Skip Social Media Advertising and Grow Your Business With These Tips

Skip Social Media Advertising and Grow Your Business With These Tips

Growing a business can seem like a nebulous task. It can feel like there are too many ways to do it, with each way being a crap-shoot. Before I made the switch to being a commercial food photographer, I ran a successful marketing agency. Let me share with you some tips to reach your ideal client and grow your business.

Contrary to widely held belief, you do not need to live in a major city to grow your business and be successful. In fact, if you have the right technology systems in place, you will find agencies in larger centers reaching out to you. But this won’t happen if you are not focused or if you are putting resources into low return efforts.

Do Not Waste Money on Social Media Advertising

Unless you are in a position to spend many thousands of dollars, social media advertising has always been more of a bust than a success when it comes to reaching new clients. In time, you may want to think about retargeting ads for when people reach your website organically as those have a better return on investment (ROI). Even then, it can be a crap-shoot as that ad is not what will sell your services. There is a “rule” in the purchasing journey that someone needs to encounter a new brand at least five times before considering it as part of a purchasing decision.

The ability to target ads is also highly variable depending on country and privacy laws. The more rural you are, the more it will be difficult to target ads, because the social media company doesn’t have good data.

If you are a commercial photographer, you also need to know that it is extremely rare that you will book any job worth having because of social media.

Create a Business Plan

It always amazes me how many business owners do not have a business plan. Many people think of business plans as something one only needs if they want a business loan. A business plan is there to guide your business through actionable tactics, dictated by strategies, which results in a goal or goals. Each goal should have its own strategies and tactics. Your business plan should have no more than five goals. Five goals is pushing it in terms of managing success.

The redacted table of contents from my business plan when I was expanding the the scope of my business to include creating art installations that explore the intersections of food, disability, and culture. 

Your business plan should also include personas for each of your target clients. And it should have a clear description of the client journey. The client journey begins when they become aware of your brand, and should include the avenues to researching your offerings, contacting you, the “call,” how pricing is decided, the shoot to deliverables, payments, and more. You need to really spend the time thinking about every step your client will make.

Your business plan should also include marketing strategies, review dates, and things to watch out for to let you know that you may be in trouble and it is time for a new plan. Do not forget to include personas for both your direct and indirect competitors. Do not forget to put review dates into your calendar as an action item.

Get Involved in Your Community

Word-of-mouth is still the number one way a potential client will learn about you. There is the word of mouth that comes from satisfied clients recommending you. There is also the word of mouth that comes from you being involved in the things that matter to your client base. When you create the client personas in your business plan, their values should be a part of that.

An easy example from my own business is that my clients value items that are locally produced and/or value-added products created from locally grown produce when possible. My business participates in a farmers’ cooperative, both as a purchaser and as someone who helps to guide the growing season based on what my business’ needs are. My clients see me being an active part in an initiative that they value, so they hire me because they see our values align.

Spend the time figuring out how the above will look for your business.

Join Your Local Chamber of Commerce

There are many benefits to joining your local Chamber. It’s not only about networking events or discounts on things like business insurance. With many Chambers, you have opportunities to do targeted advertising at an incredibly low cost. These things may include B2B newsletters, your business being part of new-to-town welcome packages, rack space in tourist centers, and more. All for the fraction of the cost of doing social media advertising that may or may not hit your target audience.

Do Targeted Mail Drops

We all like to complain about unsolicited mail. However, the truth is it works. Mailers have the best ROI with a low cost per thousand impressions. As a bonus, you can use the mailer to showcase your work in a way that doesn’t translate to digital media. If you create a well-designed mailer, potential clients will hold on to it for a long time. How many of you have a pad of paper from a realtor sent via bulk mail?

The redacted outside of a mailer I did to reach prospects looking to boost exposure as part of recovery efforts. The inside included a gallery of portfolio images and brief information about available services.

Some country’s postal services make it easier than others. Here in Canada, it is super easy with Canada Post doing everything from helping with design to printing and mailing to desired postal codes. In other countries, there are many services to help, as needed, with each step of the process.

Charge More

Many photographers undercharge because they think they are competing with all photographers instead of the small number of photographers who are direct competitors. Unless you are shooting in a mall or fall under the category of shoot-and-burn, you aren’t competing with those types of photographers. If you did your homework while creating your business plan, you have identified that handful of photographers whose work is of similar quality within the same niche. Those are your competitors.

If they are personal service photographers, you may be tempted to match your competitors’ pricing. Don’t. Base your pricing off your costs of doing business and how much money you want to be earning in a year. If you are really good, take a page out of commercial photography world and don’t put your pricing on your website. If a potential client needs to know cost before initiating contact, they were never going to afford you or value your work to begin with. You can’t lose a client you were never going to get. Not having pricing visible is a terrific way to pre-emptively screen clients.

If you offer commercial services and have prices listed, remove them. Commercial jobs are priced based on scope of a job. You won’t know that scope until you’ve had the call and asked all the questions. Having prices listed will lead to many predatory inquiries that will try to talk you into $20.00 per social media image or “shoot for exposure.” Visible pricing signals someone who is green or desperate for work.

Let your portfolio convince the prospect that you are worth whatever it is the final cost will be.

Find Your Niche

It is so much easier to find clients when you know exactly what it is you do. You also reduce the direct competition pool. The less direct competition you have, the more in-demand you will be. The more in-demand you become, the more you can charge. Even within broad categories such as portraiture on the personal service side, or food on the commercial side, there are hundreds of niches.

If you do the above, you will have a solid foundation to be able to effectively, and affordably, grow your business, no matter the size of the community service.

Jules Sherred's picture

Based in Duncan, BC, Jules Sherred works as a food photographer, writer, journalist, and outspoken advocate for disability and trans rights. He is also an instructor, has his work featured in art shows, and is an accredited food photographer. His cookbook CRIP UP THE KITCHEN is due to be published by TouchWood Editions in Spring 2023.

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Thanks for the info and for not making a 10 minute video.

Thumbs up on that!

Nice to have an article to read. Get involved in your community is the best advice. It may take a little bit of time to get a return on this investment but it will happen. Plus you get to meet other people in your community that you may never have met otherwise.

Love this! And it's true about the Chamber of Commerce. I wish I knew that when I started.

It is a good idea. As my business shifts from working with Fortune 500 companies the local biznesses could be my next target.

This has been quite an interesting read. thanks