Promoting Your Photo Business the Right Way – Marketing for Photographers
In 2011, I remember looking for a new tuxedo for my wedding.
Without any referrals or prior knowledge, I found myself browsing in a longstanding suit shop on the Lower East Side neighborhood of Manhattan and was greeted by an effervescent, outgoing, knowledgeable, and highly skilled salesman. I will never forget that experience.
It became apparent within seconds of entering the store and telling him what I was looking for that his sole purpose was to sell me a tuxedo, and he was not shy about it. He was upfront, had a great sense of humor, and did not make me feel uncomfortable. I enjoyed the way he dealt with me, and after all, I did want to buy a tuxedo from him.
He had a huge selection that was regularly updated, and he could tell just by looking at a customer the best fit for them. He educated me about my body type, fit, and said that he had a style of suit that was less formal that he thought would work well for me.
The first one he chose was perfect despite being slightly larger than I needed. This salesman was both an expert in selling and in suits. Had he had my size, I would have bought the tuxedo from him. Instead, I got the exact tuxedo he recommended elsewhere, and now whenever I need a new suit, I go to see him.
Think of this story in the context of your photography business. His knowledge of suits is similar to your skills as a creative. If you are as skilled in your business as this salesman was in suits and have the same confidence he had in his product, then marketing suddenly becomes easier and more pleasant. Selling is a skill that this man had clearly developed and cultivated in parallel to his knowledge of suits. It is no different from what we want to achieve. As you grow as a creative, you also want to continue to cultivate your marketing and self-promotion skills in tandem.
It is a common thought that marketers are pushy and will do anything to make the sale. People think that they have no qualms with selling you something that you do not need or want. There are obviously those people out there, but there are also those who can market a great product or a service and promote themselves well. You want to excel at this.
There are few words that I dislike more than shameless. How many times have you heard someone say, “Sorry for the shameless self-promotion?” Anyone who says this immediately disqualifies themselves and whatever they are trying to promote with that statement. It lacks confidence. If you are not confident in sharing your work, product, or services with the world, how will your potential clients feel?
If you have a product or service that you believe in, be proud of it, share it with confidence, and people will be more likely to react. If you have confidence in yourself, people will have confidence in you and your abilities.
If you approach a sales situation and appear nervous, others will sense this and will be uncomfortable as well. If you are happy and comfortable, with a warm smile, they will feel at ease.
Learn to gauge people’s personalities and assess each situation so you can respond accordingly. If someone does not make a purchase or engage you for a service, do not appear disappointed or unhappy. Handle the situation with warmth and grace. There is always a chance that they will come back in the future. I have sold images two and three years after initial contact. Suddenly, circumstances changed and they made a purchase unexpectedly.
I have to credit many of these lessons to my wife, Sara, who helped me build our photography business from the ground up. I have learned a lot from her and how she handles herself. Many years ago, we were talking with an acquaintance, and he asked what I did for a living. “I do photography,” I spit out along with a very brief and noticeably uncomfortable explanation of what I did.
Later on, when we had some time to ourselves, Sara said, “What was that? You don’t do photography. You are a professional photographer and you run a successful photography business. You offer many services and are working on a variety of projects that you should be proud of.” The conversation opened my eyes as to how my actions impacted how people saw me.
At the time, I was not trying to market or sell what I did. I was just trying to have a friendly conversation, but I also did not have to belittle what I did with such a succinct and bumbling answer. I was subconsciously doing this because I did not want to seem like I was selling in a friendly situation. However, it was not selling. He asked what I did, and I should have told him and done my absolute best to let him know what I offered. Who knows whom this person knew or if he would ever want my services? Since then, I have picked up many jobs and references from friends and acquaintances just by changing the way I talk about what I do in social situations.
People are excellent at picking up on the subtlest of cues, and so you want to be prepared to answer these questions. Throughout your life, people are going to ask what you do for a living. Get good at answering this question. Plan out the answer. Do not be afraid to educate people on what you offer as long as it is in the scope of the conversation. If there is a situation or business that they are in where your service can help them, you can let them know that. They might be looking for it.
This applies to both speaking and writing. Every word you use can come back to you. You do not “do portraits.” If you say that, a potential client will disappear and forget about you. You are a portrait photographer and you run a portrait photography business that works with local businesses, creatives, families, and actors. If you notice, that covers pretty much everyone. If you say this to an acquaintance, the next time someone at their office mentions that they need a business portrait or are thinking about having a family portrait done, your name will pop into their head.
The underlying theme here is to be genuine and well-intentioned. If you believe in the quality of your product and what you do, then marketing becomes a breeze. Instead of trying to trick someone into doing something that would be against their best interests, you are explaining how they will benefit from working with you, and you are helping to make the sales process as comfortable and fun as possible.