Business Trends
Plan Ahead Now For 2006; Marketing Plans And Strategies For Building Your Business

Are you ready for 2006? If you have been reading this column all year you have probably picked up quite a few tips and techniques from successful photographers, from those who do weddings to architectural to fine art work. As the year turns I have been collecting some thoughts to help you plan for the New Year with a new (or perhaps renewed) marketing plan of action.

Better Websites
A website can attract new customers to your business, from local to across the globe. Websites are a hybrid marketing tool, working both as an ad and as a portfolio. As ads, they are broadcasting your message to the widest possible audience. As portfolios, they can have all the intimacy of a one-on-one presentation. When your website has high rankings in the search engines under appropriate categories for your photography services, or many links from keywords prospective clients might search for, you should get dozens of inquiries from clients who otherwise might never call you, or even know you exist.

More Effective E-Mail Marketing
E-mail campaigns are similar to advertising. One single e-mail with no plan or theme will yield minimal results. Here are some things to remember when trying out this new marketing technology. Don't use a subject line of more than 35 characters. Use subject words that are concise and relevant to the client. The subject line should contain at least one keyword that is a benefit to the client. For example, try "photography for communications" or "children's portrait photos."

Do test how your e-mail will display to clients. Broken links or raw HTML code in e-mail marketing are ugly. Try setting up test accounts with the major online services to see how they handle your e-mail. Always put yourself in the prospective client's shoes to see how it looks to them. Don't be cute and use words like "free" or "thank you" as these are often spam-filtered and your e-mail will never be seen. Use online "content checkers" (for example, try to test your e-mail for words in the "To, From, Subject" lines and even in the body text that might trigger a spam filter.

Do use a good permission-based e-mail list. Your best e-mail address list comes from current clients and good prospects who have opted in to e-mail contact with you. This consent may come from visiting your website, replying to your direct mail, viewing your portfolio, or buying a list. Do have a specific goal for your e-mail campaign. Regular contact with current and prospective clients may be two different e-mail messages. For current clients, you can be more familiar as they already know your work. For prospective clients, you will need a reason that the client cares about. It could be new services available or current client success stories. Be irresistible!

Don't go on and on. Your very brief e-mail body message should open with the first couple of sentences designed to capture a client's interest, then use active hyperlinks to selected web pages on your site. You do not need to send them to your homepage.

Don't ignore "bounced" e-mail. "Bounced" e-mail is when you send an e-mail to an address that no longer exists. It is a good way for you to keep your own personal database clean. Also, today's ISPs have rules, and if you exceed their standards for undeliverable (bounced) messages, they could flag you as a spammer and block all your e-mail!

Those You Know And Those You Don't
Direct mail by e-mail can be an efficient solution for following up with prospects who already know about you. But it's not the best solution to initially introduce your photography to a prospect. Far too many companies are sending out e-mail to people without their permission. Not only is this ineffective as a marketing strategy (most clients simply delete e-mail they don't recognize) but it can seriously backfire when someone is offended by your unsolicited mail. Concentrate your e-mail efforts on those clients and prospects after "first contact."

Don't Forget The Human Touch
Technology makes it too easy to get into some real impersonal marketing, but that route is never as effective as the personal touch! When you have a website and use e-mail to contact your customers, you may think there's no reason to contact them in person. You may feel justified in not picking up the phone, attending a networking meeting, participating in community events, or even suggesting a lunch date if you think technology is doing the job for you. It is not. A website or e-mail is never a substitute for a client or prospect hearing your voice or seeing your face. It's pretty rare for someone to hire a photographer without talking to him or her first, so if you put off the talking, you may also be putting off the hiring.