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Options, and classified ads

Options. There’s plenty of things you can do to improve your business. You can spend money on cameras, you can spend money on ads in your local newspaper, you can spend money on software, a website, lenses, and much, much more.. But, before you go out and spend money on another lens, ask yourself one simple question:

Why am I not getting as much business as I want to get?

If in fact, you’re losing jobs because the quality of the images aren’t good enough, you really should get a new lens or camera. But, if you’re like most photographers, the reason you’re losing business is because there aren’t enough people inquiring about your services! Ultimately, you have an issue with exposure.

People can’t hire you if they don’t know your in business. That’s where a good website comes in.

Websites are cost effective methods of advertising your business. To understand why, let’s use some math!

A typical 3-line classified ad in a newspaper might cost you about $100/mo. Now, for a photo business, a 3-line ad may not be enough. After all, people tend to hire photographers based on the quality of the photos. But, for the sake of ease, let’s assume a 3-line ad is actually useful in attracting clients. You’re spending about $1200/year on a classified ad, that’s going to people reasonably close by to where you live.  After three years, you’ve spend $3,600 on advertising in the local paper. If you decide to not run the ad one month, your exposure will be zero; no one will be able to find your business as the ad wont be published anywhere.

On the other hand, if you spent about the same amount of money on a website (including hosting), you’d have something that will work forever. Once you’ve built a website, it’s yours to keep. You may need to pay for hosting, but, it’s much cheaper than another ad in the newspaper. Also, content wise, your website can have lots and lots of text, lots and lots of photos, and interactive forms that your prospective clients can use to contact you.

So, for about $100/month, would you rather have a 3-line ad in the classified section of your newspaper? Or, a gorgeous website that will actually show off your portfolio, and allow prospective clients to hire you for a photo shoot?

Putting the Horse Before the Cart

I hear this a lot. Photographers tell me they bought all this cool gear. L series glass, expensive bodies, flashes (lots of them), and all sorts of other post-production work-flow gadgets and gizmos. I drool slightly when I hear about it; I’m a big tech nerd after all! I love really great toys; and I adore good quality, pro level products.

But, almost without fail I’m told a follow-up story of woe. They can’t afford to market themselves properly because they’ve just spent $10,000 or so on camera equipment. That same camera equipment that’s now essentially lying idle because they have no work.

As a business owner myself, I understand the need for solid equipment. It makes my life easier, and helps me do my job more efficiently. In the case of a photographer, no camera means that you have no job.

What’s a photographer to do?

I’ve spoken to hundreds of photographers; and probably an equal number of their clients. The one thing that all photographers say is important when taking a great photo? Great gear. But, what do the brides say? Aren’t the brides the most important metric of what makes a photo ‘good’?

Brides, by and large, say that their favorite photo is the one with the people they love in it. Really. It’s not the technical perfection of the photo. It’s not the color balance. It’s not the contrast or bokeh. Their favorite photo is the one with Uncle George. The same Uncle who they haven’t seen in 15 years. Yeah, the photo that’s all fuzzy and green-tinted. The same photo that you were just about to delete. That’s their favorite!

Brides don’t care about photography. They care about people.

Consider for a moment another course of action. Instead of buying $10,000 of equipment up-front; rent it. Rent the equipment when you get a job. Use the other $9,700 you just saved on equipment purchases and spend some of it on a website; on advertising; on making yourself visible. You’ll always be able to buy the equipment you want–but, when you’re first getting started in the photography industry, don’t rush out and buy ‘stuff’. Buy something that will help you afford the ‘stuff’ you really want.

The benefit is obvious. Your brides get great photos that you’re happy to show off (renting lets you get great gear, at an affordable price). You get a way to market yourself with a website. As a result, you get found by brides, and you can earn an actual living. Yeah, you may not own all that great gear right away; but, does it really matter?