“I don’t need a website” and other myths

Not that long ago it seemed like every other marketing article said you had to have a website. It was so obvious, soon everyone assumed that every business had a website, and nobody wrote the articles any more.

What a mistake.

Having a high quality website is one of the most cost-effective marketing decisions you can make. It is your online catalog, your storefront, and your 24/7 sales staff. Yet three out of four professional photographers still do not have a current website, professional e-mail address, or an online marketing presence.

“Our website is critical to our success,” says Chelsea Mills, marketing coordinator for Gerych’s Florist in Michigan. “Google the word “gerych” and we’re there. Go to our website and you see gorgeous photographs of all the products and services we offer. How else could we have grown from a local florist to a nationwide one without a website?” she added.

Ms. Mills is not alone. According to most e-commerce professionals, 80% of consumers begin their search for a product or service online. Yet the majority of photographers continue to cling to the mistaken believe that they get business by “word of mouth”, and that a website isn’t important.

“My website is my business card,” says Sam Sarkis (www.samsarkisphotography.com). “When people are from out of town or cannot meet me at the studio, I depend on my website to show them examples of work I’ve done in the past, or what they can order. It is also important for my customers to see my specials.”

If you are a professional photographer, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I own my own (or my studio) website name?
  2. Can you see great examples of my artwork on my website?
  3. Is my e-mail address myname@mystudioname.com?
  4. Am I proud of my website? Do I tell others about it?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, you are leaving money on the table every day that you delay.

Focus your marketing in tough times – Part 3

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

Click here if you missed part 1 or part 2

You’ve collected lots of e-mail addresses, you’ve signed up for an e-mail newsletter service, and you have lots of great photography. But what do you write in the newsletter?

Collect testimonials. The best marketing copy is an unpaid endorsement by a trusted source.

Remember the lady who cried when you presented her with her family’s portrait? Did you get a quote from her that you can use in your e-mail newsletter or in an ad? If not, write down what you think she said, call her, read it over the phone, and ask if that is what she remembers saying. then ask if you can use it in an ad. You’ll be suprised that most people will say “yes” if they don’t have to write the testimonial themselves.

Collect at least three of these testimonials to use in your new e-mail newsletter (see part 1 and part 2). Rotate them in your newsletter and print ads. Along with the call to action, testimonials will give your newsletter the power to generate sales.

Focus your marketing in tough times – Part 2

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

Click here if you missed part 1

Focus on Existing Customers. Ads in the yellow pages, newspapers, TV, radio, or any advertising that is not directly targeted to likely customers is called shotgun advertising. While shotgun advertising has its place (telling people where you are located or building your brand, for example) during tough times you cannot afford to use it.

Don’t be fooled by advertising salesmen who promise thousands of people (in your targeted demographic they argue) will see your ad. Desperate for sales, many small businesses succumb to the promise that if enough people see the ad, someone will call. This is especially true in Internet advertising, where several hundred thousand people can see an ad before one of them results in a sale.

Cancel your shotgun advertising. Instead, focus your advertising on your current customer list. Repeat sales to past customers cost less than finding new customers, and add-on sales to current customers cost less than repeat sales.

For cost-effective marketing, offer your next “special” to your current customer list via e-mail. And offer the same special to the next customer who walks in your door.

Want to guarantee better producing ads to your customers? I’ll discuss that next week in part 3.

This Lens is Soft and other Myths

Great Article by the folks at lensrentals.com that talks about the “myth” that some lenses are softer than others. Basically, they argue that although they will replace a lens as a courtesy, there is never anything wrong with them. So why the difference of opinion? Read more…

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.