- Ignoring your financial statement (ignoring it won't make it go away).
- Failing to plan (planning to fail).
- Failing to think like a businessperson as well as an artist (focusing on your passion not your profitability).
- Trying to go it alone (turning from those who can help you understand financial results and get new ideas for improving profitability and efficiency).
- Trying to fix too many things at once.
- Straying too far from your primary sources of income.
And last, but not least:
7: Not Investing the Time in Creating a Marketing Plan or Tracking Results.
Seasoned marketing pros will tell you that one of the all-time greatest marketing campaigns is the few words found on the backs of most shampoo bottles: "rinse and repeat." It's simple, to the point and encourages you to use twice as much shampoo--which just goes to show that good marketing doesn't have to be difficult. But it does need to be relevant and elicit the desired response.
For photographers, good marketing starts with a plan. Without one, you're just throwing money at activities and hoping something works--and while you'll get lucky every now and then, you can be sure you'll also waste precious resources.
But first things first--before you start the details of your marketing plan, you need to decide what you are and what you're not going to be.
Perception Is Reality
While Hitt still does photography of the people variety, she only advertises her pet and children portraiture, and she goes to the extra step of keeping those marketing campaigns entirely separate, including their websites. "What you put on your website is what you attract," she explains.
Where did Hitt get started? With a mission statement. PPA members Todd and Jaime Reichman say much the same thing, but they call it their value proposition. Whatever you call it, the first step to developing your marketing plan is putting it down on paper.
There Can Never Be Another You
What is that "special something" about you that differentiates you from every other photographer? What target markets are your unique skills and talents best suited for? Do you have special hobbies, interests or passions--like a love of animals, former career training or a penchant for parties--that can be leveraged into a full-blown marketing niche?
"We're seeing more and more people get into the business to do a specific type of photography," says Scott Kurkian, PPA chief financial officer and founder of Studio Management Services (SMS), PPA's business and financial management practice for photographers. "They don't just want to be a photographer, they want to be a children's photographer (for example)."
Around the Corner or Around the World
Once you've mapped out your unique skills and talents and put down on paper how your differentiators bring value to potential clients, you need to validate your target markets by doing some research. This is the step that many people skip right over, yet it's one of the most important parts of developing a strong marketing plan. As we said, you first need to focus in on what you do--and don't--want to do, but once you decide what kinds of clients you want to attract, you need to validate the potential market opportunity. That will determine how far you're going to have to reach geographically and demographically to build your business.
And that reach will dictate a lot of how you market. Let's say you live in a locale that attracts destination weddings. Your marketing plan may need to be national or international in geographical scope, but unless you've got money to burn, it will still need to be highly targeted demographically.
Trevor and Tourine Johnstone in Reno/Lake Tahoe, Nev., are perfect examples. They differentiate themselves by advertising the fact that they are based in the area; thus, they have a "home team" advantage. They even carry a "Tahoe" look and feel throughout their marketing collateral and sales materials. They also target their online advertising to sites that traditionally cater to brides with hefty budgets. All this attention to demographic detail ensures that the dollars they spend on branding and campaigning lead to high conversion rates.
Track & Measure Every Penny
The last step in building your marketing plan is the most fun part: applying your artistic creativity as you build specific campaigns. There are many angles you can take--seasonal promotions, partnering with local charities or other businesses in your area, referral programs with existing clients, participation in local shows, workshops, festivals or other events. The goal is to ensure that whatever marketing activities you're employing fit the image you want to portray, target the customers you want to do business with and produce measurable results--which you'll need to track meticulously.
"Measuring the return on investment for any marketing program is critical for photographers," says Bridget Jackson, SMS manager. "It's so easy to get caught up in the wow factor of branding and marketing activities and forget that their purpose is driving new business." Measuring the results you achieve with your campaigns and keeping detailed records will not only give you great satisfaction in knowing that your best ideas are working, but it will also help you plan for subsequent marketing spending and activities next year.
Now, let's say you've done everything right and attracted exactly the clients you want. But you're still not done. Kurkian reminds photographers to be diligent about periodically checking average sales from sessions and specific product lines. "Oftentimes, you'll find that certain types of clients are taking most of your time while producing the least amount of profit for your business," he explains. So tracking those items can help you focus and promote the kind of business that is the most profitable.
In the end, it all comes down to the same admonition you heard in the first article of the "Seven Deadly Sins of Financial Management" series. Keeping tabs on your numbers will go a long way toward securing your profitability and setting you up for success in the short and long term.
Where Can You Learn More
For a wealth of marketing campaign ideas, check out the AN-NE Marketing Awards Spotlight archive on PPA.com where winners of the annual marketing contest share the details of their winning entries. You'll also find plenty of information about marketing planning and other topics in archived Vital Signs articles.
Don't forget the OurPPA Forum, for members often discuss marketing challenges and share ideas with each other there. Of course, both the SMS Business Basics and 3-Day workshops have extensive sessions on marketing, too. You'll also find a treasure trove of marketing content via the webinars on PPA's Education section. (Remember, an online learning pass with full access to all webinars is only $149.)
Do you have financial management success stories of your own that you'd like to share? We're all ears--just e-mail Angela Wijesinghe. You may be an inspiration to others as well!