Marketing a Commercial photography business

Commercial photography is like any other business in that there are many day-to-day functions for the business to succeed. This blog explores the typical demands and tasks I exert to run my photography business. I also include some business ideas and strategies to promote, and differentiate your business to increase profits.

Preface:

You are a photographer; but if you want to succeed, you are also a business professional. Few photographers make this connection and as a result fail- possibly despite having some remarkable talent. Many photographers are pent up in the idea of being an artist; consequently, the notions of marketing, value, revenue, sales and operating costs are not part of their vernacular. 

Many photographers find the idea of business operations annoying. They often think the commercial component of their work will dilute their artistic creativity. Right or wrong, business is unavoidable for any of business, including the photography business.

My first tip to any photographer is to get over you. You are more than an artist; you are also a business professional. You must make this mindset leap in order to succeed as a photographer.

You might be good at engaging your right brain for all that lovely artsy stuff, but it is equally important to activate the left brain to ensure the technical aspects of your business are addressed. There is a world of competition out there and you need to offer a distinct value in your business in order to get a better piece of the pie.

 I think many photographers think value is just a lower price; thereby we see the downward spiraling of the profit margins in this industry. The notions of innovations, value add, unique offerings, loss leaders and pricing strategy, services are not akin to most photographers. Most photographers and many businesses think they must sell their services at a discount to crack the market.  What a reckless notion.  Work to be profitable now! You need the income and revenue to invest into your business! Do not work free! Your photography service is not a volunteer organization!

My name is Jules and I run a commercial product photography studio out of Toronto Ontario Canada.  I run my commercial photography business differently. Indeed, pricing is an important tool to present my value proposition, but it is only one tool.  To move away from the stupidity of price competition, I employ a variety of marketing tools to get more work at a higher profit margin.   


My Commercial Photography market: Toronto

Running a commercial photography studio in Toronto is an interesting place to run a photo business. Most of the Canadian head offices are located here, it is the 11th largest city in North America and we have the occasional US company that solicits our services.

Differentiate yourself by offering niche photo services. Position yourself as an expert to make higher profit margins.

Toronto is a market rife with competition in the photography business.  It seems like any clown with a camera can calls himself (or herself) a photographer. Fortunately, for me, I happen to know that many do not know what they are doing. My skills here give me a competitive advantage, however because there are so many other second rate competitors, I am inevitably losing business to some crappy operators.  

I am not trying to be a jerk about this; I just happen to know that few photographers really know what they are doing.  I think it is a combination of risk aversion, laziness and ignorance. For example, many photographers operate out of a car. Indeed, you can set up a studio anywhere, and I do occasionally, but a chef works best in his own kitchen.  In addition, most photographers do not measure the light (with a light meter) to insure a correct exposure; sad but I have no idea how you can set a camera to a flash intensity without measuring the lumen output.  Finally, few photographers have any equipment to really do a job properly and they lack the Photoshop skills to edit the images they produce for their Clients. In other words, many photographers supply their clients with unfinished image.  By doing this, they put the onus on the customer to edit the photos. 

By providing the customer with unfinished images, they are leaving money on the table. The unfinished product shots are an opportunity lost for revenue generation in post production finishing. They also leave the door open for people like me as I shoot and edit the images.  Always give the client a finished product. Never give your competition the opportunity to service your Clients better than you can.

India Masking Companies to Edit Images

I have tried to use Clipping companies in India to edit my images; regrettably, I find they supply insufficient quality to meet my client's minimum expectations. Many of these service providers do not have good monitors or seldom use any color calibration tools.  As a result, they cannot see the correct image for masking or color correction. They will make you all kinds of commitment to quality, but repeatedly, I find their work sloppy.  I am at a point now where I am unwilling to train the populous of India how to use Photoshop.

Many of them are also using (perhaps a pirated a copy of) Photoshop CS3; therefore, their ability to manage RAW image files is limited; especially for new camera models.  Using Clipping companies in India to create efficiencies has been one problem after the next.

I have also had troubles with these dudes in getting them to follow directions. I doubt it is a language issue since my instructions are very clear and simple.  I think it is simply India’s culture to hold quality in low regards.  Think about it: we do not measure the Germans by the same yardstick as those in Mumbai. Not all countries are synonymous with quality.

India is infamous for lackluster quality. Often, they execute without really understanding the big picture. They mindlessly follow instructions- assuming they follow your instructions.  And if the project scope falls outside the given instructions, they make no adjustments to assure high quality work.

The clipping path companies in India are preoccupied with offering a cheap price.  I have asked some vendors in the past how much I needed to pay you to deliver a quality product: the same bargain price was supplied.  I do not want a bargain price, I just want superb quality at a competitive rate.  I have yet to succeed in this aspect with India 

Daydream ways to grow your business:

One of the most important things that I do every day is to think about my photography business.  You could say this is my compulsion. In fact, I am nearly always talking about my business; this makes me somewhat of a boring person, but I find it interesting so my life is fulfilling in a perverse sort of way.

I am always thinking of ways to differentiate myself from my competitors and develop new offerings that have value to my client base. In addition, I frequently think about ways to reduce costs and the direction I want to take my company.

To be successful as a commercial photographer, you need to think about your business compulsively. You need to think about how you can make it a more competitive service in your marketplace.  You see, photographers are a dime a dozen, so you need to put barriers of entry and differentiators in place to make yourself distinct from your rivals. These distinctions also need to be obvious to your prospective customers

The thinking part about my business takes up a lot of my time. If you don't come up with new ways to improve your business, your company will die. Your competitors are always thinking of ways to copy or improve on what you do or worse yet, undercut your price.  You want your customers to buy from you because you offer unique value; it is not enough to get customers because they accidentally found your service. 

 Coming up with competitive advantages, is not easy. Ideas do not just fall on your lap; you have to focus on your attention on the need to improve your business. Once you identify potential revenue or cost savings opportunity, you have to make the bet. You need to develop the business plan, and then execute.  This may require an investment of time and/or equipment. Some offerings will succeed and others will not. It is always best to experiment with some feelers before you commit to spending lots of money. However, do invest the time and money into your business; I see many photographers who do not, and those businesses will never flourished beyond the Mickey Mouse level.

Many photographers think their business investments end at buying a cool camera and a high-quality lens. Not so.  You should continually invest in your business. Investments should include software, studio space, and the development of techniques and improvement of methodology, the investments into ancillary equipment and most importantly your customer list.  

You must invest in your business regularly because your competition is nipping at your heels and are looking for ways to steal your customers. The only way you can preserve and grow your business equity is by the continuous enhancements to your business's position. 

Opportunities do not always just happen in new products.  They can occur in finding efficiencies that will yield massive cost savings that can allow you to profitably undercut your competition or increase your profit margins.  As a photographer, your business is no different from any others. Daydream to find ways to increase your profits or reduce your costs. Once you come up with the idea: execute!  Ideas are not worth a dime if you do not make them come true!

Another competitive advantage for a photographer is to simply pick up the phone and call prospective customers.  Shockingly, few photographers have the nerve to do this.  You need to make a habit of cold calling new prospective Clients. Cold calling is a high-impact activity and can drive your business's growth dramatically. You should strive to call at least 25 new companies every day. Why 25? Because fewer calls will yield less business. 25 new calls is also a target objective. There is strength in numbers. The more you call, the more sales opportunities you will find. 

In light of the fact that photography is a vocation rife with competition, a big part of my job involves selling and marketing.  The most potent investment you can make in your business is the development of your client base. Sales are the heart and soul of any operation, and your efforts should surround your company's requirement for sustainable and increasing revenues.

If I am not photographing or editing images, I am selling. This is a huge aspect of what I do. I call everybody. I go after vice presidents, marketing directors, and marketing managers. I prefer a top-down selling approach; meaning, that I prefer to sell at a higher level who will mandate the lower ranks to investigate my service offering. 

Many photographers think they are above selling; or simply will not do it out of fear or laziness. You are running a business, and you need customers. The only way you will get them is by marketing effectively and by selling the service. If you want your business to succeed, you have to pick up the phone and call new clients. Alternatively, put on your walking shoes, go out the door, and start introducing yourself to businesses. It is unlikely that your marketing or portfolio alone will be sufficient to sustain your business.

My marketing efforts outperform my selling, but it is not to say that I rely on marketing alone. Instead, I like a blended selling and marketing approach to drive my new business. It is great when customers call me, but often I will take the initiative to find new Clients when I identify a competitive advantage.

My marketing

The first thing I do in the morning, is to place adds on Kijiji and Craigslist to promote my various businesses; some might call me a bottom feeder for advertising on these sites, but truth be told, I have won a fair number of good clients as a result of this practice. Therein lies one of the philosophies to run my business: make it easy for your clients to find you, and make many roads that lead to your business.

I will also note that I do not offer just one Generalist Photography service.  I create multiples pages that link to specific niche markets.  By positioning myself as an expert in a given field, I will get more sales leads.  Moreover, Google will rank the specific page higher.  Why?  Because Google liked pages that are relevant to a given search query. This is why I have commercial photography pages for:

·         Headshot Photography

·         Product Photography

·         Food Photography

·         Video Production

·         Etc

I like advertising with Craigslist and Backpages because the images I place in those ads usually rank high in the search results; especially when I alt tag the images properly.  I also always brand my images.  I want the world to know they are my product shots.  If you do not know what alt tagging is, I suggest you learn about SEO. Search engine optimization is a critical component of my marketing strategy. If you want customers to find you, you have to make yourself found in the search engines. Search engine optimization is not witchcraft but it's pretty darn close. If you want to succeed with the search engines, there are a few best practices methods to learn; I suggest you take the time to understand SEO by reading on the subject. This advice is one of my best pieces of advice I can give you. Look for an Audio books on Amazon- that will teach you the 90% you need to get started.

Another thing I do feverishly is update my website. Google likes it when you update your content frequently. Google likes fresh high-quality content. The information, should be relevant and preferably in depth. What is in depth? Specifically an article that is over 2000 words that will foster a good web experience; so don't repeat yourself, and write stuff that people would want to read. Be sure to include photos, because Google also likes that. Finally do not forget to alt tag the images you implement and include a link back or backlink to your website to give your site some credibility.

My photography business is all over the web. I love using all of the social media websites at my disposal; although some are better than others.  Some of the social media websites that I use include: Pinterest, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, WordPress, Flickr, Twitter, Pitchengine to name a few. As stated before, create multiple roads that lead to your business. I am also listed in many industry related forums and discussion groups. To be clear, I have received sales leads from these sources; although some are better than others; still, write and deploy great content everywhere on the web. This equity will return slowly but surely back to you.

Indeed, being all over the web will give your competition the opportunity to copy you. However, I have found that the benefits of being out there outweigh the cons. Your competitors will find a way to copy you, but likely many wont because they are too lazy or don’t understand what you are doing.  Essentially, be out there so people can find your business.

Lately, I have become a big fan of blogging. I do it regularly and to keep it efficient, I do it over my iPhone. The iPhone is the fastest way to blog because you can dictate your text directly into the device. Once you are done, simply email yourself the content, and with Word, you can spell-check the content and in short order, you have a well written conversational type blog.

When you blog, be sure to add links in the text to your website.  These links will provide valuable SEO benefits to rank your website higher in Google's organic search results. Research back-links if you want more details on this particular statement.

I try to minimize the blog writing and web site updates until after business hours... But I will admit that occasionally I buckle. 

Business hours are the prime working hours to call customers.  Speaking with customers is a time sensitive high impact activity. Web writing will have slow incremental benefits. I do recommend blogging, but spend more time calling your customers directly as it will yield more immediate revenue benefits. More often than not, the inclination you will have will be to blog rather than to pick up the phone and call customers. Cold calling customers takes nerves and sometimes you will look for any excuse not to do it. Discipline yourself to call customers. Blogging and web update is most definitely a secondary priority. Cold calling will drive your business and your will be glad once you find r sales leads. That said, marketing and selling efforts complement each other; do both with vigorous regularity.