The thought of working for yourself, of being able to choose what clients you take on, and when you schedule your work time and your down time might be a sweet sound to the ears of many. When it comes down to it though, working for yourself it is a lot more than that. You probably are (or should be) spending just as much time working on your business as you are spending shooting and processing.
There is a lot of competition out there. Thankfully, it can be easier than it might appear to play this marketing game, grow and get ahead, one step at the time.
1. Beyond selling images and a product, you're creating, selling and marketing an experience.
Starbucks has changed the way the world experiences coffee. Do they sell the best coffee around? Is that why their customers go back again and again for a $4 cup of coffee, when they could make that for themselves at home, for a whole lot less? They go back for the experience, and how buying that cup of coffee makes them feel.
Create an experience for your client that is so great that they can't help but talk about it. Make them feel good - they will feel good and that's going to actually make them genuinely look good in the pictures you take. They WILL remember the feel good. And people like to feel good. 'Feel good' is at the core of the American culture. So they will come back.
Everything matters, so surprise and delight them. Under promise and over deliver. Be remarkable and stay a step ahead. Earn your clients' attention and keep it.
2. Have a plan.
Taking every client and every job is a mistake! Take time before you even start your business to carefully consider a plan for your business. I am not even referring to an 80 page detailed plan. But you need to consider... What are you aiming for? What is your purpose? What are you expecting from your business? Where do you want to be in 5 years? Where do you want your business to be in 5 years? ...How do you know when you reached your goals?
At the very least you should know and be able to list what the goals for your business are, who you're marketing to - who's your target market, and also what makes you different than your competition out there.
If you have a plan and you know where you want to go, it is going to make it easy for you to know what clients and sessions you should take on and what not. It may feel stupid and counter-productive in the beginning to be turning possible clients down but, remember, you’re working towards long term goals. It takes time, commitment and focus. Taking on sessions and clients that don't fit your plan might mean a little bit of money on the table, to pay the bills and buy groceries, but it is a detour on the road to where you're going. You will build a brand and a reputation and the clientele base you are ultimately wanting to work with, by being choosy.
Having a plan and sticking to it doesn't mean that you should become a greedy, uptight, overly focused professional. Plan and pledge to give and DO give your services when you know and see you can make a difference. Besides the fact that when it is all said and done it is good for the business, it is good for the soul. (But more on charity work on a future article.)
3. Find out what makes you and your work different than your competition's and market that.
...The types of products you offer - i.e. digitally painted portraits, metal prints etc; the experience you create - i.e. themed shoots; your understanding of good style and color - are you the 'what to wear' go to person?
Copying your competition is not the way to stand out and raise above. Do pay attention to what's going on around you and trends. Keep the research of your local market current, but by all means DO run your own race.
4. Stay true to yourself and who you are.
Don't try to come out as somebody you aren't. There is nothing worse than getting services from someone who is too nice to you, but you can taste the fake in it. It's akward and unpleasant.
Be involved and genuine with your client. Make a point to listen and respond to your clients.
Always have a positive approach when things go sour. You are working with people, and creating relationships. We are all so different - it is bound that you will have your client from hell story at some point.
5. On the same note - Don't be afraid to fire your customers. Do it with class.
I am not saying by any means that you should fire a client for little mishaps. But you do know that one customer that made you age one year in one month? There is no reason to keep catering to a relationship that is draining you and possibly altering the quality of service you offer to your other customers.
6. Keep your clients happy and spend more time and energy on them than you spend on attracting new customers.
Clients like to feel treated like kings and queens and they like to talk and brag about it. Word of mouth is still the best form of advertising.
7. Turn away possible customers if your services and/or products are not a good fit.
I love what Seth Godin had to say about this: "Every person you turn away because your product or service isn't right for them, turns into three great customers down the road. Every bad sale costs you five." So true!
8. Educate yourself.
Keep learning. And utilize what you've learned. Don't just be an info junkie. Follow through and take action on what you've learned. It has no value otherwise.
9. To become a millionaire hang out with millionaires.
Pick out 5 peers (to start with) whose work and accomplishments you admire - professionals who are doing it and living the dream - and make a point out of getting to know them well in the next year or so. Start meaningful conversations with them. Take them out for lunch, if possible, ask honest questions and learn from them.
10. Get a stand out identity marketing (a logo, and even more so the collateral pieces that you leave behind and pass on to people).
It's important to set your business apart from the competition, and above it. Build brand recognition and differentiation. Maintain a consistent look and message across your blog, website, and printed materials. It's part of building brand recognition.
11. Once you select your target market, cater to their needs.
Don't go blind into it. Put thought into it and be intentional about it. Who do you want to work with? Make a point to learn what your target customers like and dislike, need and/or want.
Be specific in your marketing materials. If you do both family portraits and weddings you should have 2 websites. You don't want to be perceived as a Jack of all trades, but rather as a master at what you are selling each and every client.
As a graphic designer, when I would take on freelance projects, I would craft my portfolio to reflect the need of my potential client. If he/she needs a logo, I am not going to parade all the books and posters I designed in front of him/her. You want your future clients to get a sense that you are the right person to be trusted to create their memories. When you meet with a client that is looking for a wedding photographer, take along the wedding albums that you created and showcase your wedding stories. You will have the chance to pass to the couple your postcards that showcase your baby photography, and talk to them about your other passion and speciality. The chances are that they have seen your baby work on the website already, or will, on your blog.
12. Build bridges and relationships with other professionals in your industry and related industries.
Are you a wedding photographer? Create a set of post cards/a few booklets/a few posters for each one of the vendors you work with, during the weddings you shoot (showcasing their work - the flower arrangements and the bouquets - for the florists, the food for the caterer, and so on) with a little handwritten card, letting them know how much you enjoyed working with them. And make sure your logo and contact info are neatly placed on them (not in an obvious, overwhelming way, but tastefully).
They will appreciate that, on more than one account.
And while notes like that will make them feel good, appreciate you as a person and your business more, and help them promote their business - they will also be promoting your business.