Photography Business section Three - Marketing

Business Section 3

Marketing the Business

The basis of marketing is to enable your client base to hear about you as quickly as possible at the lowest cost as possible. Sounds simple, but it is the one thing that is extremely difficult to get right. The one thing you really need to now backwards is how your client base works. What is their method of acquiring your type of product or service?

I will give a recent example of what I consider to be poor marketing. I had posted through my door a flyer for private tuition of children between the ages of 14 and 18 studying at High School. The flyer was for tuition in a town about twenty miles from where I live and would include within the radius of the town about five high schools each with an average of eight hundred pupils. That’s a lot of flyers and many miles travelling by car and foot. I live on a small housing development of thirty houses, of which three have children going to the local school and of relevant age, the rest are young families and most are years of having children at high school. So, the person has wasted their time and effort putting flyers in houses that will have no interest in the service provided.
What would have been a better method of advertising? The school produces an annual calendar and to help pay for this they take advertising from businesses of all types. Nearly every parent with a child in the school buys one of these calendars because the money raised helps towards the school funds. By advertising in this publication the person offering tuition is instantly within the household of the particular client base, not just for the time it takes to cross from the letter box with the flyer to the bin; but for twelve months of the year. In the spring term the school produces a book that includes photographs of every child in the school and various stories of the school year. This is also partially financed through advertising and once again nearly every family buys a copy. Once again by advertising in this book the person offering private tuition would effectively cover their main client base without all the leg work and miles travelled. Admittedly advertising in this way may cost more money up front, but would probably be more cost effective as it gets directly to the market without wasting time. If the person offering tuition did something similar at each school in their area, then time could be saved walking and more time could be spent on practical effort in the business. The only good thing to come from posting flyers is exercise. Posting flyers through doors smacks of desperation, as it is not an effective way of targeting your market. You are as well to take the flyers out on a windy day and let them fly from house to house as the weather sees fit.

So we see here a person who does not know their client base or is unwilling to consider exactly what the best way is to effectively inform their client base of their services. It might be they have missed out on the calendar and book and started this service too late in the year. What should they do? They could start the business a few months later, ensuring that everything is up to speed within their business, so that when they can advertise they are ready for the calls. This might be a better use of their time. Or they might consider going to the schools direct and seeing if a flyer could be included with any newsletters that might be sent. They could offer their time, or some money, towards helping send out the newsletters. My preferred option would be to have researched the market, see what the schools offer by a way of advertising my services and have waited for my advert to come out before starting the business.

First Steps

Research your market. Find out the best way to reach your client base. In photography this might be an advert in the local press, or yellow pages. If you are planning to do wedding photography then introduce yourself to venues that offer wedding services, (hotels, pubs, restaurants etc) and see if they will pass your details on or allow you to leave a card and brochure for potential clients to take away. Make sure that your business start-up coincides with your advertising. It is pointless to advertise and not be able to take clients on because you haven’t got everything in place necessary to carry out the work. Or maybe you are sitting at home twiddling your thumbs because you are ready, but the advert isn’t out for another three months so no one knows you exist.


We have heard for years about the World Wide Web and how this will revolutionise business and create new business. I think a Web presence is essential. It is often the first place people will look to see what you are doing and how good your work is, so make sure you have good work on show. A website is a good place to advertise your service/product and enable customers to contact you. But it is very much a hit and miss affair. A website in itself will not generate much work or sales without advertising. Advertising through search engines is expensive, as they base their charges on ‘hit’ rates and not actual sales, so it is possible to get thousands of ‘hits’ and no sales. Also, unless you are selling internationally, and you might with print sales, it is pointless advertising world-wide and paying for it if your business is only within a fifty mile radius of your house. So, again think about what you are selling and to whom. Do you need an expensive all singing all dancing bespoke web presence or a simple low cost template website? Especially when you are starting up in business keeping things simple is often the best way; you can always spend more on a better site at a later stage. The important thing to remember about a website is it needs to be simple to access and use, quick to download, and must have your contact details on it. Look at a few websites of your local competitors and see what they have. Ask yourself: do like the site? Does it work well? What information do you want and can you get it from their site easily?


Advertising your product and service can be an expensive method of attracting custom, but we have all done it at some time. I have advertised in magazines, directories, trade publications, on the web etc and at the end of the day most of my work came through me actually knocking on doors and seeing the client directly with my portfolio. Advertising might have raised my profile, but it was difficult to measure and did not directly create new business, though directories have worked. I no longer pay for advertising. My view is that any advertising should be able to be paid for by the first job I get from it and as it didn’t pay I don’t advertise. Always ask how a client heard about you, as that way you can build up an idea as to which marketing technique works and which don’t.

Direct Mail Shots

I have sent out flyers to specific companies in the past, making sure I had already found out how much commissioning they did and who decided on the commission. I did this every month for a year to every relevant p.r. company in Scotland and had three queries from one company and no actual work from any. The flyers had photos, client list and contact information, so that they could have an overview of my work. I am not a great supporter of flyers of any type.

And finally -

There are always success stories about those who have set up a small business and never looked back. But for every success there are many more failures. The vast majority of businesses fail within their first five years of starting. Photography is no exception to the rule. Remember that it can take many months for your first job or sale to come through and in that time you still have expenses to pay. An apparent large sum of money from a redundancy settlement can soon be wiped out on expensive camera equipment, marketing and waiting for the phone to ring. Knocking on doors was my most successful way of finding clients; phoning them up, asking questions about their commissioning and seeing the actual commissioner in person. This, however, is slow and to build up a regular client base can take years; only to be lost when your contact moves on.

My writings aren’t meant to put you off starting in business (though it might appear so), only to make you think long and hard about doing so; what it is you’re doing and whether you are the person to do it. At the end of the day only you can make the decision and I am someone who thinks it is better to try and fail then not to try at all. But do be realistic about the potential profit, work involved and what it means to be self-employed.

As I have said before, I am available for talks etc on general business matters.