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18 of the Biggest Marketing Mistakes Photographers Make

Ready for some juicy marketing advice? There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to marketing your photography business.  It’s funny when I started my photography business, I didn’t always use my marketing director thinking cap when crafting my own marketing.  Along the way I’ve wasted a lot of money on marketing & advertising that didn’t work and now I know why.  So let me help you avoid the marketing traps and mistakes I made along the way. I asked the smartest people I know in the photography business the biggest marketing mistakes photographers make and I think many they mentioned represent the first few years of my business.

Here are 18 of the biggest marketing mistakes photographers make…

1. Working for Free

“I think one of the biggest marketing mistakes new photographers are likely to make is being enticed to work for free in exchange for “exposure”. But as someone who has been published almost everywhere including having my name & work on national television shows, I can tell you that 99% of the time, exposure is worthless. It will not bring you new clients & it’s unlikely to even bring clicks to your website. Do not fall for “the amazing opportunity” to work for free. If you work for free it should only be because you offered to do so…perhaps for very close family members or a charity to which you might donate money. Remember, a photo credit is not payment, it is required standard practice. Always get paid for your work!”
Justine Ungaro

2. Trying to Be Just Like Others

“I think the biggest mistake is when I use to try to photograph like others instead of like me and try to please others instead of my heart. The more like me I become and express thru my images the more successful I feel I become.”
Jade Twilite Beall, Author & Photographer of The Bodies of Mothers

3. Doing Nothing to Stand Out

“Brand out from the crowd. Since it’s hard to stand out in a marked flooded with photographers, you must give your brand that extra something others just don’t see every day. Consider exotic colors, a unique logo or something new to create a signature brand that pops and is 100% YOU. Being too trendy or emulating the competition is never good; you want to stand out in a good way.”
Lena Hyde, Founder Design Aglow

4.  Forgetting to Market the Products You Offer

“The biggest mistake I see in marketing is the failure to market product. Albums and wall are a big ticket items that drive a lot of profit and I rarely see photographers post photos OF product or market product. A beautiful photo of albums or of wall art will encourage potential and current clients to purchase these items.”
Andrew Funderberg of Fundy Software

5. Following No Clear Marketing Plan

“The biggest marketing mistake I see is simply not doing it. Marketing that you do works a heck of a lot better than marketing that you don’t. Have a plan and stick to it and you’ll start to see the marketing return on investment.”
Vanessa Joy

6. Using Reactive Marketing

“The biggest marketing mistake I see is ‘reactive marketing.’ Reactive marketing is when we throw money at the marketing problem. We think the more we spend, the bigger the payoff will be. As an artist, you are a luxury item. We have a hard time viewing ourselves as a luxury; but if you want to practice effective marketing, you better get used to the idea.

When consumers purchase luxuries, they want first-hand accounts and word-of-mouth recommendations. So invest your money and, more importantly, your time in getting better reviews, networking with wedding planners, create video ads that bring potential clients behind the scenes and build confidence, etc. All of this is what I call ‘proactive marketing.’ Getting pro-active allows others to speak for you, and it usually costs less.”
Phillip Blume

7. Copycatting Someone Else’s Niche

“The biggest mistake is basing their marketing on what someone is is already doing well in their market. It’s easy to think ‘well it works for them, but that will work for me!’ The reality is they have already figured out how to serve a specific niche well, so there are others that are being under-served.”
– Laura Novak Meyer, Owner + Founder at The Little Nest Group

8. Marketing to Where Your Potential Clients Aren’t

“The one big marketing mistake i’ve seen is marketing in the wrong places. For example, photographers who think it’s a great idea to get their perfect client from advertising on Craigslist. It’s like a race to the bottom on there. So it’s not just knowing WHO your target client is, but then Marketing to them WHERE they are.”
Tim Hussey, Founder of Pixifi

“The biggest mistake i see especially in Boudoir is that photographers have great marketing ideas but they market to the wrong people or in the wrong places. ”
Jennifer Rozenbaum 

9. Blogging Everything

“The biggest marketing mistake that photographers make is to blog/show images from every shoot out of a false idea that they are being unfair to a client by not showing photos from their shoot. You should ONLY show work that you want to shoot in the future, because that is the work you will attract depending on what you show on your portfolio and website. Take the dates off your blog and only post when you have your best work to show. Your blog is yours, you don’t owe anybody anything on your blog.”
Kirk Mastin, Founder of Mastin Labs

10. Being Shady About Your Business Referrals & Partnerships

“Business partnerships are killer for marketing. They can kill it good by bringing in lots of clients. They can kill it bad and illegally when they aren’t disclosed. Any relationship that has a referral fee agreement, such as between a wedding vendor and a wedding photography for example, need to be disclosed by law to the referred client.”
Rachel Brenke, The Law Tog

11. Hiding All Pricing Info

“Most photographers rely heavily on their web sites as a primary marketing tool. One of the big “oops” that will cause prospects to pass you by is not putting any prices on your site. It’s just assumed you cost to much. People do not want to write to ask for prices when they have many, many options to choose from and the other options make it easier. When we come looking for information we want to find it and price is a big part of that. Ranges and starting points can work if there is enough detail. For example, ‘our services start at XXXX and include blah, blah, blah. We have many other options which we can tailor to your needs.’ When you set a price for anything from weddings to portraits, I would not use the word investment. It immediately sends a “this is going to cost me a fortune” message. It’s photography not a stock portfolio. Even if we firmly believe (and I do) that photography will grow in value faster stocks, you can sell the stock and not your family’s images.”
Christine Perry-burke, Founder of Finao

12. Having no Call To Action

“I see too many ads that have a vague call to action, no sense of urgency, and nothing that makes the photographer stand out or that really gives a potential client a reason to want to book. In addition, many of these ads aren’t targeted well. I know because I get sponsored ads in my Facebook feed from out of state photographers.”
Trina Heppner, Marketing for Professional Photographers

13. Forgetting to Be a Likable Human

“One of the biggest marketing mistakes is not being likeable. You succeed on referrals. Warmth, responsiveness, helpfulness, optimism, fun, energy and a sense of humor sell in photography.”
Chris MacAskill, Cofounder of smugmug

14. Marketing to Everyone

“Many people don’t seem to know their target demographic well enough, and cast too broad of a net with their marketing efforts, resulting in nothing caught at all. Don’t make the mistake of marketing to the masses, when you are targeting the niches.”
Matt Kennedy

15. Being a Generalist

“Too many photographers begin with ‘I like to shoot anything’. People want to hire a specialist, not a generalist.”
Ben Von Wong, THE VON WONG

16. Advertising for Facebook Likes

“One of the biggest mistakes I have made was to pay FB advertising for Facebook Likes, back when Facebook Likes meant something. Facebook changes their methodology and terms so fast that before you post something new, something has changed. So instead of paying to advertise for likes, I created a document that my website visitors would get a lot of value of, and advertised that free download. In return I got hundreds of valuable leads to then nurture into paying customers.”
Scott Wyden Kivowitz of photocrati.com

17. Ignoring the Message

“The biggest mistake that photographers make in their marketing is that they jump right to the ‘medium’ before anything else. Thinking about the medium is fun, it’s sexy and it’s exciting, but if you don’t crafting the right ‘message’ and define the right ‘market’, the ‘medium’ is useless.”

– Bryan Caporicci, Sprout Photographer Podcast

18. Forgetting to Pick Up the Phone

“Don’t forget to pick up the phone. Keeping in touch with your past and current clients by making it personal goes a long way. Creating a relationship that feels close enough for a quick phone call whether it’s about something to celebrate, a misunderstanding, or reminding them of how much you love working with people just like them and asking for a referral is a big way to create loyalty that lasts. I know that picking up the phone sounds old school and that’s what makes it new. No one else but you will be going that extra step!”

Davina Fear

Mimika Cooney sums it up nicely.

“In my opinion photographers make 3 cardinal mistakes when launching their businesses. They don’t know their numbers and targets of how many clients/sessions they will need to financially sustain their business, they spread themselves too thin by generalizing, and they try to emulate their competition in an attempt to grab some of their success.”

How can a photography entrepreneur properly market their business?

“The temptation for photographers (and every indie entrepreneur) is to mix up their creativity with their enterprise. Sure, the stuff they make may originate with them but the stuff they sell needs the other at the center. Here’s a quick way to think about it…Decide who you’re talking to. Discover what they care about. Create concrete value around the things they care about. Price for profit. Remove the friction between them and that value.”

– Dane Sanders, Converge: The Business of Creativity Podcast

What mistakes did I miss?  Let me know in the comments below.

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Mike AllebachMike Allebach

Founded Brandsmash as a marketing resource for photography small business owners with his mantra “Your story changes everything.” Prior to going full time with his photography business, Mike was a Marketing Director. Hailed by a Rock n Roll Bride as “the Original Tattooed Bride Photographer” Mike Allebach crafted one of the most distinct niches in photography.

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