Three Ways to Market Your Photography Business in 2016

Marketing your photography business in 2016 doesn't have to be expensive if you’re willing to put in some elbow grease.

Be it coincidence or circumstance, my friend, Miguel Quiles, and I are both from a very small area in Orlando, Florida, and we both worked in corporate America long before we became photographers. After that, we both found ourselves smack dab in the middle of New York City in one of the most competitive photography markets in the nation for different reasons.

Now, while Miguel ran a portrait photography business in Orlando, I had no such experience. In fact, I’m actually a college dropout. Photography was something that I never considered a sustainable career. I always dreamed of having my own office in New York, working in an awesome suit, making an amazing salary.

So, with dreams of grandeur, I moved to New York City with about $200 in my pocket on January 18, 2007. On January 21, I had my first interview. On January 23, I started my first day at work, making $45,000 per year. By 2012, my job title was Regional Sales Manger at a private company. I worked my butt off and was getting ahead in life. I was 22 years old, and thought I’d conquer the world. Then, I got laid off.

That left me with a couple of options: suck it up and find a new job or commit to photography and try to make it.

Fortunately, I had a great mentor. I had a chance to see exactly how the business functioned and how to make a living as a creative. What I quickly realized was that everything financially successful photographers did was exactly the same thing that any successful businessperson would do. They did the grunt work, put in the hours, and even used the same marketing tactics.

So, why should you care?

I think many aspiring photographers strive to get agency representation without knowing what agencies actually do. It’s essentially like Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner: Once they get it, what actually happens? In short, photo agents operate your sales, marketing, and scheduling and negotiate on your behalf. Unfortunately, most photographers will never have the chance to ever sit down with a photo agent. As a matter of fact, most of the photographers who operate FStoppers run successful photography businesses without photo agents. It is absolutely possible to be a successful photographer without a photo agent if you’re willing to put in the hours, and you’re smart about your time.

Miguel and I have both worked in corporate America, we both have had some experience working in sales, and we’re not afraid to get our hands dirty. At the end of the the day, we’re both willing to put in the hours. We were both able to establish our photography businesses based on some old marketing principles: cold calls, flyers, and physically visiting our clients. Remember that everyone is sending emails these days; we’ve just adopted old methods of marketing in order to separate ourselves from the masses, and it’s worked for us. The video above explores three reasons along with some tips on how we’re able to market our photography businesses in 2016.

If you're looking for ways to market your business on a budget, look no further:

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19 Comments

Chris Cheek's picture

IMO more people then ever are not receptive to phone calls in today's time. Due to scams,telemarketing, etc..If anyone cold calls me, I am automatically suspicious of their intent..

Jeff Rojas's picture

I'm intrigued. Where do you live and how to do pitch clients over the phone?

Jason Lorette's picture

Cold calling? I can't even imagine do this today, heck I hardly even use my phone as an actual phone any more. I despise when I'm cold called personally, I can't imagine doing it myself.

Jeff Rojas's picture

If I can come up with a script that would work for you... would you try? :)

Eymeric Widling's picture

It really depends what kind of photography you do, and who your target clients are too. Just browsing Jason's website, I see he does boudoir, weddings portraits etc. I don't think cold calling for boudoir would work too well haha. That's the kind of thing you'd have to look into trade shows, cross business promos etc. Cold calling (well sort of) could come in handy if you collected contact info at a trade show of prospective clients.

Jeff Rojas's picture

lmfao. I'm now picturing that scenario and... it's hilarious to say the least.

I Absolutely agree. :)

Jason Lorette's picture

Sure Jeff...I would absolutely...I'd try (just about) anything once. Except jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, that's just silly. I do a lot of portrait work mixed in now too with the boudoir and such.

Dallas Dahms's picture

I think that the key to success is networking with people in business. I tried a BNI meeting recently and it sounds like it could bear fruit, but there's no way I could attend a meeting every week just to stay in the group. Must be a better way...

Jeff Rojas's picture

That's a good point. Time management is really important.

Eymeric Widling's picture

I've had great success with cold calling, and it's the main way I initiate contact with a prospective client. You don't have to sell anyone anything on the phone, it's just a great way to establish contact before sending a portfolio (digitally or physically) or visiting in person. Think of it as touching base in order to get an appointment or portfolio drop off.

That's the second thing, physical marketing, as mentioned in the video. Things like a real, physical portfolio you can send and that they can keep (I do magazine style booklets, reasonably affordable but look great), real greeting cards, small marketing packages as updates etc. No one gets good mail anymore, so it's always appreciated. I put huge effort into portfolio packages, send new clients thank you cards, xmas cards etc. all branded, designed etc. so it reflects the quality of my work. You'd be surprised how many cards you'll get back, and how positive the response is.

Maximilian Mesch's picture

My top tips are:

- Golf/Tennis Club (a lot of people with successful businesses)
- Entrepreneur meetings/workshops (a lot of people with new businesses = new product, team and image photos needed)
- call small web design agencies (3-10 people), they always need photographers and they send out your portfolio to their new clients

Cold calling? In 2016? Eh, no. I've tried it, I've had some success but it's rare. You gotta kiss a lot of frogs. A LOT of rejection. I can deal with that, it's just not efficient. The vast majority of people just don't want to be interrupted at a time inconvenient to them with something they're likely not wanting. They realise the information is out there when/if they want it so they'll do it on their own time.

Jeff Rojas's picture

I can understand your logic. I think I may do a follow up video shortly on the way that I isolate the clients that I'm trying to contact. I think it'll make more sense then. :)

Sure, I'd be interested in seeing it. I'm still convinced that the best approach is to make sure you are 'there' when they go looking or at least be putting out content that they will see that will cause them to think. We are now hard coded as a society to do things our way/on our time. When I made calls my goal was always investigatory, I didn't want to push a sales pitch but even with that thinking I'd still come up against the whole "we don't take sales calls" thing because that's what we've all been taught to believe an unexpected approach is, a sales pitch. It's almost impossible to break that.

Jay Hannibal's picture

Some good info guys!! Old School love it!

Jeff Rojas's picture

Thanks for watching and reading! :)

This is great, do the things no one else is doing and build relationships, super simple but often overlooked

Jeff Rojas's picture

You are so right! Relationship building is by far the most crucial aspect of photographing anyone or building a business. People want to feel comfortable working with you on both sides of the fence.

I'm about a year late to the party on this video post but wanted to comment regardless. I'm not a fan of cold calling, at least over the phone. That might be a good tactic for portrait or wedding or maybe even product photography but given the stated 2% diff between spamming and cold calling by phone I'm dubious on that approach. I work in IT as my (paying) day job and I'm bombarded every day with spam and cold calls from sales people trying to sell me something. They all go to the bit bucket and they're highly unlikely to be considered for any business in the future. I'd be much more interested in advice on approaching people in person at local places that work with local artists to provide art on the walls of their business either for sale or for aesthetics. What other marketing options are there we could use? Social media dos and don'ts? By the way was I the only one that noticed the edge of the cyc background showing on the hand side? ;-). Just had to give you some guff. Outside of the cold calling I did find some the suggestions helpful and definitely appreciated.

Dave