The common bond that most wedding photographers share is our humble beginnings. We didn’t buy an office and a client list as a dentist might do. Most of us weren’t lucky enough to inherit a family business. Nor did most of us build a client base, a reputation, and a network without a time of struggle. The duration of that struggle, however, varies from photographer to photographer with some seemingly stuck in it. Some are doing everything they can do to grow their business, while others are relying on luck, wishful thinking, and marketing tips that they learned from a 2 hour DVD.
You’ll probably never hear a photographer at conventions like WPPI giving speeches on Craigslist marketing. Actually scratch that, one photographer who we greatly respect is Robert Evans. During a presentation, Robert actually showed us his very first wedding he shot. He gave us a glimpse of the truth and where his humble beginnings started. The wedding looked so depressing that if every “aspiring professional photographer” saw it, 90% would probably reconsider their choice of profession. It is because of this reason that we so greatly admire Robert Evans. Because we know what it took to get where he is today as a celebrity photographer.
Truth is, showing these events and these humble beginnings simply isn’t sexy. Catering, or should i say, bargaining with budget couples isn’t considered “living the dream.” Instead, the majority of the industry has bought into a dream of $10K weddings and mailboxes overflowing with inquiries through marketing techniques catered to high end brides. It’s not that the photographers promoting these techniques are being unrealistic or telling anything other than the truth based on their experiences. Rather, I think the interpretation and application of these high end marketing theories, coupled with the “anyone can do it” sentiment that’s almost ubiquitous in the industry, have made some photographers unable or unwilling to hustle just a little bit. I’m not implying a lack of work ethic or devotion to their business. But I’m asking, are these people doing everything that they can to grow their business?
We all need to start somewhere and build up; and I think it’s important that we use all of the resources available to us, including free classifieds like Craigslist. There are important rules and tips to follow for creating effective posts dealing with the time of day to post, the content and titles of the post, the cities to post in, and the frequencies of your posts; and I will talk about creating effective Craigslist campaigns in another article. But for this article, I want to focus on convincing those photographers who are just starting their businesses that Craigslist, despite all that you may have heard, is a good resource to help grow your business. So here are 5 reasons wedding photographers should post on Craigslist.
1) Free Targeted Traffic - Almost everyone who clicks through to your post will be 1) looking for a wedding photographer and 2) located in your area (or an area you’re willing to travel to). This seems obvious, but contrast this with an advertisement in a magazine where brides, ex-brides, and wannabe brides are viewing your ad from locations all around the world. To reach such a target audience as the one you’ll reach through Craigslist is any marketer’s dream. And it’s free!
When our studio was posting, we were getting an average of 2 hits per post to our main website linandjirsa.com according to Google Analytics. Two potential clients for the 2 minutes of work for posting is a very good return on investment by anyone’s standards. Contrast that with a $3,500 ad we placed on a large national website where we received around 30 hits a month. Annualized, we probably paid just under a dollar per visit, mostly from brides in irrelevant locations around the nation.
2) Some Mid Range Budgets – While most couples who contacted us through Craigslist were on tight budgets, we had a few here and there who were ready to allocate a fair amount of money for their photography. With the right post, good photography, and good sales techniques, you could land a few $3k to $5k weddings here and there from clients who don’t see Craigslist as a place for budget brides but rather a website they are accustomed to visiting for finding local goods and services.
3) Low End Can Lead to High End – When we first started, we did plenty of 6+ hour weddings for $500 bucks. Ridiculous right? In actuality, I’m sure this is a common story for most wedding photographers. In our case, we treated them like $10K weddings, bringing out the whole team, trying advanced photography techniques, schmoozing with the clients, etc. Just because a bride has a $500 budget doesn’t mean all of her guests do. From one of these gigs, we booked our first high-end destination wedding.
4) Experience and Practice – You can second shoot forever and still not know how to deliver a consistent, high-quality wedding photography product. There’s nothing like learning through the pressure of posing your couple and getting the right shot when a wedding’s running late, getting a crisp shot of a first kiss in a dark chapel, or improvising when equipment seems to act up. Monetarily, these $500 dollar gigs might amount to little more than minimum wage after you factor in a 2 photog team, post production, sales time and delivery of the final product, but the experience is priceless.
5) Book Without Damaging Your Brand – With very good reason, many photographers fear that their presence on Craigslist will affect their overall brand image. For example, you might not want a Google search bringing up your website along with all of your Craigslist postings. Though this is a valid concern, there are certain ways to avoid the potential damage. For example, you don’t have to mention your studio name in the ad. Instead, you can say “click here to view our work” and link directly from the “click here” or link directly from the image collage you include in your post.
Conclusion: I’m not arguing that Craigslist postings will solve all of your problems, or that it’s all you need to be doing. Concurrently with posting on Craigslist, we were putting in a lot of time and effort building our web presence, networking with planners, florists, and other wedding professionals, and most importantly, learning new techniques and improving our skills in order to differentiate ourselves from others in the competitive market of Southern California. After some time, there was no longer a need to post; but I can’t imagine how much longer it would have taken to get our business to its current state without the hustle of posting on Craigslist.
As always, I would love to hear what you think in the comments!