– Posted by Mark
Hi. My name is Mark. My wife is Leah. We’re Atlanta based wedding photographers and we run the best photography internship in the country (arguably). Our photography business also requires that we travel the country rather often to photograph weddings in whatever location they’d like to us to be. California, New York, Maine, Michigan, Florida, Wisconsin, Arizona, Alabama, Tennessee, The Carolinas, New Jersey – and even a few weddings here in Georgia.
We started this business in August of 2009, I went full-time-photo in August of 2010, and Leah went full-time-photo in August of 2011. This upcoming year of 2012 will be our first year of living completely off of our photography earnings. Now – if you think that’s a little scary – well… yeah, it’s kind of F*CKEN Terrifying – well, it can be or it would be if we hadn’t spent the last 2.5 years working towards this coming year. Of course – The BabyRoX was born about a month ago because we didn’t think that we had enough pressure to succeed (paying bills, eating food, generally not failing at life), so we added a newborn baby to the list of reasons why our photography needs to not only enable us to survive – but to thrive and generally rock.
If you know anything about us – then you know that one of the highlights of our photography internship is the business/marketing workshop that we hold for every ‘Season’ of Interns. We believe in the importance of good, meaningful and effective marketing and less on the reliance of expensive gear to make our business a successful one.
Because Marketing = Friends = Sales = Money = I get to hangout with the BabyRoX A LOT.
These tips are for US – specifically ME – but you might also find them useful.
1. Make More Appearances.
I have this saying when talking about some of the qualities I look for in our photography Interns. I need carny’s – as in carnival midway workers. You know – the ones that yell at you while you’re walking by, get you to play a game you know you can’t win – AND convince you give them $5. Of course – you also need a place to put your booth.
From the very beginning we’ve always understood the value of ‘working events’. Whether it was a party, a ceremony, or a tradeshow of some sort. You gotta GET OUT THERE – and you have to do it IN PERSON. It’s that that thing called Real-Life Marketing, or Real-Life Networking, or simply REAL LIFE. It’s also much more effective than waiting for people to visit your website because you posted your latest boring family portrait session on your blog. Sorry. Latest boring wedding that you photographed.
Pro Tip for Me: If you want your business to succeed, you are going to need to meet exponentially many more people. Not a few more people, not a couple, not even a lot or many. EXPONENTIALLY MORE PEOPLE – and you’re going to need to meet them in person. While it would be nice to think that we can all be that successful photographer who exploded with business just from their blog/website – that’s probably NOT going to be you. So you’re going to have to do the hard work – and actually get out there and meet new people.
You know how we found our pediatrician? She was working her booth at a local birth/maternity/children’s fair event. We also saw our chiropractor at the same event. You know what that means? It means that these people who spent a quarter of a million dollars on their education are acting like carnies, manning their tables, trying to MEET PEOPLE IN REAL LIFE just so they can get more business (oh and I assure you, they’re badass doctors). Sure – at some people they won’t need to do that – but the fact that they’re essentially hustling for work – AND they’re looking for a specific type of client should clue you in as to how important it is to do more than just work on your social media and internet presence.
And you’re just depending on getting work through the internets? Good luck.
2. More Partnerships with Different businesses.
Here’s the thing – it makes too much sense to partner with businesses in the same industry. It’s a safe bet. It’s obvious. Everyone does it. Great. If you look at the wedding industry – blogs, magazines, invitations, photographers, dresses, etc – it all ends up being like a big circle of friends where eventually, everyone has dated everyone. They’ve all made out with each other (or more! ha!) and all of their promotions just feel like yet another free wedding/invitation/dress/shoe/jewelry giveaway on yet another wedding blog full of pictures of stuff. (tangent anyone?)
We tell our Interns that our 3 main guiding principles are:
1. Be different
2. Do things that matter.
3. Show everyone
In that same vein – we prefer to study ANY OTHER business instead of photography businesses because that’s the best way to get fresh ideas. There are already too many relatively successful photographers selling their workshops with essentially the same advice as the other workshops. The ‘Industry’ often times just recycles old ideas – and that’s fine for everyone else – we’re just not really interested.
I know – this is a lot of big hypothetical talk – so here’s a simple example. We wanted to do a full wedding giveaway. Sure there are the normal channels – wedding blogs, wedding magazines, wedding television even – but we wanted something different. We didn’t want to just enter the ‘wedding industry’. So we found a mainstream media partner (a local network affiliate tv station) and then mainstream magazine publications – and along with some excellent help from one of our Alumni Interns (who is also a PR/Marketing SuperStar) – we F*cken set up a FULL WEDDING GIVEAWAY that’ll be happening this year. (Well – fingers crossed ya know – since just like Weddings, it’s not 100% absolutely happening until it’s DONE happening 😉
Sometimes it might take much more work to make certain partnerships make sense, or work out – you know what that means? It means you just have to suck it up and be smarter. Figure it out. Ask for help. Hire someone to help you. Hire someone with the right connections. Get it done.
3. Do the Social Media things you Know you should be doing.
This one is for you and me and everyone. It’s easy. Just do the things you know you should be doing. F*ck! You’ve already told yourself that you need to do them. You’ve nodded your head in agreement whenever you read/heard someone saying that you should be doing those things. Blog regularly? Connect with people on twitter? Use Facebook? Use Google+? PINTEREST? Tumblr?
Of course – you don’t have to use/do all of them – but damn. You have to pick 1 or 2 of them, focus and then do the work. I Facebook like it’s my job – because IT IS MY JOB. We try to blog like it’s our job BECAUSE IT IS OUR JOB. We try to twitter like it’s our job BECAUSE IT IS OUR JOB.
Specifically for us – even though we’re photographers we need to approach blogging the same way that Professional Bloggers do – as in pre-writing posts and scheduling them. You know – using an editorial calendar. Getting post written/finished BEFORE the morning that they’re going up. You know – LIKE IT’S OUR JOB.
4. Examine Your Entire Customer Experience
Honestly – this is a big one for us this coming year. Most photographers think of only a few things when considering their customer experience. The email/phone communication, during the session, and the product delivery. If you know anything about sales – process then you’re aware of certain advantages you get by having a showroom, a retail space, and even ‘product’. You can physically lead the client through the sales process, and sprinkle up-sell points along the way, or reinforce the perceived value. Most photographers still rely on the strength of their photographs to do all of the heavy lifting and selling.
The problem is that there are far too many F*cken amazing photographers out there – and once you reach that level (whatever that means) you need to compete with something else. I’ll bet you that hardly any of them focus on their overall customer experience beyond the email/phone communication, during the session, and the product delivery. What else is left? The extras. The surprises you can bring. Everything that makes it all easier for the clients. Do you make it easier and easier for them to SHOW OFF the photos you made for them? Do you make it easier for them to share those photos? Do you make it easier for them to BUY prints? Even if you work on a digital sales model like we do – DO you even try to sell prints at all? Not from a place of ‘we need to sell more stuff’ – but a place of – REAL PRINTS ARE BEAUTIFUL and everyone should do more than just look at photos on their computer screens.
Working on your packaging is obvious. You should work on the (good) surprises you provide for your clients and how you make everything easier for them.
Your photography is a commodity now. Just like shoes. Just like computers. The superstar companies constantly work on their entire customer experience.
Hey. See you tomorrow.