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How to Market Your Photography Business on a Budget

by Hanna Brooks Olsen
photo & video

There’s a sort of financial cul-de-sac that small business owners find themselves in. They want to land more clients so that they can make more money, but in order to land more clients, they need to spend money on marketing. And while the old adage “you have to spend money to make money” is definitely true when it comes to starting and maintaining your business, it is possible to launch smart, creative marketing campaigns that will bring new clients in the door, without burning through a ton of much-needed capital.

“Some things are going to cost money; there’s no way around it,” says Sal Cincotta, award-winning photographer, author, and speaker. However, “some things are free,” he explains, and others are very, very inexpensive. The goal: Reducing overall marketing costs, and finding free ways to market your business at every opportunity. Another important aspect of marketing? Knowing what’s worth spending money on.

Branding, says Sal, is extremely crucial — and the longer you go without a logo and branding, the longer it will take for your business to become successful. But it can be difficult to justify spending $500 or more dollars on a logo and other marketing materials when you won’t necessarily see that return immediately.

“You won’t be able to see that correlation, but you always won’t be able to get to where you want to be with a brand that looks inferior.” says Sal. Instead of spending money on gear which you might be able to go without, he explains, just save up for decent branding.

“That logo is not a toy — it’s your identity. You need it. You have to get it.”

Once you have that logo, you can start applying it to places where your clients might see it and remember you. For example, Sal gives his photography clients branded flash drives of their photos; they’re relatively inexpensive, but they’re useful, economical, and they get his logo and branding in front of a large audience.

For Matt Kemmetmueller, who works in high-volume senior photography, brochures and customer reviews are key.

“If no one ever says they heard about me from my brochure, I’ll stop direct mailing,” he says, and adds that “finding out how they’re finding you is huge….so you need to make sure you’re asking this question: ‘Where’d you find out about us?'”

Which is a really simple way to market your business, without doing any work at all: Just asking clients to review you online and to tell their friends. This simple gesture will not only help improve your search rankings online, it’ll also directly influence the number of new clients you get, regardless of your industry. You want people talking about you.

Social media is, of course, another element of marketing, which really only costs time, or, as Sal calls it, “sweat equity.” Because of course, your time is your money. One way to save time (and money), says Sal, is to figure out where your fans really are, and don’t bother using platforms that don’t seem to be working.

“My fans aren’t on Twitter…my fans are on Facebook. But depending on what kind of company you have, Twitter might work for you,” he says.

Similarly, a blog can be a great way to execute free marketing campaigns. With the ability to speak personally, to help clients get to know you better — and to announce sales and other promotions, training fans and would-be clients to visit your blog regularly is a smart marketing move. Blogs also have the distinct advantage of helping drive search engines to your site, which is critical when it comes to finding new clients.

If your social media presence is already dialed in and you’re ready to hit the street to get some marketing campaigns underway, Sal’s biggest tip is to go out and talk to people and companies you’d like to work with — and tell them that.

“Change your mindset to, instead of what they can do for you, tell them what you can do for them. Stop asking, and start giving. And the minute you start doing.”

Look for vendors, businesses, and individuals who you think might be able to benefit from your services. Then, send them an email or, even better, call them up and ask for a meeting with their manager or marketing department. Come prepared with a list of ideas that will cost either nothing or very little, like a small scale event, a promotion, or an appearance at a location, then present them to your new potential client. When you come prepared with inexpensive ideas and a complete, cohesive pitch that’s designed to benefit both them and you, you’ll be able to get your name out there.

Finally, when it comes to marketing your business, creativity is key. Seniorologie founder Leslie Kerrigan says that while social media and word-of-mouth are all highly important, it’s the marketing campaigns — like throwing free photo parties at local boutiques — that have cost almost nothing, but were interesting and fun, which pay off the most.

“My best advice as far as growing your client base is to try things!” she says “I have done things that didn’t work, but I keep trying and keep thinking of new and unique ways to get in front of my target market.”

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Hanna Brooks Olsen

Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.