Are Facebook ads and Twice Daily IG captions really necessary to grow your business? We’re going old school how to promote your photography without social media!
It feels like everybody is on social media these days. And I mean everyone. Even my 79-year-old mom is on social media and occasionally drops a “Like” on my business page. And most of the photography sites out there will tell you if you want to grow your business, you HAVE to be on social media. Is that true? I don’t know. It’s probably a lot easier if you DO use social media and have an online footprint. But social media marketing isn’t the only way to reach clients. And it might not even be the best way to reach some clients. So today we’re going retro and talking about 10 Ways to Promote Your Photography Without Social Media.
Is being a successful in photography without social media even possible?
No really, it IS possible.
There’s a photographer in my area that has ZERO social media accounts. No Facebook, no IG, no Twitter. He doesn’t even have his own website. He’s got a few listings of his business on some classified type sites and that’s it.
And I’d argue that he’s probably the highest-grossing photographer in our county.
Let that sink in for a minute. No social media. No website. Very little advertising. And he’s the go-to guy in our area when it comes to school and sports portraits.
How is he doing it? There’s a lot that goes into his business story. But he IS doing it. And I can list about a dozen other photographers I know that are successful and in demand and don’t even have social media accounts, let alone run ads or post every day.
That’s not to say that social media is dead or that you shouldn’t be on social media. A savvy business owner takes the time to figure out who their target audience is and how to reach them. The best tool for that might be social media.
Then again, it might not.
If you’re looking for ideas on how to promote photography without social media, keep reading…we have some ideas!
Why would you want to stay away from social media?
There are lots of different reasons you might want to avoid social media for your photography business.
Free up your time
First, it’s a time suck. It takes time to track your accounts, develop original content and engage your target audience through your business page and their personal pages. Sites like Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest lead me down a rabbit hole. I log in to take 5 minutes to scroll and see what my family is up to, and the next thing I know, it’s 45 minutes later, the dog is barking to get in and I have convinced myself I absolutely must get that new package of presets and Star Wars sheets for my daughter’s hamster’s bed.
In all seriousness, though, social media takes time. Even when that time is spent productively, it still takes time out of your day. And that time is time you could be spending on photography education or developing client relations and marketing in other ways or just hanging with your family.
Slave to the network
Social media is also challenging because it’s constantly changing. Not only are the algorithims changing on a regular basis, sites like Facebook, Instagram and even Pinterest have become pay-to-play when it comes to businesses. In order to truly reach your followers, you have to pay the network. You might have a huge following, but chances are not many people are seeing your work if you’re not paying and playing by the rules.
Too much politics
A third reason people get fed up with social media is how political, commercial and even polarizing, it’s become. My feeds are cluttered with political ads, “fake news” from both sides and ads. So many ads!
And finally, social media tricks us into the comparison game, hampers our creativity and makes us a slave to the “like.” We are constantly barraged with images from other photographers and we strive to keep up. We chase the likes and the hearts and the emojis because they feed our ego. And we stop making sound business decisions because of it all.
Wait, are you telling me to quit social media? Are you nuts?
We are not telling you to quit social media. Social media is a helpful and powerful tool in your business arsenal. But there is business and photography without social media. Only you can decide how social media does and should fit into your business model , marketing plan and your life.
How can you promote your photography without social media?
Here are some ideas to get you started.
#1. Start a Referral program
Start some sort of referral program for existing clients, where they are rewarded for bringing you new clients! For example, you could provide an existing client $25 off a future session when someone they refer to you completes a session.
There are lots of reasons a referral program is beneficial to your business, including improved customer retention and lead generation. But customers trust referrals! If your friend refers you to a photographer, you’re just more likely to book that person than someone you found in a Google search.
#2. Deliver an e-newsletter
If you have an existing customer base and have those customer’s e-mails, you can bypass social media and speak to your customers directly via an e-mail newsletter. There are lots of free or inexpensive email marketing platforms that can help walk you through the process. Use your e-mail list to promote specials, educate clients or simply add value to their experience in some way (which helps establish you as the expert!).
#3. Printed magazines
Some industries have existing magazines you can promote your work in, such as regional lifestyle, wedding or travel magazines. You could pay for an advertisement or develop a relationship with a writer to provide imagery for a feature. That way, your images, and name are being seen without costing your anything!
A second option is to print a magazine yourself. Just imagine, a beautiful, 4-color magazine featuring your images and words in the hands of potential customers! I’ve seen several self-published magazines that are truly impressive! Design and print them yourself, then be creative on how to get them into the hands of your ideal client.
A newborn photographer I know and love creates her own magazine each quarter. They feature her images and helpful tips for expecting and new moms. She mails the magazines to doctor’s offices, doulas and midwives to give to their clients. She also distributes them at boutiques and her local library and coffee shop.
#4. Network, network, network
Before there were social networks, there were physical networks. Groups of people meeting face-to-face, discussing ideas and enjoying each other’s company.
Friends, those kinds of interactions still happen in LOTS of places! Get out there and find them in your community. Participate in events through your local chamber of commerce. Join a service organization like Kiwanis, Lions Club, Rotary Club or the League of Women Voters. Attend local functions and introduce yourself to people. Be seen, physically, in your community, not just online. You’ll be amazed at how quick opportunities arise when people get to know you the person not just you the social media account.
#5. Volunteer for projects
Find an organization or business in your community with a real need for photography and volunteer your services. Offer to provide them with images they can use to promote their cause in exchange for promoting your business. An ideal volunteer project would put you in front of your target audience. But volunteering just for the sake of doing something kind and meeting new people is it’s own reward as well.
Volunteer to take pictures of animals in need of adoption. Provide senior pictures for low-income families. Donate your event photography services to adoption proceedings. Shoot images for other entrepreneurs looking to get their business launched. Document jobs for the volunteer fire department. Provide images for a public health campaign. There are so many opportunities just waiting for someone with passion and skills!
You can still blog and share your experience as a photographer without needing social media. Keep writing content, using relevant keywords to maximize your SEO. Share those blogs with clients and potential clients through your email list. Encourage them to share it on social media, even if you don’t.
#7. Sponsor Events
What events take place in your community that your ideal client might attend? Figure it out and become a sponsor of those events.
Are you a sports photographer? Sponsor a youth soccer team and get your name on the backs of the teams’ jerseys. Family photographer? Sponsor a family night held at your local library. Senior sponsor? Become a sponsor of the class trip.
You’ll definitely have to weigh the cost of the opportunity and the return on investment. But it’s one way to get your name in front of a lot of people without IG or Pinterest.
#8. Host Events
Can’t find an event you want to sponsor? Host one yourself! Bring in a speaker to give a talk at your local library (family photography). Hire a coach from a neighboring town to put on a skills-clinic for young athletes (sports photography). Partner with the local fire department to provide free car-seat checks (newborn photographer). Host a business after-hours party for area businesses to get to know one another (corporate headshots). A hundred dollars in catering or speaker fees might land you the perfect clients!
#9. Traditional advertising
When I was taking marketing classes in college, we learned about the power of newspaper, radio and television advertising. Those mediums might not have the power they once did, but they are still alive and well in many communities. And because they have fewer advertisers, you might be able to leverage your advertising dollars further than ever before.
Another benefit? You have very little competition on those channels. A mom might get bombarded by photographers in her social media feed, so much so that she quit paying attention. But if you’re the only photographer advertising on the radio? Well, you stand out.
Set up meetings with the sales rep for the traditional mediums in your area. Find out who their customers are and what they can do for you.
There’s a reason Frito Lay paid about $5.6 million dollars for their Super Bowl ad in 2020. People are still watching tv, reading newspapers and listening to the radio…you just need to figure out if they are your people and how to reach them.
#10. Shoot for the newspaper
Speaking of newspapers…have you thought about shooting for the newspaper? Your local paper might need editorial photographs, stock photographs for ads or some combination of the two. And a byline in the local paper each and every week is a really great means of advertising. You could provide images for a small fee or in exchange for advertising credits to use later.
#11. Ambassador/rep programs
An ambassador or rep program is similar to a referral program, but instead of asking all your clients to refer your brand, you’re relying on a few individuals to heavily promote your brand to their network. Essentially, they are a paid spokesperson for your brand.
These types of programs are popular with senior photographers. But there’s no reason they couldn’t work for other types of photography as well!
Be sure to carefully structure the rules and expectations of your ambassador program. There will need to be incentives for your ambassadors so they are motivated to market for you. But a highly drive ambassador team can generate lots of leads and discussion about your business!
#12. Direct Mail
Get your material directly in the hands of clients and potential clients with a direct mail piece. Use a high quality piece to attract the attention of high quality clients. Like traditional media, direct mail isn’t a channel many photographers are using. You can reach targeted customers without a lot of competition.
#13. Collaborate with vendors
Collaborate with like-minded vendors and business owners to leverage both your audiences into new clients or customers. Collaboration can look like a lot of different things. It might be co-hosting an event, displaying each other’s marketing materials, referring customers to each other or joint events or advertising. There’s really no rules for how you collaborate with vendors, as long as the project is a win for you both!
#14. Host a booth at local events
Are there fairs, craft shows or vendor markets in your area frequented by your target audience? Why not host a booth at the event? Many of these events have a pretty low registration fee, especially when compared to the amount of traffic the event receives. You can display your work, pass out business cards, visit with potential customers about their needs and network with other vendors!
#15. Teach photography
Establish yourself as an expert in your field by teaching photography! Organizations like Big Brothers/Big Sisters and 4-H are always looking for qualified adults to teach students. Or contact your community education or parks and recreation center about teaching a class. You can share your passion for photography, meet new people, build a reputation and possibly find new clients who you know value photography!
Can’t imagine your photography without social media?
If the thought of quitting social media makes you queasy for the health of your business, I understand. Many of us got into photography to begin with because of social media. Those networks have also helped us grow our customer base and our influence. Imagining photography without social media can be scary.
But consider this…you don’t own anything on social media. The network does. What would happen to your business if Facebook or IG canceled your account tomorrow? Would you have an alternate way to reach your customers? To find new clients?
Social media can be part of your overall marketing and business plan. But it shouldn’t be your only plan. Consider putting in more face time and less Facebook time to find a better balance and grow your photography without social media.