Photography Marketing with Craigslist

Sometimes it’s the quietest — and cheapest — marketing channels that can be the most effective. Craigslist has no whiz-bang graphics — or any graphics at all, in fact. Its search engine is less effective than its olde worlde Yahoo!-style directory listing, and its pages consist of little more than classified postings placed by anyone offering a service, a product or anything else.

Yet the site is still making media moguls cry into their breakfast as they watch some of the most lucrative real estate on their pages shrink to the size of a column inch.

For people selling cars, cameras and pet-sitting services Craigslist has proven itself to be powerful, popular and universal.

And it works for photographers too.

Although there’s no dedicated category for professional image-makers, hit the “creative” link under the “services” section in just about any local listing and you can always find a fair selection of photographers marketing their services.

It appears that those ads get results.

Get a Booking a Month
Herb Hernandez, who uses Craigslist New York to pitch for a range of different kinds of photography jobs, reports that his results have been “generally good” winning him commissions for small businesses, independent designers, product webstores and even print work as well as the more predictable headshots and new models. Chelsea Kuhn, who advertises her wedding photography on Montana’s Craigslist, says that the site has brought her seven bookings since she started using it in October — a fair return for a free channel.

The jobs themselves though are rarely top-notch. Craigslist advertisers are unlikely to find themselves receiving a call from a photo editor at Vanity Fair or being asked by Time to pack a bag for Afghanistan. Chelsea describes the customers she picks up through the site as “the affordable community, not high-end.” That might suggest that it’s worth creating a low-cost package for people with limited budgets and using Craigslist as one of your main marketing outlets for that particular service. At a rate of around a job a month, the site could still bring in some extra — and reliable — revenue even if they aren’t your highest-paying jobs.

But the advertising, although cost-free, isn’t completely effort-free. Craigslist’s popularity means that ads can sink down the site surprisingly fast and because users are unlikely to dig too deeply into the pages, they have to be renewed frequently to keep them high and visible. Herb Hernandez places a new ad every day; Chelsea Kuhn, perhaps because she faces less competition in Montana, finds that every other day is sufficient — giving her a conversion rate of around ten to fifteen postings for each job.

Ads you Can Cut and Paste
Fortunately, that doesn’t mean sitting and thinking up the copy for a new ad every day. Herb might simply paste a flyer onto his page (although he also suggests learning a little HTML so that you can change the formatting of the text), and Chelsea recommends using exactly the same wording for each post.

That advice is probably best to follow only when you know you’ve got copy that produces results, something that can take a little time to figure out. Text from your marketing material could work fine but even a simple message can do the job if your skills are backed up. Chelsea’s pitch, with its triple question marks and the odd typo, is far less polished than her Photobiz website. Intentional or not, it does suggest that she’s offering a no-frills — and therefore low-cost — service while the sample images she’s pasted into the ad show that she’ll still be delivering professional quality wedding photos.

The use of sample images is likely to be particularly effective as they show leads exactly what they might receive without even having to click. A link to a website though can be useful too but there is the risk that a site that’s too slick might appear to price you out of Craigslist’s market. You might find then that it’s worthwhile setting up a simple site just for your Craigslist leads. The samples would show what you can do while still keeping these lower budget packages separate from your mid-level offerings.

And while wedding photography seems to be the most popular type of photography offered on Craigslist, there’s no reason why you couldn’t also mix up your ads so that you’re offering a range of different types of services throughout the week.

Again, you’d still be posting the same ad for each service so once you have your copy and samples figured out, it would just be a matter of spending a few minutes every couple of days to renew your ads.

You wouldn’t want to use Craigslist as your only marketing channel but it can a good replacement for paid classifieds — and one that pays too!

8 comments for this post.

  1. Hexfire Said:

    This is a great post, and definitely something I take advantage of as a photographer myself. I use craigslist on a daily basis, and it only takes 5 minutes out of my day to get an effective ad out.

  2. The Layf Said:

    I agree. Craigs works. Once you get going people tend to call you back or the word get out. And thats the best Marketing available. And you can pick models wanting to do shoots as well.

  3. CLFan Said:

    Here is a very interesting and informative article about how to post effectively on craigslist.

    The tips are very helpful. With the free craigslist hit counter and the advices, my craigslist ad now gets an average 700+ page views over a 7 day period.

    Hopefully, this article helps you too.

  4. Embassy Pro Books Said:

    Craigs list is great. I used to use it for renting apartments and selling old things I would find in my basement but recently sold both myself and some of my framed work and was able to drum up some decent bookings and sales.

  5. photographik Said:

    Good article. Craiglist works. However, I do think that the client base from Craigslist ads are definitely "budget conscious". I think newbie photographers should try it out to get some gigs and build up their portfolio. But for more established photogs, I think other forms of advertising are probably more apropos.

    Good stuff!

  6. Adam Parker Said:

    Free resources to promote service and request talent is great and craigslist is a great place to start. Also, don't forget that it is a great quick & free to get rid of old gear.

    I'm making some room in my bag for the 5D mk ii, so I posted an old body and lenses on craigslist. I did a short write-up of the experience and think that photographers are the most adept to promote postings on craigslist since we can add a visual component to the mostly text site.

    Thanks for the post, I have been meaning to promote more on various sites including craiglist and will give it a try as soon as the new camera body comes in.

  7. More Shoots Said:

    It's funny how photographers sometimes overlook the most obvious (and affordable) avenues of marketing. Great post Dean.

  8. Timothy Said:

    I used craigslist a while back and didn't get results. However recently I started putting up ads everyday, sometimes twice with two different wording. As a result I've been steadily getting leads and a couple bookings. However they are really at a lower price. So it can work especially to fill in open dates.

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