Getting customers for wedding photography when I have no money for advertising/promotion.
This answer is in two parts. Doug provides overall business recommendations and Stephanie provides specific marketing ideas and tactics.
Full disclosure: My first real job was as a commercial photographer when I was 16. I didn’t shoot weddings, although I helped out on a few and did a few for friends. We both still shoot, albeit as non-pros.
For the purposes of this discussion I will assume you’ve got all the gear you need or can rent it for the gig if you don’t. I will also assume that you’ve got all the required technical skills to produce top quality images suitable for this market.
Shooting is a creative medium and wedding photography is both ultimately exclusive and a complete commodity. The people selling high-end wedding photography have developed a brand and market position that enables a high price point and exclusivity. At the other end of the spectrum there are people getting married every single weekend who can’t afford a shooter and instead rely on friends and family.
In that paragraph is contained one possible path for you.
First, get a unified brand in social media. Be cognizant that when you are a public shooter you live a public life. Everything you post or share on the web or social media becomes part of you and, more importantly, part of your brand.
I did a Google search on you and clicked into the first few links of results. You should do the same. Get your personal brand unified across the web.
Next, think about a shooting brand, a brand different from your name. A company brand gives you the opportunity to create whatever brand image you want and to create a market presence that is inherently perceived as bigger than the “one guy with a camera” we all start out with as shooters. For the purposes of this example, I’ll use Wedding Bliss Memories (WBM).
Get a logo for WBM from 99Designs, LogoCare or one of the other low-cost online logo design companies. You can spend as little as $40 and have a nice looking, professional logo. It makes a difference. Make sure to get both vector (eps) and raster (psd or jpg) format files.
Next, you’ll want to get WBM set up on all the social media channels: Facebook (company page), Twitter (account separate from yours), LinkedIn (company page), Flikr/Smugmug/your-photo-site-here, and YouTube (you will want to showcase your work on the media sites). Tumblr is very media friendly and would make a good blog system (and is a lot less grief than hosting your own WordPress). Just about all of these systems/sites can feature your logo, so upload it wherever you have the opportunity. Many of these sites can also be modified to reflect your logo and web site design, e.g. Twitter.
In addition, there are a plethora of wedding photography specific web sites that host your images, provide secure access to your clients and handle ordering and fulfillment. Start with the Professional Photographers of America site where you will find plenty of options tor this service among the advertisers.
If you want your own, stand-alone web site, you can buy a professionally designed site at www.themeforest.com for $10-30. You can get it hosted at a wide variety of places for $12-50 per year. I’m currently recommending www.MediaTemple.com due to their fantastic support.
You’ll also need those artifacts from the dinosaur age: business cards. Cards are ultra-cheap, so don’t scrimp here. Get some classy cards. Try something from http://us.moo.com/ or another supplier who offers stylish/creative designs. You can save all the fancy printed stuff like brochures for later. I’m not convinced you even need them in today’s photography market, but you can decide that later.
Everything that shows your logo establishes your brand. Make your logo, your cards, your web site design, etc. as classy and professional as you possibly can. Don’t scrimp here.
So, at this point you’ve spent somewhere between $50 and $350 and have a pro logo design and web/social media presence.
That’s great, now what about your original question about getting some customers?
I met Nate and Jaclyn when they were working behind the counter at a local camera store. At that point they had nothing but a dream to be shooters. You can see what they’ve built in just a few years.
What is key is that they have a style that is expressed in everything they shoot, they say and they do. It is expressed in the design of their web sites. It permeates everything about them.
For people who like their style, for people who resonate with it, there is no alternative but Nate and Jaclyn.
So, go back to that opening paragraph.
What you want to be is the guy like Nate, who goes from dreaming of being a pro shooter to being a rock star.
You don’t get to be the rock star overnight. You get there little by little, shot by shot, gig by gig, customer by customer.
And, most importantly, you don’t get there by producing images that are just like everybody else’s shots.
Establish, nurture and grow your specific creative style. Make your style your brand.
Why try to sell a commodity: standard wedding photography. Why not sell something people can’t get anywhere else: your style.
You’ll never get all the customers anyway, so why sell some lowest-common-denominator product like generic wedding photography.
Don’t try to get all the customers. Get the ones who like your style. It’s a much better way to go for all involved.
Start with those kids who can’t afford a shooter, who are asking their friends and family to shoot their wedding. Go be that friend and shoot the gig in exchange for social media endorsements by the wedding party. The pricing model is, “Pay with a tweet.” Do that a few times. Maybe more than a few times.
All the while, you are getting the shots you need to fill your web sites, blog, photo gallery, etc.
You are also establishing your specific, unique style.
And, I guarantee, you will begin to get requests to shoot more weddings–for cash.
So, how do you get customers when you don’t have any money for advertising/promotion? You get them by selling them what they can’t get anywhere else: your style.
Go create your brand. Go create your style. Give it away a few times and then start charging. Before long you’ll be the next Nate.
PS – And, after you get going: Because you’re dealing with the public, you will want to set up WBM as a real LLC or corporation so you’ve got some personal liability protection. It’s not that much work or expense, especially for an LLC, and it can literally save your bacon if Uncle Henry trips over your light pack cord or one of the bridesmaids is convinced you purposely posed her in a way that made her look overweight. An LLC will cost $500-600 including legal and state filing fees. Annual business insurance costs will vary widely, but you can probably get $1-2m liability coverage for $1,200.
I believe there are many ways to attract customers. In the very crowded wedding photography space, differentiation will be key.
As Doug pointed out, you must develop your own style, a style that will resonate with your ideal customer.
First, what do you offer?
What makes you unique? What can you offer that no one else offers? Why would a customer choose you over all the other options available?
It is critical to find ways to differentiate, especially in a very crowded industry such as wedding photography.
Second, who is your ideal customer? If you’re not sure and/or can’t articulate who they are, take some time to create their persona:
- Are they primarily female or male, or both? (Males are sometimes involved in this decision and sometimes not; sometimes the decision is up to the person paying for the wedding – read: mom/dad)
- How old are your customers?
- Are they first-timers (meaning first marriage vs. second, third, fourth marriages)?
- How much do they make annually (their ability to pay your rates is key)?
- Where do they live (are you willing to travel or do you prefer to work within a certain radius to your office/studio)?
- Are they free-spirited and attracted to innovative, even crazy, shots? Or, are they conservative and more interested in the “standard” shot list?
- Other traits, considerations?
The goal here is to clearly define who the ideal customer is for what you offer. If, for example, you will be bored to tears working with a “standard” shot list, then you will want to create your own shot lists. That offering must match the person you are selling it to. If you offer underwater wedding photography, your customers are those who would want to get married in that manner.
The goal is not to be everything to all people. The goal is to define who you are and what you offer, and to define the ideal customer for that offering.
That said, here’s the tough part. You will then need to determine how many actual customers there are for your offering. As in the above example of underwater wedding photography, there are a limited number of customers for that offering, especially if you are located someplace where there is no place to get married under water. But, if you worked around The Great Barrier Reef, a favorite spot for divers of both sexes, you might find many who would be willing to pay you for shooting their wedding.
How do you know if people want what you have to offer?
Exhibit at local bridal fairs. Ask every person who comes by your booth (more on this later) what they are looking for. If they say, “Something unique,” (which they will, trust me), ask them to tell you about their dreams for their wedding and offer a suggestion or two that might fit. Observe their reaction, and listen. Most likely they will lead you to what they are looking for. The more questions you ask and the more you listen, you will discover their needs and desires. By showing your prospects you care about their needs and desires, you endear them to you. Yes, they might take your suggestions to another photographer , but at least you will know what resonates with people and it will get you thinking creatively about what you can offer based on different personality types. The goal here is to learn and to tweak your offering until you have something people want to buy…lots of people want to buy.
It’s important to know that your offering will evolve over time. Remember that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – your offering will get copied. Therefore, you need to constantly be looking for ways to add to what you offer and to differentiate. I remember the first time I saw a close-up of wedding rings in the bride’s bouquet – now that’s a standard shot. How could you still offer the shot of the rings, but make it unique?
Marketing – Your Brand, Your Business Brand
In many businesses, the brand of the owners is somewhat independent from that of their company. But, in a business like yours where you ARE the brand, it’s critical to focus on the elements that tell your story, even when you aren’t speaking. This includes the obvious aspects like the environment in which you meet clients and what your finished product looks like. But, also how easy your site is to navigate, how quickly you return phone calls and emails, and even how you dress. You will be judged by what you put on the table – your work – but also by every aspect of you. Weddings are wrapped in emotions and many decisions regarding suppliers are made based on the emotion the bride and/or groom feel when they interact with you. You want those emotions to match their dreams for their special day.
So, where can you gain exposure and build your brand?
Write about what you do. Share your expertise with others. The most important people to be sharing your expertise with are your potential customers, NOT the photography industry. The brides are grooms are the ones you need to impress – provide valuable content where they live, work and play. Yes, you can certainly provide content on your own website/blog and in your marketing materials, but you need to cast a wider net, at least until you reach critical mass on your own site/blog. Where do brides look for wedding advice? Bride magazines and online wedding sites are usually their first stop. Offer the publishers of these traditional and online offerings content brides would find valuable. The goal is not to get paid for your content (although that’s a nice bonus), the goal is to make a name for yourself as a knowledgeable expert on the subject of wedding photography. Where do grooms look for wedding advice? Do you know? I sure don’t. But, I would sure try to find out, and make myself known there as well. And, if you find that there are no resources for the grooms, do some research to find out if there’s a need. If so, fill it.
Now, I know I said it was important to write for your customers and not for the wedding photography industry. I’ll change my stand on that a bit now. It IS important that you establish credibility in the industry if you want to bolster the professional recognition aspects of your resume/CV. Some customers – especially those who care about reputation and status – may only consider photographers who are well recognized, have industry credentials. If your ideal customer is this type of client, the building your industry reputation could be critical. Again, it goes back to your idea customer and what it will take to attract and retain their business.
That brings me to another aspect of wedding photography – one-time sales. The majority of your customers will be one-time customers. This means that you must always be focused on bringing in new customers, something that requires a lot more effort than providing ongoing services to existing customers. So, what’s important? First, provide excellent service and a high-quality product. Do this and referrals will happen. Second, follow up with every customer: ask them for an honest evaluation of your service and work product, and request permission to share their positive feedback. This enables you to leverage past success towards future engagements. Third, share your work in every possible venue possible. Provide a “teaser” portfolio on site and invite brides and grooms to come in and see more. This enables you to engage with them and to learn about their dreams for their perfect day. Even if they end up not booking you, you have learned more about your potential customers. Lastly, always be “marketing.” Note I did not say “selling.” While shooting a wedding, it would be inappropriate to be focused on gaining additional business by focusing energy on selling your services to guests. But, you can certainly market yourself by behaving in a professional manner and by engaging the subjects of your shots. Guests love hamming it up for great photographers and they will remember you if you made the picture-taking experience fun. Everyone will remember you if you were professional, at all times, and delivered a great product.
As Doug mentioned, you need to have business cards and they need to tell your story. Because of their size, they need to do this in a succinct manner, and in a manner that represents your brand in the best light. What do you sell? Wedding photography. What kind of wedding photography? Unique shots others aren’t taking. So, let your business cards be the messenger – show off some unique shots on the front, and back, of the cards. Yes, use the back of the card. This is “lost space” the majority of the time and is valuable real estate. Let it market you. How? Provide value: a wedding photography checklist, a checklist for hiring a photography, etc. If nothing else, your card is more likely to be kept when the bride arrives home from the Bridal Fair weighed down with more marketing collateral than she could ever hope to need and she starts tossing.
One final suggestion: partner. Find individuals and businesses that provide products and services for weddings and partner with them. But first, be sure their level of quality and professionalism matches with yours. Once you have determined that you trust having your brand associated with their brand (and this does not have to be any sort of formal and/or legal partnership), brainstorm ways you can work together to attract brides and grooms to your offering.
Perhaps you know of an amazing venue for weddings. Go and meet their director and get a tour of the facility, and develop a professional relationship with this person. Once you have established a relationship, ask for copies of their marketing collateral so you can make it available to prospective wedding parties. Then, ask if you can leave an album of your work for brides and grooms to peruse while they are visiting the site (be sure the album focuses on the people and not on another venue). Be sure the album includes your contact information and leave cards tucked into it so prospective customers can easily contact you. The same goes for the venues where you are shooting. Be sure to stop in and introduce yourself to the folks in charge before just after the event (or soon thereafter). If you have secured permission from the bride and groom beforehand, offer to provide the venue with shots of the wedding for their portfolio in exchange for leaving an album and your business cards. Venues love having a way to show off their venue (look, smiling faces enjoying their wedding at our location!). Note: always offer and give first, then ask for what you want.
I’m sure we have given you plenty to think about. Just remember: it all starts with your offering and the ideal customer.
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