Mid-Year Marketing Plan Update; An Interview With Bill McCurry

Stop. Look. Listen. You learned it when you were a little kid and it is good advice today. We are all so busy doing our photography that we often don't make the time to do our job of running a business. Part of any good business plan is scheduling a mid-year marketing update. It's a reality check--where have you been, where are you now, where are you going?

To guide us through this, we talked with Bill McCurry, of McCurry Associates (www.mccurryassoc.com). He is the lead author of Digital Guerrilla Marketing and Guerrilla Managing for the Imaging Industry (and other books published by PMA). McCurry is also the author of the new book It's Your People...Really! Change Your Focus To Grow Your Sales, released at PMA Orlando in February 2005. His sessions at PMA conventions and conferences are among the best-attended events at those shows. As an author and professional speaker, McCurry works with imaging firms to create practical and effective marketing solutions. His techniques use low-cost marketing ideas for promoting your imaging products and services successfully.

Shutterbug: You talk in your books about spending money on marketing more effectively, how does that start?

Bill McCurry: We often buy marketing because someone has sold it to us--usually a bad plan. You do not have to throw a lot of money at marketing. It is not as effective as creating a budget. Most of the really successful businesses I have seen work with a time/energy/ imagination/cash budget instead of just a dollar budget. It is a plan that budgets time, energy, imagination, and some money. Time is the most critical factor--book time on your calendar for marketing--time with you for you. You should spend 60 percent of this "budget" on existing customers. The most effective marketing is selling to an existing customer base.

SB: Photographers often ask me about direction. Is direction the same as your advice to find your focus? How do you do that and what is the benefit?

BM: What I mean by focus is to look hard at current and past customers and ask, "How do I build a relationship so I will be irreplaceable?" You want your focus to be the building of repeat and referral business. You can't afford to depend on just looking for new business. It costs so much more to get a new client than to keep one you already have. It is also very expensive (in time/energy/imagination/ cash) to get people to change their buying patterns. When a prospective client is happy with the photographer they are working with, you don't really want the client to "drop" them. If they do, what does that say about them as a future client for you? Don't you want clients who want long-term relationships? I think you do.

SB: Give us some ideas for our mid-year "reality check" for growing photography sales.

BM: Here are some specific tips:
Find out how your customers prefer to be contacted by asking them individually and then make that happen.

Junk mail and spam is only for sending non-targeted materials; make sure you are sending relevant information.

Internet marketing works best for customers under 40 years and over 60 years old. Most of them use websites to find services and think of the Internet as an unlimited "yellow pages."

E-mail and direct mail can be done on a mass basis. For a portrait business builder, use this kind of personalized mass mailing idea: Send out a print of last year's portrait and ask, "Here is Susie last year...what does she look like today?"

The more difficult you make yourself to be contacted, the less you will be contacted. Give out your phone, fax, and
e-mail--if appropriate give a physical address but then you will have to add your "store hours" to this information.

SB: What do you think is the most overlooked area of marketing a photography business?

BM: It is building referral business: Learn to ask! Most photographers do not know how to ask for a referral or build referrals into their delivery of photography. When you have a relationship with people--portrait, wedding, commercial--and when they say, "Wow! You did good work" try these ideas:
Say, "Thank you"; that means a lot. I am collecting a scrapbook of notes from people I have worked with. Highlight keyword phrases in these letters and use them in your marketing; this is a sales brochure you cannot buy!

Say, "Who else do you know who would appreciate this kind of work that we do? We are looking for a few new customers like you." Be sure to add the second part.

When you are delivering framed images, take a clear envelope with a dozen business cards in it and tape it to the back of the framed picture. Say to your customer, "I put a couple of cards on the back of the print in case someone asks about the work."

If you want to give a reward for referrals give them something they would never buy. If you sell portraits, don't give away portraits--use something special, such as an album or a photography calendar. Again, find something they would not usually or normally buy. This idea is especially effective if you do consumer work (weddings, portraits, and children).

Finally, use images of your own customers (with their permission, of course) in your marketing and promotion.