Any successful business will have a steady stream of customers but the best businesses also shake things up by using promotions. Sales, contests and giveaways open new channels and attract customers who might otherwise have gone elsewhere. That’s as true for photography businesses as it is for high street retailers and supermarkets. Here are three kinds of promotions that work for people making money from photography.
- Reward New Clients, Not Referrals
Referrals make up a big part of any photography business with some studios saying that all of their new customers arrive through word of mouth. Persuading those customers to pass on those words to their friends though can take a bit of effort.
The most common strategy is to offer happy clients a reward. Each referral, for example, might be worth a free print or a bonus retouching. Some studios go even further and create a kind of loyalty program in which rewards can be built as the referrals continue to go out. Customers can then trade those prizes in for something as valuable as a free photo session.
It looks canny. The offer of an incentive should appeal directly to clients and give them a reason to tell their friends. The ability to put rewards together should both bring in extra referrals while reducing the bribes paid out by the photographer as former clients keep waiting for an additional recommendation that will push them up to the next tier.
In fact though, what is probably the most common way of incentivizing referrals is mostly wrong.
Happy clients already have a far more powerful incentive to provide a referral than anything the photographer can offer: the chance to help a friend. When they refer a friend to a photographer, they’re not rewarding the photographer; they’re rewarding someone they love with the chance to work with someone who made them happy.
The role of the photographer then is first make the experience with each customer so happy that they want to tell their friends; and secondly, to increase the benefit that reaches the new customer.
Earlier this year, for example, we spoke to Leah Tremillet, a photographer who began by giving her clients cards that they could pass along to their friends. Even when those cards included a small discount, they still weren’t picking up large numbers of referrals. According to Tremillet, they just didn’t look valuable.
“While we want it to be a super big deal to them, all of our actions say, ‘dime a dozen,’ and ‘If you didn’t get this deal, you should have,’” she explained.
She chose to take a different approach. Instead of giving small prizes to everyone, she gives a few rewards with an apparent value as high as $200 that clients could give to select people.
“This says, ‘exclusive,’” said Tremillet. “It says, ‘You really are special!’ And people want to feel special!”
Her old clients get to reward her new ones and she then gives those old clients surprise gifts that show her gratitude without looking like a bribe.
- Plan a Pop Up Studio
Photographers often expect customers to come to them. Some will shoot on location but others stay in their studios and hope that clients are willing to take the time and effort to come to where they have the lighting and other equipment. Pop-up studios allow some photographers to bring their skills directly to their customers. For a short time, clients who need a particular kind of shoot can find a photographer near them and get the images they need quickly.
For photographers, it’s an opportunity to get to know a large number of potential long-term clients in one day.
But it takes a lot of effort. We spoke to two photography businesses who used pop-up studios this year. Food photographer Grant Kessler organized a pop-up studio in a shared kitchen. He set aside nine 45-minute slots but only managed to fill five of them. None of those five came back although one enquiry did translate into a full job. When he tried to repeat the exercise, the number of bookings was so low, he chose to cancel the event.
When Emma Lambe and Natalie Sternberg launched their Rhapsody Road studio, however, they organized a six-day Wedding & Family Photography Pop Up Studio at an arts center that offered portrait sessions, bridal shots and children’s photos, as well as workshops, games and talks. The shoot was as much an event surrounding wedding and family photography as a chance for some people to pick up some easy pictures. They teamed up with related businesses, including dance studios and wedding providers, and won sponsorship from companies with products to promote.
It took plenty of time and lot of networking. Planning started six months before the event but the work generated by returning clients and referrals took them through another six months.
It’s not something you want to do every month, but team up with other businesses in your area to organize an event related to your clientele and you can give yourself a good half-year of work.
- Free Facebook Albums for Your Customers
The efficacy of Facebook as a form of marketing is now pretty well known for photographers. The ability to target potential clients by age, marital status and location make advertising for engaged women very effective for wedding photographers in particular. And the freedom to tag and share images might create copyright challenges but it does allow photographers to show their work and reduce their advertising costs.
But instead of uploading a small sample of the images taken on your last job to your Facebook page, make a Facebook photo album of all the main pictures and give it to your clients. Patrick Aiden Edmiston, for example, includes a Facebook “photo album” in four of his five packages. They aren’t just an extra benefit. They also give the client a chance to tag his or her images and share them with friends. In the process, the photographer doesn’t just get word of mouth; he gets his pictures and his name passed around.