We talked in length about these topics in my Advanced Photography Workshop, but since I was asked a few questions about advertising/marketing yesterday – I figured I’d touch on some of it here too! I’m going to start at the very beginning to give you an idea of how my business really got started and how my advertising/marketing evolved throughout the past few years. Everybody of course has a different path in this industry – but this is how my business grew with the help of Facebook, blogging, word-of-mouth, and minimal advertising $ spent! Here we go!
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As I mentioned in My Story post, I graduated from photography school in the summer of 2007 and from that point on I worked full-time as a paralegal downtown as I worked to build up my photography business, which at the time was focused on editorial/commercial/corporate work. I floated along like that for quite a while, shooting whenever a job came my way (which wasn’t too often), until my friend’s younger sister asked me to shoot her wedding in September of 2008. I agreed hesitantly, because at the time I was convinced I never wanted to be a wedding photographer (haha)!
After that day – I realized that I loved shooting Holly and Charlie’s wedding, but I still wasn’t convinced I was meant to do that type of photography for a living. Regardless, I was friends with them on Facebook – so I posted a bunch of the photos from their wedding to Facebook to share with them. Those images, and other photos I posted to my personal account (of my nephew, family, friends, and school projects) were apparently catching some of my friends’ eyes. Without meaning to or really wanting to shoot more weddings – I was contacted by a few more brides in the months following Holly and Charlie’s wedding and before I knew it – I had 4 more weddings booked for the summer and fall of 2009.
Again – at this point anything I was booking came from Facebook and word-of-mouth (i.e. Facebook friends who referred their friends to me; friends who saw photos of facebook, etc). After each of those 4 weddings I continued to post my photos on Facebook, making sure to tag the bride and groom in the photos. At the time I didn’t realize I was basically advertising for free, or realize that I was advertising at all. I was just excited about the photos and wanted my clients to be able to share the images with their friends and family easily.
Not surprisingly – the same thing continued to happen … people who had seen my photos on Facebook, or clients who enjoyed their experience with me, were spreading the word to people they knew getting married and again – without really meaning to – I booked 6 more weddings for 2010.
It was in April of 2010 – with 6 more weddings on the books… that I realized I actually really wanted to do this for real. And instead of just floating along without really trying to market or bring in potential clients like I had been – I decided I needed to take some steps to get my name out there even more, and build this business up for real!
It was then that I started my blog (which at the time was a little blogspot account that I posted on maybe once a month). I also started reading A Practical Wedding regularly at this point, since I was helping my cousin, Sara, a bit with planning her wedding (and she sent me this blog to check out). She even suggested now that I was focusing more on wedding photography that maybe I should look into advertising on APW. I thought she was crazy and that there was no way I was at that point in my business to be advertising, so I put it off and put it off. In the meantime, that summer I started to blog regularly (5x a week) about anything and everything. Personal, business, travel, random tidbits/stories… you name it – I posted it and then shared the link each day to my Facebook account to get my friends and family over there to read it. (This was vital – nobody knew I was blogging otherwise – so sharing to Facebook really made a huge difference.) I should also note that I LOVE to write – I always have, and I’m a storyteller/talker by nature (ask James, or my family/friends, for that matter) – so blogging was a natural transition for me. I also am an open book and have been my entire life – so again… telling stories about my life and business openly on my blog didn’t feel like a big scary deal to me. It felt natural. This isn’t true for everybody. Some people hate writing… so just post pictures instead! But I’d encourage you to post personal photos as well as business/weddings/shoots because people connect to personal work just as much (or more) than weddings/clients/etc. Anyway – I digress!
August of 2010 came – I had a wedding or two on the books for 2011 – and I finally got up the courage to contact Meg at APW. She replied almost immediately and very enthusiastically and I was STOKED. My first sponsored post went live in September of 2010, and the response was pretty immediate. The site was smaller back then and there weren’t a lot of photographers in the midwest advertising on the site. I’m guessing that those factors, along with my extremely low prices at the time were the perfect storm. I ended up booking 5 weddings via A Practical Wedding for 2011 (along with the others I booked that year).
I don’t necessarily think everybody should go this route. I found APW and it made sense for me because I was a reader first and knew these were my people. I agreed with their philosophy on weddings (it’s about the MARRIAGE – not just the wedding), and I knew this was a good fit for me. I’d encourage you to do the same research before deciding to advertise with anyone. Also, I don’t believe this is a necessary ingredient to get your business going. I know a LOT of photographers who have never advertised anywhere… they rely on Facebook, social media, word-of-mouth, blogging, and google searches to drive their business – which works just fine for plenty of businesses out there! Make whatever decision makes the most sense for your business and your budget… this is just what worked for me. (And continues to work for me because while I don’t book as many couples from APW as I used to – it is a quality over quantity thing for me… I LOVE the couples who find me through APW… and so it feels worthwhile to me!)
Another important step in booking more weddings came from making contacts with other wedding photographers who I admired. I found people whose work I loved, who seemed like good people (from what I could find on their blog anyway), and I contacted them. I networked and eventually found a group of photographers I respect who I go to for advice, and who I refer clients to when I’m already booked for a date – and they do the same for me when they are booked. It is an amazing thing to have and is SO helpful to both parties for getting their names out there – not to mention to have a friend and ally in the industry to support you!
Through Facebook, blogging, APW, referrals from other photographers, google searches, and word-of-mouth we booked 17 weddings for 2011 (the year in which we were able to go full-time). Those same factors continued to contribute to clients coming our way in the year following, and at this point we have 26 weddings on the books for 2012 (10 of which we’ve already shot).
This has gotten SUPER long… so hopefully you made it to the end! I want to quickly note that of course – none of this would be worth jack if you don’t strive to constantly improve your craft, know your camera (& lighting) inside and out, be kind, and treat your clients like GOLD. (That should always come first and foremost in your business and the referrals will come! Treat your clients how you would like to be treated, and they will send their loved ones your way! Which is a double bonus because if you loved that client, chances are that you will love their friends/family/referrals too!)
If you have any questions about anything feel free to email or leave it in the comments! I’m more than happy to answer any questions! I hope this helped even one of you a little bit!xoxo!