Archive for June, 2009
Great article over at Entrepreneur Magazine by Gwen Moran that has several specific tips for marketing on a budget.
- Get Profiled – using social networking. Do you have a Facebook page or Twitter account?
- Make Yourself a Star – with a podcast or videocast. Do you have videos online that walk your potential customers through your services? How about a YouTube video of an event you photographed?
- Pluck from the headlines – my favorite is the studio who blew up life-sized cardboard cutouts of US soldiers in Iraq to give as presents to their children. Called a “Flat Daddy“, the story made them instant heros nationwide.
- Go for the Demo – The next time you’re at a show, take portraits of people in the aisles, then get their e-mail address and offer to send them the digital file. Have someone take a video of the process for your website and as a Youtube video to put on your Facebook account (for extra credit, Twitter before the show that you are offering portraits).
- Find businesses in your backyard – For example, offer everyone in a local office building a professional business portrait for a special price. Medium and large-sized companies like to tell their employees they have negotiated a special offer just for them.
Their are lots more examples. Check them out!
This week I attended a conference on Using Social Networking to promote businesses, and of course, I kept trying to think of ways it could benefit professional photographers. In case you haven’t been keeping up with the latest internet buzzwords, social networking refers to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, instant messaging and chat.
While social media is simple to use and free to implement, it will cost you time and diligence in order to make it work to promote your business.
When you think about ways to promote your business using the Internet, you usually think of websites and e-mail. While these are important, they are designed to “communicate with” a customer. You might tell a customer about your services or about a sale, for example.
In the last few years, marketers have discovered that people don’t want to use the Internet just to get information – they want to use it to make 2-way or social connections too. Instead of “communicating with” a customer, businesses use social networking to “build a community” with their customers.
Let me give you an example. A local pub in Flint advertised their St Patrick’s Day specials, then asked their friends “who is coming over after work?” Several dozen people I knew answered online. When I asked them why they went to that particular pub, they said it was because they saw on Facebook that all their friends planned to be there too.
Let me give you another example. Bob Fish, co-founder of Biggby Coffee in Michigan, uses social networking like Facebook and Twitter to let his customers know when he’s going to be visiting one of the over 100 franchises. If you meet Bob at a Biggby Coffee shop, he will buy you a free cup of coffee. This virtually free social networking is considered a critical part of Biggby Coffee’s success according to Entrepreneur Magazine.
Next week I’ll give you some specific steps that you can do to implement social networking as part of your marketing.
Great article over at bnet.com that talks about how to get customers to pay their old bills.
Basically, they suggest three things:
- Encourage customers to pay early
- Make your letters and phone calls firm
- Work with customers before you send them to collection
Fortunately, most photographers don’t have to worry about past-due accounts since they don’t deliver photographs until they are paid in full. However, you do have to worry about unclaimed prints or unreturned proof books. In either case, it is just like an unpaid bill – the money isn’t in your pocket.
So how can you use these 3 tips to your advantage?
1. If you’re like most photographers, you already offer a special or a discount to customers who complete their orders by a certain date. If you are using proof books, have your customer sign a release that states the proof book has a dollar value that will be billed to them if not returned by an agreed upon date.
2. The secret to getting either money or proof books back is to force the customer to agree to a date, then hold them to it. This is how professional collection firms do it. For example:Photographer: “When can I expect you to return the proof book?” Client: “I’ll drop it off next week.” Photographer: “What day next week would be most convenient?” Client: “I’ll be in town Tuesday.” Photographer: “What time Tuesday?” etc.
Be polite, but don’t worry about the customers who get mad. They had no intention of returning the proof book anyway. You need to firmly, yet politely agree on a specific time, then hold them to it. Then call the day before and remind them.
3. No one likes to call on past due accounts. If you have a bookkeeper, you may be tempted to leave the task to them (which they will only do half-hearted), or if you are a one-person operation, you will tend to put off confronting a customer until you get so frustrated you send their account to collection.
Neither solution works – you have to do it yourself. Although it takes personal discipline to call clients regularly after they miss a deadline, it always pays off in the end. Once the account goes to collection, you’ve not only lost 75-90% of the amount due to the collection agency, but you’ve lost a customer for life.
Scott Truitt, Senior Consultant at DMSRetail.com makes a great case for the importance of retail store design and visual marketing.
Scott argues that the most important tool we have when designing or decorating a studio is our ability to imagine what it must feel like to a new customer. By putting ourselves in our customer’s shoes we can first imagine the feeling the studio gives us, and if it isn’t the feeling we want to portray, we can change it.
As I’ve said before, first impressions are critical when your customer walks into your studio. It isn’t about how expensive your furnishings are – lots of starving artists have great studios. Instead, it is about your studio entrance defining the excitement and value of your photography as art.
You should care about this because what your customer’s sees and feels when they walk into your studio has a direct impact on how much they will spend before they walk out.
During tough economic times, it’s easy to get discouraged by poor sales. Below is the list of specific things you can do starting today that will give your business the boost it needs to survive:
Don’t Stop Marketing
It is too easy to cut back on marketing expenses when times are tough. If you are like many small businesses, your marketing budget is 3-5% of sales. As sales goes down, your first instinct is to cut costs, and marketing gets the axe.
Instead of cutting your marketing, you should focus it using these proven techniques. Use the checklist below to see if you are doing all you can to market more effectively:
- E-mail newsletter (at least monthly)?
- Reduced shotgun marketing – ads focused on existing customers?
- Collected testimonials and used on website / in e-mail newsletters?
- Collected 2-3 referrals from every customer?
- Mingle with potential customers and hand out business cards at least 2x per week?
- All non-essential tasks outsourced?
- At least one viral marketing campaign currently in process?
- Trading photography for goods and services?
- Can explain your value proposition in one sentence, and list it in every ad?
- Next sale planned to include additional services instead of lowered prices?
If you aren’t doing most or all of these 10 marketing ideas, you aren’t serious about growing your business.
In the end, the final question is “does all this work?” The answer is YES.
Experience shows that businesses who continue to market during downturns not only stay in business, but are much better positioned to grow when the economy finally turns around.
During tough economic times, it’s easy to get discouraged by poor sales. Below is the tenth specific thing you can do starting today that will give your business the boost it needs to survive:
Don’t cut your fees – add services
When times are tough it is tempting to put your products and services on sale to attract new customers. While a sale can be an effective tool, it doesn’t mean you have to lower your prices:
- If you offer five poses as part of your senior special, make it ten
- If you offer four hours with a bride, increase it to six
- Include a “trashed dress” photo shoot at no charge
One of the easiest ways to increase your value proposition is to offer more services at the same price your competition charges. Your dollars per hour average may go down, but you’ll be spending the time making money and developing a happy customer, which should lead to larger sales, testimonials, referrals and more profits.
Video will never replace photography, but could the combination be a new product for you?
Chang W. Lee, senior staff photographer at The New York Times, has made a video that combines the storytelling of great photography with the visual interest of video and sound. The first of his series “The Jazz Singer” (3:45 video) is the result.
Lee is not the first photographer to combine photography and video. Ken Burns has turned it into an art form so unique that after directing several PBS documentaries (Baseball, Jazz, The Civil War) his style is now referred to as “the Ken Burns effect.” Ken talks here about how his passion for photography shapes his films.
- Have you considered offering videos with your photography?
- Do you think it could profit your business?
- Are you losing business to (wedding) videographers?
I’m interested in your comments. If you have produced any videos, send me a copy or a web link to the video, and if possible, I’ll share them here.
While you will never be able to frame or display a video, the ability to offer them as an add-on sale to your customers could be an exciting new way to grow your photography business.
Recently I visited the home of a young woman I do not know very well. As I entered, I immediately formed an impression of her: from the huge turn-of-the-century French bicycle poster on the wall, to the extensive collection of hardcover books, to the Santa Claus on a Harley Davidson statuette, I felt I was in the home of an educated “free spirit” with a style all her own.
My impression was correct. I learned she was a professor of literature at the local college, only recently having completed her master’s degree. Although she did not have expensive furnishings, her unique sense of style created an “experience” that I will remember when I meet her again.
All of us are aware of the importance of first impressions and the impact they have on others. However, this is especially important for photographers who must first sell themselves before they can sell their artwork. The experience your customers receive when they enter your studio has a direct impact on the amount they spend.
Take a five-second tour of your studio – or better yet, ask someone to do it for you. Open the door, walk in, look around, and walk out.
- What was the first impression you received?
- Was the feeling warm and inviting, or old and cluttered?
- Did you notice at least one major piece of photography that said, “Wow – this is a great photographer”?
- Did you feel like you were in the studio of an artist who commands thousands of dollars for their work?
If not, I urge you to work on the first impression your business makes. It does not need to cost much, but it will add directly to your bottom line.
During tough economic times, it’s easy to get discouraged by poor sales. Below is the ninth of ten specific things you can do starting today that will give your business the boost it needs to survive:
Know your Value Proposition
Your “value proposition” is the combination of price, quality and service you offer. As a business owner, you know the old joke “fast, good, cheap – pick any two” has some truth in it. The local hamburger joint is fast and cheap (their value proposition) whereas the gourmet food store offers quality and service, but at a premium price.
What does this mean for your studio?
In a down economy, customers who normally tend to buy on speed or quality will think more about price. This means that even though your value proposition was “high quality/service” last year, that will not be enough today.
However, re-thinking your value proposition does not mean “lower your prices.” Instead, be sure your marketing message raises the value you bring to customers. For example, instead of offering a discount, find out what is important to your customers, and make that the focus of your marketing. See this article for more examples.
Not sure what your value proposition is? Look at your business through your customers’ eyes. This is tough for most of us to accurately gauge, so you may need to ask someone who is brutally honest with you.