A few lucky photographers get to live wherever they want, win jobs from clients on the other side of the planet and receive plane tickets that will take them to a shoot in some exotic Caribbean location. Most don’t. Most photographers’ clients are local. They photograph people who live within perhaps 50 miles of their studio, a distance that doesn’t make the commute too difficult or add too much to expenses. That means that despite the power of the Internet to reach millions of people who need of a photographer, the most important marketing for most photographers will be local marketing.
Here are several ways you can win clients close to home:
Gavin Holt is a wedding photographer in Los Angeles. Before he became a professional photographer though, he was a computer programmer with a degree in engineering from UCLA. Those two professions don’t usually mix but a look at his website shows what can happen when you combine computer know-how with a need to sell photography services.
The site isn’t pretty. It does have a single image that dominates the center of the page but it’s static, not a slideshow. Scroll down the page, and you’ll find acres of text with big, bold headings that end with a list of recent shooting locations. Whether anyone reads that text is questionable. But it’s not there to be read; it’s there to be noticed by search engines who pay attention to the terms “wedding photography” in the titles and pick up on the locations at the bottom of the page.
Search for “Los Angeles wedding photography” in Google, and Gavin Holt’s site turns up on the first page of over 16 million results.
Leads without recommendations are likely to start their search for a photographer by using a keyword string that contains their location. When Gavin Holt turned professional, all his bookings came in through his optimized website. As he built experience, half came in through referrals but Google was still responsible for 50 percent of his earnings.
SEO optimization isn’t straightforward. It’s competitive, slow to yield results and can change at any time. When we first spoke to Gavin while researching our wedding photography book, his site was second on Google’s results pages. It’s now third from the bottom — although still on the first page.
How to Do It
The easiest method is to hire someone to do the SEO for you, but that can cost around $2,000. You can learn to do it yourself, or you can build a website using a template service that provides space for keyword tagging.
Photographers might once have advertised their services in the classifieds sections of local newspapers. As the newspaper industry has declined those small ads have moved online — and they’ve moved to Craigslist in particular. In New York alone, the site serves 30 cities, giving photographers a chance to pitch their skills to potential clients within easy reach. Search for “photography” in New York’s Craigslist site, and you’ll get a thousand results offering services from seniors and graduation photography to wedding shoots and portfolio photography.
Despite that competition though, advertising on local Craigslist sites can be effective. When Chelsea Kuhn advertised on her Montana Craigslist, renewing her free ad every couple of days, she found that she won a client for every ten to fifteen postings.
Craigslist is free advertising to a local market. While you’ll need to renew the ad at least every couple of days to ensure that you return high in search results, you can use the same ad again and again. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes. Craigslist provides an opportunity to put your services in front of a large number of local leads at no cost.
Craigslist’s competitiveness doesn’t just affect the frequency with which you have to renew your ads. It also affects prices. Many of the photographers advertising on the site are offering cut-price packages. It’s a place to pick up quick budget jobs, not major bookings.
How to Do It
Create two ads and run them on alternate days to see which approach delivers the best results. When you’ve got an ad that works, renew it frequently to ensure it’s always visible and doesn’t drop too far down the search result listings.
The local media might have less power than it used to, but it is still important. Reporters don’t just put the name of a local service in front of an audience, they also confer a particular status on that business. Because the local newspaper and local radio stations are seen as vital pillars of a community when they discuss the work of a local business, that company — that photographer — comes to be seen as a vital part of the local community too. They’re not just another wedding or portrait company; they’re the town’s main wedding or portrait photography business.
And that endorsement can stretch beyond the appearance in the press. Place a cutting of an article about your photography service on the wall of your studio and you remind leads who want to hear about your service in person that the local press approves of you.
Local publicity is free and powerful. While an ad in a local newspaper might cost several hundred dollars, a write-up about your work will provide more detail, samples of your images and cost you nothing. It also delivers an endorsement from a respected local institution that no paid advertising can ever bring.
Publicity is unreliable. Anyone can buy an ad in a local newspaper or a spot on a local radio station but to win a write-up on the feature pages, you’ll need to persuade a journalist that you are a story that would interest their readers.
How to Do It
The way in is through press releases. You’ll need a gripping headline, contact information and, most importantly, a good story. Announcing a discount on your wedding package won’t be enough. You could tell the press though about wedding trends, offer a list of the most romantic locations for engagement shoots or tell people how to avoid looking stiff during a portrait session. Submit the press release to sites like PRWeb.com but also email it to lifestyle editors and reporters in your local press.