I’m gonna tackle a real world, street-smart marketing idea. Finding marketing partners.
Keep in mind, I’m not talking about “investing” in the right advertising vehicle. I just mean, start thinking about how you can advertise or market, using strategic partners. Start by thinking about what kind of business already reaches one or more of your target markets, and then see if you can get them to tell their customers about you. There are dozens and dozens of business models in freelance design and photography that come to mind, but there’s no way I could cover them all. So you need to be open-minded. Use these suggestions as a tool to get you started thinking about your own situation, and feel free to share your own examples in the comments.
I know this article is supposed to be about designers and photographers, but let me tell you about a florist. In the early days of the commercialization of the web, local florists were some of the hardest-hit. It was difficult to have an amazing web site that could compete with all the other florists out there (especially the big, national companies), but every business needs a web presence. One particular flower shop owner wanted to not only have a web site, he wanted to use his site to get business, but he couldn’t afford to advertise his web site on national TV or pay web programmers to make his site bigger and better than the national flower vendors. He started to think about customers who typically came into his store to buy flowers. His assessment was that it was mostly college educated people, generally more men that women, and people with a better than average income. Right or wrong he thought attorneys, as a group, seemed like his target market. So when some of his attorney customers came by his shop, he asked if there were any web sites attorneys visited regularly. Eventually he settled on a site that was for the legal profession only, and it even required a membership fee to join. He approached the owners of that site and proposed tasteful banner ads (they had no advertising posted yet) which were very conservative looking in a manner consistent with the site, and he proposed a small fee he could pay to have his ads posted. The site owners were open to the idea as a test of a possible new revenue stream, and he was the only advertiser so he liked having a ‘captive’ audience. The agreement was a huge success and the florist did more business than he had ever done before!
So who is already reaching your target market? You need to look for marketing partners with whom you can trade prospects or customers, or someone who would benefit from telling their customers about your services.
I know someone who is a child portrait photographer. She approaches department stores (the ones without their own photo studio) that have a children’s department, or which are stand alone children’s clothing stores, and arranges to have posters placed around the store for two weeks, which advertise an upcoming photography session at the store. She has a sign up sheet at the register for people to make appointments, and she takes appointments over the phone or on the web (phone numbers and the web address are on the posters). As well, she has small pamphlet at the cash register that tells all about the photo shoot, the company, web site, etc. and a blank to write down your appointment. It’s great for her, but how does this help the store? Even if there’s no financial trade, it means that everyone who signs up is guaranteed to return to the store in a couple weeks to have photos taken (and maybe shop a little more too). It gives the store an ‘event’ they can advertise and the posters attract attention because they’re different. On the day of the event, there’s a line, and everyone knows, nothing draws a crowd like a crowd! - When it comes to improving on this basic model, the possibilities are endless. The photographer could let the store give away coupons for a free 8×10 to anyone who spends $50 or more in the store. The photographer could give a cash reward to the department store clerk who signs up the most appointments. And don’t forget, the photographer doesn’t mail the finished prints unless the customer pays extra. Instead, customers can come back to the store again to pick up their prints at no additional charge (and the store loves that).
What if you just want to get your images in front of people. Where can you go? Well the first, most obvious place is a frame shop or a gallery. But everybody thinks of those places. I’m not suggesting that you don’t bother trying to get your work featured there, but don’t give up if they say no. Move on to all kinds of businesses that have high traffic. Is there a restaurant where you could post your work with a small brass plaque? Don’t bother with the big national chains because they have strict rules about what can be on their walls, but try local, popular restaurants. Besides the plaque, be sure every server in the restaurant has access to your brochures, so if a customer comments about a beautiful photo hanging on the wall, the server can say, “Oh, yes. And they’re not only from a local artist, but you can buy them. I’ll get you a brochure with all the information and a discount code so you can get any one of these images (or others posted at the web site) and save 20%. That way you can track where the referrals come from (by the discount code) and you can reward the server (your ad-hoc sales person) for the referral.
Do you create beautiful art prints? Do you have a style a designer might appreciate? Try working with local designers. Once they’re familiar with your work, they might suggest it for placement in a home they’re working on. Do what you can to make it easy for them. If you can afford it, loan them a dozen canvases of your work (the images they told you they liked best) so they can have some canvas wraps on hand to use in putting together a particular room.
What about furniture stores? Consider offering to loan your work to be hung in local furniture showrooms. Again, work with them to meet their needs. Do they have a group they want to show off in a particular way? Offer to create a custom image (possibly featuring a locally popular landmark) in exactly the color scheme/size they need. But step up the service you can provide. People come into furniture stores looking at couches and chairs, and the salesperson usually whips out a swatch book to show them all the colors and fabrics they could choose.
Here’s a neat idea. I have never heard of anyone doing it, but imagine if you were the featured photographer/artist for every single image on the walls of the local furniture showroom. Then (assuming you’re good at Photoshop) you could offer to recreate any image to match any furniture color the customer selects. The customer could receive a scaled down, ’soft proof’ sent by computer so they could see the color change and buy artwork that matches their furniture perfectly!
So maybe you think some of these suggestions are over the top. Maybe you think these things would never work. I promise you this, if you don’t try it (or try something creative) then nothing will change. Get out there and try something. Think about who else serves your target market but doesn’t compete directly with you, and then come up with a way to make it worthwhile for them to help you market to their audience. Are you willing to try something new?