I may be 100% wrong about this, but I think too many new photographers and photographers that have been going at it for a while without the kind of financial success they had hoped for make two key mistakes: They don't treat photography like a business. They don't spend money on their business.
For some, photography is a part-time venture. They buy a kit for under $1,000, put up a Facebook page, get business cards and start telling family and friends that they are now doing photography. That may work short-term and through referral business, it may even work long-term. However, if a FULL-TIME income in photography is the goal, it will likely take a financial investment beyond some basic gear.
In order to generate a sustainable, full-time income, I believe that photography has to be treated like any other legitimate business. That means that the photographer needs the gear to do the job, all the other general business expenses like insurance, accounting, legal, etc. and more than likely investing some money into marketing: Marketing dollars is where I'll focus the rest of this post.
Yes, I have written posts in the past about all the FREE things a photographer can do to grow his or her business like free networking events, being active on social media, telling friends and family about their business, reaching out to their connections beyond friends and family and other free things that may not take money but will take a time investment. However, I think to really get to the next level and have a full-time income in a shorter period that it will likely take an investment into marketing.
What does a marketing budget look like and where should a photographer spend his or her marketing dollars?
The answers to those two questions are far beyond this blog post, so I'll be generic but hopefully helpful.
1) A typical marketing budget for a smaller company with lower revenue may be 10% to 15% of gross sales. For easy math, that means $1,000 per month in sales would be a $100 to $150 per month investment back into marketing and $2,000 per month in sales would be $200 to $300 per month investment back into marketing. If the photographer has no sales to base a marketing budget on, the photographer will have to figure out what he or she can invest in marketing and where to spend the money. The key challenge is where to spend the money.
2) In my opinion, there is no right answer of where to spend the marketing dollars for every photographer. For example, every photographer should send out direct mail pieces to their target audience. Yes, that may work for some and not others. But direct mail is not cheap and the ROI (return on investment) may be low. A wedding photographer may get more ROI at a wedding show than spending money on Google Adwords, but another niche in photography may get a good ROI on Adwords. FYI, Adwords can be expensive and should be looked at as a long term investment. Adwords is not for those that don't want to spend a minimum of several hundreds of dollars per month and only want to put a toe in the water so to speak to test it just to see what happens. The photographer should be committed to spending hundreds per month over at least six months or completely skip Adwords altogether.
3) Based on #2 above, it may seem like there is no hope or that it will take hundreds per month minimum to get to the next level, so what's the solution?
Here are 4 quick tips for any photographer wanting more revenue to consider:
A) Find a mentor or non-competing business owner and talk to them about what they are doing.
B) Hire a marketing consultant. That may be a small investment of $150 +/- an hour to get some great advice.
C) Buy books on marketing, watch YouTube videos on marketing and absorb as much information as possible.
D) Seriously consider joining a BNI (Networking Group). Yes, it's a $500+ investment for 1 year plus a time investment, but if the photographer chooses the right group and gets involved, it's hard for the investment not to be one of the best ROI's for the money. In the Triangle, you can visit Triangle BNI to learn more. Just like anything worth doing, BNI is a commitment or like Adwords, it should be skipped altogether.
As a small business owner, photographers must know "where all the money goes" and use their money wisely. However, unless the photographer is very lucky and/or doesn't mind being on a longer, slower journey to reach his or her goals, it will be very difficult to get to a full-time, sustainable income in photography without spending some money on marketing. The amount is up to each individual photographer: HINT, it should be greater than ZERO.
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