... flushing your money down the toilet.
Let me clarify... I don't think ALL advertising is a waste of money, but I think that a LOT of it is. It is also a big waste of time, and since time is money.. well, you know.
Website hits and ad clicks do not equal income. Signed contracts equal income.
Bridal planning sites are like window shopping. A lot of people look but only a small fraction of them go inside to learn more, and an even smaller fraction actually buy.
Let's say you pay $1200 for a year of advertising on a popular website, or in a magazine, how much of that money can you directly track coming back you in income? How much is your time worth when you consider what it took to design your ad, track your ad, and respond to all of the emails that never turned into actual paying clients?
Is it even possible for your ad to stand out of the crowd when there are so many other ads in the exact same location? Even if your ad is different, why would anyone choose you when there are so many other options readily available? In this age of On-Demand and TiVo, people have little tolerance for advertising.
It has been proven that when customers are given too many options, they often seek the advice of others to help them narrow the field, which is why word-of-mouth marketing is so important for your business. If your current advertising outlet offers space to more than 3-5 photographers at a time, you really need to take a close look at how much that advertising is really doing for your business.
How can you better leverage a $1200 advertising budget?
Here are just a few ideas to get you started....
1. Become a member of a professional organization that provides you with a searchable directory listing. PPA and WPJA are well established, provide a professional credibility to your business, and can be easily found by prospective clients. While WPPI is great for education, product vendors, and peer evaluation, it has done very little to attract potential photography clients to their website.
2. Invite a local wedding coordinator (or venue coordinator) out to lunch or dinner. Be interested in what s/he has to say and ask about what their brides are looking for in a photographer. Ask him/her if you can provide anything that will help their brides make a decision about hiring you (sample albums, free product or print credit, etc.) Don't offer a financial kick-back to the wedding planner (which, as Becker says, can destroy your credibility if you're paying someone to plug you) but do offer an exclusive deal to the bride when she is referred by the coordinator.
3. Join a local business association and network with local business owners. Your local small business organization, convention & visitors bureau, and chamber of commerce are great places to start. It's not who you know, it's who knows you AND what you do. Attend business socials and trade business cards with everyone you meet. Always introduce yourself as a specific type of photographer so that the other business owners can instantly make a connection to someone they know who may need your services, ie. "Hi my name is Anne Ruthmann and I'm a wedding photographer." Just saying you're a "photographer" doesn't cut it because you could be a CSI photographer, or work at the local WalMart's photobooth. Define yourself and your target market in every introduction you make. Once you know what business the person you're speaking to is in, offer to help them by updating a portrait for their website, or by photographing a few of their products for a new brochure. Plant seeds of how they can use your services, and think of ways that you can use their services as well. What goes around, comes around.
4. Offer to photograph a charitable event or for a chairtable cause. Charities always need good photographers, especially ones that will volunteer their time and services. At OSPS2, I think it was Ginger who mentioned donating talent to the ACPCG to help children find homes. Make sure it's a charity that means something special to you and that you can feel passionate about, because it will say something about the kind of person you are, and it will attract people who care about the same things you do. Trade your services for a mention in their publication or program, or just for the chance to meet people who are passionate about similar things.
5. Give gift certificates, and discount vouchers to stores where your prospective clients would normally shop FIRST. Matt Antonino talked about offering a gift certificate for a free (or discounted) engagement session at the local jeweler, to give with each engagement ring purchase. If you're a children's photographer, find specialty baby shops and offer to leave coupons for a free sitting, or charge for the sitting and offer a free print package. Who doesn't like free stuff?!
6. Find vendors you love, and create beautiful ad photographs for them. Print a few that are ready to hang on their walls with your name clearly displayed on the image, so a prospective on-looker can easily jot down your name. Jessica Strickland has mentioned in her blog how she has displays her work on beautiful canvas prints in wedding shops, but you can also get away with a $15 16x20 in a beautifully simple $20 IKEA frame.
7. Offer to teach an introductory (or advanced) photography workshop through your local library, community center, or church. Katie Torres recently mentioned how she would be giving back by sharing her talent and helping others find their own. Nothing is more rewarding than giving selflessly of your time and talent, and it will always be returned in the least expected ways.
Well, I could go on... but I think you can see the MANY ways in which you can spend little to NO money in making connections with people who will rave about you and your business. I'm not reinventing the wheel, I'm not sharing information that isn't already out there, I'm just putting it all in one place and reminding you to USE IT.
Advertising is messy, noisy, and impersonal, but conversations and relationships are lasting and meaningful. The key is getting people to know and trust YOU, and this requires you to step outside of your comfort zone. It requires you to take action rather than waiting for action to happen to you. The more interested you are in the people around you, the more they will take notice of you. The love you give is the love you get. Go out and spread the love. (Posted on OSP, 1/20/07)