|Kate Hyslop, from BookingBug, straightens out a few of the problems and answers some of the questions you may have about your photography business and getting online.|
In with the new
The photography business has traditionally been very reliant on word of mouth and personalrecommendations. Up until now this has been a relatively adequate strategy for promoting your business and acquiring new clients. However, the way in which people make recommendations, search for information and book services has really started to change over the past few years. The change is both social and technological, and it means that those in the photography industry now have to consider changing their approach as well. But where do you start? Is it expensive? Is it time consuming?
The nature of the photography business can mean long hours out at shoots, in the studio, editing, or travelling to and from jobs. We hear almost without exception from the photographers we speak to that with so many hours spent actually doing the hands-on part of the job, finding the time to promote and manage a photography business can sometimes seem an almost impossible task. It certainly has to come second to doing a great job and producing quality work for clients.
In parallel, we also speak to photographers that are unsure as to whether moving online is right for their business or not. Every day we hear questions such as; ‘is social media right for my business?’ ‘Should I be taking payments online?’ or ‘How can I promote and fill spare availability?’ But of course there is no one-size-fits-all set of rules when it comes to what works best for small businesses. There are however some basic steps that can help address some of these key questions to help you ensure that your photography business is as accessible as possible online.
Does my photography business need to be online?
If you’re asking this question then you’re probably already aware that there are a number of benefits (and challenges) associated with taking your business online. So let’s start with the basics. Taking you business from having no (or a very basic) online presence to using the web as a tool to market and manage it doesn’t have to mean a giant leap in the way you do things or a huge investment in terms of cash or your time – it’s all about perspective. Unlike some service business, you’re not trying to tap into a super global network of potential customers. Quite the opposite really, the aim should be to enable your circle of potential clients to be able to find you online, see what other people think of your work, and be able to make bookings or enquires in a way that suits them on the web.
Whilst people are increasingly migrating towards the internet to source products and services of all kinds, they are also becoming more and more discerning about how, when and where they spend their cash. As a photographer, your services are after all a luxury, and it is becoming harder than ever for all most independent photographers to differentiates themselves from the pack. With that in mind getting the mix of accessibility, convenience, value and efficiency are all absolutely to both you and the client.
Where should I focus my online efforts?
As your potential client-base becomes increasingly internet, mobile and social networking-savvy, making the most of an online presence is going to be absolutely key to success, regardless of your specialism or type of photography business. Embracing the social web should be about adapting to a changing market and being able to build and maintain long-term relationships with clients, with the long-term aim of driving online and offline word-of-mouth recommendations. Building an online strategy is also about making the most of the (all too often limited) resources you have at your disposal and, as a small business, avoiding any unnecessary spend on any tools or approaches that can’t deliver a solid return on investment.
Think about where your potential clients are, and make sure you have a presence there. How and where are you displaying or advertising your services and availability? How are you letting potential clients know what’s bookable or what special offers you may have? How can you do that in a way that suits them? In these increasingly connected times, being reliant on responding to phone messages or emails to take bookings, enquiries or payments is very limiting and at odds with the way in which clients want to access information and make choices. You need to make your business as accessible to both current and potential clients as possible.
For photographers, as for any small business owner, the key to making your business as accessible as possible is thinking of it as being open for business 24/7. Just because you’re out on a job or taking a much-deserved holiday doesn’t mean there aren’t potential clients wanting to book or enquire about your services. Think beyond your website being your sole online touch-point – and also think of it as much more than a billboard for displaying information. Also remember there are a host of other relevant third party channels that can also help promote your work and drive bookings. Ensure your availability is viewable in real-time and bookable online. An online booking tool that can sit on your website or Facebook page is a great way to both manage bookings and, crucially, promote and fill any remaining availability. Essentially you’re open for business all day, every day, rather than just when you’re free to pick up the phone or plough through your inbox.
Also consider local or photography-specific listing sites, and think about online market places such as Gumtree or eBay that let you promote and sell to a much broader customer base. And although Facebook Commerce has suffered criticism from some big retail brands in recent weeks, Facebook itself is actually a thriving platform when it comes to smaller and service businesses. Likewise, LinkedIn is a great platform for promoting your business and networking with other likeminded industry professionals.
Get long-term value from offers, coupons & daily deals
Think about whether offers and promotions are right for your business. The rise of daily deals sites and their benefits (and challenges) have been well documented. These types of promotional platforms are here to stay and, if managed well, their benefits in filling empty space and building direct brand awareness have been proven. However whether you’ve experienced it yourself, or heard the horror stories second hand, the challenge of managing the influx of hundreds of calls or emails from deal buyers — then scheduling each one — can be a daunting prospect.
Daily deals are a key part of the online-offline journey for photographers, as with many types of service businesses, by adapting your customer management to match the way they work – letting customers select, book, and pay for their own slot online – you can run a successful campaign whilst avoiding the pitfalls.
Also remember the value of the customer data you collect when running deals, campaigns and competitions. Use it intelligently to ensure that future offers and promotions are as targeted and personalised as possible.
Nurture your advocates
Finally, think about how you can use your most loyal and satisfied clients to do your marketing for you. Social media has changed the way people make recommendations and share their experiences. Weary of the constant bombardment of marketing messages and with a whole internet of opinions, rants (and even occasionally praise!) at our fingertips, we now just have to turn to Facebook or Twitter for advice. A business can be made or broken in minutes. The mass adoption of online social networks has changed the way we make purchasing decisions and businesses of all sizes, no matter how small or niche, can capitalise on that.
Best of all, these social recommendations are super-targeted, personal and free and an independent photographer that is able to connect and engage with its online community (as well as offline) is giving itself a huge advantage over those that fail to do so. And don’t forget to reward your advocates – discounts, special offers and early access to products or services before general release can all help to incentivise your company’s biggest fans to keep them spreading the word and sharing recommendations.
By evolving your business into a truly offline-online entity, you can not only give your clients the freedom and ability to browse your portfolio and availability, you can also automate much of the admin that becomes so time consuming when running a photography business. By taking your business online, you can take the hassle out of sending confirmations and reminders as well as managing cancellations. Which of course all helps to minimize void time and frees up precious hours to focus on producing the best possible work for your clients.
Essentially, the old model of photography professionals being able to rely solely on word-of-mouth recommendations is all but redundant. We’re now in a social web-based, client-driven era of always-on connectivity where reputations are hard-gained and all too easily lost. Yet despite the challenges, the opportunity is certainly ripe for independent photographers to also evolve the way they work to truly make the most of this web-driven era.
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