Professional Photography and Change

photography business plan“The only thing that is constant is change.” This quote from the ancient Greek Heraclitus is just as relevant to your photographic business as it was when he wrote it 2,000 years ago. While the change from film to digital impacted many professional photographers, the more important change has been the consumer’s relationship to photography. Everyone has become a “photographer.” With cheap cameras and easy online printing, it has become increasingly difficult for some professional photographers to make a profit.

So what are successful big businesses doing to react to change?

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2012 Trends Worth Watching

The folks over at J. Walter Thompson, an international marketing firm, have compiled a list of trends worth watching in 2012.While they list 10 significant trends, these are the ones we believe will have the most impact on the photographic industry:

1. Navigating the New Normal – Consumers are looking for low-cost ways to purchase high-quality brands. Even high-end photographers should expect to see more brides looking for a DVD of images instead of albums, or seniors looking for a small number of images. This makes it more important than ever that you focus on building your brand so that potential clients know they are buying your work, not pieces of paper.

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Supercharge Your Social Media Marketing With Cross Promotions

Although we constantly talk about social media marketing (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) , it pays to remember that their are many other marketing tools available for your studio. One of the most powerful is the cross-promotion.

Cross-promotions are low-cost techniques for getting your name in front of potential customers by promoting with other businesses. The classic example is putting a stack of gift certificates for bridal photography in a bridal store.

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10 Second Market Research for Photographers

marketing for photographersAs a small business owner, you are regularly forced to make a quick decision about your studio’s marketing. “Should I put an ad in this program?” or “Which postcard is better?” While big companies can afford marketing research to answer these questions, chances are you cannot.

That’s why the 10-Second Market Research can help. Simply ask yourself – and honestly answer – these two questions:

1. Would I recommend this to my mother?
2. Would anyone tell their friends about this?

If the answer to either question is “NO”, then move on. Your gut feeling is probably right.

What Do Brides Expect to Pay for Wedding Photography?

Sam Sarkis Professional Wedding PhotographerI’ve been thinking about pricing wedding photography lately.

The gurus say that your pricing should be derived from your costs: after factoring in fixed and variable costs, your salary and profit margin, you should be able to calculate what to charge for every print.

On paper, they are right. If you can’t make your margin, you need to either raise your prices, cut your costs or change professions.

But in a recent article in the PPA Magazine entitled “The Psychology of Pricing in a Down Economy“, Kalen Henderson writes that her recipe for pricing was different. She said she picked her wedding package prices by asking potential clients what they expected to pay. This isn’t the same as cutting your prices. You still have to make money. The trick is to build packages that are profitable at price points potential customers are willing to pay.

A little time spent Googling “wedding photographer prices” and filtering results less than a year old gives some interesting insights:

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Marketing Works When Done Right

JD Photo ImagingI’ve never liked banks. I keep my savings in a credit union. But on the advice of a friend, about a year ago I opened a free checking account at the local bank. I was waited on by Bob, a helpful young man with an easy smile who asked about my business, where I lived, and told me a bit about his young family. By the end of the meeting, I not only had a new checking account, but a new friend in the banking business.

Every few months I’d get a quick email from Bob, asking about business, and asking if there was anything I needed. No pressure – just a reminder I still had a friendly banker.

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How to Rise Above a Down Economy

Kirk Russell,

The photographic industry is in the midst of a serious growth crisis. Even before the housing crisis, recession, and market crash, studios were booking fewer appointments, and clients seemed to be more price-sensitive.

Old-school solutions such as advertising more promotions or new flavor-of-the-month fads such as displaying images on boutique, graphic-enhanced web site and brochures, or using pretty delivery boxes won’t attract people who find most of today’s portrait studios outdated, unresponsive, and over-priced.

There is a parallel between today’s photo industry and the current housing market and auto industry. Luckily, we can learn from them and consequently avoid a similar fate.

Here’s the comparisons:

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Free Online Advertising

A decade ago, getting your name and phone number in front of customers was simple. You put one ad in the yellow pages and one in the local newspaper.

Those days are over.

Today, over 80% of your customers will look for you online before they call. In order to make sure they can find you, below is a checklist of places your business needs to be registered so customers can find you online.

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This Marketing Trick Will Bring Customers To Your Studio

I worked part-time at a drug store when I was in high school. Their wasn’t anything great about the store: they didn’t have great prices, and they didn’t have a great selection.

However, what they did have was 100% US Grade-A milk for 99 cents a gallon. Even then, that was a deal. I spent half of my senior year emptying and re-stacking milk crates so that the giant walk-in coolers in the back of the store were always full of fresh milk.

What does milk have to do with a drug store? Nothing. The milk was a loss-leader.

You’ve seen them before. Supermarkets put something on sale in the back of the store so you have to walk past everything else to get to it. In exchange for the great price, you put up with the inconvenience.

Marketing pros know that once you’re in the store, you’re likely to buy a few other items at full price. Nobody likes to waste time, and since you’ve already got a deal on the loss-leader, it won’t hurt to pick up a few other things. Sound familiar?

How could this work for your studio?

  • If you’re a portrait photographer, offer a low-cost sitting fee.
  • If you’re a wedding photographer, offer a low-cost starter package.
  • If you’re shooting churches, offer a low-cost 8×10 print.

I don’t recommend this marketing strategy to everyone. Cutting prices – if not done carefully and strategically – can lead to lowering the value of your service in the mind of your customers. And some customers will frustrate you when they buy the loss-leader – and nothing else.

However, if you need to quickly generate some traffic into your studio, offering a loss-leader is a tested marketing strategy that really works.

Would you sell your images for a Nickel?

Michael Zang at PetaPixel wrote an article entitled Build Your Photo Business with Nickels. In it he says:

Here’s an idea for those of you who are looking for photography clients of any kind: Offer portraits and other kinds of photographs at your local farmers market for a nickel.

In the above video by Michael Hanson for the NYTimes, architect John Morefield describes how he offers architecture advice at his local farmers market for a nickel. While a whole day of doing this might net less than a dollar, Hanson found 100% of his work for a year using this creative way to connect with potential clients.

Photographers might be able to do the same thing. Why not set up a booth in your local farmers market and offer portraits or photography help/advice for 5 cents? You could take down email addresses, pass out business cards, and later email photographs to your nickel “clients”. If 5 cents would create too much work in terms of emailing photographs, you could increase the price or tweak the strategy to your liking.

This could be an absolutely phenomenal way to build your email list. The trick isn’t to take high-res photos, but to take reasonably nice low res ones people could use on their Facebook site. It would give you an opportunity to show the difference between amateur and professional photography, and it would give you a chance to generate some buzz with a press release to the local media.

Here’s a similar example, TopShop, the hottest new clothing store in New York City this year, has a photographer on staff. When a customer buys an outfit, the photographer takes their photo and emails it to them to use on Facebook!

What do you think about the idea? Is it a waste of your time, or is it the ultimate low cost, word-of-mouth marketing strategy?