Marketing 101 for Commercial Photographers

I think one of the most challenging aspects to being a commercial photographer is the marketing. It’s ironic because we are in a commercial marketing environment, yet reaching the people we want to hire us can seem voodoo and difficult. In my experience, no matter how good you are or how “cool” you are, if no one knows about you, then you’re never going to get work. I’ve tried all kinds of photo business marketing and read many opinions about what you should or shouldn’t do. I thought I’d share what has worked for me.

  1. Portfolio – It all starts here. What do you like shoot? How are you different than the million other photographers out there? Who do you want to shoot for? Does this shot suck? These are just some of the questions that you should ask when you edit your portfolio. And don’t try to do it alone. Ask peers and mentors to help you make the edit or hire a photography consultant and get an honest opinion on your work. A second pair of eyes will make all the difference
  2. Website – Your website and your web presence is so critical. I can’t stress this enough. Your website should A) be easy to navigate, B) have big photos that download fast, and C) have your contact information on every page. If you’re site is in Flash, make sure you make your contact footer is in HTML so that visitors with smartphones can at least call or email you from your website. Better yet, make a mobile site to compliment your Flash site.
  3. Blog – Blog about what you’re shooting. Blog about what new clients you have. Blog about anything related to your business. Google LOVES blogs, especially one’s that are XHTML compliant (i.e. Blogger, WordPress, Live Journal, etc.). The more your blog, the more search engines will visit your site and that makes you more relevant. Also, make sure you link out to specific phrases, not just “click here” or “this article”. For example, Lincoln Barbour is an awesome architectural photographer.
  4. Source Sites – Here are some of the top sources sites you should get into: Wonderful Machine, Workbook, The Black Book, Alternative Pick, Le Book, PDN Photoserve, and Creative Hotlist. There are a bunch of others, but I would say these are fairly well known and trusted. I’m not even paying to be on PDN Photoserve and I’ve gotten work from being listed there.
  5. Professional Photographer Organizations – You absolutely must join either ASMP, APA, EP, or (ideally) all three. It gives you credibility because not just anyone can join these organizations. They are only for working photographers and you have to peer reviewed before they let you in. ASMP, APA, and EP have built outstanding reputations as a source for excellent photographers and being associated with them makes you look like the professional you are. Not only that, but you’ll learn incredible amounts of photo business knowledge and get some pretty sweet discounts on everything from computers, to insurance, to car rentals.
  6. Direct Mail & Email – A necessary evil, but you should do it. A good schedule would be a print mailer every 4 months and an email campaign every 2 months. Use Adbase or Agency Access to build a targeting mailing list and focus on clients you want to work for. For example, if you shoot food, don’t send a promo to Car & Driver.
  7. Social Media – There’s a good way and a bad way to do social media and if you do it right, you’ll be rewarded with web traffic, great feedback, and a sense of interconnection to clients and colleagues. As a business, your social media interactions should stay on message, stay positive, and be useful to your followers. Nobody that will hire you cares what you had for breakfast, how rad this party is, or how much you hate rush hour traffic. And please, for all that is holey, don’t tweet about the weather. Use your judgment, be real, and keep personal separate from business.

The real trick is knowing that not just one marketing tactic will get you work. You have to do all of it, all of the time, forever and ever. It’s part of doing business. Yeah it’s expensive, but make it part of your CODB and charge a rate that covers it. As my Dad use to say, “It takes money to make money.”

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