In the four years I spent at art school, my professors taught me the joys of the Zone System, how to make beautiful prints, and how to delve deep into my subjects to create powerful images.
What they didn’t teach me is how to run a business. In fact, I can only think of a handful of instances when the words “client” and “marketing” were ever mentioned.
Out in the real world, I quickly became frustrated with what I perceived to be a lack of interest from the editors and clients I was approaching. For all the lectures I received on how to take great images, I never got one on how to sell these images.
I’ve come to realize I can’t just sit and wait for clients to come to me—I have to go and woo them. Because I felt that I was entitled to be an artiste after four years of art school, this came as a bit of a shock. Even more shocking was the realization that I had no idea how to market myself.
Every Day in Every Way
My biggest breakthrough was realizing that marketing is not just about big campaigns or mailing out hundreds of postcards. It’s something we need to do every day, with every action.
While I was living in Indonesia, I stumbled across a marketing technique I still use today. Being so far away from my friends and family, I stayed in touch via email. From time to time, I picked a few of my most recent images, resized them, and emailed them.
Slowly I got into the habit of attaching a different image whenever I sent an email. When potential clients got my emails, they would see one of my images, as well as a link to my website. For those who were interested, they now had an easy way to access more of my work—something they perhaps wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t included my image.
I made this process part of my workflow. Every time I download images from a media card, I create an “Email Images” folder, pick four or five images, resize them, and send them out. If the shoot is for an assignment, I email a few images to the client before delivering the completed job on DVD to give them a taste of what’s to come. If it’s a personal shoot, I put the folder in my “Email Images” folder I use in my everyday correspondence.
Gifts That Keep on Giving
Why does your bank give you a toaster when you open a new account? Because people like free stuff. I wasn’t into the gift-giving idea until a few years ago, when I realized I was having trouble retaining clients. I was professional and prompt, but for some reason I couldn’t get past the first assignment.
When I looked at some of the clients I had developed relationships with, I realized they were more like friends than clients. It also soon dawned on me that I had to start trying to build relationships that made clients feel less like ATMs and more like human beings.
A while ago, I got a great assignment from someone who could have become a good client. The assignment paid well and was a breeze; I brainstormed on how to maintain the relationship. I knew I wanted to say “thank you”; the question was how.
I wound up making a good print of one of my favorite images, framed it, and sent it to the client. I got a “thank you” email and heard nothing for a few months after that.
Recently, someone at the same firm called me, asking if I was available for an assignment. Apparently, she had been referred to me by the person I had sent the print to. I discovered this while on the shoot with her. When I asked if she had seen some photos I had taken a few years ago in Africa, she told me she hadn’t been to my website. John had recommended me. That was all I had to know.
That print had not only made me seem thoughtful, it had also kept my name on his mind. Later, I made a point of sending him a bottle of cognac as a thank you for the referral. In the business world, a referral from someone you work with and trust saves you time and energy.