What NOT To Do: Marketing for Photographers

Everywhere you turn, you’re being spoken to by companies who want your business. Email, television, radio, Google, direct mail, and probably a dozen other mediums attack your senses with products you “need” and services you “should have.”

Sarah-Petty-ShootProofPhotographers typically use several familiar methods to market themselves and try to stand out from the crowd, whether it’s advertising on social media, promoting themselves in local groups or communities, and even offering their services at reduced rates to catch the eye of a client who might be price shopping.

Today, however, may be the last day that you rely on these devices for drumming up business. That’s because Sarah Petty, the Chief Joy Officer at the ever-popular Joy of Marketing website and master of all things marketing, is going to teach you what NOT to do when marketing your photography studio.


Discounts? Drop ‘Em.

While many new photographers feel as though they must offer steep discounts in order to get customers through the door, Sarah warns that the quick-sell is not sending the right message to potential clients. “When you discount your products (or your services), you’re basically teaching your best clients to wait for a sale,” Sarah explains. “The only people you’re attracting are price-sensitive clients who want to pay less for the end product you offer,” she continues. “Discounts devalue your brand.”

In a world of Wal-Marts and dollar stores, though, many photographers feel as though they have to undercut the next photographer in order to get business. “Someone will ALWAYS be willing to charge less,” Sarah says, “and being the cheapest isn’t a sustainable business model.” She stresses that it’s more important to find fewer clients who are willing to pay more and stick with you for the long haul, than becoming a revolving door of clients without loyalty to you and your brand because they’re always digging around to see who is the least expensive at the time.

Feeling as though you MUST give a price break? Create value-added incentives. Instead of advertising 50% off a portrait session, Sarah suggests, offer a special incentive with a minimum purchase that is worth the same value (or more!) than a discount would be.  For example, advertise 25 free photo holiday cards when a family books a holiday portrait session with a certain dollar amount investment. Here, you’re giving the client something of value (the cards) for free, without making your session less profitable.

Stop Paying for Advertising.

Sarah uses her own experiences to prove that Facebook, Instagram, TV, and billboard ads just won’t generate the type of business you want. Paid advertising, she says, is designed to generate a lot of exposure. It reaches everyone. So, Sarah explains, if you’re a high-volume shooter that wants a lot of clients, ads on social media can certainly work for you. But, if your focus is on getting fewer, higher-quality (translation: higher spending) clients, advertising in these ways is simply steering your business down the wrong path.

In her book Worth Every Penny: How to Build a Business That Thrills Your Clients and Still Charge What You’re Worth, Sarah describes how her business model works and WHY. “I’m basically looking for a handful of clients who want an amazing experience and who will invest $1500 or more for heirloom art for their homes. I don’t sell digital files. I don’t shoot 200 sessions a year. I create wall art for my clients’ homes, and in doing this, I know that not everyone will want to be my client.”

“If your goal is to maintain a boutique-style business, where most people are NOT your clients, then paid advertising on these channels simply won’t work,” Sarah says. “Speak to your clients uniquely rather than calling out to them like everyone else in mass-marketing.”  Sarah recommends creating dynamic “dog-whistle” marketing pieces, which are marketing pieces directed at specific individuals, and to do more personal things such as formalizing co-marketing partnerships with other area small businesses, donating to silent auctions, and working with charities. “There are plenty of ways to reach customers for free,” Sarah states, “and they’ll reach the type of customer you’re truly looking for.”




Move Past Fans, Followers, and Likes.

“I have a theory,” Sarah says, “that if there’s a social media platform that is free and easy to use, every single one of your competitors will be using it. So, I focus my marketing on things my competitors won’t dare do.”

Sarah points out that amassing thousands of social media followers, while flattering, doesn’t necessarily translate into more paying clients. Instead, she uses it to see what her current clients are up to — what are their interests, their likes, their life happenings? “Because clients make a HUGE investment with me, I have to gain their trust through high-touch interactions from the start,” Sarah explains. “My clients don’t see me on Facebook and think, ‘Oh, I want to hire her.’ Instead, they get one of my dog whistle pieces in the mail, they get a note of joy from me when they have accomplished something remarkable, they see me volunteering at a charity they support, they see my displays hanging in local businesses, or they’re introduced to me by the owner of another small business they shop at or do business with.”

In her business, Sarah knows that purchases are made because of a relationship she’s built with those clients. Sarah says the first step is getting a clear picture of who your ideal clients truly are. Then, she says, go find them! Shop where they shop. Speak to groups they belong to. “Real relationships aren’t built online,” Sarah says. “They’re built in person.”


Regardless of how you’re marketing now, Sarah advises that you can easily switch to something that works. Take the time to know your customer and start getting an understanding of where that customer is. Teach your potential customers about value and show them how you appreciate them as individuals, and those new customers you attract will respect your art and help take your business to new heights.


Hungry for more marketing tips? Visit the Joy of Marketing website.

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