If you want to keep your business relevant or have that breakthrough year you’ve been dreaming of, you need to have a plan in place that continually attracts quality clients. Here is where you can find them in 2019.
It’s a new year and the perfect time to put a marketing plan in place for your business. Each year seems to bring dramatic changes to our industry. Think back to only five years ago when few people knew about mirrorless cameras, Facebook pages were where everyone shared their work, and the desaturated image wasn’t yet the trendy style. Photography has changed. The way to find clients has changed too. Below is a list of relevant marketing strategies, as well as a few you should avoid, when looking for potential clients in 2019.
Strategies To Do
So where are clients looking for photographers currently? Although Instagram is always changing, and inevitably the momentum will soon shift to another social media giant, this is still the best way to find clients in 2019. Right now, posting on Instagram is comparable to the television ad of twenty years ago, except that it is free. The number of people you can reach for no cost is too good to pass up. Each year I track how my clients are finding me. Even though I am terrible at keeping up with social media, Instagram has provided me with an increasing amount of new clients each year and is the number one place that people tell me that they see my work.
Pay for Ads on Social Media
Did you know the recommended spend on marketing for small businesses is 10% of your gross revenue? Do the math on what that would be for your business, and I’m sure that most photographers don’t come close to that number. We all scoff when social media platforms require us to spend money for others to see our work. But you should stop and think about this. To grow any business, you have to spend money somewhere for marketing, and targeted social media ads give you unprecedented control over who your money reaches.
The negative side of this is that most photographers utilize ads poorly. As a married, male photographer, I should never see a sponsored post trying to target engaged women planning their wedding. Yet I see them all of the time. Facebook and Instagram allow you to target the exact type of client you are looking for, providing you with more effectiveness for the cost than any other kind of ad out there. Creating these focused ads are not hard. If you want to know where to start, take a look at Facebook’s Ad Manager. This tool gives you another level of control besides merely boosting a post.
Invest in Your Website and SEO
Businesses only survive when they have sales, but most creative people are terrible at selling themselves. Your website, however, is essentially a virtual salesman that promotes your work and captures leads daily. Yet it often gets pushed to the bottom of our to-do list in both content and quality. The point is that your site should do more than show your images and your contact info. It should sell. You need to take some time and evaluate if the flow of your page is selling or if it is only acting as a portfolio.
On design, I want to encourage you to take the financial risk and not do this yourself, even if you know how. Photographers are a funny group, in that while we have great eyes for capturing images, we are generally terrible at designing things from scratch. There are too many beautiful templates out there, or even better, professionals willing to work for a decent price that will do a better job than you can.
Lastly, here’s a thought on search engine optimization. You could pay a large amount of money to compete with other ads on Google consistently, or you could pay to improve your SEO once. It’s rare for a photographer to know what to do to raise their search ranking, so this is a great way to stand out in an area where competition is low. Spending money here could easily allow you to overtake one of the top spots on Google in your area.
Strategies To Avoid
Facebook Swap Pages and Thumbtack
It matters how your clients find you. I want that point to sink in. If any of these next methods are working for you, that’s great. But if you aren’t finding the clients you want, you are exhausted with being haggled over on price, and people don’t seem as excited as you hoped that they get to work with you, you need to think about how they found you. This is why I hate the options I just listed and sites similar to them.
If you want to find a real dumpster fire, search for the last time someone requested suggestions for a cheap photographer on your city’s Facebook swap page. To be clear, what I call a swap is a local page dedicated to buying and selling things in a community. What usually happens here is someone wants recommendations of photographers, and the primary thing they want is someone willing to work for cheap. These posts always end with dozens of comments from photographers so desperate for the job they will do so at any price.
I hope I don’t sound arrogant, but here is my point. As a wedding photographer, I don’t think the type of client I want to work with is looking for the photographer of the most important day of their life by asking who is cheap on a buy and sell page on Facebook. Secondly, if you are competing with other photographers on pages like this or websites like Thumbtack, you need to consider the effect this has on your brand and how you are perceived. I’ve been a photographer long enough to know the best clients are the ones who are excited that they get to have you as their photographer. On the other hand, the clients who settle for you because you fit their budget and are open on their day have been some of the most difficult to work with.
Rely Only on Word of Mouth
I regularly hear photographers say things like, “My business makes $50,000 a year, and I don’t spend a dime on marketing.” And my reaction is always, “You would be making $150,000 a year if you would reinvest some of that to get more clients.” There is no doubt, word of mouth is the best form of marketing. Having a client, not an employee, sell you for free based on their experience has more power than any ad out there. The problem is that the ability to reach large numbers of people is too limited when you only handle a few dozen clients a year. Word of mouth is excellent, but don’t fall into the trap of believing that the pinnacle of marketing is to only rely on this one method to gain clients.
Marketing is always a shot in the dark when starting, and it hurts to see your money go out without any return. Like anything though, with practice, you should eventually have a perfected plan that is proven and provides a decent average return for every dollar spent. In an area where many photographers struggle, now is the best time to get ahead of the pack and market your work well. Here’s to a great 2019 for us all!