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Archive for November, 2013

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Now that you have your list built to start emailing people, it’s time to find a email marketing service to create great looking emails.   I’m a fan of Mad Mimi, which is one of the free services out there that you can utilize.  Mad Mimi works great for small lists or for someone who might not be very savvy at using these kinds of platforms.  The free service does not have all the features as their paid service, but you can always upgrade to their monthly plans once you find it limiting .  It has lots of great tutorials that will lead you step by step through how to create an email marketing campaign.   Once you create these campaigns you can save them and re-use them for different purposes such as monthly emails, etc.

Visualize your ad: Once you decide what you are going to offer, begin to think about how that ad copy is going to read.  Relax. You don’t have to think of becoming the next great Nike “Just Do It” campaign.  You just have to have a clear offering to the clients.  Your copy should include

  • The name of the sale and dates the sale is being offered
  • What you are offering
  • Pretty pictures to tie into what you are selling
  • Any fine print/limitations
  • A call to action

 

Add your contacts and compose your email:  import your emails into Mad Mimi, creating a list.  Then on your Dashboard, start creating your first  email campaign.   There’s easy to understand video tutorials right on the very first page showing you how to do this.    Basically, you’re going to be creating modules of text and photos to build your email campaign. The video will lead you right through how to add headlines, bold your text, add in photos and hyperlink to outside web pages.

Create a Compelling Banner Image:  The Banner image is the first thing people see when they click on your email so make sure it’s eye catching.  Create a 590×320 px  image and add in photos or even text if you wish.  However, be aware that if you add text in your banner people may not see it if they don’t enable photos in their email service.  So if you add text into the banner, make sure it’s repeated somewhere else in the email campaign.

Spell it Out For Them:  Don’t make your clients guess at what you are offering. Keep it clear, simple and concise without a lot of flowery words, testimonials or other distractions.  People tend to skim more than they read, so use bold text and page breaks to draw their eye quickly to what you are offering.

A Call to Action:  Give them a reason why they should spend money. Ever get hooked into an infomercial?  They are the masters of this.  They show you 400 ways you can use that Ginsu knife until you start imagining yourself using one.  But wait, there’s more!  Order now, operators are standing by!  Your call to action should make your clients want to purchase what you are selling because it benefits them.

Make it Easy For Them to Buy:  Sounds like a no-brainer, but if you make your clients jump through hoops to get money to you then they won’t do it.  I set up mine so it’s as easy as clicking a Buy Now Link that leads them to their PayPal account to check out in two clicks.

For my promotion I used PayPal.  To set up the payment hyperlinks, I went to the Merchant Services Tab and “Create a Payment Button”. (Note: I used hyperlinks rather than copying and pasting the code for the Buy Now graphics, because Mad Mimi in the free version does not support all HTML code such as drop down menus.  The hyperlinks might not be as visually pretty, but again you’re not relying on people having their images enable in their email service)

 

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After you click Save Changes your will be taken to this page. Click on the Email Tab on top and copy and paste the code there.

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My promotion that will be going out looks like this.  Feel free to click on the links to see how the interface works!  Notice the “Having a Baby this year?” and similar questions?  Those are calls to action, just worded very slightly differently than the in your face BUY NOW approach.  Again, think like a consumer:  Sell them things by showing them the benefit to them…mine is “you’re going to buy this anyway, why not save money?”

Promote, promote!  Another great feature of these campaigns is you can  create a duplicate copy of the promotion and tweak it to go out a few days later with different wording. You can copy and paste the code right into your Facebook account to draw people into it.   Make sure you ask people to forward it to people they think would be interested in the offerings too!

Get ready for questions:  Because I don’t have pricing built into my email campaign I will have some savvy clients who email me asking “Well how much are your portrait sessions anyway?” so I am prepared with several different responses for my wedding, portrait and senior photography questions.   If you prefer, you can include a link to current pricing in the email.  So make sure when you run the promotions you are not out of the office a lot because by not answering an email with questions you can lose a sale.

Say Thank You:  When I get the notice from Pay Pal that a client has paid, I send the following email to them:
” Thanks for your purchase!  Your  payment  and contact information is duly noted and you need to do nothing more than to schedule your session with me.  To do that simply call, text or email to check on availability. 

I offer the sessions in your home, in the studio or an outdoor session in Metro Milwaukee.  Just let me know what kind of session you are interested in and we’ll get it on the books.  Plan for about 1-2 weeks lead time for week days, weekends may be slightly longer at 4-6 weeks.   If you’re thinking of a summer session please note that due to my wedding schedule Saturdays are not often available.  

I’m excited to work with you and create some gorgeous photos that you’ll be proud to showcase on your walls and with friends and family!”

The great thing about having this in place now is it can be used for promotions in the future.  To set up this Cyber Sale this year took me about 30 minutes and most of was that was because I was dithering about what photos to use.  I changed the text around a bit, changed the format to be different from last year and it’s ready to go.  I didn’t even have to recreate the payment hyperlinks because they were saved in PayPal.

Now, go get yourself some Cyber Sales!

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A few days ago  I talked about Winterizing for the slow season, but let’s take one of the ideas a step further.  As touched upon, the Cyber Sales are upon us.   So if you’re thinking about offering something to your clients, there’s a few things to know and some suggestions for creating a compelling email marketing campaign for your clients.

If you’re going to rely only on Facebook for your promotion, you are going to miss out on a lot of clients.  Facebook is great when used in conjunction with other promotions, but you should not rely ONLY on Facebook promotions. Using email only is limited because you cannot email a lot of clients without violating the limits of your email provider and you can risk being shut down.

There’s lots of email marketing services, most commonly known are Constant Contact, AWebber, and Vertical Response. These services are paid services and are kind of the “gold standard” for sending out mass emails, newsletters and the like.  They have very powerful interfaces and really easy drag and drop templates available to their clients…at a price.  I’ve used several of them and I think for the money they are well worth the bells and whistles they offer once you understand how to use them.  For example, we use AWebber for this blog because for our needs it has a really easy and robust way to send out emails to our awesomesauce subscribers like you. We can go in on the back end, see who has opened the emails and have the ability to do further “drip campaigns” to those we know open our emails and click through our links.  Yes, it’s kind of Big Brother creepy, but are you really surprised?  The net is a creepy and wonderful thing.

But let’s just say you’re not there yet.  You don’t have the time to delve into learning those programs, you don’t have the cash and you don’t have the kind of subscriber list that would make sense for you to have a paid subscription email marketing service.  Where do you start with not much technical know-how but a desire to make some cash?

Your first Step:  Create a list.  You need an email  list of all of the clients you want send this promotion to.  Depending on the promotion you are running, this list could be friends and family, portrait clients, wedding clients, commercial clients…anyone that you have provided services for and that has give you permission to market/email them.  You can create these list in Excel or Word very easily.

What you cannot do:  Market to people that you have not received permission to market to but you have their email addresses.  I’m going to lay it on the line, this is a HUGE gray area with email marketing services.  It all has to do with SPAM laws and such, but let me give you the most common scenario.  You photograph weddings and have an ad in a local wedding publication.  That wedding publication has a bridal fair and the brides fill out a form that they get there to win a prize.  They check a box on the form saying that they are fine with the publication sharing their email addresses with you .  The Bridal Publication sends you a monthly list of those “approved” clients…so you can include them in your marketing list, right?

Maybe. You have to check the TOS (terms of service)  for the provider you use.  Some will allow it.  Some will shut you down because the brides did not specifically name YOU.   They are all different and it’s all very frustrating.

For that reason, I do not blind market to those people. We don’t have a relationship and they are not likely to buy. I want to only to market to people that I am currently working with or have in the past worked with.  My list looks like this: wedding clients and portrait clients.  Every client I book is added to the corresponding list  When I send a promotion it’s directed to them, even if I photographed their wedding in 2002 because they might have had a baby :) They can opt out to the emails any time they choose

Until they tell me not to contact them by unsubscribing, I contact them.  I have the rights to do this under the current SPAM laws.

You cannot do this with Facebook because not every client you have worked with “likes” your page and will see your promotion.  You cannot direct market to them through Facebook!

Your first job is something no one can do for you.  You need to create your email list.

Hint:  You can totally steal my email promotion for Cyber Week 2013 and I am going to show you how. Step by step. But I can’t create your list.  So take some time and do that now.  And make sure you’re subscribed so you don’t miss the next part!

 

 

 

 

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I just shot my last outdoor portrait session of the year and my last wedding.  If I had my way, I would sit on my couch and re-watch Breaking Bad while eating taco dip and drinking IPA for about a month.  That sounds like heaven, bitches!

Steno Pad+Highlighter=My Old School To Do List.

Steno Pad+Highlighter=My Old School To Do List.

But though my To-Do List is markedly smaller than it was a few weeks ago, I know if I don’t start planning now, my bank account will be markedly smaller.  And I am not down with that, yo.   Since my meth cooking opportunities are limited let’s work on a plan, shall we?

Sayonara 2013: Bringing in some fat cash at years end.

 First Step: Goal Setting for promotions .  <Groan> Yeah, I know. Setting goals are about as much fun as writing a business plan but people who actually do goal setting are more successful than you. I mean it.  So right around the corner we have a couple great opportunities to promote your photography business.   Black Friday is on November 28. Small business Saturday is on November 30. Cyber Monday is on December 2.

Pick one, then think about the different things you could promote for your business.

HINT: consider a higher priced service or product that is desired by your clients with limitations. By placing limitations you have the ability to up-sell.


How my 2012 Cyber Sale Increased my portrait business and brought back old clients.

 

Last year I did a ” Free Mini Session with Double Your Prints” promotion for portraits.   I picked this particular promotion for two reasons:

1. I have a base of past wedding clients who have the perception that they cannot afford my portrait services because I don’t charge 9.99 for a sheet of photos and I do not include digital files.  My 8×10’s are $65 and I often am told ” Oh, I love your work, but we just can’t afford that” after I send out my price list.

2. I have a particular passion for seeing peoples photos off their phones and computers and ON THEIR WALLS.  This promotion was specifically worded with that heartfelt message and they had to spend their credit on prints and were not allowed to use it towards any other purchase such as digital files.

This opportunity to have a FREE session for their kids and prints was key.  They then chose the amount they wanted to purchase via some simple links I generated through Pay Pal Buy Now buttons.  $25 got them $50 worth of prints, $50 got them $100 and on up.  Most purchased the $50 gets you $100.  In the space of that Cyber Week End, I sold $1700 and gained 6 new clients I had never worked with.

Ways I up-sold? This promotion was for kids only, no parents.  However at the time of booking, I offered the upgrade from a kid only mini to a family session for $50 which is just shy of my regular sitting fee.  80% of them bought it.   At the in-person sales sessions I had beautiful groupings of their photos already laid out in Preveal that had special pricing for both prints and canvas.   And since money spent is money forgotten, many of them didn’t even think of the fact that they had a credit until I subtracted it out of their total.

This promotion may not work for you if you’re not comfortable with up-selling or in-person sales, but you’ve got something that you can put out there that will.

After the promotion reward yourself with planned down time.

Look, you’ve just killed it for an entire season.   Maybe you’re still killing it and your push is all the way through the New Year.  You have to take time off.

 

Photographers need vacations too, and no client has ever died because they had to wait for their photographs(Click to Tweet)

 

I don’t care if it’s a 3 day staycation at home or a week in the Bahamas you need to take some time off.  Time off that does not include dealing with clients.  I recently read this post about The Art of Taking a Sabbatical which is an excellent read and very thought provoking.  Our jobs as creatives can kill our spirit if we don’t take time off.  I’m a fan of the work  hard, play hard school of thought.

In the next post, we’re going to talk about that fickle bitch the first Quarter of 2014 and how we can tame her while we work on our “Off Season To-Do List” and make money along the way.

Make sure you are subscribed so you don’t miss a thing!

P.S.  Our pal Jamie at The Modern Tog wrote a great blog post this week about Black Friday Sales for Photographers.  She did all the work for you, so you should go check it out for ideas and inspiration!

P.P.S. Need to brainstorm further about some promotions you could do and how to do them?  Post it up in the comments and we’ll help!

 

 

 

 

 

ost

2011 was a pretty shitty year.  Most photographers started feeling the pinch around 2009, but the Midwest (always slow to adapt) felt the rumbles about 18 months later by my calendar.  That was the year that my regular, dependable business model started to crumble.

My regular, dependable business model went something like this: start the season off around May, work pretty much non stop until November. During those months, cash was fat.  Bringing in 15-20K in the peak months was not unusual, and from years past I knew to bank as much as I could for the lean times in winter.  But something always came up…a new car, a furnace gone bad, a kid who got hurt and craptastic medical bills to pay. But the bookings kept coming, the retainers came in and while I wasn’t living large in February like I was in June, it was a living.  I wasn’t ever in a bad place at any point in my then 15 year old career.

Until suddenly the bad place was around the corner.  Not on my door step, but way too close for comfort. And then the rumblings became stronger, from friends and colleagues. Some were within range of the bad place, some were outside the door and some admitted to have been living there for awhile. Long standing iconic studios in my town closed.  The only major camera and equipment stores closed shop or moved to Chicago.

Long-time clients started showing up in my newsfeed with family photos from photographers I had never heard of who claimed to be “natural light photographers” and had twee names like “Strawberry Fields” and they all had a passion for affordable photography and loved sushi and puppies.  At first, I kept my head down and kept doing what I had always done figuring this was just like the transitional years between film and digital where everyone had to make big changes in their workflow and procedures. But soon, it was clear that this was not a bump in the road, the industry had really changed. I had to recognize that the tide had turned.

Every artist deep down has a fear that they suck and someday someone is going to figure that out they’ll be exposed for the hack they really are.  We all wrestle with that demon in some form or another.  In the space of a few months, my demon was fed by a series of 8 wedding consults in a row in three weeks time that did not hire me. Until this time, I was used to a 90% booking rate so I fully expected to book 7 of the 8.  Every single one of them cited price as the reason that they did not hire me. This was on top of losing long-time clients to the $99 shoot and burner momtographers and one particular stinging moment when a friend contacted me to photograph her sons  photos. After sending her my information as well as a generous friends and family discount she responded with “While we love your work, we put your prices into our spreadsheet and you’re sadly not the most affordable even with the discount”

She put me in her fucking spreadsheet?  Is this what I was reduced to now?

Through the next several months I made some stupid decisions because frankly I was scared.  Knowing that I am not qualified to do anything but this or work at Target (and I look horrible in red)  I took on clients I could should not have, I made exceptions to in-person sales and proofed portrait sessions online to get the sale and I relaxed payment terms.

Looking back, I know now that these mistakes were made not only because I was scared, but because I had never prepared myself for anything like this before.  I had by all accounts a successful thriving business.  I was doing 30 some weddings a year at a upper end price point for my market, was averaging around the 1K mark for my portrait sales, had associates that I paid a decent wage to.   Nothing that I had done had changed.  My work hadn’t changed, if anything it had gotten better.  My prices hadn’t changed. But everything else had.  I had never truly considered that my thriving business would go south because of the economy or made a plan of what steps I would take if it happened.

2012 was marginally better. 2013 was 100% improved and 2014 looks to be a better year yet (crossing fingers and toes) So what did I do that brought me out of the slump?

I sat down and made some hard choices.  I figured that all I could do was to stop being scared. I had to take a hard look at my business and be honest about what I sucked at and what I had never planned for.  I took a look at people who had been in business a long time and listened to what they had to say. I tightened my belt even harder than I ever had and bought not one single piece of gear in 2 years other than gaffers tape. My accountant was astounded.   I had to do all of this when I was feeling bad about myself and my business and photography and that, my friends, was my number one mistake.

Everyone talks about having a business plan. But no one talks about having a “when should I call it a day plan”.

I should have been doing this Every. Single. Year.  I should have done it in the heyday of my career and not just in a slump. I still think that the economy/recession whatever you want to call it played a part, but I have no doubt now that I would have not been hit as hard as I was if I had a plan of at what point did I need to end my career as a photographer.  When I decided I wasn’t going to go out without a fight,  all I could think to do was to buckle down by revising my price list and raising my prices.  Along with that came looking clients in the eye and telling them that no, I could not give them a discount because they were paying for the wedding themselves.  Along with that came telling portrait clients that no, I could not put their photos online because they were “too busy” to come in for the in-person sales session.  Instead of giving more, I resisted more and held out for more.

It was, and continues to be, a bit terrifying.  But I’ll be honest less so because I know what’s in front of me and how to prepare when or if it changes again.

Watch this amazing video Transformation by Zack Arias . Get out a pad of paper or grab a friend and do a brain dump.  Just get it all out there, talk about the good, the bad, what you sucked at, what you are proud of and what scares you.  (I also recommend a tall vodka tonic with a lot of lime, but that’s me).   Do it once a year, more often if you can.

Stop letting your business go on without a plan for both success and failure.