These days the barrier to entry on starting your own business is very low. Which is super awesome because what used to be the pipe dreams of the past while you daydream at your desk can honestly become your living with a bit of tech know how and a lot of determination!
The downfall to that is that it means that there is a ton of competition in each field. I've watched how much the photography industry has changed since I started my business in 2005 and it's a completely different game than it was 12 years ago.
But even with a ton of competition, you can still stand out and get the clients you love and who love you. It just takes some smarts.
1 ) Don't rely on social media alone to be seen.
I love Facebook and Instagram just like the biz down the block, but if you plan on using social media alone to be seen by your customer base, you are going to spend a lot of time with an empty email box. While it was great back in like 2010 when we grew our Facebook business pages and all our fans saw what we put out there, it was a gravy train of inquiries for many of us, and then when that stopped working, Instagram popped up and fixed our problems. Well, as expected, Instagram is now throttling back on who is seeing what and the numbers of engagement are lower and lower. While I do find value in social media, I have stopped using it as my main way for new clients to see me. I still use Facebook and Instagram to be seen but I use it as one facet of my marketing technique.
It's important to remember that companies like Facebook Instagram and even Pinterest make money on businesses paying to be seen. So, it's going to be harder and harder to be seen without paying for it. These sites hold the attention of our audiences, so look into and decide if it makes sense to pay to play, or find another way to get seen by folks. One great way is an email list!
2) Blog. Consistently.
Blogging is one of those things that is either loved or hated. But you can't overlook the value of blogging in a world where all clients want to be informed. By blogging (like I'm doing here) shows that you know what you are talking about and gives the client enough info to know if they trust you or not. If you gain their trust, you are one step closer to gaining their business. And that isn't even considering how valuable it is for SEO and having your website organically be seen by the billions of searches on Google that happen daily.
3) Network. In Person.
Networking with the industry you are in is invaluable. People value relationships and will market for you if they love you and what you do. As a wedding photographer, I've gotten the majority of my business year after year from other wedding vendors, and more specifically other wedding photographers. Just because someone has the same business as you, doesn't mean that they shouldn't be in your network. It means they absolutely should. As if that person can't do the job that comes in, they are going to want to give the client a referral. And don't you want to be at the tip of their tongue?
Look at Facebook for networking groups that are in your industry to start. Look for your local Rising Tide Chapter or join BNI. The important thing is to find a group that you can meet people in person and create an actual relationship. That face to face connection is ever more important in our increasingly digital world!
4) Client Experience.
With everyone out there being a small business, your clients have more options than ever to get their needs taken care of. The best way to be one that clients not only come back to again and again but also your clients will be raving fans for you is to create a fabulous client experience. Under promise and over deliver. Send handwritten notes or special gifts if they are a big enough client for you. Make a personal connection so that they are invested in you as much as you are invested in them! Do this alone and your business will grow!
5) Listen and Grease that Squeaky Wheel.
We all hate to admit that sometimes we drop the ball. Sometimes we under promise and under deliver and you now have a less than stoked client on your hands. Before you get up in arms about how they have wronged you, always take a deep breath and realize that you are in business to help people and to make money. And at this point, you haven't helped in the way that the squeaky wheel was expecting and if they decide to be loud about their unhappiness, it can easily affect your money coming in. So, when you know you haven't done everything that you can to make the client happy, then give more and bend over backward to fix the problem. Or better yet, address the problem before they have a chance to tell you they weren't happy.
I had a client this fall that I photographed for her family portraits. The session took a while to book, and it took a while to get them back into the studio to see their photos. Both had to do with their schedule and mine being busy, but it didn't fall within my own standards of how I like to do business. My client was happy and okay it was taking a bit longer. Then her order took longer than it should as well because of some travel in my schedule, and then it had to go back to the lab because a canvas she ordered didn't pass my quality standards. Because of all of these things, she was getting a little antsy wanting to get her photos (understandably so!) and when she did make it in to get her order, I made sure to address the lengthiness the entire process had taken, apologized for it, and offered the next years portrait session fee would be waived. Did she ask for that? No, but you know she was extremely happy I offered it, and now I have a client for life because of it.
It's all about putting ourselves it in their shoes and seeing the interaction from their point of view. Then making it sparkle as much as we can!
6) Offer a Guarantee.
This is a psychological trick to take away that fear of buyers remorse. If they know they can return the product or have 24 hours to back out of their contract after signing, or a guarantee that they will be happy with your service, then they will be more likely to buy from you. Many small businesses are scared of offering guarantees, but as long as you do #4 and #5, the likeliness of needing to ever refund will be low!
BONUS 7: Have Quality Images that Impress.
One of the ways to make sure people stop and stay on your website when they find you is to make it visually appealing. You have less than 3 seconds to get their attention and make them want more. Does your website do that or does it leave people feeling like they are looking at a dated or amateur site? You want to impress people, and there is a reason why big corporations pay an amazing amount of money to have images that make you stop in your tracks. So up your businesses game and hire a professional photographer to create a custom set of images that tell just what your brand wants to say! You can see more by checking out the brand photography options here.
Well, that's it. My 6 ways to make your small business stand out from the crowd.
I'd love to hear your thoughts below!