If you’re a photography business owner and serious about results in 2017, this guide on photographer marketing will change your life.

photographer marketing guide

You’ll learn the 4-step system that will set you up for success in 2017, including:

  • Positioning yourself online
  • Converting website visitors to clients
  • Optimizing your website for search

This article is not theory. It’s based on case studies of people I’ve helped grow and market their photography business.  Below, I’ll share my blueprint that helped Shane Cleminson, a northwest-Indiana based photographer increase his 2017 photography business revenue by $42,000 before the year even started.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to:

  • Have a dominant presence in your local area?

  • Create an endless pipeline of clients?

  • Get the most out of your marketing?

Let’s make that happen, but first things first…

“People with clear, written goals, accomplish far more in a shorter period of time than people without them could ever imagine.” – Brian Tracy

Before we get into the heavy stuff, we have to frame our conversation with one essential question: What are your goals for 2017?

Only 3% of people write down their goals despite being 50% more likely to achieve them once you do.

I can give you a million tactics, but we want to help you accomplish your goals, not just do more work. You’re busy enough as it is.

Let’s set some goals by answering six basic questions (If you don’t know the answers to them, don’t worry, there’s some helpful guidelines added):

  1. How much revenue will your company do this year? What is the target?

  2. How much is that monthly? (Divide the annual target by 12)

  3. What is your average transaction value (Divide your 2016 revenue by the number of clients)?

  4. How many booked clients will that require (Divide monthly revenue goal by average transaction value)?

  5. What is your average conversion rate from lead to booked job (scroll through your email and see how many inquiries you had versus your total client number)?

  6. How many leads do you need per month? (Multiply your lead target by your conversion rate)

I love doing math. Maybe you don’t? Here’s a helpful Google sheet you can make a copy of to fill in your information.

Regarding revenue, most photographers fall into one of four groups:

  1. Make money on the side, building your business on a budget, photographing portraits and other events (weddings, sports, etc.)

  2. Want to quit your day job and go full-time with your photography business.

  3. Making a six-figure income, but want to take your business to the next level.

  4. Have a team of five and are doing over a half-million dollars in revenue every year.

Most of my clients fall into the third or fourth group, but it’s essential to be realistic and know where you fall and what your goals are.

At the end of the article, I’ll ask you one important question related to your 2017 goals and I’d love to have you answer in the comments (I read every one!)

Fundamentals – Market, Message, and Media

After we set goals, we have to define our market (who we’re speaking to), our message (what we’re saying), and then our media (how we’re saying it).

So many photographers skip this, even the most successful ones.  When you’re starting your photography business, taking care of these things first will launch you out of the gate.

Market

Who is your ideal customer?  Have you ever built out a customer avatar before?  A super important lesson I’ve learned from Dave Chesson of Kindlepreneur,  you HAVE to define your quintessential client and everything you make must speak directly to them.

Knowing your target market is what makes your “marketing” sound like you’re reading your potential client’s mind.  Have you ever read a headline on a website or seen a book title and thought “Oh my gosh, that’s exactly what I was thinking.”  That’s what I’m talking about.

For example, my customer avatar is Lisa.  She’s a genius with a camera and books 100% of the people she consults with, but her business is still not where she needs it to be for her family.

However, she still sucks at making money.  She admits she’s “terrible” at the business side of things despite making more than $80,000 per year.  She’s so lost with what to do that she’s considering getting a second job to supplement her photography.

*Don’t hesitate to find a real person to talk to about these questions, either.  Getting real time feedback keeps you from getting stuck in an echo chamber.

Here’s a few questions that will help you define the important demographic and psychographic information you need to tailor your message and media to them.


What is their life like? Where do they hang out online? Offline? What keeps them up at night? Do you like them? Why/why not? What do they do when they wake up? What do they read/watch on TV? Where do they shop for clothes/food/other?

What do they value? What’s important to them? What makes them pissed off? How do they spend their money? What do they spend their time on?

What do they desire? Do they have hopes and dreams? What are they about? What’s missing in their life? What makes them tick? What do they need?

How do they feel valued/respected/important? What can you do to make them feel respected?

Who has influenced them? What experiences, movies, personalities, music have influenced them? How can you leverage these when you communicate with them?

What do they already know about you or your topic? Where do they typically learn things about your topic? What do they think about your topic: good/bad?

What is at stake for them? Specifically around your topic, what do they stand to lose/gain if they listen to you? What does not acting/listening to you cost them?

What’s the darkness/light language? How can you turn up the contrast? Where are they now and where do they want to be?

What do they look like? What’s their hair like? Glasses? Men/Women ratio? What kind of clothes are they wearing? What’s in their pockets?


I’m willing to be more than a few people reading this skimmed those last paragraphs, felt like they were a waste of time, and are ready to move on to things that “make money.”

Please remember, being inside the head of your ideal client is the easiest way to make a sale without “selling.” Everybody in your target market (people who pay for photography) hate the hard sell.  So do you.  Knowing your ideal customer inside and out will not only help you attract people who are great clients (no more painful nightmare clients!) and help you close every sale with easy.

If you can see Joe Jones through Joe Jones Eyes then you can sell what Joe Jones Buys.

Here’s what we’ve found to be true for avatars of the photographers that I’ve worked with:

The avatar’s top  concern is whoever they hire won’t do the work. You’re reading this because you’re a go-getter and want to improve your business in 2017, but so many photographers don’t.  They don’t answer their phone, procrastinate, blow off potential leads, etc.

In fact, you’d be amazed how many photographers don’t “show up.”  When I hired a wedding photographer, we went with the biggest guy in the area.  He had to be the best, right?  We did an engagement shoot that made us look like we were getting our high school senior portraits again (but this time at Glamour Shots), and then when we requested a re-shoot, he sent a 12-year old assistant to do it (again, looking like senior portraits, but this time in a park).  How could we trust him to shoot our wedding when both he and his assistant couldn’t even do an engagement shoot that looked decent?

Message

With your message based in the mindset of your ideal client, you want to position yourself as the expert (below, I’ll give you my go-to blog post outline for doing exactly that). Here’s three questions to get you started:

  1. Why should someone choose to do business with you vs. the competition?

  1. What benefits do you offer that your target customer avatar will resonate with?

Your photographs matter, but let’s say a website visitor can’t really tell your photos from another photographer.  Then, what you write matters.  Your message matters.

Here’s an example of a photographer with a clear message:

One of the best pieces of personal advice I’ve ever received was from Chase Jarvis, an amazing photographer and founder of CreativeLive.  Chase told me never to become a commodity and to always stand out. Always be premium, he said.

And you say, “But, Brendan, what if I’m not an expert in my craft? What if I don’t think my photographs are that good?”

The good news is that the market will let you know.  “The market is the market is the market,” Gary Vaynerchuk says.

Also, get better.  Join Cole’s Clique or pick up one of the other amazing tutorials he’s put together just for you.

Media

Your website is the hub.  It’s totally possible to make something great on WordPress (example).  It’s your home base on the internet.  If your website isn’t converting visitors into leads, then you’re leaving $10,000+ on the table.

You’d never consider handing your camera to another photographer and trust them to take your photos for you, right?  I didn’t think so.

You should trust Facebook or Instagram with the keys to your success, either.  I was amazed when I discovered how many photographers say they don’t have a website and are just sending people to a Facebook or Instagram page.

Now, you don’t need to worry about Instagram and Facebook (worth $300B+) going anywhere, but they are the one’s controlling what people see from and about you.  Facebook is notorious at this point for changing their design and policy without notice.  If you’re using any social network as your main platform, they can implement a change that negatively impacts your business – or worse, you violate their 27 page Terms of Service – your photography business’ page could be removed altogether.

BUT, if you have your own website, you’re always the one in control.  Have no fear about your hard work going down the drain or not reaching the people searching for you.  You can write and design your page to match your brand, skills, and passion. You’ll also be found much more easily in Google, giving you instant credibility (we’ll get to that shortly).

When it’s your house, you get to make the rules.

Key things every website must have:

  • Email signup w/automation (can be a checklist or access to a great article)

  • Content (blog posts are great for this)

  • Social proof

  • Your best work (note that I said “best,” not “all”)

Additionally, your website HAS to be authentic.  Authenticity on your website means:

  1. Your photos – This is a must for photographers.
  2. A photo of you – This is even better than just your work. People want to work with people they like.  If they feel like you sit at the same lunch table as them (metaphorically), then they’re much more likely to hire you.
  3. Photos of you working – This is the best, but with all of my clients, I’ve found that most photographers don’t have these.  The cobbler’s kids have no shoes, right?  Get photographs taken by a friend or assistant of you working with clients, ASAP.

Here’s three examples:

Good – This is good… but what they’re missing here is the most important thing a person needs to get in touch with you: your contact information.  The easier you make it for a visitor to get in touch, the more leads you’re going to bring in.

Better – Like the image above, I’d rather have a site that converts visitors to clients than one that other photographers like. Sometimes photographers (as artists) focus on building a beautiful site, but it just doesn’t convert visitors into leads. Too many photographers make websites for other photographers, not potential clients.  Consider that for a moment: Do I want my peers to like my website, or my customers? Here’s what I mean:

Best – Which do you think is going to convert more visitors to leads? Here, Gia combines the best of both worlds.

Now that we’ve established the basics, let’s take a look at our 2017 Photographer Marketing Guide.

2017 Photographer Marketing Guide

With my clients, I use an 4-step system:  I could easily write a 3,000 word article on each of these so what you read below are the most-important pieces of information. Do not skim them and try to implement.

Note: These are in order by priority.  Don’t focus on #6 before #1 just because it’s easier.

1. Focus on SEO

If you’ve been in the business for awhile, you know that 97% of consumers check online before booking you.  This means that, in a world where we use the words “search” and “google” as interchangeable verbs, every single person who is going to hire you is going to google you first.

This means, as photographers, we need to be there when people search for us online.

According to a study Advanced Web Ranking:

  1. 27% click on the #1 search result
  2. 16%  click on #2
  3. 10% click on #3

This study was done before the “map pack” (the visual map Google has at the top of most local searches), but the numbers are still accurate.

In hard numbers, that means if your main keyword (“Chicago portrait photographer” for example) get’s 300 searches per month, 81 people are clicking the first search result. IF you have a great website that converts to leads, you could expect anywhere from 5-20 leads per month coming from search results alone.

Important: What worked in SEO for photographers a year ago may not work now and may even be detrimental. When I first started working with one of my clients, she had somebody “doing SEO” for her at $125 per month.  She was using the same tactics that people used to rank websites in 2007 and as soon as we stopped that, he traffic went up.

Here’s what always works:

  • A great homepage

  • Pages for locations, services, and calls to action

  • Blog for every session you do

Yes, that can be a lot of work, but it’s only as hard as it has to be.  It’s also the barrier to entry.  So many other photographers won’t do that work so it’s easier than ever to stand out.

Earlier, I mentioned my special blog post formula that I use for every single client (in fact, I’ve never shared this before outside of my client work).  Here’s what that looks like:

Photographer Blog Post Formula

Title –  Use keywords and location.  This tells Google what kind of session you did (Fall Wedding, Corporate Portrait, Newborn, etc.) and where it happened. Ex: “Fall Wedding at County Line Orchard”

Content – This is probably the most crucial part. Talk about the subject of the photography and your relationship with them.  Explain one anecdote about something that went wrong on the day of the shoot (something always goes wrong) and explain how you overcame that.  Finish with any other details.  This will position you as an expert and alleviate the fears that people may have about something going wrong that day. Note: Since you’re already using WordPress on your site because you’re smart, install the Yoast SEO plugin. It’s free and easy to use and helps you optimize your page for search while still writing for your ideal client.

Link to contact you – This could be your phone number, a mailing list signup, or a link to your contact page (or all three!).

Images from the session – Only your best 5. If they can’t decide to hire you after 5, twenty more won’t convince them.

Link to contact you (yes, again!) – This makes it easier for them to contact you after seeing your photos.  Use different phrasing than the first link above the photos for some variety, but the easier we make it to get in touch, the more likely people are to convert to leads.

Here’s an example:

ultimate photographer blog post formula

For example: If you’re a portrait photographer, follow the formula above and do a blog post for every single portrait session you do.  If you’ve photographed 40+ CEOs, then who do you think is going to be found when a CEO’s assistant is searching online for somebody to photograph the CEO and her team?

Organic traffic is driven by one thing: authority.

Running ads in Google is great, but it’s not a replacement because when you stop paying, the ads stop running. Organic search is much more sustainable.  AND >80% of people totally ignore the paid listings.  We’re showed five thousand ads per today and we’ve developed an ad blindness and (mostly) an inherent distrust of them.  In the Pay-per click (PPC) section coming up next, I’ll detail how to use paid advertising to REALLY grow your sales and revenue.

2. Don’t Neglect Pay-Per-Click (PPC)

Now that you have everything set up on your site in terms of optimization for search and your idea client, we can start running ads to it.  There’s no reason (ever) to pour water into a leaky bucket so make sure you aren’t moving on from one section until you’ve completed the previous.

Why most PPC fails:

  • Only one ad group – Photographer offers many services but only makes one ad.
  • Bad keywords – Targets expensive “obvious” keywords with no “buyer intent.”
  • No landing pages – Sends traffic straight to homepage where visitor has no idea what to do.

How to set yourself up for PPC success:

  • Based on a specific group – Photographer makes ads based specifically on each service she offers.
  • Copywriting matters – Doing your homework is helpful. Look at photographers running ads in other locations in your niche and see what they’re using in their text.  Remember to get into the head of your ideal client, the person searching.
  • Link ad to specific landing page – If you’re a portrait photographer and run ads to that effect, have the ad direct traffic to a great landing page that has great copy (writing), your best work and nothing to click on but links to contact you.
  • Find “gaps” in search – I’ve been able to get amazing PPC results for clients by using tools like Semrush to find terms that no other photographers are targeting, but are still getting decent search volume. Since there’s no competition, the prices are infinitely cheaper!

Remember, PPC really goes into high gear when you are already ranking on the map and in the organic search.  This means you could be seen three times on the first page of Google!

3. Retargeting

I was visiting my mom over the holidays and she frantically called me into the living room to ask me if we had a virus on the computer.

She said she has looking at new gym shoes on Amazon and then when she went to Twitter, they were there and again on Facebook and then on a website she was visiting.

I explained that Amazon had put a “cookie” on her computer that said she had looked at those shoes and then used “retargeting” to show her those shoes over and over until she bought them.

Here’s why that works: 85-90% of your website visitors won’t take action. Retargeting via Google and Facebook turns that number upside down.

If somebody say you in a search result as an ad, ignored it and scrolled down and saw you again in the organic listings and clicked, but didn’t get in touch, you lost them, right?

Wrong.

Now they’ll see you again when you get to Facebook and again on any site they visit in Google’s advertising network.

(Ever notice that you see Cole’s ads on Facebook once you grabbed his free lightroom presets and joined his awesome email list? If you didn’t know why you were seeing them, now you do.)

4. Social Media

Facebook has 1.6 billion users and the average user has 135 friends and checks in 6-9 times per day.

You’ve heard time and again that reach is getting less and less on social media (including Twitter, Instagram, etc.) and it’s true. It’s become more “pay to play” than ever.

That’s fine because even though the reach may be going down, the social proof is still there.

Success on social revolves around you showing your work and becoming a local media company.  Create and share the media that your ideal client wants to see.  If your ideal client is a bride, all of your media should be a small mix of your showing your work (Read this book book by Austin Kleon for infinite ideas on how to do that) and sharing links to content she wants to read right now.

Let’s look into a bit more depth on what kind of motive we want behind our media (The 3 E’s) and exactly what kind of media to create / share (The 3 H’s).

The 3 E’s – Educate, Empower, Entertain

The 3 E’s of all media, every piece of media you create should have the goal to do one of these.
If you create media that does all 3, then you’re very likely looking at a high chance of ‘virality.’

Educate

This starts with educating your audience about what you’re selling and your place in the world, but continues with teaching them the things they want to know.

If a customer ever asks you a question, assume 10 others have the same question and create a piece of media to answer it (this includes your own product/brand).

For example, when owned my first business (a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu apparel brand), I got asked all the time how to tape my fingers for Jiu Jitsu so they don’t get twisted and injured. I didn’t sell finger tape at the time (I did later), but I created 3-4 articles about how to tape your fingers including video, image, and text. What media can you create that will be educational to your audience?

Empower

If you’re offering a big solution to a problem, empower your audience to handle the smaller problems.  Highlight them on your page and inspire them with quotes and stories that will add to their lives. Be the friend that makes them feel better about their day after you say hello. What media can you create that will be empowering to your audience?

Entertain

These can be videos, funny tweets, or just behind the scenes photos.  Adding a bit of humor and humility into your media is huge as we enter a larger age of transparency.

For example, if you do portraits, make a video of your 12 year old daughter leading a photo shoot of you. Or, if you do weddings, go through your personal wedding photos with your audience.

The 3 H’s – Hero, Hub, Hygiene

This is a popular strategy on YouTube, but it actually takes its roots from the publishing industry.

Hero

This is the cover page of the magazine.  This is your Super Bowl commercial. Your Red Bull Stratos jumping out of a spaceship project.  This type of media is created once or twice per year and while you aren’t Red Bull or BMW, you still need content that is really cool, rare, and incredibly entertaining. What is one piece of hero content you can create around your brand?

Hub

Our Hub content is the regular columns that keep readers coming back.  This content is engaging and occurs on a regular basis. What is two pieces of hub content you can create around your brand?

Hygiene

This are the Letters to the Editor.  The Q&A or How-To articles that teach and educate.  They bring in new fans looking to learn something more about your industry, your craft, or your business. What is two pieces of hygiene content you can create around your brand?

Don’t Be Overwhelmed

A Quick Recap:

  1. Clear Goal + Target

  2. Clarity on market, message, and media

  3. Optimized site for conversion

  4. Follow the 4-step process

    1. SEO

    2. PPC

    3. Retargeting

    4. Social Media

These are options. The goal of this article isn’t to overwhelm you, but to give you a concrete marketing plan that helps you triple your sales in 2017.  These are definitely things most photographers wish they knew before starting their business.

But let’s be honest, this article can be overwhelming (it’s over 4,000 words). Click here to get a quick checklist of the main points of this article to really take your marketing to the next level in 2o17.

Finished the checklist and ready to take your photography business to the next level?  Join Cole’s Clique or check out the incredible Marketing and Branding Makeover Kit.

One Last Thing

Don’t think about this for more than ten seconds:  What is one thing you took from this article that you promise to implement in 2017? Let me know in the comments below.

Not getting clients? Looking to make more money? You’re in luck! Sign-up here to join the 159,316 others who get my top photo business advice delivered to their inbox!