Archive for the ‘Marketing for photographers’ Category

Last few months, I’ve been experimenting with the concept of a loss leader. Basically, you use a low-priced or free item to draw customers in, and recuperate those losses on the higher profit stuff that comes with it. Grocery stores do it by putting sale items and necessities at the furthest reaches of the grocery store, so you have to walk past all the higher profit items in the middle, and hopefully pick some up on the way.

While I am not advocating that you ever do work at a loss, photographers can use this concept. Try offering an introductory photo shoot at a low rate for new customers, and then present them with an opportunity to buy a multi-shoot package, or an upgrade on a print package.

Sure, you’ll get some customers that don’t upgrade, or buy something else. You’ll get customers that don’t call you back next time. But, you’ll also get those that do. It’s important to not concentrate on the reactions of each particular customer. Deliver excellent photographs promptly and professionally, and the averages will work out.

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Again, sorry for the lag in posting.

I came across this post the other day in my google reader. I was pumped for some guidance in this area, because I have basically always been underfunded. I was looking forward to getting some guidance in to how I could spend what little capital I have. The post was a total waste of time, though. Jim guides you through some very wise gear purchases that, yes, add up to $2000. But the premise that someone who does not own a camera would seriously consider becoming a professional photographer is pretty silly.

More likely, when you’re ready to turn pro, you already own an assortment of gear that, to some extent, works for you.

The problem with Jim’s post is that once you’ve got your gear, though, you still don’t have any business. Unless you’re starting out as a weekend warrior, that means you won’t have any income. If you have $2000, period, the worst thing you can do is blow it all on upgrading your gear. I’ve said it before: renting equipment is absolutely the way to go for beginners. You get gear far better than what you can afford for a fraction of the price. If you’re shooting commercial photography, equipment rental is a billable expense. Time your gear rentals for commercial shoots so you get to keep it over the weekend, and shoot personal work with it then.

So, how would I spend that $2000?

Every dime of that money would go to marketing. The way I see it, unless you have customers, not just now, but in the future, you’re toast. My plan: book the work, rent the equipment, stash the profits away until you can afford the gear. Here’s a breakdown of where my time/money would go:

Buy a domain – $100 – You’re a professional? Not on flickr, you’re not. Make sure you’re hosted without ads, too.

Get an awesome website with built in storefront – $200 – An online portfolio is an important impression, and not a place where you can really pinch pennies. I would hire that work out. Find a college student if you have to. The storefront really makes it easier (nay, possible at all!) to sell prints to wedding and portrait customers.

Print portfolios – $250 – You should have at least 3 copies of your portfolio. If you have multiple portfolios, you should still have 3 copies of each. 2 are always sent out somewhere, and one is always at home. Keep those 2 in flux. They’re not getting you business sitting at home. New photographers shouldn’t worry about getting a really fancy book. Focus on great prints in a nicer than average binder. No one is going to pick the crappier photographer with the prettier book. That said, get decent binders.

Print business cards – $100 – I like moo cards because they allow me to show off my work in an unexpected way, but use what you like. Make them memorable, and pass them out like candy.

Join local professional organizations – $200 – Some of these are free, others aren’t. Don’t shy away from the paid groups. The trick is to actually attend meetings, and stay after to talk with people. This is where it all happens. If you’re not selling, you’re not in business. That’s what so many of these ‘how to be a photographer’ posts miss. If you want to do weddings, partner with vendors in related fields. Shoot their product line in exchange for their endorsement of you to their customers. If you want to do commercial photography, work for these and other small businesses directly.

Buy FotoQuote – $150 – Great pricing software. The trickiest thing for me as a new photographer was learning to price my work in a way that would allow me to stay in business. FotoQuote eliminates a great deal of anxiety.

So far, we’re only at $1000. Let’s keep going. At this point, it starts to depend on what industry you want to move into.

Weddings & Portraits? Spend that money on creating a booth and getting into one or two big bridal shows. If you’re leveraging yourself with other vendors, and your work is good, you should be able to get some work.

Commercial photography? Spend that money on mailing lists and mailers. Do your research and create a short list of about 100 or 200 possible contacts. Send them a card a month for 6 months. Call after three months and again after six.

With $2000 invested in marketing, it is not difficult to book enough work to recuperate your losses and establish your business. As you can, begin to buy up quality, long term investment gear. Skip the Sb-26s and save up for profotos. Skip the ‘prosumer’ crap and save up for L lenses. Think of the money you save by not spending $900, and then $2000 (or whatever) on nicer and nicer camera bodies, when you rent, and then save up for top of the line gear.

Anyway, that’s enough. I will, again, try to post with more regularity.

Had a pretty busy labor day weekend, with 3 family portraits and some live music. All my portraits this weekend involved small kids under 2 years old. My sister, Tara Miller, blogger and knitteratus, and I have been working on a neat project creating a youtube video advertising her totally awesome neighborhood: Tributary, in Douglasville, GA. Douglasville is a bit out in the sticks, but this neighborhood is like a Shang-ri-La. Great architecture, wonderful community, lots of activities that aren’t a token gesture and a complete waste of time. Poker nights here are great; some of the best hunch punch I’ve ever had. People really chip in and help each other out, sharing baby gear, business networking and just great relationships.

So, we planned on making our video a photo montage of lifestyle and portrait photography: kids playing in the park, folks walking their dogs, having a neighborhood cookout, etc. I was going for a ‘documentary-with-spin’ kind of vibe – show all the things that are inherently awesome about the place, and show them in a good light. String the photos together, with some CC-licensed music and sound bites of the residents, and you’ve got a great video! So, Tara sent out an email to the Tributary Women’s Group looking for folks willing to pose for some family photos for the project, in exchange for a free 8×10 from the shoot and a signed model release. A ton of folks signed up basically right away.

Things were coming together nicely, when the whole project got canceled right out from under us, for reasons unknown. Total bummer. I really didn’t want to let go of this body of potential repeat customers, though. Instead of canceling the free photo shoots, I decided to re-fashion them into a new promotion for Tributary residents: a free, on-location portrait sitting for all-first time customers. Anyone who signed up before the contest was cancelled still gets the free 8×10.

Lemons -> lemonade. This is going over great.

I generally think it’s a bad idea to give free work now on the promise of paid work later, but I think this is different. First of all, the ‘free work now for paid work later’ garbage generally comes from businesses, not consumers. If a business can’t pay for you now, what makes you think they will want to budget for it later, once you’ve shown them they can get it for free (and if not from you, then someone else)? Consumers are different, though. Build a relationship with a family, and they will keep coming back. It may hurt a bit on the first shoot, but if I do my job right, these folks will all be repeat customers. Think of the freebie as a loss-leader.

Moreover, the work I am shooting now is not free. Thanks to my awesome store-front provided by Smugmug, print sales will (hopefully!) defray my shooting costs and time. This is, of course, a risk. Maybe nobody buys any prints. I am banking on the hope that parents will want to buy pictures of their kids. A pretty safe bet.

Finally, I am getting a lot of value from the pre-existing social networks here. Tributarians are closely-knit. Since they know each other, they listen to each other. By focusing on them, I am generating a positive feedback loop of cumulative buzz (coined!). Given the non-existent results online and print advertising has provided for my business, I am now focusing 100% on generating word-of-mouth recommendations, and I am starting right here.

We’ll see how it goes.

Anyway, next up, I’m going to post a few of my favorite shots from my shoots this weekend. Stay tuned!

I’ve been assembling my new commercial portfolio for 2009. My old book was about 2 yrs old, and I’ve been apprehensive to send it out, causing me to lose business. Not good. Starting a new portfolio from scratch is a tough project. It takes a great deal of self-awareness to pare down your entire library to not just your best, but also your most applicable work. What I mean is, your commercial clients won’t be interested in your wedding work and vice versa. It gets far more specific than that, so today I am going to talk about the process of assembling my commercial portfolio.

Your portfolio should show off the best of the kind of work you want your portfolio to generate. So, if you want to generate still-life, table-top and other product photography, don’t show the client a book of nothing but portraits. Be specific, but not a one trick pony. Be versatile, but don’t just throw spaghetti at the wall. On assembling my single 40-page portfolio, though, I felt my range of subjects was too broad. I flitted from portraits to fashion and beauty to product photography to architecture.

Essentially, I was trying to reconcile two key pieces of advice:

Your portfolio should represent the kind of work you want to get. No one will hire you for something that you don’t tell them you do. I want to shoot a broad variety of work, so shouldn’t my portfolio reflect that?

On the other hand, your portfolio should not be so broad as to make you a jack of all trades, and master of none. For a big portrait assignment, would you call the photographer who shoots nothing but portraits, or the one who divides their attention amongst many subjects? It seems that my problem is that I want to shoot architecture, portraits, fashion and product photography. But will the images designed to turn on one set of clients turn off another?

How can I focus my work like a laser beam with a smaller (15-20) number of images, without sacrificing the breadth of the work I want to promote, or going broke printing multiple portfolios?

I thought I’d decided to print on blurb.com, but I scratched that after reading that some folks have been having real issues with color. check out this quote:

if you think on-demand publishing is an easy way to get a high-quality book you might want to think again. In the best case, you’ll spend a very significant amount of time and money on everything – and then it’s very worthwhile to ask why you wouldn’t do real self publishing.

Jörg Colberg’s blog found via A Photo Editor.

Yikes!

So, back to the drawing board. I believe that I have come up with a portfolio that will satisfy my need for specificity and versatility. Mounting prints in a quality screwpost or ringed binder. For my money, the binder is a great deal for new photographers. Moreover, a binder will allow me to tailor my book to its potential recipient, showing them the best work for their publication or project. I do all the 2 page spread layouts in photoshop, then keep the prints all stored away, until they need to be placed in the book and sent out. This allows me to keep a library of not just images, but pre-designed spreads, so changes to the portfolio can be made quickly.

Pretty nifty!

I’d rather have a low-cost, easily updatable and refinable binder portfolio than to pay more money for something that becomes obsolete, just for a little extra wow-factor on the presentation. I guess I’ll just have to rely on my images being enough to impress potential clients (isn’t that the point?).

Let’s remember that it is the content of your book and your professionalism that will ultimately win you clients. The fanciest book won’t get a crap photographer anywhere. Turd polishing and all that.

Stay tuned tomorrow, when I will actually post some photographs.

I was looking at my blog stats, and I saw someone came to my site searching for ‘tfp for advertising’, and it seemed like a good idea for a post. Let’s talk about giving free photography to a publication for free advertising. In my experience, publications that offer this probably do not have the draw to give you a reasonable number of leads. (Just so we’re clear, a lead is someone who looks at your ad, likes it, desires your services, calls you and can afford the cost.)

See, advertising is a bit like gambling. It all boils down to probability. Of course, there’s the mountains of statistical information you can sift through to improve your odds (what kind of person is more likely to desire my services, and how can my ad appeal to them?), but understand that no advertising will guarantee you leads.

Let’s assume that 10% of readers notice your ad and look at it, instead of flipping past it. If you have less than a full page ad, chances are good that your ad could go unnoticed. Oh well! Now, let’s say that 50% of folks that saw it, liked it. Well, many people will look at your ad, like it, but not have any need for a photographer at the time. Let’s say 10% of the folks that liked your ad actually want to hire a photographer at the time they see your ad. A percentage of those folks will have been inspired by your ad to hire you specifically and may call right away, while some other folks will be ‘shopping around’, looking at several photographers’ advertisements, and may never call. In any case, let’s say 5% of them actually call you. Finally, let’s say about of those callers 25% of those callers can afford your services, and 25% of those people actually book you. These are pretty generous estimates.

So, if we start with a readership of 100,000, we can estimate:
10,000 notice your ad
5,000 like it
500 shopping for photog
25 calls
6 qualified
1 booking

There is a massive rate of attrition between a magazine’s readership and the number of qualified leads an ad can generate. The more eyeballs a magazine has, the more likely it is for you to have potential clients call. So, you need to find the answers to a few questions: Is this a magazine you would choose to advertise in? Are the readers of this magazine going to be interested in your services? Can they afford it? Are there enough of them to generate leads? Before you sign on, find out it if you’re just wasting effort on a statistically unlikely venture.

Point blank: If it’s not worth doing, don’t do it. It’s far better to shoot paid work, and make your own advertising decisions.