Yes, I really did just quote High School Musical and consequently, yes I’m admitting to have seen it. Slight embarrassment aside, I’m currently listening to a couple of photographers at the table next to me talk about the same stuff I freak out over all the time: Am I doing this right? Why am I not as successful as everyone else? And my personal favorite - How do I get a higher SEO ranking?! What I’ve finally realized is that we’re all doing it wrong - and we’re all doing it right.
I’m a creature of habit. It’s part of being introverted and slightly OCD, which means most afternoons after the 8-hour work day at my big-boy job (designing medical devices is a freaking blast, by the way) you can find me at my favorite coffee shop, Octane. It’s a total hipster coffee joint, with an industrial style of beat up, weathered wood paired with rustic metal accents, and it doubles as a bar. Swing by on Wednesday nights for sponsored beer tastings! The staff knows my order by heart (English Breakfast tea with honey), and are incredibly friendly and engaging.
If you’ve ever been, you know seating is in short supply. Oh they’ve got enough to seat 60ish people, but damn if they all don’t have a pair of cheeks in every single one at seemingly all hours of operation. The environment is chill and relaxing, the ambient music is diverse (I’m talking Lord of the Rings soundtrack one day, followed by 70’s, and again by Indie the third day), and the drinks are excellent. It’s a fantastic environment populated by students and working professionals alike. The fact that I’m dressed in business casual attire while sitting next to a dude with a beard, top knot, and skinny jeans just makes me giggle. Octane has developed a fantastic brand by putting forth great service, excellent product, and a solid environment. (Major tangent, I know, but there’s a reason for it!)
I do a lot of my editing work at Octane for the above mentioned reasons, because I like separating work from home, and because I’ve actually gotten some jobs from people seeing my screen and asking if I’m a photographer (I’ve also managed to meet a lot of cute girls but my awkward self renders that opportunity moot). What I’ve noticed is that I’m not alone - I typically see about 3 or 4 other photographers editing images or working on their web presence every time I’m there, most of them my age. Atlanta is a very saturated market for photographers of all levels and it’s difficult to stand out, just like in every other major city. Half of my photo work time is spent learning and implementing marketing techniques to gain more business. And thanks to these two photographers sitting next to me, I think I’ve finally realized what actually does and doesn’t work (for me*).
If you ask around, the big topics for marketing right now are social media and SEO. Social media is exactly what you think it is - Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Twitter, etc. Having a strong social media presence is “mandatory” in today’s world for businesses, large and small. It’s all about interacting with your client base and showing that you’re active. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is essentially the buzzword for increasing your popularity in online searches. If you type, “Mike Glatzer Photography” into Google, you’ll find me pretty easily. Search “Wedding Photographers in Atlanta” and I’m relegated back a few pages (AKA you’ll never see me because nothing exists past the 3rd page of a Google search). SEO is the strategy to move from page 10 to page 1. The keys to SEO?
Keyword and caption your images
Meta data on your website pages and images
Consistent use of similar language (wedding, photography, portrait, Atlanta, Mike Glatzer, etc.)
Mobile friendly website (You better have a clean, attractive, and intuitive website)
Post consistently (blog a lot)
Post engaging content
Share with and post to other social media outlets
Of all those items, nothing matters more than #6 - Post engaging content. This can be a blog, a newsletter, videos of cute cats, whatever gets people to not just click, but also comment on your website pages. That’s it. Pretty simple right? Except that a lot of people suck at writing and don’t know how to create engaging content. As a photographer, it should be pretty simple - post freaking amazing pictures. Well guess what? You’re not the only one who can take a pretty picture (Why do my photographic skills turn from solid with my 5D3 to newb when I use my iPhone? How do those people DO IT!?!?!) and that’s the issue. These two photographers next to me are sitting there, trying to figure out how to SEO better, how to get more engagement on Instagram, and what new tricks exist to get more clients but are getting absolutely nowhere. I’ve been in their shoes for months! And you know what? It honestly hasn’t helped me at all.
I went from shooting 3 weddings as the primary shooter in years 1 & 2 each, to 11 in year 3. I was freaking out trying to understand what the hell I did to get those jobs and how to keep doing it. Finishing Unmarketing by Scott Stratten just moments before overhearing those two photographers and sitting in my favorite coffee shop it finally hit me - my clients have been doing my sales. Why are they being so generous? Because I bust my ass to provide the best experience possible. It’s not enough just be good at what you do anymore. You have to make people trust you and love their experience. Let’s look at my favorite coffee shop for a moment:
Octane Coffee - great service, friendly and engaging staff, and damn good product.
Translating that into photography looks something like this:
Successful Photographer - great service, friendly and engaging staff, and damn good product.
Notice the difference? Exactly.
I’ve stopped believing I’ll get jobs through Instagram or Facebook. I’m simply using them now as an ego boost and a way to test which images should go on my website as portfolio material. Providing the proof (of a good product) to go along with great customer experience is what makes clients your new sales force. The perfect example of this was a recent set of clients, Allie and Jason. I did an engagement session for my friends Kelly and Bill last April. Kelly and Allie are loose acquaintances through college. Allie was looking for an engagement photographer and stumbled across the images I took of Kelly and Bill on Kelly’s Facebook page. The images provoked the interest, but Kelly’s recommendation of working with me was what sealed the deal. That’s how you stand out in a saturated market and that’s how you get not just new customers, but repeat customers as well.
Everyone is struggling with this - it’s not just photographers. We all believe everyone else has it figured out, that they know what they’re doing and are super successful. Guess what? They’re thinking the same thing as you (HELP ME!). I know so many successful photographers who have horrible social media presence, but they offer amazing customer experiences. I kept thinking that I could back my way into a client base by posting amazing images, but you can’t do that without creating an experience that makes people want to not only trust you, but keep hiring you. So what if your website doesn’t rank in the top 5 pages of Google search? I’d rather have 90% of the 15 people who look at my website turn into clients than 10% of the 50.
So go ahead, post on social media and impress people with your images, spend countless hours improving your website, but realize none of it matters if the engaging experience you provide is forgettable or equivalent to that of your stereotypical retail store employee.
Don’t keep this to yourself. Share it with people who can use the help. We grow better as a community that helps each other than we do as individuals who isolate ourselves. Trust your friends in the community. Work together. If you recommend other vendors when you’re either too expensive or already booked, you not only gain appreciation and trust from the vendor you recommended, but both that potential client and that vendor will be sure to keep you in mind later on down the road and will probably recommend you to their friends.
This is my take on marketing and being successful, and it’s working for me. I sincerely hope it works for you. Put in the extra time, under-promise and over-deliver, and make your clients feel loved.
Update: Since writing this, I had coffee with a good photographer friend of mine, Cassie Xie of Cassie Xie Photography, who shed some light on why I’m not getting business through Instagram. Apparently, I haven’t been using the right hashtags... She’s gotten quite a few weddings this past year thanks to Instagram. If I book a client through Instagram after I alter my hashtag game, I’ll change this accordingly. #eattingmywords