Focus your marketing in tough times – Part 1

focus your marketingDuring tough economic times, it’s easy to get discouraged by poor sales. Below is the first of ten specific things you can do starting today that will give your business the boost it needs to survive:

Start an E-mail Newsletter. E-mail newsletters are the most cost-effective marketing tool you can use. E-mail newsletters have surpassed post cards and direct mail for return on investment. It keeps your name in front of old customers and potential customers for pennies each. To get started:

Make a commitment today to get an e-mail address from every customer, from every contact, and every event you photograph. When you meet someone, get their business card and e-mail. When you’re photographing a wedding or event, get a list of e-mails. In a club? Get their e-mails. Just say, “Can I put you on my newsletter list?” Once you’ve asked, you have their permission, and they will be more likely to read your e-mail.

Open an account at Vertical Response or Mail Chimp (my favorites) to manage your e-mail list and to create professional-looking e-mails. The cost for either one will only be a few dollars per mailing. Even if you only have a few dozen e-mail addresses, open an account, and get out a newsletter now. You’ll get better at it – and your list will get bigger – as time goes on.

Modify the front page of your website to ask people who visit to sign up for your newsletters and special offers. This feature is built into both mailing list managers above. If you cannot modify your own website, talk to your website designer and tell them what mailing list manager you’re using.

Design your e-mail newsletter. Use one of the included templates to get started. Both mailing list managers above have lots of online tutorials to show you how to create a great looking newsletter. Remember to use your best photography.

Limit your newsletter to 3 articles. For example, the first article could be on a call to action (for example, a monthly special), the second on a new product or service you offer, and the third on a “pro tip” to help your customer take a better photograph on their camera. A recent testimonial from a satisfied customer should be included as you receive them.

Always include a single call to action so potential customers will contact you while you’re fresh in their minds. For example, “call today for a free 8×10 Easter Bunny print with any child portrait sitting.” More than one call to action tends to dilute the message. If you have a second special, send it to a different list of customers.

In addition to bringing in new customers, e-mail newsletters allow you to focus your marketing effort on existing customers. I’ll go into this subject more in Part 2 next week.

Should you buy Adobe Photoshop?

David over at The News in Print has compiled a list of 21 free and paid alternatives to Adobe Photoshop. It is a good list, although it is still missing some of the alternatives like Picassa, openCanvas, ArtWeaver, ArtRage, Alias Sketchbook, Corel Painter, Expression Studio, Xara Extreme and the perennial favorite, Photoshop Express.

Which begs the question: with so many alternatives to Photoshop available, why would anyone pay the $500+ and continual upgrade fees to use Photoshop? Here are the bottom-line reasons:

  • It is the industry standard. I can send a graphics designer a layered PSD file and 99% of the time no additional instructions are required
  • Support includes thousands of books, videos, tutorials, brushes and scripts.
  • You can ask any pro graphics designer or photographer how to accomplish a task and they will be able to show you on either of your computers
  • One common file format for both PC and Mac

But perhaps the most important reason is that if you’re a professional photographer, you should be using professional tools. In the same way that you wouldn’t use a no-name consumer camera to photograph a wedding, you shouldn’t use an image editing program that hasn’t been tested by thousands of pros like yourself.

Having a high-powered PC or Mac that boots up the latest version of Photoshop (that you know how to use) shows your clients, your staff, your peers (and even yourself) that you are a professional deserving of professional prices for their services.

Work for Free

David over at Strobist.com makes a passionate argument for pro photographers using their down time in this economy to work for free. He believes it gives him the kind of total creative control he’d forgotten about when trying to shoot for a living, and says that it often leads to paid gigs. Lots of pro photographers on his blog both agreed and disagreed, leading to a very lively discussion. Check it out…

Free Photography Course Online

Jodie Coston, a freelance photographer who has won numerous international awards for her images and makes her living selling photography online, has an online photography course sponsored by the morguefile.com. This course is free and open to the public. Lots of excellent examples, and she covers both the theory and the practical application of professional photographic techniques.

If you have mastered all these techniques, you may be ready to start selling photography online too.

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Lesson 1: Composition And Impact – It’s A Beautiful Photograph, But Do You Know WHY It’s Beautiful?

Lesson 2: Aperture And Shutter Speed – How They Work Together.

Lesson 3: The lens – choosing camera optics.

Lesson 4: ISO, Grain, Transparency vs. Negative, Specialty Films

Lesson 5: Fun Effects – Camera Filters, Soft Focus, Zooming And Panning

Lesson 6: Landscape, Nature and Travel Photography

Lesson 7: Portraits And Studio Lighting

Lesson 8: Studio Lighting – Still Life and Product Photography

Lesson 9: Tying It All Together

Lesson 10: Special Requests

Inspiring Video: Photography connects us with the world

In this inspiring TED video, David Griffin, the photo director for National Geographic, reminds us again how photography connects us to our world. David talks about how we can use photos to tell stories. His message is especially important to any photographer who offers albums or photo books to their clients.

With all the bad news this past week, spending 15 minutes recharging your batteries with great photography may be the best investment you can make.

Selling Your Art Online

Eventually every professional photographer considers selling his or her work as fine art. I don’t blame them. I have seen prints in my customer’s studios that I would gladly display in the lab, or even in my home. And today the Internet makes it easy to sell fine art online.

However, selling online is the last step in the process. Think of any famous artist: they developed a unique style, created an exciting and desirable “body of work” (an art term), and presented it to influential buyers. The same rules apply to fine art prints.

Even Ansel Adams started by first developing his style over several years, only then displaying and later selling prints from a friend’s studio.

To build your body of work, start by making a commitment to yourself to become a Master Photographer. Becoming a Master is not about the title or the ribbons — it is about honing your craft as an artist. The skills you learn will both improve your fine art prints, and make your photography more valuable to your business.

Once you have a body of work, you need to show it to buyers. Nancy Markoe, faculty lecturer at the Art Business Institute, says the the only proven way is to exhibit at retail art shows and galleries. Although difficult and time-consuming, talking directly to buyers will teach you which colors and themes are sellable, and how much people will pay for your prints.

While the Internet has made it easy to put your photography in front of thousands of customers, the same old rules still apply: it takes years of work and effort to become a successful (and profitable) artist.

Orphan Works: Legal Theft of Your Images?

Last year the United States Congress debated “Orphan Works” legislation. This change in the copyright law would allow works to be released into the public domain if the author or artist was long-dead or could not be located. Many professional photographers worried that the proposed legislation would enable art directors or stock image houses to use their copyrighted photos after a cursory attempt to find the original owner. Although the legislation was tabled in 2006, experts are recommending that you add your contact information and copyright into the metadata fields in each image you distribute…even low-res proof images you show on the web.

The Orphan Works law has many supporters, so it is just a matter of time before some version of the law is enacted. Click here to read an interesting article (a PDF file download) in After Capture magazine by Ethan Salwen about implementing a RAW workflow to brand all your images so that you can avoid losing copyright once Orphan Works becomes law.

The differences between professional and amateur photographers

Dean over at Photoprenreur has an interesting blog entitled, The Differences between Professional and Amateur Photographers. Although the article is written primarily for commercial photographers, it makes sense for anyone trying to make a living as a pro. I was especially interested to read Dean argue that “it’s possible that amateur photographers with a good head for marketing can find moving prints easier than many professionals do.

While we at JD believe great photography is the foundation of any professional photographers business, Dean makes a valid point: just shooting isn’t enough. A pro should expect to spend 20-25% of their time marketing their business. If you’re just getting started, expect to spend 50% or more of your time marketing. Anything less, and you’re doing a disservice to your business.

21 ways to improve your photographs

This article was written by Brooks Jensen of LensWork Magazine. Highly informative: for the new photographer it will be a source of information; for the seasoned pro, it will be a good reminder of the things you know but occasionally forget.

While we’re talking about LensWork Magazine: While it looks like a great resource for professional photographers, I’m embarrassed to admit I’d never heard of it before. I purchased a sample subscription today. When it arrives, I’ll let you know if it is worth it 😉

Capture the mind of your customers

I went to a marketing seminar entitled, Capture the Mind of your Customers by Tony Rubleski, and thought I would share the notes I took. If you need any more details on any of these ideas, I encourage you to purchase Tony’s book or attend his seminar.

1. Focus on referrals. This was a big part of the seminar. Tony reminds us what we already know: the best marketing is an unpaid endorsement by a trusted source (think testimonials). A referral is a tacit endorsement by your customer to one of their friends. They should be the logical conclusion of every sale. My notes include:

a. Ask for referrals

  • Call them “introductions” and ask for one whenever you get a complement from a customer.
  • Your customer’s friends and relatives have a relationship with them, piggyback off it.
  • Ask for specific introductions to your customer’s friends, relatives, customers, 2-3 at most.

b. Network

  • Go places your customers will be
  • Send referrals to your clients business (called B2B or businee-to-business)
  • Make a list of your “famous” clients to show to potential customers

c. Reward customers who refer others to you – a free something makes a direct cause-effect relationship in their mind.

d. Cheat – collect kid’s address, send them a card or a coupon to hook mom/dad.

  • Kids love snail mail and to win something
  • Example: color a picture to win

2. Be fun. Make working for you fun, not boring. Tony showed examples of business cards with caracatures instead of photographs to add a note of whimsy to his business. Anything to make people happy or smile is positive for your brand.

3. Collect and share great stories. If you have a story about a bride who’s wedding you saved or an impossible order you were able to get out for a charity, memorize that story and tell it to your customers or anytime you talk about photography. The story will subtly tell people why they should do business with you.

4. 87% of potential home buyers Googled their realtor before they called. Where are you in Google? If you aren’t on the first page for your keywords, either learn how to make it happen or hire someone who can. Marketing online is no longer an option.

5. Great website content. Your website has to showcase the very best work you do. Quantity is not important. Quality is.

6. Use special mailings, offers, promos. Tony’s research tells him that the most likely mailing to be opened is a lumpy, red envelope with handwritten labels and a real, first-class stamp. Although this may cost more up front, it will result in 2-3 times more of your mail being read.

7. “Cause” marketing. Pick a charity. Volunteer time, your skills, and a little money. Feature them on your website. Mention that a portion of each sale goes to the charity. Customers want to feel good about spending money with you, and sharing the glow of a popular charity is a great way to do it. Charities expect this and know how to promote your business along with their cause, which is why so many large corporations have a charity tie-in. Also, every time you give a charity money, get a photo and use it on your website.

8. Survey your customers. You need to know what your business is doing right and wrong. Send customers a letter asking how they were treated after the sale. Reward people for their time. If you staple a dollar bill to a survey and include a stamped, return envelope you’ll be amazed at how many people will feel obligated to complete the survey.