Eleven inspiring photographers and creative teams share their insights on growing a brand and a thriving client base in 2020.
According to a survey of 300 professional wedding photographers conducted earlier this year by the UK company Your Perfect Wedding Photographer, online advertising accounts were the second biggest expense for working photographers, exceeded only by equipment. The average marketing spend for these photographers was £1,253 in 2019.
Although these numbers are specific to the wedding genre, they’re also indicative of the importance of marketing for the modern photographer. Self-promotion isn’t always something that comes easy to creative professionals, but it is a non-negotiable aspect of running a business.
“You can’t wait for people to come to you,” Vancouver-based photographer Darina Kopcok explains. “One thing that I learned at the beginning of my business is that you can’t stop marketing, even when you’re busy.”
“It’s usually the first thing to fall by the wayside when you have a lot on your plate, but when business inevitably slows down, you might find that you don’t have enough new clients coming in the door. That’s when marketing really pays off.”
Here, eleven inspiring photographers and creative teams share their insights on growing a brand in 2020. Read on for their best tips.
13 Pro Tips on Creating a Thriving Photography Business in 2020
Tip #1: Start an E-Newsletter
“I send out a Mailchimp email blast every eight weeks or so, but I only include new work — only something that’s never been seen before in my other channels,” Northern California-based photographer Shea Evans tells us. “My email folks are my most special. I use Yodelist to build a list of targets.”
Tip #2: Send a Print Mailer
“I do most of my marketing through regular outreach and pitching,” Darina Kopcok explains. “For me, printed mailers, like magazines, have been crucial in getting more recognition and opportunities to bid on higher-level projects.’
“We’re so inundated with digital imagery that we forget how powerful printed photographs can be. It’s a treat when an art director receives a beautifully printed promo piece or has the opportunity to interact with a well-printed portfolio.’
“I’ve invested a lot in my book by working with a high-quality printer who makes my images look better than I thought they could, and it has paid off with the response I get when I’m able to show it in person.”
Tip #3: Post Regularly on Social Media
“Instagram is essential for staying in touch with clients,” Shea Evans adds. “I use my wall/feed for portfolio work and Instagram Stories for more personal, day-to-day stuff, but I try to keep everything eighty percent on brand, which for me, is food photography. I use Instagram highlights for thematic elements of my brand, like behind-the-scenes stuff, my origin story, or my work ‘in the wild.’”
Optimizing your social media channels is the first step towards growing your online presence. Make it easier for clients to find you by using trending hashtags, geotagging your location, or sharing new projects, images, videos, and blog posts. Take advantage of Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest, depending on your target audience and where they’re likely to browse.
“On Instagram, I’ve hosted two Live shows so far — one being a live flat lay challenge with myself and a guest, and another being as an Instacast (Instagram Podcast) called WorthWild, where I hosted other artists and we talked about their creative path,” Kansas-based photographer Kim Bear tells us. “All of these efforts were to gain more exposure, and I plan on continuing the Lives after this quarantine and will continue to produce educational content.”
Tip #4: Start Pitching Locally
“When I first started working directly with clients, most of my advertising was done locally, in order to establish and grow my base,” Italian photographer Maurizio De Mattei says. “I still regularly cold call art directors, photo editors, marketing communication directors, etc., or send them newsletters and promotional material — such as small booklets about recent works or topics I think they might be interested in.’
“Persistence is as important as a great portfolio, and client relations have to be nurtured by direct contact, consistency, and reliability.”
Tip #5: Target the Right Clients
“I find targeting a small group of people works for me,” Los Angeles-based photographer Yuya Parker says. “I value personal connections. Instead of approaching a hundred people at the same time, I spend my time making connections with a couple of people I’m very interested in working with. When I get email promos from other creatives and photographers, the ones I want to reply to are always those with personal touches, not just a random mass email, so I try to take a similar approach.”
Tip #6: Work on your Personal Brand
“I recommend developing a personal brand and following it,” the artists behind photography duo NadyaEugene tell us. Your personal brand can be influenced by your subject matter and niche, your relationship with followers, or your overall aesthetic and color palette. These elements all come together to tell your story as an artist.
“Your personal brand should clearly reflect what drives your creative ideas and what motivates you,” Nadya and Eugene add. “It should convey why your work is different from others. I’ve found that it’s very difficult and almost impossible to use all the available social channels for marketing and communication, so I’d recommend choosing only the most important ones — based on your brand and your audience — and focusing your energy on them.”
Tip #7: Optimize Your Website
“In my experience, my website has been the most important channel in the sense that it has resulted in the most interesting opportunities,” Maurizio De Mattei says.
We’ve covered SEO in-depth in this article, but here are some important takeaways — use keywords to make your work stand out, make sure your images load easily and quickly, update your pages consistently, and consider starting a blog to drive more traffic to your site.
Plus, make it easy for potential clients to contact and follow you by including all your relevant contact information, social links, booking buttons, and a newsletter signup. You can also set up a referral program for existing clients via your website.
Tip #8: Study Other Photographers’ Marketing Methods
“Learn how other photographers market their works and get inspiration from them,” De Mattei adds. “Don’t copy them, but make it your own. Be yourself, find inspiration and support in other photographers, and find your place in the market. Personal artistic vision and authenticity are key.”
Tip #9: Respond to Every Inquiry
“I always make sure to post valuable and relevant updates on social media, and I personally like to share some behind-the-scenes updates to connect with my customers,” the Indonesian-based creative team at Odua Images explains. “Contacting and responding to customer inquiries immediately will also help set you apart. Not all of these inquiries will turn into jobs, but they will ensure that people remember you and perhaps spread the word to their friends, as well.”
Tip #10: Go the Extra Mile
“The best way to promote your business is to leave your customers very satisfied so they will recommend you,” Valencia-based photographer Joaquin Corbalan P stresses. “Be kind, proactive, and, most importantly, be a solver of their problems — not a problem for them.’
“If you surprise your clients by giving them something that they didn’t expect, like more photos or longer sessions than promised, they will become ambassadors for your brand.’
“I have also found that posting twice a day on Instagram generally keeps me in my clients’ line of sight, but I also do paid advertising campaigns to reach people who might be interested in my services. Targeting clients locally, and according to their interests in my advertising campaigns, has been most effective.’
“Don’t wait for the phone to ring. Create quality content and share it with the world. Post on social networks, and build connections with other photographers and potential clients. Developing your own style will set you apart from the competition.”
Tip #11: Support Other Photographers
Your fellow photographers can provide an endless supply of encouragement, advice, and support, so grow your contacts within the field. Promote projects by peers you admire, and they might reciprocate.
“I’m always sure to stay in touch with my friends in the industry,” North Carolina-based photographer Mike Basher tells us. “It’s good for the soul, and you can keep a lookout for each other. Friends move around, they change jobs, and they can be windows into new clients and new ideas — and vice-versa.”
Tip #12: Stay in Touch
Your contacts are your best resource, so foster relationships with clients, publishers, and other photographers. “I find that directly reaching out to people is most beneficial,” New York-based photographer Mark Weinberg says. “I try to set up a time to meet them in person, and I always take a treat from the best local bakery or chocolate shop.’
“This may look different with social distancing, so I’m going to be thinking of how best to do this going forward. Instagram is great for keeping in touch in a non-intrusive way with clients and potential clients.”
You can also ask repeat clients for testimonials to add to your site or newsletter.
Tip #13: Update Your Stock Portfolio
“I think it’s important to take a multi-pronged approach to marketing,” Darina Kopcok continues. “Stock is one way where I create more visibility in my work.”
Upload fresh content consistently, and make sure you link to your website and all of your social channels via your stock portfolio.
Also, optimize your portfolio by adding appropriate metadata and titles to your photos. “I sell my photos only on stock agencies. So, in my case, it’s so critical to have great, relevant keywords to improve my discoverability among clients,” Italian-based artist Mirko Vitali of View Apart explains.
To learn more, please check out our keywording tips, which include everything from getting specific to tagging your location or thinking conceptually.
Cover image by Darina Kopcok.
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