We all know how popular photography has become and how digital has meant it’s never been easier to take a decent photograph. ‘Everyone’s a photographer’ we’ve heard a million times.
With that popularity comes the inevitable pursuit of a photography career from amongst the many amateur photographers who wish to turn their hobby in to a living. Over recent years throngs of new photographers have joined the ranks of the pros, either following formal education or just having decided their self-learnt skills are up to the job of being paid to do it.
Amongst the many pros will be good, great and brilliant photographers which when starting out, taking a good photo is the hope that’s motivates many towards the career path. Sadly, having mastered the skills of photography is not what makes a successful photographer. Perhaps though, you are questioning what a successful photographer is and for us, as a site that specialises in working in the creative industries, that means a pro who makes their living taking photographs, making actual money, an income, a living.
As in any service industry, a proliferation of people looking to find work leads to a reduction in rates as competition for customers intensifies. It’s also well documented that new photographers either through naivety or simply trying to get a foot in the door will offer their work for free. (Which is not always a bad thing, there are pros and cons which we discuss further here).
Of course a photographer has to be good before they become successful. For any chance at actually making it, quality work has to be at the core of the business but what is the magic ingredient to achieve success? Selling. Plain and simple. The ability to get the name, the brand or the work out there in front of the right people. Without reaching out to potential clients a good photographer is nothing but a good photographer.
Marketing is a much harder skill to grasp than photography because it’s not really technical, it’s almost a black art which appeals to emotions, senses and instincts. It comes in many forms, from traditional advertising in a magazine, web sites, social media tweeting, advertising and posting through to perhaps the hardest one of all, actual networking and talking to people face to face. There’s an old saying in business, ‘people buy from people’ and networking offers a chance to sell not just the work but the person who takes the pictures. It’s this combination of quality work and personality that’s likely to find clients and achieve commissions.
An experienced photographer told me many moons ago, so many moons this was the era of film, that the industry is full of great photographers who can’t sell themselves and average photographers who sell themselves very well. So success comes from connecting with clients on a personal level and getting to know clients as putting people first pays dividends later.
This though only works if the photographer’s area of expertise aligns with the requirements of the client. There’s little point talking to a managing director who wants head portraits when the photographer wants to shoot the car he sells. So networking has to be approached carefully. There’s another saying, ‘go where your customers go’. The creative has to find out where the clientele they want to work with hang out and get mixing. This doesn’t just mean networking meetings but seeking out the social media destinations and getting involved in those specific conversations.
"Meeting people is the core for any new business." True for both networking and social media conversations, jumping in as a newbie and immediately giving the hard-sell is unlikely to impress anyone. A softly-softly approach is encouraged as this gives time to get to know the person, the people, the group and what they are interested in and like. As people get to know the creative’s business then the services on offer can be revealed naturally and hopefully will be received with interest. Networking should be considered a long-term investment in time. The hard part is finding the right people to talk to in the first place. It’s an age-old issue for any business, not just the creative industries. At general networking events everyone is trying to sell their business to everyone else which can become a little tedious. I’ve read a few articles recently where businesses are turning away from these types of events because they’re time-consuming and generally lead to little work. That said, getting to know potential clients is tricky anyway so effort should be made to network.
Advertising is an age-old method for finding new clients but what actually we might have called advertising a few years ago, that is placing ads in newspapers and magazines is now just one of a number of advertising opportunities for the creative. Using social media is for all intents and purposes, advertising. The idea is to get people, hopefully clients or potential clients to follow your SM channel of choice and feed information to those people to gain interest in what the business is doing. We all know about sharing tweets and posts on SM and it's these that are perhaps one of the most efficient tools to get the word out. By posting interesting and relevent information to an audience, the chances are they will want to share it with their audience too so the reach of the original message expands to more people who are more likely to be interested in what the original poster has to say, therefore raising their profile, which is just what advertising is all about. My own experience of traditional advertising has been disappointing with more client contact coming from social media or indeed via my website. Even photo or filmmaking competitions should be considered an advertising opportunity. Winning leads to instant creative kudos, raises profiles and brings new eyeballs to view the work.
There are no silver bullets to marketing a creative business. Like all businesses, getting the word out is tricky and many different avenues have to be explored. Social media, advertising and networking is hard work but not rocket-science. Meeting people is the core for any new business or indeed an existing business looking to find new clients so marketing's a skill creatives have to get to grips with.
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