A good friend of mine came up to me the other day and asked me if I had any suggestions for finding new clients for his wedding business. He is a great photographer but, like so many others these days, he is having trouble drumming up new business. It seems that the business models of old just aren’t cutting it anymore. It wasn’t that long ago that a wedding photographer, especially a good one, could stay pretty busy by word of mouth and staying in touch with the area bridal shoppes. Nowadays, there is a lot more competition, mainly due to the ease of delivering a product using digital cameras and editing software.
Let’s face it, back in the days of film, there weren’t that many people that were anxious to buy a good medium format camera, lenses, flash guns, and other equipment that was pretty much the industry standard for wedding photography. Add in the expense of using a good lab, carding negatives, and assembling albums and only the true die-hard wedding photographers remained. Now you can buy a good digital SLR with a couple of decent lenses and some off camera flashes and be up and running. There is no more investment in film since you can re-use the memory cards over and over, and proofs are being processed and delivered via the web and CD. Add to this the fact that there are a lot of mediocre photographers out there that are cutting rates to score gigs and it gets harder and harder to grab a share of the pie. With that in mind, I helped my friend take a look at a few options that might start to move some business his way.
SEO – Getting Found in a Sea of Searches
The first thing we talked about was his website. It is very nice and does a good job of showcasing his photography but when I asked him how his SEO was, he had no idea what I was talking about. I can’t really blame him because he isn’t a web designer so the concept of Search Engine Optimization isn’t one that I would really expect him to be familiar with. Here’s how I explained it to him.
When a prospective client is going to start looking for a wedding photographer, they will more than likely turn to the Internet, and more specifically, to Google. By having his website SEO in check, he will run a much better chance of getting his page to appear within the first few pages of the web search results, at least that’s what he should strive for. Google and other web search engines use automated web crawlers that work their way through millions of websites each day and then look for keywords and links to build the page ranks for searches. It can get complicated but a good web designer should know how to improve the search odds in your favor. The less people have to dig for your site, the better your chances of getting discovered.
Craigslist – It’s not just for old furniture anymore
Another step in finding clients is to think like they do. This means looking in the classifieds, but not the paper classified ads, I’m talking Craigslist. I asked my buddy if he had ever looked at what was being offered on Craigslist and truthfully, he had never considered it. So we fired up the web browser and then located his city on Craigslist. Next we typed “wedding photographer” into the search box and selected Services from the sort list and up popped 75 results. I told him to take a good look because this is where his competition was eating into his profits. Sure enough, there were photographers there that were offering crazy-cheap packages but their only deliverable was a DVD. Surely there was room in there for a quality photographer that could deliver more than just a DVD of images that the client would probably end up getting printed at Costco. By advertising his services with a link to his website, my friend could increase his market visibility and showcase his product for little to no cost on his part.
Know your competition –
Truth be told, if you want to stand out from the crowd, you have to offer more value. That doesn’t always mean charging less. It also means giving more options for the client to choose from. There are a lot of wedding photographers these days that offer very little in terms of deliverables to the client. By including things in the package such as canvas prints, custom albums, web-based proofing, and more, you can make a case for getting the most bang for the buck, even if you are charging more than the competition. There are a lot of people that will be won over by better package options and providing quality products, even if the price is higher than the competition. It’s definitely worth it to spend some time looking at the competition to make sure that your product will stand out from all the others.
Price check on aisle 5…
Okay, this one is a harder pill to swallow but sometimes you just have to look at your prices and see if you aren’t pricing yourself out of business. When times are lean, it most certainly becomes a buyers market and sometimes the only way to keep the business flow going is to lower prices. Here’s one way of looking at it, say you are charging about $2000 for your medium package but you are only booking two of them in a month. Lower the price to $1500 for the same package and book 4 in a month. That $500 dollars that you shaved off is now made up by the extra $2000 that you made by booking double the amount of packages in a month. That’s a little simplified but I do know some folks that have subscribed to that theory and it is paying off for them.
Learn from the best –
My final word of advice to my buddy is to do some research from some of the best in the business. It’s amazing how much sound business advice you can get if you look for it. One of the best resources around for the working wedding photographer is David Ziser’s blog, Digital Pro Talk. Every Thursday, is Business Thursday on David’s blog and he gives out some fantastic advice on how to make things happen on the business end of wedding and studio photography. There are also other resources such as the PPA, which is specifically focused on the business of photography and offers blog articles, webinars, education and tradeshows like ImagingUSA and a whole lot more. The more you learn, the better equipped you will be to make smart decisions.
The Bottom Line –
Let’s face it, life is tough when you have to make it on your own. Talent isn’t nearly enough these days and you need to have your eye on all the angles to make sure that you are visible to every potential client out there. That means trying new ways to get noticed such as social networking, web advertising, blogging, and anything else that can get your banner to rise above the rest. I have listed a few ideas here but I would love to hear your suggestions or methods that you have found to work for getting clients to knock on your door with checkbook in hand.