A photographer’s guide to creating a marketing plan.

November 12th, 2021
woman lying in bed drinking coffee and using laptop

Your camera is packed. Your batteries are charged. You’re ready to head out into the world to begin the photography business of your dreams.

Marketing is a crucial part of any successful photography business. The more you can get your name and portfolio out there, the more bookings (and money) you can bring in. 

Whether you’re just starting out or are already running an established company, it’s important to develop a marketing plan that outlines your goals and what you need to do to achieve them. Marketing plans can help you organize the actions you need to take, offer insights into any associated costs and give you clues on where to start.

Here are six steps you can take to get started.

1. Research the market and identify your area of photographic expertise.

In order to market yourself successfully, you’ll need to think about the specific knowledge and talents you bring to the table. Marketing is about setting yourself apart from the competition to show customers why they should hire you over someone else. 

The first step is to determine what makes your work unique and who you are competing against.

Choose a specialty.

While you may enjoy all genres of photography, we highly recommend choosing an area of focus. If your portfolio is filled with every genre under the sun, it may communicate to customers that you lack focus or that the specific type of photography they want isn’t something you’ve fully mastered. 

Are you a wonder with animals? Try focusing on pet photography or wildlife photography. Have a great network of business professionals? Consider narrowing portrait photography further to specialize in headshots and corporate events. Are you a die-hard sports fan? Make your way into sports photography.

Choosing a specialty, or niche, allows you to become a respected expert in your chosen genre. It also provides a great foundation to build your marketing plan, as you can narrow down your target audience and focus on more specific messaging. 

Whatever area you choose, be sure that it has room to grow and adapt to changes in the market.

Determine what sets you apart.

When browsing your genre options, it’s important to choose a specialty that you enjoy, matches your unique talents and can help you be successful. You’ll also want to capitalize on anything that sets you apart from your competition.

For example, if you want to carve a place for yourself as a wedding photographer, decide what types of weddings you want to shoot. Are you better with indoor or natural lighting? Are you willing to travel? Do you prefer a traditional or photojournalistic style?

When considering this question, think about your strengths. If you’re great at capturing little details, or you adore black and white images, think about whether you can build your business from this angle.

Learn about your competition.

It’s always a good idea to see who you’re up against. However, you shouldn’t be daunted by what others are doing. For example, if there are a lot of family portrait photographers in your area, that doesn’t mean you have to choose a different genre. Instead, think of ways to approach family portraits from an unexpected angle. 

You can also take a look at your competitors’ pricing to help you determine your own pricing strategy. Is your goal to be competitive, premium or have the lowest price in your geographical area? Always keep your target market in mind; you want your pricing to match up with your ideal client for the most successful results.

Photo credit: Cheryl Dell’Osso

2. Find your target market.

It’s difficult to market yourself when you don’t know who your market is. Narrowing down who you’re speaking to will give you a good idea of where to start when you’re ready to advertise.

Who is your ideal client?

Consider who you might want to cater to with your services. It can be helpful to come up with a few different “ideal client” personas so you can think through what messaging might resonate with them.

Are they male, female or an equal percentage of each? What is the largest age group? Where do they hang out? What websites do they visit?

You’ll also want to consider whether your target market is large enough to sustain you. How many people in your area might need your services, and how much revenue will you make from each session? Be conservative with your estimates, and never rely on repeat clients for your long-term planning.

3. Get an all-in-one website.

We can’t stress this one enough. As a professional photographer, it’s imperative that you have a well-designed and easy-to-navigate website. 

Look for a full-service website option that includes:

  • An e-commerce platform that allows you to sell online.
  • A user-friendly interface so clients have no issues booking your services.
  • Online proofing tools and galleries so your clients can share your work with family and friends.
  • An appealing way to display your portfolio.
  • Mobile optimization so that your site looks great on devices of all sizes.

Some services even offer built-in marketing and selling tools such as SEO tools, a blog, visitor sign-in, a shopping cart and customizable price lists. These will save you valuable time and help boost your sales.

4. Create your marketing strategies and tactics.

Of course, a beautiful, functional website doesn’t mean much if potential clients can’t find it. That’s where those SEO and built-in marketing tools come in handy.

SEO and content/blogging.

When a person is searching online, they usually use a search engine such as Google, Bing or Yahoo. Search engines crawl the internet for the keywords entered and provide results based on that search. If those keywords are found in the text on your website, your site is more likely to pop up as a search result. 

Adding keywords on your website’s pages is called search engine optimization (SEO). Keywords can include information such as your location, your photography genre and your pricing. If you want your website to focus more on featured images than text, you can still get keywords in through titles, captions, tags and locations. Ultimately, building out content that can generate traffic from search engines can help boost your marketing efforts.

Client lists.

When developing a marketing plan, it helps to have contact information for people you can market to. Look for a website service that helps you capture and store data for both your existing clients and visitors to your site. This can be done by requiring a visitor sign-in that captures names, emails and phone numbers in order to gain access to a gallery. 

Once you have a client database, it’ll be much easier to reach past and potential clients with emails and promotions.

Workflow automation.

Some website services offer workflow automation options that allow you to get more tasks done with less work. While you’re in your creative element editing away, an automatic workflow can handle things like booking sessions, scheduling to your calendar, and collecting payments simultaneously, allowing you to multitask. This means less time playing phone tag with clients or creating galleries and more time spent doing what you love. 

5. Develop your selling strategies.

The purpose of creating a marketing plan is to sell. Once you’ve developed your website and marketing strategies, you’re ready to hit the streets.

Services and pricing.

Although photography is a creative pursuit, you’ll need to put on your business hat when determining pricing. Your pricing should give you enough profit to thrive as a business while also keeping you competitive. 

Email campaigns.

Marketing your work through your website is easy if you have the right platform. If your site has visitor sign-in/email capture, having that information automatically stored in a contact list will save you valuable time when you want to send marketing emails. 

Promotional email blasts are efficient, cost-effective and easy to target. Spread them throughout the year to your contact lists using seasonal promotions, timely offers and reminders of prior purchases and products reviewed. 

Regular newsletters that highlight your latest work and new products can also keep your contacts engaged; alternating salesy emails with helpful info (such as “What to wear for your fall session”) ensures you won’t just be another promo in their inbox. Don’t forget to provide a way for people to unsubscribe if they choose – but do your best to mix things up so they won’t want to!

Social media.

Social media is an effective way to increase your business. Setting up an account for your business is free on most platforms, and it gives you the power to reach the more than 4.5 billion people who use social media around the world. 

To expand your reach, allow your clients to share images you have taken on their Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and Google+ pages. And don’t be afraid to share some of your successes on your own social media pages – it may remind someone in your inner circle to refer your business to their own contacts. 

In-person networking.

Of all the marketing strategies in your toolbox, having a conversation with someone face to face may be the most impactful. Local events that match your niche are a great way to get in front of your target market. For example, if you shoot weddings, get involved in wedding vendor gatherings in your area, bridal shows, or try approaching jewelry and bridal stores that may have events or promotions you can be a part of. 

Having the opportunity to meet potential clients in person or through other companies can be a huge help in building relationships and selling your services.

6. Set financial goals and evaluate your results.

With all of this hard work, you’ll want to know for sure whether it’s paying off. The best way to measure the success of your marketing plan is to stay on top of your finances

By setting a target salary and tracking other expenses, you’ll have a better idea of how much money and time you can afford to devote to your marketing tactics. You’ll also be able to set realistic goals and track how your marketing strategies may or may not be contributing. This insight can guide future business and marketing decisions that can better position you for success.

You don’t have to be a marketing wizard to effectively grow your business. By developing a well-thought-out marketing plan that makes use of the resources at your disposal, you’ll be well on your way to increasing bookings and doing more of what you do best.

Cheryl is the Director of Customer Engagement at Zenfolio and the Owner/Photographer at Portraits by Cheryl in Raleigh, NC. She has worked as a professional photographer for more than ten years and her images have been published in several national magazines. She has guided countless new photographers who are looking to build successful photography businesses.

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