The Complete Guide to Becoming a Professional Photographer
Part 4: Marketing and Promotion
In this the last of our series of articles about how to start a photography business, we take a look at Brand Identity and the best ways of marketing and promoting your new photography business - from a strong portfolio website, to social media and email marketing campaigns, and even designing an awesome business card.
This is Part 4. The final part of your guide on how to start your photography business. Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.
Image and Branding for a Photography Business
Choosing a Business Name
In the last chapter, we briefly mentioned the necessity of choosing a name for your business and checking that it doesn't infringe any registered trademarks. What we didn't cover, however, is how you should go about naming your business. Clearly a name is extremely important, as in many cases it is the first thing that prospective clients will learn about your business. So what is the best way to go about choosing a name?
The most obvious place to start is with your real name, and if you've got an unusual name, then this is probably going to be the best option, as it will make you easy to find online and avoid any confusion with other businesses. Assuming that this is the case, then all that's left to decide is whether you should register your business as simply “Your Name”, or “Your Name Photography”, or even “Your Name Studio”, or some variation of this.
However, if you've got a very common name, or even the same name as another well-known photographer, then things are a little more complicated. Again, you could quite easily differentiate yourself from those with the same name by going for the “Your Name Photography” option: once you're established, there should be little confusion with anyone trading as, say, “Your Name Pest Control”, or “Your Name Gynecologist”. Another reason for adding the ‘Photographer’ suffix to your name might be if you also run another business (graphic design, copy-writing, pest control, gynecology...) under the same name and want to set up separate businesses for each service.
If another photographer has the same, or a similar, name to you then you'd likely be better off going for a more distinctive and unique brand name. Again, though, you'll need to check that this is not already a registered trademark. Many of the more obvious photography-related names will likely be in use somewhere in the world already, making it highly unlikely that the web domain you want will still be available.
We'll be looking at web domain options in a short while, but for now lets consider the main criteria you should use when deciding upon a name for your photography business.
- Simplicity - (KISS) Keep It Simple, Stupid
- Memorability - Too ordinary can be just as forgettable as too strange
- Consistency - If everyone knows you as Jack, then setting up your business in the name of "Pierre-Giacomo" might not be the most intelligent choice
- Uniqueness - Although in US law you always have the right to use your own name, registering your business as “Annie Leibovitz Photography” is just asking for trouble
- Availability - Can you register a convenient domain for your choice of name? Are social media accounts still available?
- Aesthetics - Does your name look good in print? Will it make for a nice logo?
Creating a Business Logo
Your photography business logo should clearly communicate where you wish to position your business in the market. For example an Atlanta newborn photography business should go for a logo that appeals to Atlanta mothers and fathers. Just as equally, photographers in Las Vegas must consider their local market, the kind of photography that local clients want to commission, and the type of clients their work is likely to appeal to. Clearly this means gaining a good understanding of your prospective client base before you start.
From a design point of view, a good logo is simple, easily recognizable and will work when used in many different contexts and even when viewed at a very small size. It will also put across an image that is appropriate for the services your business provides: an otherwise stylish and well-designed logo that looks more like it's for a brand of laxatives than for an Atlanta wedding photography business is not a good logo.
How to Make a Photography Business Card
Business cards should be simple, stylish and reflect your brand identity in a way that is consistent with the rest of your marketing material (website, social media, invoices and letterheads etc.), by employing the same colors, fonts and logo.
But which information should you include on your card? Although you may be a social-media addict, you probably don't need to add line after line of social media IDs and contact details, instead just include your name, phone number, website URL and perhaps email address - if anyone wants to know your social media account IDs or other contact info they can easily find them on your website.
Although it can be tempting to go for the bulk discount and order a whole stack of business cards in one go in order to save money, in this age of digital printing with low set-up costs it's probably better to just print a few at a time as and when you need them. If you run out, then great, it shows they're of use and the expense is justified. In reality though, with social media, email and websites having largely superseded phone numbers and physical addresses in importance, you'll likely just send a friend request to most people who you want to stay in touch with.
Managing Your Online Presence as Photographer
As a photographer, your online presence is of the utmost importance. While social media has become the dominant means of promoting a photography business, Facebook and Instagram etc. will be most effective when used in tandem with a strong website showcasing your photography. You can look upon social media platforms as probing tentacles, pulling clients in towards the mouth of the beast: i.e. your portfolio website.
Choosing a Domain for Your Photography Business
Clearly a .com domain is the most obvious choice to go for, as the first thing many people looking for you online will do is simply to type yourname.com into their search engine. However, with it becoming more and more difficult to secure a strong and simply-named .com domain, you may have to consider other options.
While .net remains a popular alternative to .com, recent years have also seen a large number of new top level domains become available, including .photo, .photography and .art. So if you'd prefer to operate your business under your real name, but discover that its corresponding .com is no longer available, one of these new domains could be a good solution. They will also likely rank higher in Google for people searching for your name in conjunction with the word photographer or artist, respectively.
Whichever domain you go for, it's important that the URL be as simple, logical and as easy to remember as possible. Keep the spelling of your name and other words totally conventional and stick entirely to letters of the alphabet or you'll just risk annoying anyone who tries to find you (i.e. avoid "y0ur-nam3-photografeeez.com and similar).
Designing a Portfolio Website for Your Photography Business
Your portfolio website is your window display, where you get to show and tell the world who you are and what you do - entirely on your own terms. Showcase only your best work, as good quality (but small file-size) JPEGS, and provide a clear description of the services you offer and what makes your photography business different from your competitors. Also make sure that your contact details are easy to find on the site.
Remember that the purpose of your website is to show off your photography at its best. This means that the website should work for your photographs, not the other way round. While the design of your site is highly important - as it is part of what creates your brand image for potential clients - the design must always take a back seat to the photographs themselves, never dominate them.
Even if you have no experience in web design, there are many convenient website-builder platforms that will allow you to use attractive templates to put together a stunning professional-looking site in a short space of time. Some are even free. Popular options include WordPress, Squarespace, SmugMug, Portfoliobox and Photoshelter.
Optimizing A Photography Website for Google
So you've put together a stunning website showcasing your photography business. Now what? You need to get people to look at it. But how?
Social media is one important tool in your marketing drive that we'll look at in a minute. First however there are steps that you can take on your website itself to increase the chances that potential clients will find you when searching online for services similar to the ones you provide.
Search engine optimization, or SEO, refers to the various techniques that can be used to increase the ranking of a website in Google's search results. As Google doesn't like people gaming the system to get to the top of the results without merit, there's a certain amount of secrecy regarding precisely which actions positively influence search engine ranking. However, what is clear is that Google's business relies upon making the internet as useful and informative as possible for users. This means it rewards websites that offer good content and information that is relevant to a user's search. As a simple rule then, provide good content, and your ranking will increase.
In practice this means offering information on your website that is directly related to the kinds of search terms that your prospective customers will be looking for in Google. For example, here at Redfox Pros we offer professional photography in Atlanta and Las Vegas, therefore it is important for our business that anyone searching for, say "Atlanta photography" or "Las Vegas photographers" will find us on the first page of Google results for these terms. We run this blog in order to provide quality information to the public about precisely these themes. This has made our website a popular and trusted source of knowledge: Google is happy, we're happy, and hopefully you are too. It also gives us an opportunity to legitimately include search terms on our website that our prospective customers might be googling for.
The key point to take away here is that, when writing the text for your website's About Me page etc., you should include in your text exact matches for the phrases people will be searching for on Google. This means that when we wrote our About Me page for the website, we were careful to include exact matches for the phrases that are most relevant to our business, in all their different forms: e.g. "Atlanta wedding photographers" as well as "wedding photographers Atlanta" . Writing a phrase that people don't actually Google for, such as "wedding and engagement photographers working in the Atlanta area", while somewhat beneficial, will not help to increase ranking to the same degree as an exact match for a popular search term such as "Atlanta wedding photographers" will.
A word of warning though. Google rewards pages that offer quality content. This means that filling your website with irrelevant SEO search terms (what's called "keyword stuffing") will not help increase your ranking. Nor will it make your website pleasurable for potential clients to read. Instead, the text on your website should be optimized for both Google's bots and human readers alike. In short, the art of writing an About Me page for SEO is simply a question of communicating exactly what you would have said about your business anyway, but just wording the message in a way that is also beneficial for your Google ranking.
If you want to increase Google ranking even further, consider adding a blog section to your website, as this offers a much greater opportunity to provide quality content to internet users than merely an About Me and Contact page ever can.
Social Media for Photographers
Beyond SEO, social media is the most effective way of funneling potential clients towards your website. Register social media accounts in the name of your photography business as soon as possible, even if you don't immediately plan on using all of them. Now choose a couple of platforms to begin promoting your business. If you only want to deal with one or two social media platforms at the start, the most effective for promoting a photography business right now are probably still Facebook and Instagram.
You'll need to post regular content to keep followers interested in your business. You can show outtakes and previews from new work, backstage shots of work-in-progress, and other behind the scenes information. Be careful not to use social media only for blatant self-promotion however, as this could just turn people off in the end and lose you valuable followers. Instead try to balance your purely promotional content with posts about other subjects that are in some way related to your business that you think your followers might find interesting.
For social media to be effective, you will need to be willing to regularly engage with your followers, so try to get involved in interesting conversations, respond to comments on your own posts and just generally be as responsive as possible. Finally, remember that the ultimate goal is to get followers to click through to your website and make a booking. Use social media not only to create interest in your business, but also to channel that interest towards your website, where you have full control over your brand image.
As with any business, it's important to continuously grow your address book of potentially interested contacts and send out regular (but not too frequent) newsletters. Beyond those who email you directly, you might also offer the possibility for visitors to your site to sign up for email newsletters.
Use MailChimp or a similar email marketing service to send out periodic news and updates about your business to interested subscribers. Again, content should be interesting and informative to read, and subscribers must have the option to opt out of the mailing list whenever they wish. Don't overdo the frequency of newsletters though, or they will inevitably go unread.
Depending on the kind of photography you do, sometimes it won't be enough just to sit and wait for clients to contact you, but instead you'll need to go out and get clients yourself. Clearly if you're a wedding photographer, or a family photographer, this is not really an option (turning up unsolicited on peoples' doorsteps is unlikely to net you too many new clients). However, for advertising, commercial and editorial photographers a more proactive attitude towards finding clients is essential.
Who do you want to work for? Put together a list of dream clients. Even if these clients are way out of your league right now, you can then work backwards from these to see what steps you need to take to be in a position to shoot for them at a later date. Although your goals will likely shift over time, it's essential to have a clear objective of where you want to be in 5 years time if you're to know what needs to be done even in 5 months time. You can only be sure of the next steps you need to take now if you know where you're ultimately headed.
Lets say your dream gig is shooting for National Geographic. What's stopping you? Putting aside your talents and skills, at this stage what your likely lacking more than anything is experience. What kind of jobs, and which clients, would make you more employable in Nat Geo's eyes?
If in doubt, maybe check out the website of some of your favorite National Geographic photographers to see if what they were doing before Nat Geo is listed on their résumés . Maybe you could shoot for these clients too? Unless you've already been shooting for a long time as a hobby, even these clients are likely to be out of your league for now though. In this case, repeat the process again: if the logical step before presenting yourself to Nat Geo is to shoot for some other magazines and publications, but you're not ready for these yet either, then think about what would make you more attractive to these clients and then aim your sights here for the next year or two.
Choosing the Right Form of Marketing for Your Photography Business
These above steps will dictate the way you market yourself. Only by knowing who your ideal clients are can you target your marketing towards them in an appropriate manner. Think about how you're trying to position yourself and this will help to determine the marketing techniques you employ.
For example, Google Ads are fine for, say, a local family or headshots photographer, but wouldn't be appropriate for anyone striving to appear on the pages of Vogue for instance. Instead a fashion photographer is more likely to find success through heavy Instagram promotion and starting out shooting for smaller fashion publications that give the opportunity and freedom to experiment with creative projects - thus building up a portfolio of strong, published fashion photographs.
Think carefully about the people you are trying to reach with your marketing and the kind of approach that will appeal to this demographic.
As we've seen over the course of this guide, making it as a photographer is about a lot more than just taking good photos.
Having said this though, you do need to be able to take good photos. And not just when you feel like it, are inspired by the subject, or because you get lucky. But because you know how to deliver every time. This level of expertise and professionalism will only come with experience. Some of that experience you will gain on the job - after you've already started your photography business. But some you really need to get under your belt now, before you even think about starting a photography business. Merely owning a nice camera and following the steps lain out in this guide alone are not enough to run a successful photography business.
In short, the more you screw up now before going professional, the less you'll screw up later. Before launching your photography business, take the time to shoot as much as you possibly can. Photograph for friends and family to build up your portfolio. Assist more established photographers to learn from their knowledge and expertise. Get as much on-the-job problem-solving experience as you can now, before launching your business, so that when you come across problems later with high-paying clients, you'll know how to fix them.