How to Find Photography Clients, Part I: Setting the Foundation

PIN - Photography clients foundationWe get a lot of questions from readers on the Hobby to Pro blog, Facebook page, and email list about different areas of creating a successful photography business. We realize that many of you have the same questions, so today, we’d like to start answering some of these questions right here on the blog!

One of the areas we get asked about most is marketing. In this post, we’re actually going to address two different reader questions that are similar:

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“The one thing that I am struggling with for my photography business? Lack of customers. Because I am only a part-time photographer, I really don’t get a lot of requests for my services. I have a website, I hand out business cards and post them on store bulletin boards, but business remains slow.”         

-Kimberly K.

“Getting clients and figuring out what marketing is best for my type of photography business is what I am having the most issues with.”

-Donald P.

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The above questions are coming from slightly different angles, but here are the common threads I’d like to address:

  1. How to acquire clients in the most cost effective manner
  2. How to figure out what type of marketing works better for particular clients or with a particular photography specialty
  3. What to do about when tried-and-true marketing activities that seemed like a great idea just don’t work out

Marketing is something that as a photographer, you probably wish you did not have to deal with. Yet as human beings, we are all bombarded by marketing messaging just about every minute of our waking hours.

Every time we turn on the TV or radio or go surfing online…

Every time we drive our car down the street, past billboards and other cars or trucks adorned with signs or wrapped in advertisements…

It’s nonstop noise, and let’s be honest – we have learned to block it out for the most part. This means that your potential clients have also learned to block out most advertising. In a world with so much noise, it takes a lot to get noticed these days.

Just like the Big Guys, we need a marketing plan

The Big Guys are constantly reminding us to use their products. We are all familiar with Coca-Cola, but they doesn’t stop them from trying to inspire us to enjoy a Coke next time we reach for a soft drink, just in case we were thinking of drinking something else.

As small businesses, of course you cannot afford TV or radio ads (and even if we could, I’m not sure that would be money well spent,) but you still have to find ways to stay in front of the people that might one day have a need for portraits, so that YOU will be the first photographer they think of.

To keep the doors open, you need a steady flow of qualified potential clients. Marketing is an activity that we need to tend to constantly… even when we have more clients than we can handle… because we want to keep that pipeline full for slower times in the future.

So, how do you get in front of the clients you’d love to photograph, and how do you make them notice you? What can you do to stand out and attract them to your business?

To answer these questions, we first have to take a step back…

In this article, we’re going to start by focusing on creating the foundation for growing your business and attracting new clients.

<< NOTE: We’ve also created a free workbook, so you can follow along with each step as we go. It’s called the How to Attract Your Ideal Clients workbook. Click here to download it! >>

Once this foundation is set, we can then move on to more specific marketing tactics.

So, let’s jump in and take a look at a three-step process to creating a strong plan for marketing and bringing in new clients throughout the year:

Step 1: Determine your Ideal Client

Have you defined, in detail, who your ideal client is?

Without knowing that exactly who is the right customer for the kind of photography you are offering, it is impossible to determine what type of marketing might be most appealing to them!

There are three key pieces to creating successful marketing, and you need a well-defined ideal client in order to put these pieces together. You need to know:

  • Who are you writing your marketing messaging for?
  • Where can you reach them?
  • How can you tailor your offering to ensure that you are offering them something that they really want?

If you are just starting out and don’t really have a client base yet, then you need to imagine who your ideal client will be. The more detail, the better.

For example, don’t just say that your target client is “a young mom with children.” Drill deeper:

  • A woman between 28 – 40 years of age
  • Married with two young children
  • Dual-income family that bring in over $150,000 a year
  • She has a college education
  • She lives in the suburbs right outside the city
  • Values high quality, meaningful possessions
  • She shops at Saks 5th Ave, Nordstrom, J. Crew, and local boutiques
  • She spends her time online on Facebook and Pinterest

The more detailed your analysis, the easier it is to find where this type of client lives, shops and relaxes.

By knowing this level of information, you’ll be able to understand what they are looking for in a photography session, where you can partner or advertise to get your message in from of them, and how you can frame your advertising in order to catch their attention.

If you have built up even just a small client base already, take a look at your best clients – the ones who you enjoyed working with most, and who spent the most money with you. What are the common denominators? Perhaps a certain town they live in, or a school their children attend? Are they around the same age, or have similar interests?

Step 2: Create your Marketing Calendar

As soon as we stop giving people a reason to seek us out, it’s very possible that steady flow of clients might dry up.

With that in mind, it is a great idea to have a marketing plan laid out for a full year. At our studio, my wife and I take the quiet months of January and February to work on our marketing calendar for the year.

Having an outline marked on your calendar is a great way of making sure that you are ready when the time rolls around. Without a reminder of some sort, it is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day activities and then find that you missed your marketing window.

Here’s some things you’ll want to include in your marketing calendar:

  • Holiday specials (Ex: Winter special, Easter Bunny photos)
  • Annual portrait specials (Ex: Portraits in the Park)
  • Charity specials (Ex: Toy Drive special, local auctions that you want to donate to)

Remember to keep your ideal client in mind as you brainstorm ideas for specials that you will run throughout the year…

You want to ensure that the specials will be attractive to your target clients, and give them a strong reason to want to participate.

Step 3: Plan to fish where the fish are!

Once we have an idea where your target market congregates and you have an idea of what specials you’d like to run throughout the year, we can start developing a plan to get in front of your potential clients.

For example, let’s say there is a private school where the young children of many of your best clients attend. It is likely that there are more parents at this school who are similar to your current clients, and who would love portraits done of their children as well. So, how can you reach the parents of the children that go to school here?

Of course, you can partner with the school itself. Perhaps they have an upcoming school event that you could donate a gift certificate to. Or maybe you could try to get in as a school photographer.

You also want to think of ways to reach these parents outside of school. Now that you have your ideal client profile created, you should have an idea of some local businesses and restaurants where these potential clients might hang out.

Maybe you think of a local café that has a bulletin board where local businesses can pin their business cards. While it doesn’t hurt to put your card on a store bulletin board, this isn’t really a marketing plan. Let’s face it… when is the last time that your found a new vendor or service from a business card pinned to a bulletin board?

Think bigger!

Instead of pinning a business card to the bulletin board of that café, why not create a 5×7” postcard with one of your best portraits on the front and a special offer for children’s portraits on the back?

Why not begin chatting with the café owner, and offer up a partnership opportunity that would allow you to display these cards on their counter in a spot that is readily seen by all of their customers?

The purpose of this step is to brainstorm a list of places where you can market your upcoming specials and get in front of your ideal customers.

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The planning we just went through over these three steps is vital! Following this plan is what is going to fill that pipeline with new clients from month to month as the year goes on.

I would like you to put some serious effort and thought into coming up with ideas for where you can get in front of your ideal client, and how you can get in those places with your marketing.

In the next article, we’ll follow up with some specific tactics for bringing in these potential clients. Click here to read Part II!

Next Steps:

In the comments below, please answer: what is your photography specialty? What is one idea you have for getting in front of your ideal client? I’ll be here to answer every comment 🙂

P.S. – Don’t forget to download your free How to Attract Your Ideal Client Workbook! Click here to get it.

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