Sunday, December 21, 2008

It's nearly the end of the year, when I like to take stock of how my business did over the past twelve months...what did I do right, what did I do wrong, how can I do better next year?
Most of these kinds of questions are straightforward, but the most perplexing one to me is: What's the best way to advertise my business? Frankly, I haven't got a clue....

I make it a point to ask all of my first-time clients how they heard about me or came to hire me. That information goes into the client's entry in my database (along with their contact information) to help me figure out the best way to get my name out into the community. When someone in my vicinity needs a photographer, I want them to think of me first! The trouble is, what I've found out from this gathered information is bothering me.

Last year I decided to splurge on an ad in one of the Yellow Pages variants. For about $60 per month, I got two good-sized picture ads in the book itself (one under Photographers - Portrait and one under Wedding Services), and an on-line listing that had my picture ads and a link to my web site. The book I chose had the largest circulation in my area. The day the book came out last May, I patted myself on the back for my decision -- because I got 3 calls the first day and 2 calls the second day it was out, resulting in 3 hired jobs (one wedding and two portrait shoots). And those calls came directly from the Yellow Pages ad.

But then it gets confusing...because over the next 6 months, with the book still out there in the hundreds of thousands of copies and the on-line ad still running, I got exactly 1 more call. One! It seems people looked at the book the day they got it, then never looked at it again. And I've not had a single traceable response to the on-line version of that ad. The profit from the three jobs booked from it paid for the ad (just barely), but with just six calls in six months this clearly wasn't the best way to let people know about my services.

The truth is, using my question asked of all first-time clients, well over 90% of them get my name from an existing client -- they're direct referrals. Happy clients tell other people, and they call me. Another 8% find my website (if you search for "photographer" and my town name in google, I come up first), and the remaining 2% saw an ad that they responded to. Those ads include the Yellow Pages, ads in the local paper and local magazines, ads in programs for local plays, school events, and other community programs, and direct mail ads. So basically I spent somewhere around $4000 for ads in the above locations over the past year, and brought in only 2% of my new customers with them -- which didn't nearly pay for the ads themselves.

Now, I'm not necessarily taking a short-term view of this. Since my referral rate is so high (which I'm quite proud of, because it means I'm satisfying my customers!) I'm sure I'll get more referrals from those few new clients that came in from advertising, and over the long run it might be worth it. But a cursory review doesn't seem to indicate that what I spend was worth what I got -- I probably could have brought in the same number of new customers by standing on the street corner and handing out cards, which would have cost me nothing.

So yeah, I'm perplexed by how to advertise. Have I just chosen the wrong places to put my ads? Did the ads not convey my message well enough? Should I just bad it all except my website, and spend time (instead of money) personally promoting myself? I'm just not sure.

I've heard all of the statistics that marketing folks use, like a 0.5% response rate to a direct-mail ad is considered good, etc. And honestly, I think that's pretty darn stupid. It's almost enough to make a person believe that those who are in the business of making/printing/distributing ads are all colluding to get us to spend money that doesn't produce any good results, while at the same time convincing us that our money was wisely spent! Sure, pony up thousands of dollars per year with very little return, everybody's doing it...and if you get one new customer you're doing great! Anybody else have a problem with that logic?

I've got 10 days left this year to arrive at my year-end conclusions and make some decisions for next year. I'm still not sure if I'm going to be doing the same kind of advertising as I did this past year. According to Google analytics there are now about 100 people reading each of these posts I put up (thanks!) -- if any of you have comments or suggestions about the best way to advertise, please do leave a comment. I can make great photos, I know how to make my customers happy, and I know how to get them to give me referrals...but I haven't got a clue how to advertise. Help? :)


  1. I have no good info on advertising... I would say however the "best" local photographer I have worked with up here, I've never seen any ads for them, they are probably the most profitable as well, they are THAT good, and they need nothing beyond word of mouth to land the constant jobs.

    For wedding's I would say wedding shows for sure, lots of jobs that way. For standard portraits, much harder as you are likely against the big teach the 12 year old to press the button, box stores. And ditto for senior pictures.

    Then again you said your a small town location... put up fliers on the light poles. Maybe you can hang your work in a few local hot spots, cafe's etc.

    You have most of us beat, your living your dream... keep it up.

  2. Just read this; when it was mentioned "light poles" I immediately thought of lost dogs and not at all related to art work like photography.

    Why not going to your local stores, have a word with the owner and propose something like: you take a couple of good shots of the store, select the best and have it hanged on the wall, all for free. But include a signiture saying who took it and your web site.

    Greetings from Lisbon/Portugal

  3. Ricardo,
    That is a good idea...and one I've already done, some time ago :) It got me several good repeat clients, as well as referral business. Thanks for visiting from Portugal!