Friday, June 20, 2014

Summertime, and the Business is...Missing?

When my business was at it's peak, my phones were ringing constantly, and I had multiple lines. Through the implementation of effective marketing, advertising, and promotion, I normally had photographed 200 High School Seniors (HSS) before school was dismissed for the summer.

Today, I visit studios and they are devoid of people. The phone is not ringing, except for the occasional call from a vendor or the power company trying to get payment. I talked to a photographer for a while earlier this month, and he asked, "Can you tell me something?"

"I'll do my best," I replied.

"How is it that you photographed SO MANY kids before school even let out, and I don't even start getting calls until the middle of July?"

Well the reasons are many. First of all, the industry itself has changed tremendously. With the advent of digital, many people think they can do it themselves...and they do. The end product is crap, but they will accept it and beam as they show the photographs to their friends. The friends say, "These are nice!" then gag after they walk away.

The second is that in most areas, the number of HSS has dropped dramatically. In 1990, my market area had nearly 4000 HSS. This year I think the count is 1400. Combine that with more people going after the business (anybody with a Canon Rebel is a professional photographer, you know) and it is a tough way to earn a buck.

But a large part is due to the lack of effective marketing. I asked the studio owner when he ran his first ad. His reply? "We'll run that about the 2nd week of July." I could only shake my head. My studios were successful, because we used a promotional calendar. In January, we planned out the entire year. Most photographers quit wearing a coat and think, "I ought to do some type of HSS promotion." By then you have missed the boat.

We used a variety of vehicles: fliers, school newspapers, we made our OWN newspapers, radio, TV, newspaper, direct mail, telephone calls, handouts and more. The last few years we used the Internet and email marketing as well, but that was just starting.

But advertising for the next HSS class started in January, after school was back in. School newspapers never get enough budget, and my business probably saved a couple of school papers. As a result, the advisor was always looking for ways to steer kids to my studio. Now today, local newspapers are just about ready to go the way of the black and white television, but in some areas--especially smaller towns--they can still work. The same can be said for weekly publications, often called "shoppers" or "penny savers."

When I printed my own newspapers, I found other businesses in the HSS market (rental centers, caterers, barbers and hair stylists, DJ's, etc.) to pay me for ads in the paper. Not only did it cover the cost of the paper, but exceeded it. Was it work? Sure it was. But none of my other colleagues were willing to put in the work.

Another reason for slack sales is because many photographers tend to rely ONLY on Social Network or Internet marketing. It can't be done. You need a rounded, multi faceted approach to marketing if you want to fill your appointment book.

About 20 years ago, the big thing was VIDEO MARKETING. It was the rage. Guys gave seminars about how to do it. One guy from Wisconsin was showing his video, which was VERY cool, and saying this really made a difference in his business. I raised my hand, stood up, and asked, "What difference did it make? What increase in sessions did you see? How much did your sales increase? Was this in line with the cost of producing the video?"

His answer? "I'm not really a numbers guy, but I feel like my business has increased."

I attended this seminar with my friend, the late Lisle Ramsey from St. Louis, MO. His color lab was considering getting into the video production business for it's customers. He leaned over and asked what my thoughts were. I replied, "He can't give you any firm numbers, he can give you his feelings. Well, I can have a warm feeling, but I may have just peed myself. My thoughts are that this is a passing fad that will not last, because it impresses PHOTOGRAPHERS, not CUSTOMERS."

Lisle then said, "I can always count on you to ask the questions that need to be asked, and make a decision based on facts instead of feelings." Lisle passed away April of 2014.

You have missed the entry point for this year. The GOOD NEWS is that you are reading this at a perfect time to get a start on next year. So over the next few posts, I will teach you how to build your own promotional calendar. It is imperative for ANY photographer attempting to do Photography For INCOME! Till next time, may all of your shadows read 7 and your highlights read 245.

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