Today’s photographers are lucky – through the Internet, they have the whole wide world at their fingertips. That certainly beats the Yellow Pages slogan “Let your fingers do the walking” in the early 1970’s when we were just starting.
But while the web can give you information on the world, you would still need to define who your target market is, and to actually create a database of your prospective clients. Hopefully, you can later move up your prospective clients as current clients.
Start by defining the demographics of your target audience. Depending on the type of photography that you are doing, this could refer, whether to people or companies, to a geographic location, an economic level or activity, age, interests. You could set your own parameters.
Although in the 70’s when we were just starting we did not know how to segment the market, we somehow knew that we had to target customers. In our case, we targeted advertising agencies, and the main source of my listing was the Yellow Pages. I picked up the (used to be) big, thick book, and looked under “Advertising Agencies.” Then I called and asked the receptionist/operator whom I should talk to about presenting John’s portfolio. In sales lingo, this is called “a cold call.” I made sure that I got the name of the person I needed to talk to so that, by the time the call was transferred, I was addressing him by his name (family name, of course) and I knew that he was a Creative Director. It wasn’t too cold anymore.
(I had a lot of experience in doing cold calls. Right after college, I sold encyclopedias. After a morning of sales training, our field manager would drop us off at a street (his choice, not ours) in Metro Manila, or any Philippine city where we would be selling, and we would survey the street for possible sales targets. Sometimes, gates and doors would be slammed on our faces, and sometimes, we would be welcomed into strangers’ homes and even treated to refreshments. We were told not to be disheartened by rejections because the next one might be The One who would sign on the dotted lines).
Target markets could be individuals, or they could be companies. For example, if, like what we do, you would like to target businesses instead of individuals, then you’re in business to business (B2B). We look further at limiting this market, as we can’t possibly service all companies. In our case, since presently we have three photographers of varying expertise, we have defined our target market as being in the automotive, food, personal care/cosmetics/fashion, manufacturing, industrial and real estate sectors.
While it was just six months after martial law was declared when we set up Adphoto, and we were accustomed to the slow advertising business of the 1970’s, we were totally unprepared for the great blow to the industry that a tragic event created. It was August 1983, and Senator Benigno Aquino was assassinated at the tarmac of the Manila International Airport. And that solitary event almost shut down the advertising industry. The Philippine economy went for a nosedive, advertising was almost non-existed and many industries contracted. In the face of uncertainty, advertisers pulled out their ads from newspapers, magazines, radio and television. The 1983 advertising congress, which traditionally was a well-attended event as industry folks troop to Baguio to fete their colleagues, felt more like a wake, and industry practitioners were saying good-bye to each other.
The advertising industry was in crisis, and as advertising photographers, we were similarly threatened. John told me to call on clients during the day, do paperwork at night and to accept whatever work came our way. But that approach to work was completely draining. Every night, I would be exhausted! I told myself that there must be a better way than trying to run after every possible client. We needed to focus our efforts instead of spreading ourselves thinly. Why not analyze the situation and ask ourselves the crucial question: what companies or industries would survive, or even prosper, when the economy is floundering?
We placed our bet on the food and pharmaceutical industries. Rationalizing our choices, we argued that no matter how badly the Philippine economy went, people would still have to eat, and to buy medicines. We ran after companies in these two sectors, but later decided to focus on food, since many restrictions on advertising for drugs reduced income possibilities or profits from that sector.
It did not mean that we did photography only for those industries. We, of course, accepted everything that came our way, as we needed to survive. But our marketing effort was concentrated on the food industry sector. Our investments in the business were aligned with that marketing direction – we renovated and expanded our studio kitchen, we bought plates and cutlery that could be used as props, we purchased backgrounds and table surfaces that food clients often asked for, and all that paid off. We became known as food photographers.
To go back to how to segment your market – define and describe the kind of customers you would like to have, and align all your efforts – including choosing a location for your studio, purchase of equipment, improvement of your facilities and enhancement of your skills in the type of photography that would cater to the market that you have identified.
We know of one portrait photographer who had identified high society matrons to be the market for his photography. He dressed accordingly, attended exclusive parties (for sure he was invited since he moved in their circle), and got seen in the society pages of newspapers and magazines. He was and still is in demand, and it probably helps that he lives in the U.S., occasionally coming to the Philippines, adding to his image (and branding) as a celebrity photographer.
Just in case these tips still faze you and you still don’t know whom to target as your market, you may want to derive inspiration from author, Harvey Mackay. When he started out as an envelope salesman, he didn’t know where to find customers. So he identified his company’s biggest competitor, and went to their offices. He parked his car near where this competitor’s delivery trucks exited, and when one came out, he followed the truck. As the deliveryman unloaded boxes of envelopes, he noted down names and addresses of where deliveries were made. At the end of day, he had his list of prospective clients!
Another way is simply to decide who or what you would like to photograph, and take it from there. Some photographers only choose to target the top 1000 corporations. Others cater only to children, as children’s portraiture is what they have specialized in. Many photographers have found their fortune in doing school photography. Or weddings.
Once you have decided what or whom you would like to photograph, by broadly identifying your target market, you would want to work on the finer strokes – looking at smaller segments of these broader sections of possible customers. I have a student, who when asked for the niche she would like to pursue said, “fashion.” Following Tony Luna’s challenge to look for the smallest niche (Tony Luna: Lifecycle of a Freelance Photography Job), I asked her, what’s smaller than “fashion photography” answered with a giggle “men’s fashion.” Other students followed through with various answers “children’s fashion,” “infants’ fashion,” “senior fashion,” “big size fashion,” “gay fashion,” and “ethnic fashion.” The list continued to grow, and this is the challenge you might want to pursue – how small a niche can you find.
Baby portraiture is a popular niche, and many portrait photographers include babies in their repertoire of portraits. However, usually, photographers wait until babies are about between four and six months old so that they can be posed sitting down, and at that point, already be reacting and interacting with photographers. It would be easier then to get them to smile. Anne Geddes, an Australian-born photographer, on the other hand, sought to photograph an even smaller niche, not just babies but newborns, and thus succeeded in setting a trend in infant photography. After finding and identifying a sub-niche, she then went on to very creatively expand the various situations that she photographed newborns – not with usual props or situations like a child’s chair, or a blanket, but in baskets, flowers, vases, pails – or simply contained in the big and strong hands of their fathers. Beyond doing portraits, she further expanded the products that featured these photographs. She produced cards, stationaries, posters, boxes, calendars, and even coffee-table books.
Once you have decided on your intended niche, draw up a list of those whom you would like to win as accounts, customers or clients, and add their contact info and other bits of information about them. This is the process of creating a Client Database. For personal portraits – such as for infants – it may take some sleuthing and proactive efforts to connect with your prospective clients. I’ve known of photographers who have made arrangements with hospitals to take photos of newborns and offer them for free to mothers. Try vets’ clinics, if you are doing pet photography. (You can do this on an Excel spreadsheet or use a contact management software/app). Or, in a reverse process, your list could grow when you have “put yourself out there” through advertising or social media marketing, and prospective customers call you. Sometimes, additions to your clients’ database could come from your inspired actions. When one of our account executives bagged a job, I asked how she found her client. She said she was caught in heavy traffic and noticed a truck next to her car. It had big photographic sticker panels, and she copied down the name and contact info of the company. She pursued that lead, and voila, she found a new client!
Students have often told me that they’ve heard that to get started in business, they would need connections, but I like to say that it’s not the connections that they (or their parents) have, but the connections that they make and the connections that they keep that will help them succeed in business.
It’s your turn now to decide on your niche, and to start creating your client database. Make and keep your connections, and you’re on your way to succeeding in the business of photography.