by Charlie Borland
(This article was originally written for the North American Nature Photography Assoc. magazine Currents)
During these tough economic times, many conversations among photographers are not so much on the timing of desert wildflowers or Yellowstone’s elk rut, but rather a sharing of information about survival strategies. Editorial ad revenues are slumping and weakened sales in publishing have reduced photography budgets. By looking at your business strategy now, you might be able to develop a plan for the next year or so that will help you cope with the vagaries of the economy.
First, evaluate the photo excursions you have planned for the next 12 months. Do they include locations where you have never been? Are these locations in high demand or simply on your wish list? Do you need these locations for your existing markets because you’re missing sales? Rethink each trip.
If you determine that some of the travel you have planned will increase business then keep it in your plan. On close inspection, however, you may decide that some travel can be delayed or revised and you can apply those monies, instead, to marketing expenditures.
Instead of planning a trip to a place far away where you have never photographed before, consider altering your itinerary to visit proposed new national parks or wilderness areas that are closer to home.
With the administration in the White House, there is likely to be a resulting increase in the demand for conservation and environmental images. Consider planning your travel to photograph areas of environmental concern. Document natural disasters like fire, hurricane damage, frigid weather, drought, and flooding; if you can relate these to larger issues like global warming, you increase their salability. Photograph green projects like wind farms and solar systems, but don’t forget the oil wells, dams, and coal-fired power plants. A sound shooting strategy should include high demand for environmental images.
What are your marketing plans for the year? Will you increase your budget or reduce it? Most financial strategists stress what most of us already know: in tough times, you need to increase your marketing and decrease your expenditures. It’s a natural response to start cutting expenses when the going gets tough, but the challenge for many photographers is what not to cut or where to increase your investment.
Consider increasing direct mail and/or email campaigns. Avoid mailing out mass postcards and hope you get calls. A smarter strategy is to evaluate your client list and select only the clients who are the best fit for your work and market solely to them. This can result in a higher return at a reduced cost. Devote one hour per week to cold calling current and new clients. Rather than introducing yourself as “a nature photographer” take the opportunity to personally describe an exciting project or new work. The goal is to stand out from the crowd while establishing a relationship.
Be innovative and look for new ways to get attention. Rather than sending expensively printed calendars, buy flash drives with your name and URL imprinted on them and place a selection of watermarked images with a handwritten card.
Take advantage of anything free on the internet. There are multiple free directories for photographers including www.workbook.com, and www.photoplusgroup.com. Use them.
Improve your web strategy by updating your website on a weekly basis. If your current website consists of galleries and contact information, consider a weblog instead. A weblog can still display your galleries of images, but you can also write about your photography, personal projects, and your business. Clients will appreciate learning more about you by reading your posts. Visit www.blogger.com for a simple blog or www.wordpress.org for a more customized site.
Affiliate marketing can turn your site into an income producer. Consider the programs like Google Ad Sense or Amazon Affiliates where you can earn a commission when your reader’s link back and purchase. Both programs are easily set up in minutes.
Your marketing plan should avoid gimmicks, focus closely on which media bring you the best results and monitor—as much as you can—what other photographers are doing.
At the same time, seek new outlets for sales of your images. If you aren’t self-marketing through a portal yet, consider AGPix or Alamy. There are also websites where you can sell your work as fine art prints such at www.fineartamerica.com, and www.imagekind.com.
Take Care of the Client
Now is the time to chase after clients. If you are in Real Estate Photography, cut your price and let clients know that you might be offering a 25% discount this week only. Same with commercial photography subjects: let your clients know you are willing to work with them ion difficult times.
Stock photo sales often go up during tough markets because they often don’t have the budget to hire you. So, when negotiating sales of stock photos, minimize hardline positions on pricing. Help the client buy your photos by keeping the conversation positive. Be open to negotiation as the client may be working with a smaller budget than the last time you worked together. If the client wants multiple images, offer a discount, even 2 for 1.
When the client asks for your fee, consider asking what his/her budget allows. The budget question can work a couple of ways. If the fee is lower than what you would have quoted, you can counter with a compromise figure while asking for something in return, like a photo credit. If the fee is the same or higher than you would have quoted, you can simply respond, “I think I can work with that.”
Make a list of clients or photo buyers who called but never hired you or bought an image. They are valuable leads and you should stay in touch. Failing to maintain contact will put you “out of sight, out of mind.” Once you’ve made a sale, send a handwritten thank-you card (preferably one with your photo on it). This adds an important personal touch and is often overlooked.
Make sales by teaming up with other photographers. If you don’t have an image, then share the request using a 75/25 split. It’s said that a customer will call three times and if you don’t have what he/she is looking for the probability of another call is low. If you can’t fill the request, contact your associates and see who has the image and can send you a thumbnail to forward it to the client.
Some of the best assignments are the ones you create. Slow economic times or recessions are a time to grow personally and explore new techniques. If you have an idea for a specific publication, illustrate your idea and submit it to the editor. Create self assignments by turning a passion into a project. Then create a website and tell the world by linking on blogs and photography websites. When other blogs talk and write about your project, you have used viral marketing to your advantage.
By watching the bottom line and increasing marketing efforts, you can still be profitable when the economy is down. Look closer at what you already have in an existing client base and marketable imagery and push hard with those. Scale back on equipment upgrades and expensive travel. A leaner operation has a better chance of surviving in an economic downturn.
Charlie Borland has been a professional photographer for over 30 years, and his images have been used in most major magazines, including National Geographic Adventure, Newsweek, Outdoor Photographer, Outside, Women’s Sport and Fitness, Backpacker, Time for Kids, NW Airlines, Natures Best, and others. Charlie was vice president and cofounder of www.fogstock.com, an online picture agency and he teaches on www.GreatPhotographyCourses.net