work for your own little viral marketing scheme.

Zach Sutton's picture

Zach Sutton is an award-winning and internationally published commercial and headshot photographer based out of Los Angeles, CA. His work highlights environmental portraiture, blending landscapes and scenes with portrait photography. Zach writes for various publications on the topic of photography and retouching.

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That interview with you was hilarious Zach. I laughed out loud pretty hard hahaha. Awesome tips as well. Thanks!

Hahah. I actually had no idea whatsoever that it was a parody show prior to I tried to keep my cool, but the entire time I was thinking "Is this guy serious!?" in my head.

Oh jeeze! I might have froze and been like "dude what are you even saying?" haha

You could be the first Xach/Xak, lol!

I'm totally trying that last one. I know a lot of people are afraid of sounding spammy when they market, when in reality they are not pushing hard at all. For instance, are people really going to follow and then when they find out where it leads think, "This is such garbage and this Zach guy is scum!!!". No, they will either go "huh" or they will get in touch.

Hi Zach, I have been doing a few things and plan to do more with clever marketing tactics. Here's the first one I did: I give this to high schoolers and young adults when I work things like photobooths or when they hear I shoot portraits/headshots.

Another idea I am working on is printing high-quality 4x6's with examples of my work and including my email, website, and instagram and casually tossing them around wherever I go.

Great points! I've always felt people under-utilize local news organizations. Many morning talk shows (local ones) struggle for content. So that is a great way to get yourself out there for sure!

The coffee shop idea is awesome!! going to find the closest coffee shop to an Ad agency that i want to be noticed by, and overdose on coffee and Photoshop brushes

Pretty great stuff man, I have picked up a few jobs here and there by playing my card inside wedding books at local book stores and shops. Ha! Silly as it is it has landed me a couple weddings and a handful of engagment sessions.

Oh! I love this idea Andrew! I'm going to start doing this in all food related magazines. Thanks for the tip!

This is an absolutely brilliant idea!

Or you could write a piece about marketing on a photography site. Oh the inception of marketing going on here =)

Markception. It's a word now.

I do the coffee house thing so I created skins for all my portables, i.e. Laptops, iPad, iPhone to do the promoting while I work.

Geez, that interviewer, Juan David Whatever, was a jerk!

Great post, pretty sure I wouldn't have been able to stop myself from walking off that interview, your a better man than me Zach.

Sach "Just kidding" Zach, is he nuts......... why did you stay?????......

It does work on the Coffee Shop Retouch method.

If there's no paperwork or photoshoot in the studio, I'll ended up hang out in one of CBD's Cafe with my notebook and do some Editing Retouch. I placed a huge sticker on my Notebook's cover with my name, home address. Sometimes perspective client will approach me, sometimes I'll get an instant messenger or e-mail from my phone inquiry about my photo service.

Everyone should try...