School photographers have a very particular customer base in comparison to other photographers. They need to simultaneously appeal to parents, schools, and even the kids themselves. This offers a huge range of potential creative ideas to employ to best engage with this diverse audience.
The key to success is to demonstrate why your school portraits are worth paying top dollar for. There are so many different means available to do so, and finding the ones that work for you is key to managing the marketing side of your business. Experimenting and being creative with your strategies is not only fun, but allows you to test out new and dynamic ideas on the fly.
Worry not though, because we have compiled nine tips that are sure to help make your photography business stand out, gaining you the recognition that every school photographer seeks.
1. Launch a Referral Program
Hopefully, your photos already have people talking about your business, but even then, it doesn’t hurt to have a little boost. That’s where initiating a referral program factors in. Incentivising customers to recommend friends and family to buy portraits from you is mutually beneficial. It earns you new business and allows customers to provide meaningful suggestions to people who will trust their opinion.
There are numerous ways that you can go about launching a referral program. For instance, a discount can be provided on a per-session or a per-print basis. Just be mindful to only give referral bonuses to customers who successfully gain you a new client. Put simply, do not provide any discounts until the referral books and pays for a product. Pricing can be complicated for school photographers, so make sure to do yourself justice.
2. Interact With Your Network
Working within such a community-based industry as school photography means that you will constantly be meeting like-minded people. Make the most of this. If you meet someone from a school you’re not working with, be sure to make a good impression.
With a finite pool to work from, ingratiating yourself with those around you is vital to helping your photography business grow. Schools also often prefer to work with photographers they know, so networking is the best way to get your foot in the door.
3. Give Thank You Cards or Small Gifts
Along the same lines as thanking your customers for referrals, it can also be beneficial to thank your customers for their business. Showing your appreciation can take many forms, such as providing “thank you” cards after each photo day. These can either be standard cards, or you can enclose a personalised, handwritten note for each school.
Depending on the size of the school, providing the kids with small gifts could also entice orders. This could be something as simple as a pocket-sized photo from your portfolio. It also gets your images and branding into the hands of the parents. Emailing low-resolution or watermarked versions of some of your favourite photos from a shoot could also prove effective.
Families will delight in receiving free downloads, and will likely share the photos along with your business’ name across Facebook and Instagram. This will provide an excellent boost for your brand and business.
4. Get Featured
An easy way to reach a new audience is through advertising to an already established one. Many online blogs, local publications, and social media pages feature photographers.This occurs mainly through interviews or recurrent series such as “photo of the week” posts. School and Preschool Photography is a great example of a dedicated community that can offer helpful advice or simply a space to get your name out.
Reach out to these content publishers and see if they have an interest in you or your photography business. Receiving promotion via these channels will not only legitimise your business to current customers, but it will also promote your work to potential clients.
Another worthwhile medium to solicit is your local newspaper, especially as schools are such community-orientated spaces. Reach out and see if they would be willing to feature you to highlight local businesses. If they have an opinion section, submit relevant articles on behalf of your brand. It’s all about targeting as many avenues as possible!
5. Give Back
Another easy way to generate conversation about you and your business is to consider taking some photos for free. Providing photography services to community organisations will give you a new means of contact with potential clients, in addition to gaining you some sweet karma for being charitable.
Even if you typically do not engage in event photography, covering an organisational event for free is a quick way to build relationships and spread your business’ name through word of mouth advertising (more on that later). Find a cause that might appeal to schools and families to further awareness of your brand in relevant circles.
If you aren’t looking to photograph events, perhaps there is an education or child-related non-profit organisation that needs new headshots. In either case, you can include your watermark on the images you take or ask for a shout-out on any web pages where the photos appear. Even if the people who you photograph never end up using your services, they may pass along your name to their contacts who are seeking a photographer.
To approach these opportunities and form meaningful partnerships, use the organisation’s publicly available contact information and present your pitch. State that you are a local photographer who wants to donate their time and services to a worthy cause. Emphasise how you identify with the work the organisation commits to, and how donating your photography efforts is your way of giving them a helping hand. They will more than likely welcome your skills! From there, decide upon the venue, show up, and start shooting!
6. Utilise Word of Mouth Advertising
Give people something to talk about, specifically, your photography. Word of mouth advertising is the crème de la crème of marketing techniques. Most people trust the opinions of their friends and family members more than any advertisement or promotional campaign that they see.
As such, you should focus on giving your clients a good reason to talk about your business with their peers. One way to do this is to launch a referral program. But, there are also additional methods to get your business’ name on everyone’s lips.
A classic approach is to under-promise and over-deliver with your service. For instance, tell clients that it will take a week to deliver their photos to them, and instead have their images ready within a couple of days. As we already mentioned, you can provide clients with gifts or thank you cards after the photo shoot, thereby enforcing the notion that you truly appreciate their business.
An easy way to make a long photo session more enjoyable for clients, especially kids, is to provide some snacks or refreshments throughout it. Making a pitcher of cucumber water or bringing out some fresh-cut fruit is a simple gesture that will make a great impression and get clients talking.
Using the method of under-promising and over-delivering, your customers will be more than happy to promote your business to their friends, without the need for you to prompt them. If you have a Facebook page, direct clients to it and prepare for them to leave rave reviews following the photo shoot.
7. Engage in Local Marketing
A frequent mistake from school photographers is relying strictly on online marketing to promote their business. The assumption that everyone looking for photography services will seek information online leads to potential customers, particularly old-fashioned ones, being neglected. This means missing out on sales from such clients, as well as any referrals or word-of-mouth advertising they might generate. You should therefore not dismiss local marketing as a valid form of generating business.
Marketing in your locale is a relatively cheap way to promote your business to clients who will most likely use it. Even the best school photographers find difficulty in attracting far-away schools. Thus, local marketing helps ensure that your clients are readily available to access your services. Some ways to gain exposure locally include advertising at popular events, such as community fairs or sport games for kids. Additionally, photographers have found success in joining photography associations or related clubs to promote their services.
A bolder approach involves handing out leaflets or business cards wherever possible (such as around a town hall or taking them directly to school offices). Additionally, many photographers seek to engage in cross-promotion with local businesses. This includes photographers putting up posters in popular cafés or hair salons, and in return advertising such partnerships on their website.
8. Use Your Time Wisely Throughout The Year
There is only a finite amount of opportunities to photograph clients throughout the year. For instance, if you’re working with a school, your photography business naturally aligns with the seasonality of the school year. This does not mean that your photography business needs to be a seasonal endeavour though. There are numerous opportunities for photographers to gain new business during the off-season, which will actually strengthen their regular photography sales.
Use off-season times of the year to work on your brand and business reach. For the tips we’ve mentioned above that require some time investment, be sure to make the most of the months with fewer shoots. You’ll thank yourself in the long run. Doing the legwork early will benefit you with more jobs later in the year when you’re in full photography mode.
9. Engage in Regular Self-Promotion
The key component to implementing any of the tips on this list is to simply take action and show commitment. Make promoting your business a habit and incorporate little pieces here and there at times that suit you. You can craft a to-do list for the week or month ahead, or simply improvise what you are going to do each day. The ball is in your court.
In any case, approach each week with the mentality that you will assist your business by doing just one thing. This can be as small as joining a Facebook group and promoting the services you offer or as radical as launching a referral program.
No matter the scale of your action, after a few weeks you should begin seeing the benefits of your work. Rest assured that once daily promotion becomes a habit, marketing your business will seem more like a routine than a chore.
To enhance the marketing of your school photography business, it is not essential to incorporate every suggestion on this list. At the end of the day, it’s your business and and strategy you implement should work for you. Take our ideas here as a springboard to breathe fresh life into how you communicate with your clients.
Regardless of the method you pursue, implementing even one new marketing tactic will position you and your business to get the recognition that you deserve. It is all about continuous improvement, and at GotPhoto, we engage in it every day.
What has proven successful for your school photography business? Share your own tips with us and our community in the comments on our related Facebook post.