Bryan Esler has been doing a great job with this column, and I’m honored he’s letting me have a go it this week.
Scott Bourne has been teaching us for years to “Own Your Own Zip Code.” This means that everyone in your area should know that you’re the photographer. I’ve tried several means of doing this, but there’s one way that’s been exponentially more productive.
What Hasn’t Worked Well
Your community probably has at least one magazine that comes free each month, and it’s really just a marketing piece. It’s full of ads from various businesses and it may have an article featuring one of those. For more than five years I shot the cover photo for these magazines in two cities and had an ad inside as well. From all those magazines covers and ads, I only ever got one new client.
To be fair, all my friends and existing clients would remark to me that they saw my article in the magazine each month, and that’s valuable for keeping me top of mind in their eyes. But as for new business, it wasn’t productive. And this was every month for 5 years.
Similarly unproductive were radio ads. I had a good ad on the radio with lots of enthusiasm and it played several times each week on three stations for six months. For me, this did not turn up any new business, and not very many people even mentioned the ad to me, so I feel it was less productive than the magazines.
Magazine and radio ads are successful for many people and there are many ways to use them that are probably better than what I did. But there’s one method I’ve used that always brings new business, and I think it’ll work well for you too.
Knocking on Doors: Neighboring, Not Soliciting
You should literally go knock on doors and meet your neighbors, and I mean business neighbors. It doesn’t matter what kind of photography you do, the businesses in your town do business with the people you want to do business with, so they should know who you are, too.
It’s really simple to do this, and there’s no reason to be nervous. Start by making a simple postcard-sized business card. I’d use Adobe Spark to do it because I’m not a designer and Spark makes great layouts and designs simply, and it’s free. Get this card printed up. I recommend doing it inexpensively and quickly. I used Vistaprint, but it’s even better if you find a local printer in your town to do business with.
Now, go to the business area nearest you and do this. Walk inside and find the manager/owner and say, “Hi, I’m Levi, your neighborhood photographer. I’m just introducing myself to my neighbors and wanted to get to know you and your business better.” That may be all you say and leave your card, or you may stay and converse a while. Ask what marketing strategies have worked well in this area, how they utilize their social media or other pertinent questions. The goal here is meeting people, not selling your services.
Selling your services is called soliciting, and most businesses have a sign that says, “No Soliciting.” You’re not a solicitor you’re a neighbor. Remember that and act like it. That’s why this is easy and there’s no pressure. They will probably ask you what you do, but don’t try to sell yourself to them. This relationship is much more valuable than getting this person’s business because they know much more people who will need your services, and the same goes for them. You know lots of people and this relationship allows you to make a recommendation for this business’s service.
Don’t Get Paralyzed
The most important thing about doing this is DOING IT. You can spend days making a postcard, and weeks choosing a printer. Don’t. Get post-it notes and write your name on them if you have to, but get out there and do it. Don’t let analysis paralysis keep you from going and knocking on doors and meeting your neighbors.
I can tell you that every time I spend two hours doing this, I get new business. I’m not out to get new business, but inevitably someone I meet is looking for a photographer anyway and I’m the one they now know. I wish I could tell I do this all the time. But I’m like you, and I’m a little nervous and it’s really easy to put it off. But everytime I do it I get new business, and I get new business later from others I’ve met and come back around to. Just do it, and I’m sure your business will grow, too.
For more on Photography Marketing, see our weekly column.