For pretty much my first 7 years working as a professional photographer I resolutely ignored pretty much everything to do with ‘marketing’. I didn’t like it, even though I wasn’t totally sure why I didn’t like it, and though I’m aware this sounds bloody ridiculous, it scared me a bit. Even just the word itself made my insides feel a bit weird, so I did the adult thing and basically just pretended it didn’t exist 🙂
Every now and then, the dreaded M word would rear its ugly head somewhere and I’d be reminded again that there was something out there that deep down I knew I should be doing. But I’d usually just reassure myself that it didn’t really apply to me – I was a creative, not a marketer or salesperson… My ‘thing’ wasn’t about business, it was about making beautiful, meaningful pictures. I carried on randomly posting the odd image on social media and blogging the occasional shoot when I remembered.
The problem was, my ‘thing’ WAS about business. I wasn’t just taking pictures for fun, my family relied on me making a full-time wage from it. I’d been lucky that clients usually did eventually find their way to my door, but I only ever had ‘just enough’ business and it always felt like something I had no control over, that I was just passively waiting for – I’d sit at my computer with my fingers crossed each month, hoping that the bookings would come in, breathing a massive sigh of relief if they did and panicking if they didn’t.
In the end this approach was exhausting – I needed more security for my family and realised that it was actually more of a hassle to avoid marketing than to just get over myself and learn how to do it. I signed up to a range of different online marketing courses and worked with a couple of coaches. It was a revelation – it completely demystified this thing that I’d somehow built up in my head as some kind of legendary beast, and showed me how simple and accessible marketing can be. I wanted to share with you 5 self-limiting “truths” I used to tell myself about marketing, along with the steps I took to banish them 🙂
1) “I DON’T LIKE SELLING”
Marketing is not selling. Not that there’s anything wrong with selling – but marketing is not the same. Even if you’re uncomfortable with the sales part of the process (which many photographers are, myself included) you can still get comfortable with marketing. For me, it helped to get clarity on what it actually is. In a nutshell, marketing is just ensuring that your brand gets seen by the people who’d genuinely really value it. Your ideal clients will massively benefit from what you do, but your brand and services are no good to them if they don’t actually know they exist. Marketing is just putting the right things in front of the right people in the right place, for the collective good of all involved. Once I got my head around this, I felt so much more comfortable with it.
2) “IT FEELS PUSHY/ARROGANT TO PROMOTE MYSELF”
This is a biggie and re-framing this limiting belief is crucial. It’s a belief that reared its head regularly for me, and sometimes still does. Even once I understood marketing was simply trying to make sure my brand was seen by the right people, I still felt really uncomfortable about showing it to them in a positive light – it felt like showing off or like I was pushing it on them. Most of us photographers are genuinely modest folk and it just feels a bit ‘ugh’ (for want of a better word!) telling others about the good things we do.
The key here is to genuinely get to grips with the VALUE of what you do. Sometimes as business owners we focus so much on the features and specs of what we offer that we forget to stop and really appreciate how valuable and beneficial our offering is to others. If you genuinely believe something’s valuable to others, then you owe it to them to tell them about it because they’d be missing out if you didn’t. In your personal life, if you come across something that you think your friends/family will benefit from, what do you do? You tell them about it because you want to help them out and give them access to something useful. It’s no different with your own business. If you genuinely believe your business is valuable and beneficial to people (and if you don’t then you shouldn’t be selling it in the first place!) then by telling them about it you’re not showing off, you’re actually helping others and giving them the opportunity to benefit from something genuinely worthwhile.
3) “MARKETING’S JUST TOO OVERWHELMING, THERE ARE SO MANY DIFFERENT TYPES I SHOULD BE DOING”
Marketing can certainly feel overwhelming because this is nearly true – there ARE so many different things you COULD be doing. But ‘could’ is different to ‘should’. It’s literally impossible for you to tackle every kind of marketing out there – certainly not if you work on your own like most of us do. Companies who nail multiple types of marketing will often have a marketing team working solely on doing that (either in-house or outsourced). If you’re a solo business owner working (as most of us do) as a photographer, editor, admin assistant, blogger, customer care manager and product designer amongst many other different things, it’s just impossible for you to tackle all types of marketing at once. On top of this, not all types of marketing are relevant, desirable or appropriate for everyone. You really don’t have to do them all, nor should you.
The key is to just pick ONE to really focus on right now that feels right for you. It should be well chosen via a careful analysis of your brand, ideal client and business objectives, but one is all that’s needed at any one time. Maybe it’s Instagram, maybe email marketing, maybe in-person event(s), maybe Facebook, maybe collaborations, maybe Youtube… it will vary from person to person and there is no single ‘correct’ one – just choose one that you feel personally comfortable with and that aligns with your analysis of your brand and target clients. Then you just focus really well on that – if it works, great, you can just rinse and repeat if you want to in future, or try something else if you want to. If it doesn’t work, you can either tweak it or try something different next time.
4) “EACH KIND OF MARKETING IS SO COMPLICATED TO MANAGE AND MAINTAIN”
Even if you do only pick one type of marketing, there are usually still many different moving parts to it that need to be created, maintained and managed at different times. It’s not something you can just do one day and then it’s done. It’s not a single action, or a series of random actions; it’s a cohesive strategy that pulls together multiple actions to lead to a clear outcome. As such, it can feel a bit complicated and confusing.
Making a simple, accessible marketing strategy is the key to avoiding overwhelm and unnecessary complication. You need a focused, organised, written plan with a clear goal. It might take a day or two to formulate it all, but it’s not difficult and once it’s all written down, all you need to do for the foreseeable future is just follow and schedule it, a simple set of instructions with dates and times.
5) “I’M SCARED ABOUT WHAT OTHER PEOPLE WILL SAY ABOUT ME”
Putting yourself out there is scary, especially with a creative business as it’s so personal. For most of us it’s scary enough just putting our work out there, let alone also talking about what we do and letting people know about it.
There are a couple of things to remember here. Firstly, hardly anyone (in fact no-one) will think about your work anywhere near as much as you do. You’re kidding yourself if you think people will spend a lot of time disliking and picking apart your work or marketing efforts. No-one will do this, most people just won’t give it much thought at all, they’re too busy focusing on their own life and work. Even if, for the sake of argument, someone does spend time being negative about what you do… just ask yourself… What does this say about them?! Only insecure people focus on tearing others down, and usually do it to multiple people, it won’t be just you. Their negativity is their issue not yours and they are not people you need to worry about. But remember, hardly anyone is like this – most folk are nice people who, at best, will love what you do, and at worst, will just ignore what you do if it’s not for them.
This brings me on to the second thing, which is that you just have to accept the hard truth that you won’t be for everyone. No-one is. Photography and marketing are down to personal taste and connection. There’s no right and wrong, you’ll be some people’s cup of tea and not others, and that’s fine. Some people just won’t like what you do or say; they might not like your work, or your marketing efforts. But those people are not YOUR people and were never going to be, so you’re not losing anything. As with life and friendship, there’s no ‘right’ person to like or be friends with – everyone is different and everyone connects with different people. If you’re honest, you’ll always attract likeminded folk and turn off those who live differently. Don’t limit yourself or waste your energy focusing on people who aren’t your ‘tribe’, just always focus on those who are. If you conduct your business and your marketing with integrity, from an honest, well-intentioned place, your tribe will like, understand and value who you are, what you say and what you do. As long as you’re doing right by them, nothing else matters.
If you’d like help creating your own simple marketing strategy, please do check out my branding, marketing and productivity system, THE GAME PLAN:
This includes a step-by-step walkthrough of creating, setting up and implementing your marketing strategy, including simple templates to complete and follow. Please do check it out, I’d love to help you!