Advertising – Referrals, word of mouth, affiliates, JV’s, suppliers, paid ads…
In today’s world, which is smaller than it ever was, advertising plays a bigger part in business than ever. Not only that, but with stiffening competition, your advertising and business-getting ideas need to be smarter too.
A small ad in a local paper or the “Yellow Pages” doesn’t really cut it anymore
Buyers, for goods and services, are a lot more savvy these days and you need to understand how they work. To do that, simply look at yourself and the people around you.
Where do you go to buy things these days? What makes you “impulse buy”? What creates a “desire to buy” in you? What makes you choose one supplier, store or website over another when you are buying anything?
Is it the price? Is it the special offers? Is it the freebies? Is it the “fear of loss”? Is it status related?
I expect that many times when shopping in town, even if you don’t actually buy the item or service online, you probably do some research there first and we will come to the net in a bit but first we will cover some other areas.
Before you go out and splash a load of cash on advertising, you would do well to research what works first, after all, advertising revenue is dead money if it doesn’t bring in the business.
One way to test effectiveness of ads in a certain location is to look at the history of other advertisers.
For example, if you do a Google search for say, “wedding photographer Canterbury”…see who comes up first, second and third and make a note of them (mental or otherwise).
Refresh the screen by pressing CTRL F5 (cache refresh) a few times and see which ads stay there. Check again the next day and for a couple of days. Even check a week or so later to make sure they are still there.
The ads that are most consistently there are the successful ads and a savvy advertiser will leave good converting ads alone to do their thing, it also means that they are paying top Dollar for those slots to keep them displaying all day in the best slots.
You however, know these ads work so you can compete but go for position 3 or 4. Positions 1 and 2 are for “tyre kickers”.
The narrower the “niche” you are fighting for, the easier it is to work your way up as long as the advertising isn’t too fierce. You just need to be consistent.
Offline is pretty much the same. If you are a regular reader of any photography, wedding or bridal magazine, you may see over and over, the same people advertising. Again, this means the ads must be having some success…assuming the advertisers are doing their homework.
I once made the mistake of not doing my research before jumping in at the deep end. I paid a local Spanish agency, €1,800 to design, print and insert 10,000 flyers promoting my wedding and portrait business into a local paper.
I took them to Malaga where each one would be put in every single copy of the “Sur in English”…an expat newspaper on the Costa del Sol in Spain.
I was so excited on the Friday when they went in, after all, I was offering a promotion for Christmas and this was early November. I sat in a local cafe with a coffee and waited, I just needed around 15 portrait clients to break even.
The guy opposite me had a copy of the paper and I watched as he thumbed through the pages.
When he came to my A5, beautifully designed, glossy, image-ridden flyer, he picked it up and turned it like a page without even looking at it…I was gutted!
For the next week, the only call I got for my €1,800 was someone offering me advertising space…lesson learned!
Google Adwords (or Pay-Per-Click Advertising)
For those that don’t fully understand Google Adwords or what they are, here is, in a nutshell, how they work.
You build a small ad displaying a short sentence about what you are offering with a link to your website. The ad is backed up by a bunch of keywords that you attach to it that are related to the overall theme.
Stock Photos of Dogs
Stock Photography at Low Prices
Of All Types and Breeds of Dogs
Keywords behind the ad…
stock photography of dogs, dog stock photography, stock photos Alsatian, stock photos Doberman, Pekinese stock photos, dog photos for sale etc…
Google will then take your ad and place it on any website or search made by a web surfer that is relevant to your text and keywords. For example, if you are selling stock photos of dogs, your ad will appear on all websites with that theme that are accepting Google ads. They will also place them on search results when people search for anything that includes your keywords.
So if you are selling stock photos of an Alsatian using the keyword “stock photo Alsatian” and someone searches for “photos of Alsatians”…your ad should appear. Then, hopefully, out of 100 clicks you should make a sale.
Please note that the examples I give are totally made up and wouldn’t necessarily do a lot so don’t go out and try to sell a load of dog photos using Google Adwords!
I love Google Adwords…even Facebook, Yahoo and MSN’s contextual ads are worth considering, as they all give instant results. I promote lots of products online, not just photography related and when I first started playing with Google ads way back in 2006, I got a bit of a shock.
I was learning everything I could about marketing and Google seemed the way to go so I set out on the rickety road of affiliate advertising and these were my first few days sales for a single product…
Not bad considering the ads I set up only took a few minutes.
However, what you can’t see is how much I was spending on advertising. I was making money but the clicks were coming in fast and furious…as I was getting around 1 million ad impressions an hour or so (That is the ad was shown 1 million times in an hour…I was promoting some very popular products).
Here are a couple of guideline tips for you if you intend to use Google Adwords for your photography advertising.
- Set a campaign budget of $5 per 50 keywords used
If you are using 250 keywords to advertise your wedding photography business, you need to be setting a maximum budget of around $25 per day. You won’t necessarily spend that though.
- You should, on average, get a sale or qualified lead for every 100 clicks
Work out your cost per sale so you can set your cost per click. For example, if you make say $100 from a sale of a print for example, it may take on average, 100 targeted clicks before you get that sale. That means, to make a profit, those 100 clicks must cost you less than $100 (don’t forget to take into account the other costs such as shipping etc).
So, $100 divided by 100 clicks = $1 per click. To make a good profit, you should be paying, or setting a maximum cost per click of around .25c. That means 100 clicks will cost you $25 giving you an approximate profit of $75 although setting .25c per click doesn’t mean you will pay that…95% of the time it will be considerably less.
Try spending just .05c or .10c per click with a daily budget of $5 when you start so that you don’t blow your budget on testing! That is enough to give you 100 clicks…
- Don’t get despondent
Google are only too aware of the people that abuse their system which causes them to give you one of their famous “slaps” now and again so be professional and adhere to their rules. The longer you keep ads running, the more time they have to mature and allow Google to take them seriously.
During low season, never remove your ads, just lower the budget right down to say $1 per day so it stays active and keeps “maturing”.
Years ago, I set one ad up that took a good few months to test and mature but when it did…boom!
Sales came in quickly but a couple of years later, Google slapped everyone on the net with a new set of rules and that put paid to that particular ad…but not before I had earned the client nearly half a million Dollars from 2,500 sales and myself well over $50,000.
- Let the ads run for a few weeks
If you don’t make a sale or lead in the first 100 clicks, don’t stop the ads. You need a good few hundred clicks to work out if the ads work or not. One sale or lead per 100 clicks is an average. You may not get anything for 300 clicks and then get 5 in a row..give it time.
If you get no leads or sales after 400 clicks, tweak it or pull it!
- Google Ads can help your SEO (although this is not guaranteed)
If you have an ad running for long enough, it should help your search engine optimisation, i.e. it will help push your website up through the ranks. If you are getting click-through’s to your website from a large number of related keywords and ad links, it can only do you good.
If I am not mistaken, each click from a host website counts towards a temporary link into your site and should “power it up” a little so even from that perspective, it is a good way to launch a new website.
- Make sure your landing page matches your ad
If the words on your landing page where the ad sends people matches the ad, you have a much better chance of getting it right. If your ad and keywords are built around “Wedding Photographer Chicago”, then make sure those words are somewhere on your landing page, preferably in the title and heading and make sure the page has at least 200 words. It all helps…
- Make sure your landing page works
Sending a ton of traffic to a poor landing page is money down the drain…make it work with cool images, enticing words and an overall “feel good” factor which makes the viewer feel instantly comfortable. The old saying goes you only get one chance to make a first impression and that, on the web, takes less than a couple of seconds! The header title should say it all in one sentence.
You can test landing pages by making two different ones and rotating the ads to each page. Check to see which ones convert the best and keep improving and testing them.
- Tweak your ads before pulling them for good
If you are getting results but your are either just about breaking even or even losing a little money, that is actually a good thing. Tweak the ads so your costs come down and your conversion rate improves. You are able to make 3 versions of each ad and your stats will show you which is working and which isn’t. By rotating and altering the poor ads continuously, you will eventually end up the best ads possible.
- Use Google Analytics and conversion tools
If you place some Google code (from your account) for your ads on your “thank you” page, Google will track your lead all the way from the initial click through to the sale or completed form. This will then show in your stats and allow you to track which ads and keywords in particular are performing best.
- Use exact keyword matching
To achieve a higher click through rate, use exact keyword matching by putting your keywords in square brackets i.e. [keyword]. Your ad will not appear for ads that include other, less relevant keywords.
- Create negative keywords
Make sure you add negative keywords for search terms you do not want to be found for such as “free”. Just add -free to your list and that will cancel that word out.
- Create ads for misspellings
Not many people will do this but test misspelled words such as “wedding photorgapher Texas”. the terms “wedding photograpy” and “wedding photgraphy” both get 1600 global searches a month at the time of writing! It is worth doing a little research.
- Use Google’s keyword tool to find well searched words
Don’t just use any old keyword that you think might work, use the keyword tool to look for ideas about what people are actually looking for and work around that.
- Learn to build one ad per keyword in each campaign
A campaign could be something like “Nick’s Wedding Photography Ads” and can contain a number of ad groups. Each ad group is specific to a keyword or set of keywords but try to narrow it down a bit. For example, if one keyword you are using is “wedding photographer Chicago”, try an ad such as:
Wedding Photographer Chicago
Stylish Reportage Wedding Photography
In Chicago With an Affordable Classic Feel
…notice that all words start with a capital letter and we have used “wedding photographer Chicago” and wedding photography Chicago”? If you use just the one keyword “wedding photographer Chicago”, that will narrow this ad right down to that specific term so it will only display when that search term is used.
Therefore, the chances of that as being clicked when it shows is very high and will increase your CTR (click through rate) which will in turn, decrease the cost of your ad over time. Your conversion rate (i.e. click converting to a lead) should increase too.
Build one ad group per keyword like this, for as many keywords as you like, and test them over a few weeks.
- Use Google’s Ad Optimisation Tips
However, please understand that I am by no means an expert and this is just bits I have learned myself over time. It may work for you, it may not which is why you need to test and check your stats continuously until the ad is fully optimised and working.
It is certainly worth learning as much as you can about Google Adwords even if you are just promoting your business. You want to get your website up the ranks so you get found for the best search terms to allow clients to find your business.
There is so much more to this than I could possible fit in this book/section so here are some useful resources (I read a tons of books when I started, I was even a member of a Google Adwords membership site for a year):
It is also worth considering other forms of paid advertising based around your local area. Do you have a good local radio station that gets a lot of listeners? Can you make an ad that gets “heard” with gusto and impact? Might be worth a week’s worth to see what it generates but again, it can depend on your area and watch the cost.
Local papers and magazines are a good bet but again, watch the cost. Find out their readership, say 100,000, then work out how many might be getting married (for example) and then work out your possible hit rate. Twenty churches in your area…1 wedding per week per church in the summer months (approximately 300 weddings in the summer/Autumn months)?
How many will read that particular magazine? It’s a bit hit and miss but worth a shot for a season. If it works, keep it, if it doesn’t, bin it. Look at old issues to see if other photographers advertise in there…do they go back a few issues and not just one?
If they do, they probably get business from their ad.
National Bridal magazines are definitely worth a shot, after all, the majority of readers there will be looking for a photographer.
Basically, do your homework and get your thinking cap on. Work out a budget for your years’ advertising and be prepared to spend it on some ads that don’t work. After a couple of years you should have honed the budget down to the places that really generate business.
Think about other places too such as church or parish newsletters, newsagents windows, leaflet drops and so on.
Word of Mouth/Referrals
By far the cheapest and most effective form of advertising there is…referrals!
Do a spectacular job for each client and they will not be able to help themselves by touting your business. All brides like to show off their wedding photographs and all families display their portraits.
I have received many emails in the past from complete strangers asking; if I am available to shoot their wedding, how much is the deposit and where should they send it. Those emails are nice!
They come from friends and family of previous weddings and even sometimes from the guests that were present. They would have seen you in action and when they see the professional, stunning images, it is a no-brainer for them…booked!
Make sure you are always polite, friendly and professional, even to the guests that don’t “float your boat” (being polite here) as you never know where the business will come from. Follow through each time with every couple to make sure they have everything they need…keep in touch with promotions and offers if you wish.
There are other ways to “encourage” referrals which I will come to next but always befriend the couple and build relationships with them.
Affiliates are people that bring you business in exchange for goods, services or money…normally money. Going on the previous “word of mouth” section, you could offer incentives to current clients.
For example, if you have been booked for a wedding well in advance as is usually the case, you could tell the couple that should they get you another wedding booking from one of their friends or family, you will throw in a Photobook for free for them, or knock 10% off their wedding or whatever you can think of as an incentive.
This could continue long after their wedding day also.
Another method is to hire salespeople on a commission only basis…think about it. If you slowly get together a hard working team of individuals:
- Retired Couples
- People looking to make a little extra money
…you could offer them good cash incentives to go out there and get you business by simply talking to people and keeping their ears peeled.
For weddings you could pay 5% of the total booking fee for each referral, not bad money by anyone’s standard…£1250 total = £62.50 and you could add this cost to your charges!
You could offer a slightly larger percentage for portraits, maybe 25% of the booking fee and 10% of the print order (print orders can be larger than the booking fee)? You decide based on your costs etc.
All these affiliates would need to do is get the business in by:
- Paying attention and listening out for business at work, in the pub or anywhere
- Cold calling maybe using “market research” as a reason for the call?
- Speaking to families and friends
- Speaking to hairdressers and other suppliers (the savvy one’s would offer up a portion of their commission for leads)
This is in effect quite easy money for anyone as the overheads are very low and all they need to do is listen out and talk to people. You could supply them with business cards and a sample photobook or album to show people. Worth pursuing I think!
These are great and can work very well indeed. You rub my back and I’ll rub yours…
It’s all about people and if you struggle to get on with or communicate well with people, it is time for a change and another reason to be nice to everyone.
The idea is to team up with and ally yourself with others in your area of expertise and business with the intention of a reciprocal exchange of work and leads.
For example, if you are a wedding photographer, you would do well to start to form relationships with local suppliers in your area related to weddings. People such as:
- Wedding planners
- Cake makers and decorators
- Bridal boutiques
- Menswear stores
- Wedding venues such as stately homes, hotels and gardens
You could even befriend other photographers. After all, if they have leads they cannot deal with due to be booked already, they would do well to pass that lead on to you and you would obviously reciprocate when the time comes.
When I shot weddings in Spain, it was the “done thing” to pay suppliers 10% of the photography fee and it worked well (although I suggest you start at 5%). I was always getting regular work from this set up. It is worth checking this out in your area to see if other suppliers take a commission.
I tested this last week with a wedding planner in an affluent part of Dorset and she jumped at the chance of promoting me. For them, it is money for nothing and no-one else was offering it (keep this to yourself though ; )
With churches, you could offer a 5% donation to the church as well as a set of your best images for them to use, there are plenty of churches and registry offices around.
I would suggest that if you want to go this route, you get your glad rags on and get out and about visiting suppliers. Do some research and make some calls to explain what you are doing and make appointments to meet up.
One of the best places to meet suppliers is at trade shows, bridal shows and wedding fayres, you have them captive but dress smart, be polite and professional!
Get yourself some marketing materials together so you can leave some information with each supplier. I give a small or medium sized photobook and a bunch of business cards (the indestructible type).
For your photobook, look for companies such as www.blurb.com online. They offer top grade paper pages within hard or soft cover books for an unbelievably good price starting at just £8 for a 7″ x 7″ book with 40 sides.
Maybe make up the book with the first page giving a photo of yourself along with all your contact and website details and the rest showing off the best of your work.
If this is on the reception desk of the supplier alongside your business cards that match the design, it can look very professional. It may also be worth getting some DVD’s made up with a selection of your work on a couple of sample slideshows that the couple can take away.
All of these are low cost but highly effective ways of showing off your work
Think about this also. Make up a matching set of books, business cards and DVD’s to send out to your leads so when you receive an enquiry, tell them “you can pop an information pack in the post” that only costs around £10 and I can almost guarantee it will get you more work than just a quick email.
Have these sets at wedding fairs too for couples to take away rather than just a business card or a leaflet. It looks a lot more professional.
Once you have these relationships established, make sure you do your best to reciprocate and put clients their way when possible and give reciprocal links to and from each other’s websites.
I attended a “business breakfast” with the BNI when I first moved to Weymouth and made a couple of good contacts. I am going to a similar meeting next month and hope to create some good working relationships with people I have pre-arranged to meet there. You should look for similar groups in your area as they are invaluable.
Edit: As mentioned above, I went to our local Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting for the first time this week as I write this book. I am fairly shy and pretty poor at networking in this way and for the first 20 minutes I just chatted to a cleaning management company owner.
When it came to breakfast he was the only person I had “networked” with but a young lady (a graphic designer) also joined us.
In the short time it took to eat our breakfast and listen to a couple of speakers, I had the young lady booked onto one of my upcoming courses and the other guy was going to introduce me to a friend who was looking to launch a product and web business worldwide…something I could help with!
Best £5 I have spent in a long time and I am now planning to join the Chamber of Commerce for an annual fee of £75. Who knows what will come of the next 11 meetings this year?
As a further edit, I also joined the Dorchester Chapter of BNI in Dorset in 2009 as the resident photographer (Weymouth position had gone…I was asked to join a year ago and declined) and after just three weeks, I started to see the benefits.
Networking works and it is all about people and building relationships and without either of those, you have no business (on or offline)! Rather than write all about it here, on my journey to a meeting, I made a vlog (video log) whilst driving…I hope this helps you to understand the BNI a little better.
I will update this in due time and as things progress with BNI:
Update 3 months on…
I have now been with BNI for a few months and things just seem to get better but before I get to that, a quick “caveat” and something for you to think about.
The only downside to being a member of BNI is the fact you have to be there every week…well, that is not strictly true as you are able to send along other people to cover for you and pick up any leads on your behalf but you do need a representative there otherwise the whole system could fall apart.
The good thing for your stand-in is that they also get to pitch their business services free of charge at the meeting!
However, I always feel I should be at the meetings as for one, I actually enjoy them once I am there. I know the group of 30 people very well now and many have become friends plus I have done business with a few of them too.
I have done some photo and video work with a local company recently as well as some internet work so for me, BNI isn’t just about pitching your immediate business…the one you signed up for, it is about making the most of all your skills.
Another great thing happened at BNI which elevated my status somewhat further as the “Chapter” director pointed out to me later on after the meeting…”Nick, your reputation has just gone sky high”!
I said, “Was it that bad before then”? and he replied, “No, it’s just everyone here now knows a lot more about you and what you do now”.
You see, each member has the chance to do a 10 minute slot where you can take the floor and pitch your entire business, uninterrupted, for 10 minutes and my chance was today. I carefully thought about what I wanted to say and made a presentation that encompassed everything that I do photographically as well as with some video work.
I used a 32″ HD TV and showed off my work in glorious high definition colour. I even brought in a nice bass-rich speaker system to compliment my short video clips and slideshows.
I think that when the other members saw a full on, condensed presentation of what I actually do, they truly started to understand my professionalism, experience, dedication and passion for my job. This coupled with various one-to-one meetings that I have had kind of “supercharged” my membership.
Immediately after the meeting I had lots of interest, a couple of leads for photo, video and training work and the future looks bright. I now know that the other members will feel comfortable promoting me to their contacts and friends with no fear of looking foolish if I was to mess up any leads.
Once again, I heartily recommend that you check out BNI, even if it is for the first couple of meetings which are free…
Update 2015: After a couple of years at BNI, a few of us started to get fed up with the rising costs and demands from their rules and regulations. So 8 of us got together and started our own networking group call Network Dorset.
I came up with the name and built the website and within 2 years we had created nearly a million pounds worth of business with around 35 members!
Good luck and I will possibly update this in a few more months.
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