As a professional photographer, it is very important to create a thorough business plan to outline your goals and determine a course of action for achieving them. Even if you have already been running a successful company, you can benefit from organizing your efforts into a well thought out business strategy.
Start by thinking about what you want to achieve in the next year. Create a few large goals for yourself that will get you closer to the success you strive for. As you work through these steps keep in mind that nothing you decide is set in stone. You can adjust your plan as you go along to reflect what is working best and how your goals have changed over time.
Choose a specialty
The first step in creating a business plan is to determine who you are as a photographer and what you want to specialize in. While you may enjoy all genres of photography, a focused area or niche is highly recommended. Trying to represent all genres of the industry in your portfolio can communicate a lack of focus and a failure to master any one area to potential clients. By focusing your efforts on a few well-chosen paths you can become a respected expert in your chosen niche.
Make it unique
The industry is as competitive as it’s ever been, so it is important to set yourself apart from your competition. For example, if you want to carve a place for yourself as a wedding photographer, decide what types of weddings you want to shoot. When considering this question, think about your strengths. If you love shooting with natural light the most, or you adore black and white images over color, think about whether you can build your business from this angle.
Map it out
Geography can also play a large role in determining your niche. If you live in a rural area, but your passion is fashion, it may not be a good idea to choose fashion photography as a focus. Instead, consider shooting portraits and weddings using fashion lighting. Brainstorming what you love to shoot and how to make a practical choice for your business based on this is time well spent.
Learn by example
Let’s take Shelley Paulson’s portrait work as an example. In addition to being a spectacular wedding and engagement photographer, Shelley takes beautiful portraits, mainly of high school seniors. What sets her photos apart from others in her area is that she specializes in portraits with horses. As a lover of horses all her life it was a natural choice for her to focus the portrait area of her business in this direction. So as you can see from this example, a niche does not have to be one thing alone. In Shelley’s case, focusing on weddings as well as equine portraits caters to her specific interests and skills, and it keeps her busy all year.
Know your competition
It’s always a good idea to see who you’re up against. Some basic research of your local competition and their specialties can go a long way. However, you shouldn’t be daunted by what others are doing. For example, if there are a lot of family portrait photographers in your area, this does not mean that you have to choose a different genre. Instead, think of ways to approach family portraits from an unexpected angle. This could be shooting in and around the families’ homes where they are most comfortable, or at the beach with natural sunlight. The key is to combine areas you are comfortable and skilled in and turn them into your niche.
Be specialized but not limited
Whatever area you choose, be sure that it is something that has room to grow. Choosing a niche is great for becoming an expert in that area in a relatively short period of time. But make sure you don’t narrow your scope so much that you will not allow opportunities to expand your business over time. The key to many successful businesses is their ability to grow and adapt to changes in the market.
Find your target market
Start by asking yourself who your clients are. Are they male, female, or an equal percentage of each? What is the largest age group? Where do they hang out? What websites do they visit and what magazines do they read? This will give you a very good idea of where to start when you are ready to advertise and market to this demographic.
Learn by example
Let’s answer those questions using a pet photographer as an example.The majority of pet owners are female, ages 30-45, who visit parks and pet stores and are interested in magazines like Pet Planet and The Bark. For a commercial photographer, they might think about which companies and accounts to go after. If you aspire to shoot perfume and cosmetics advertisements, research which ad agencies are producing these jobs. Or if you want to shoot for fashion magazines, narrow down which ones you think are a good fit for your style and aesthetic. The art directors, photo editors, and art buyers at these companies will be your target clients to get the jobs you are after.
Size your market
It is also important to consider whether your target market is large enough to sustain you. If your focus is shooting head shots for actors, you will need to determine how many working actors there are in your area and how often they need head shots. You also need to know how much revenue you’ll generate from each head shot session and determine how many of these you will need to keep your expenses paid. Be conservative with these estimates and don’t count on repeat clients for your long term planning. You should always be working to increase your client list.
Get a complete website
As a professional photographer it is an absolute must that you have a well designed and easy to navigate website. There was a time an online portfolio alone was enough, but these days you need to have a comprehensive site. When setting up your site look for a full service option that will enable you to display your portfolio and includes an e-commerce platform, marketing tools, and an easy to navigate client interface.
Let your website make you money
If you do any type of consumer photography you will want the option to sell online as well as use online proofing tools. In-person proofing is a great way to make and close print sales, but that method doesn’t allow you to reach all of your client's friends and relatives. By offering an online proofing gallery to your clients, they can choose to share it with friends and family, possibly opening up new revenue streams for you.
Stay fresh and current
Many photographers use an integrated blog to show off their newest images and let visitors know what they are currently working on. These blog posts help show that you are keeping busy, which is one of the best ways to drive up business. When clients see you as a prolific professional in your field they’ll want to get the chance to work with you while your career is on fire.
Start with Zenfolio
Luckily Zenfolio can help you with achieve all of the above. Voted the Best Website Builder by the 2013 Framed Awards, Zenfolio offers everything you need to create a dynamic and beautiful photography website. From the moment you sign up with Zenfolio you’ll have your own site that you can quickly and easily customize using intuitive tools that were designed with photographers-not computer programmers-in mind.
Know your SEO
Once your website is in great shape you will need to make sure that people are able to find it. These days there are many ways that you can maximize your search engine optimization (or more commonly referred to as SEO) so that when potential clients search for a specific type of photographer in your area, your name will appear if you fit the search criteria. When looking at website options for placing your photography online be sure that the one you choose includes built-in SEO tools. Having the ability to quickly add search tags to a group of photos or import photos that you’ve already tagged in Lightroom will save you a ton of time and energy.
Make yourself visible
Search engines primarily look for text on pages which can be an issue for photographers who have a website full of images. If there isn’t any text data (tags) that accompany the images your site might be virtually invisible to search engines. So take the time to provide relevant titles, captions, and keywords for your photos wherever possible. The more detail you can provide with these, the better. You should also include your geographical location in the text of your site so that your website is found in searches such as "Wedding photographer in San Francisco".
The more times a link to your website is clicked, the better your site ranking will be and you’ll appear higher in search results. How do you get more people to click on your link? Share it everywhere. We recommend that you add links to your site in your email signatures, on photo forums, on social media, websites, and anywhere else you can think of.
When looking for a job you’ll often hear the old adage “It’s not what you know but who you know.” The same applies in the virtual world. Having other services link to your website as much as possible is key to achieving this. If you belong to any photo clubs or professional organizations, make sure you have a profile listed with a link to your site. This can really help to boost your search ranking.
Find a pal
SEO might seem like a daunting task to take on but the effort you put in will pay off in the end. But don’t feel like you have to go it alone. Zenfolio offers many built-in tools and additional help with SEO to make this process as easy as possible
Market, market, market so you can sell, sell, sell
With marketing you get what you put into it. There is simply too much competition these days to sit back and wait for clients to come to you. Now that you have outlined who your customers are in step 2, think about how to target your marketing efforts toward them. Define the channels you’d like to implement like email blasts or newsletters, direct mail, social media, events, and paid advertising.
Start with emails
Promotional email blasts are cheap to produce, easy to target, and effective. Try sending a few promotional email blasts. Try spreading them throughout the year to your contact lists using seasonal promotions, reminders of prior purchases and products reviewed and timely offers. Also, plan to send a certain number of regular newsletters as well that highlight your latest work, new available products, or anything else your current clients might find relevant or interesting. Don’t forget to provide a way for people to unsubscribe if they choose.
Direct mail, that is. You probably will need to take your budget into consideration when planning a direct mailer so consider creating a few different strategies for different groups within your contacts. For example, consider creating a well-designed, but inexpensive, post card to send to all clients while reserving more expensive promo pieces for your top 20 leads.
Spread the word with social media
Many people will go to a restaurant or use a service based upon a recommendation from a friend. You can use this word of mouth advertising effectively to drive up business in the same way via social media websites. One way to do this is to allow your clients to share the images you have taken on their Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Google+ pages. If they love your work they will likely share it with an ecstatic compliment and their entire network will see it. One thing to keep in mind if you go this route is to be sure that you brand your images with a logo or unobtrusive watermark so that potential clients know who you are and can easily find you. Logos and watermarks will also help protect against illegal reproduction of your work.
Be a social (media) butterfly
Don’t be afraid to share some of your own successes on your social media page. If you were recently featured in a publication, share this news on Facebook, Google+, Twitter etc. to help you get the word out. Or if you decide to run a promotion, announce it on Facebook as well as through newsletters, email blasts, etc. Your successes will more easily build on each other if people know about them. Think about using a service like HootSuite to automatically add social media posts so that you can schedule them in advance.
Show your face
Events in your area are great way to get in front of your target market. For example, if you shoot weddings, find out if there are any bridal fairs in your area and get involved. Also think about approaching bridal stores in your service area and other vendors who may have events or promotions you can be a part of. Having the opportunity to meet potential clients in person or through other companies can be a huge help in selling your services.
Spend a little
You don’t have to be a large company with a million dollar budget to have effective advertising. Paid advertising has become easier in recent years with companies like Google lowering the barrier to entry. Google Ad Words can be a great way to try out online ads without spending a lot. However, if you do not have the budget for advertising like this, don't let it get you down. There are so many ways to reach clients these days that your other marketing efforts can more than make up for it.
When creating a marketing plan, keep in mind that your plans are fluid and can be adjusted at any time based on how they perform. Make sure you’re measuring the return you’re getting from each channel so you can make necessary adjustments. If you see that a particular approach is working well while others are getting no traction, reallocate where you spend your time and money to get the most bang for your buck.
Get more help from Zenfolio
Zenfolio can help you with a lot of these marketing efforts with its built-in tools. The recent Photographer’s Corner article on marketing is a gold mine of ideas and inspiration. Even trying out just one or two of the strategies discussed in this article can help you.
As stated at the beginning of this article, the most important thing you are doing by creating a business plan is setting achievable goals for yourself and your business. Over the course of the year it is very easy to get caught up in the day-to-day madness of keeping everything going. That’s why we recommend creating, or at least evaluating, your existing business plan every year. By taking the time to carefully plan where you are going and how you will effectively get there you’ll be able to avoid bumps in the road and track the progress that you’ve made. Now you just need to take the first step.
___ Brainstorm what you love to shoot best and choose some specific applications to specialize in.
___ Research your competition to see if there are other professionals in your area occupying the same space.
___ Think about how you will be able to expand your services over time in your chosen specialty.
___ Brainstorm who your potential clients are and think about their age, interests, and the frequency that they will need your services.
___ Research your target audience and create a database of email addresses and info for anyone you want to reach out to in the future or who has contacted you in the past or who you want to reach out to in the future.
___ Look at your overhead expenses and determine how many jobs you will need to execute on a monthly basis to stay afloat.
___ Polish your website so that it is up to date and reflective of your services and chosen niche.
___ Think about creating a blog as a way to regularly communicate what is new with your work and business. If you already do this, think about different ways to post blog articles that you have not tried before.
___ Add text elements to your website pages as much as possible with relevant keywords, titles and captions. Think about other ways you can add text in creative ways.
___ Link, link, link! Find as many places that you can insert a link to your website as possible. Create a list of other companies that may be willing to cross-link to your site.
___ Create a list of marketing categories that you will work within. Inside each category list a few ways that you will reach clients.
___ Look for events in your area that you can be a part of.
___ Check out this recent blog on how to use your Zenfolio account in combination with your marketing plan.
___ Look into the services offered by Zenfolio to spruce up your site and keep it current.