Being good at photography or filmmaking doesn't automatically lead to a successful business. You have to make yourself known to the world. Making that possible doesn't always require a lot of money. In this article I will share my personal approach to marketing my photography and filmmaking business.
This article is not for those who want to grow their followers. Growing a business means having clients to pay you to do certain types of jobs. You don't have to have a lot of fans to have a successful business. They don't pay your bills.
Who Are Your Clients?
Unless you have unlimited amount of money you should know and study your clients. If you try to please everybody it will be fairly hard to find a niche with customers. You'll be simply spraying and praying. If you know what you are good at, it's easier to target a certain group of people.
How People Get to See Your Work
In my experience people happen to see your work by either searching for artists to do a certain job or stumbling upon your art by chance. The second type of events is the ads we see around us, the brochures we are handed, the social network posts we see, and so on. People who are not intentionally searching for an artist are less likely to become your clients.
If you are offering a cheap service that is a no-brainer for potential clients, you may afford yourself to make an attempt to reach wider audiences. If cheap service ads are pushed into the hands or eyes of people they will probably respond positively. The problem is most of the awesome photography and videos require time, knowledge, tools, and a team. If you try to be an awesome artist the only way of being cheap is to have another job.
If you offer a premium service you should not try to put your ad in front of the eyes of everyone. That's a waste of money. Premium services are for clients who need you at the right moment or clients who can afford them at any time. You should reach those two types of clients.
I personally do not prefer advertising myself by pushing my work into the hands of everyone. That's why I don't run Facebook ads or any other banner-based online ads. Unless it's a very targeted spot that potential clients visit, I stay away from this type of marketing. I found it's too expensive and it's more effective for bigger brands than for small boutique businesses.
I prefer people to find me like in the old days. People are looking for a photographer or a filmmaker, they see my work together with the work of others, and if my service and portfolio suits their needs, they hire me. Usually people find me from word of mouth or by searching online.
Word of Mouth
Word of mouth clients started coming more in the past year. This is the best way of marketing and the slowest to develop. It is organic in its core and the only way to develop it is the natural organic way: by offering a great service, giving more than people pay for, being a nice person, and networking with the right groups of people. Word of mouth marketing is like a fruit tree. You have to constantly take care of it so it yields its good fruits on time.
Networking is not just having dinner with potential clients. Sometimes it's working for free as a complementary service or working on projects for mutual benefits (like photographing models for their and your portfolio). Potential clients are those clients who find your services expensive or not suiting their needs. Be a nice person and give them options or recommend another artist. That's networking too.
Finding you online is a whole new universe. I don't like to be forced to comply with certain online rules in order to have my website easily reachable. Although I have to, I try to keep these at minimum. Being an SEO slave is not an option for me unless I have a team who does that for me.
What I understood is I have to have a website that is easy and quick to navigate. People need to see my work and my contacts as quick as possible. That's why I put all these on my home page. I don't get caught up so much with font types, website visual effects, or the "best profile picture." People need to see art and contacts. That's it. The search engines need to see your website's title and description.
Other than that I write articles in my blog. It is my favorite way of telling people more about my personality and my work. It feels old school (which I love) and only those who care about my work read it. I've got clients because of the content on my blog. That's networking too. In the beginning it feels like I'm the only one who reads it but it pays off with the years. Yes, years. Having a blog that contains honest articles which link to your website is a great way to keep yourself closer to the first pages of a search. People love to see what happens behind the scenes and the details of how you work.
Articles in Other Online Media
There are lots of online publications that allow guest posts or opportunities for self-promotion for artists like you and me. I've been published several times by online blogs after I've shared results and details about interesting projects of mine. I've got my suggestions rejected many times too.
Ads in Search Engines
This is something I invest in because I'm located in a small market. In the U.S. it's quite expensive to run ads like that. That's why people in the bigger markets should focus more on their blogs and social networks. More particularly the titles of the blog postings or videos have to be smart so that they are displayed in searches by potential clients. There are online keyword tools that could help you with suggestions. Remember that people who intentionally search for an artist, or a solution an artist could offer, are your best bet for potential clients. If you photograph interesting sports projects you have to share the details in your blog and social networks keeping the titles, keywords, and content well suited for related searches of other sports-based potential clients.
The web-based social hubs are one of the most common ways to market one's work. Marketing is useless if there are no people. That's why most artists try to market themselves in social networks that are full of users who can get engaged with their work. As I mentioned, I won't focus on running ads in social networks as I don't find them relevant to my type of work (although I've tried that without success). I'd rather talk about organic reach.
The Unimportance of the High Number of Followers
You've probably heard that successful photographers or filmmakers should have a huge crowd of followers. Another statement is that numbers on your social network accounts need to be big in order to look successful. It's also being said that small numbers will drive clients back.
Have you seen great artists, whether they are photographers, painters, musicians, designers, or filmmakers, but having just a handful of followers? I've seen many. What's your first thought when you see the low number? Is it "for sure this is a bad artist," or "what an underrated artist"? What kind of client is that who turns away a great artist for having a small number of followers?
The Importance of the High Number of Followers
You need clients to run a business, not fans. There could be clients among your followers but let's be honest, most of them are just admirers of your work. The social networks are almost like a neighborhood; you make something new, show it to someone, they say it to other people, and the process repeats. Eventually from mouth to mouth an actual client will be reached. The truth is social networks are not so real as real life, because most of the time people don't know each other. That's why you may be more successful in a small local market where people know each other than having lots of followers in a social hub. That's probably the reason many look for having more followers so there's more chance your work reaches to a potential client.
I don't call social networking "word of mouth marketing" unless it's between people who know or trust each other. Word of mouth is a much stronger and effective marketing in real life than just relying on social networks. That's the reason I don't really care about the numbers in my social networks accounts. After those years I'm still nobody in the social networks but it hasn't affected my business in a negative way.
Your Personality in Social Networks
Yes, it's a marketing tool too. What would you think about an artist who's constantly complaining about their current and potential clients, about other artists, and about the industry? What if their Facebook wall is full of content that is compromising them as serious professionals? Mind your social profile. It's your marketing tool.
Cold Emails and Cold Calls
That's what I started with in the beginning. In the time span of two months I've sent more than 2,000 personalized emails to potential clients. The outcome? Nothing. At least nothing in the next several months.
Personal Projects and Working for Free
That's one of the best tools together with publishing the behind the scenes and results on your website, blog, video channels, social networks. Often I ask paying clients for an extra time and effort so I create an additional piece of art that I create for free or for a small fee. This makes them feel good and I have the opportunity to create something unique for my portfolio and for their enjoyment.
Lots of photographers and filmmakers are tempted by lowering their prices in order to get more clients. That's fine unless you devalue your service. Lowering a price should mean lowering the value of the result, not the quality. If you do $200 portrait sessions for one hour and you decide to offer $100 ones, you may make them shorter too. You better do a job for free than devaluing your work.
As I wrote in my previous article, building a successful career is a slow process. The most important thing I try to focus on is the quality of my work. Next is the most organic way of finding clients. What works best for me is regularly updating my website, my blog, my video channels, keeping my clients happy, networking, and investing in ads in search engines. It's a slow process. Remember that.
Thanks for the post. Very pertinent and useful info. for today's enthusiasts'~
Thanks for the feedback Andrew
Great article. Thank you for the knowledge
Good solid advice.
This is outstanding work, Mr. Lazarov. Although I know it's almost entirely due to confirmation bias that it resonates with me. I tried to learn the social media marketing game and follow all the best practices, etc. After wasting lots of time and energy, I determined that the best way (for me) to find business is to market myself the pre-Internet way. I joined a local Chamber of Commerce and got involved on the marketing committee. I'm shooting their annual golf tournament in a couple of weeks. They're selling expensive sponsorship packages, but I'll get more reach with my advertising for "free" by shooting the tournament and delivering a product that everyone is guaranteed to look at. I got some plastic business cards made to go into the gift bags that everyone gets.
I want corporate clients that have marketing budgets, so I'm going to where they hang out and putting a business card in their hand and making an elevator pitch that presents my value proposition. I'm no longer trying to get "discovered" through social media. Membership in the Chamber of Commerce also gives me a huge roster of contact info for the kinds of business I want to target with postcards and cold calls. I just started doing this a few weeks ago, but it already feels more promising than chasing the pot of gold at the end of the social media rainbow. I also got a business mentor for free through the SCORE.org program. I recommend it to those in the U.S.
These other two business articles you wrote are also outstanding. There's a lot of great content on Fstoppers, but what you've been producing over the last month or so is among the best content I've read on here over the years I've been reading the site. Please keep it up.
Thanks Lenzy. I'm glad you appreciate this series of articles and you've noticed the thread.
I'm also glad I'm not the only one who thinks the pre-social networks marketing never gets out of fashion and is even better.
Marketing by working for "free" is a great way to get your work before the eyes of the right clients. I'm currently working on a free project with a long time paying client because I want to get into another niche. "Free" comes a long way together with in-person networking as you have noticed. That will be probably the theme of one of my next articles.
I wish you a successful career. Your work looks solid.
Thank you so much for this. I've been working at getting my business going, and I wasn't quite sure how to go about getting clients. I'm glad I read this, because I was getting ready to just go all out on social media, and advertising to absolutely everyone. Essentially, I'd advertised my services (for free as I'm getting started) to close friends on Facebook. I've already had one guy, a friend who is super nice, approach me with all of these different things he wanted to do. It's as if he'd completely missed the part where I was looking for people for headshots and portraits. I can say I'm a bit wiser for having read the article. Thanks again.
Thanks for the feedback Michael!
These days I'll probably write an article on how I started getting my first paid clients in a specific area of photography and it's not through the social networks. As I said in the article, I've never been strong in social networks and that doesn't matter to me.
I should also say that for other photographers social networks are the essential marketing tool and the majority of their clients are coming from there. That's mostly for photographers that are covering a wider area of clients such as children, families, wedding photographers. In my opinion and from my experience, for commercial work social networks are more for admirers than for clients.
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