Simple Marketing Strategies for Photographers

1. Build your mailing list

Contrary to what many people believe, email marketing is not dead. Not only is it alive and kicking (despite inboxes being flooded with promotions and millennials moving away from email), direct email marketing is probably the most efficient and cost effective means of getting people’s attention and traffic to your website.

Mike Stelzner, founder and CEO of Social Media Examiner, which gets over a million unique visits a month, says that their newsletter, distributed to over 450,000 subscribers, is their second largest source of traffic after Google. Facebook comes in at a distant third. (Source: http://mywifequitherjob.com/mike-stelzner-social-media-examiner/)

The biggest mistake I made when I created my first photography blog was not adding an email subscription form to it from day one. Had I done that, I would have many more subscribers now. The reason a mailing list is so effective is because those on it have given you permission to contact them directly and send useful information and occasional promotions.

Building a mailing list is rather simple. With website subscription forms and the software tools available today, the manual work required to populate and manage your list can be greatly reduced. But writing compelling newsletters that inspire people to open your email, click on links, and remain loyal subscribers requires providing quality content with a consistent schedule. And this part is up to you.

I use Mailchimp to manage my subscribers and send out newsletters. It is simple and powerful enough for what I do. One of my favorite features is that you can have up to 2,000 email addresses for no cost, which is great when you are just starting. Also, it is delivered as a service, meaning there’s no software, apps, or plugins to install on your website in order to use it. In fact, you don’t even need a website to start gathering addresses and sending emails! You can simply use opt-in forms hosted by Mailchimp itself, which is what I did in the beginning. But before too long, I decided I needed something a bit fancier that would integrate more seamlessly with my websites.

If your website is built using WordPress, there are dozens of plugins that work with most major mailing list managers and allow you to present opt-in forms to your visitors, either inline or as those annoying, but effective, pop-ups. Mailchimp has its own plugin, which I still use on at least one website, but for a more powerful solution, I recommend checking into Thrive Leads or Sumo. I’ve used both and have been satisfied with my experiences.

Creating a Lead Magnet

When you put a subscription form on your website, you are asking visitors to give you their email address and permission to fill their already bulging inboxes with even more emails and promotions. You can promise to deliver interesting, useful, and actionable content, but unless they already know and trust you, chances are they won’t sign up.

A form that says “Subscribe to my newsletter” is an instant turn-off for most people. Would you give out your email address in exchange for the promise to be spammed?

You need to give visitors something tangible as a reward for letting you use their precious email address. That something is called a lead magnet, but at the bottom of it, it is just an ethical bribe. In fact, the definition of lead magnet is: an irresistible bribe offering a specific chunk of value to a prospect in exchange for their contact information.

Lead magnets can take many forms, the most common being an eBook. Instructional videos, Photoshop actions, Lightroom presets, and other types of downloadable digital media also work well as lead magnets. By the way, you either got this eBook from a friend or as a gift for subscribing to my newsletter. If you subscribed, it’s likely because I promised to gift you this eBook. Now it’s my responsibility to keep sending you information of value, so you will stay subscribed.

Creating a lead magnet can be a fun and easy process. The key is creating something that people are willing to give you their email address for. It doesn’t have to be the definitive guide to portrait photography or a signed print. It can be much simpler, as long as it is useful to a wide audience and has actionable items. After all, you signed up for my newsletter because I promised to give you my best five strategies for marketing…and I assume you were struggling with your marketing efforts since you signed up.

A good mailing list manager can make it very easy to distribute your lead magnet. If it’s a single file, just upload it to a cloud based hosting platform and put a link to download it in the welcome email message that your software sends to all new subscribers. You can say something as simple as “Thanks for subscribing to my newsletter. Here is your gift from me. Click here to download it now.”

Here is how simple creating a lead magnet can be, step by step:

  • Take a subject you know well. It might be a lighting set-up, a post-processing technique, tips about photographing a popular location, or anything else you think would be beneficial to other photographers. Now launch your favorite word processor and start writing an article about it.
  • Aim for it to be educational and entertaining. Use images to illustrate your points.
  • Create a compelling title and structure your text in sections with clearly stated headings.
  • Ask somebody else to do a spelling and grammar check for you (few things put readers off more than spelling mistakes).
  • Find a template for a nice layout. Or visit Fiverr.com and pay someone to do the layout for you. It should look reasonably good and professional, but it doesn’t have to be a stunning example of graphic design.
  • Export it as PDF and upload it to a file sharing service.
  • Create a page on your website that entices people to get it and mention it in your signup forms.
  • Share it! Share the page on social media, or give copies to your friends in exchange for a mention on their websites or social media channels.
  • Congratulations, you’re in business!

Photography is not a commodity (despite phenomena like microstock that treat it like one) and you are in the business of selling your vision and your art, not sugar or coffee. As a photographer, your ideal customers will buy you, before they buy your products and services. Remember, for the most part, people buy from people they know, trust, and like.

If after truly considering your talents, skills, and knowledge, you still aren’t able to think of anything that speaks about you, your personality, wisdom, vision, empathy, sense of humor – in other words, you’re still coming up blank – then maybe now is not the right time to launch an online business. Or maybe a creative endeavor simply is not your cup of tea.

First create the market, then create the sale