Do You Make This Critical Mistake with Your Photography Marketing?

Each year, we take time away from the day to day operations of running the studio in order to reflect on our successes and our challenges. We take a deeper look at what has worked for us and why. Then we look at what hasn’t worked and examine our challenges and struggles in greater detail, looking for ways that we can improve things in the following year.

We review all areas of our business-marketing, sales, customer service, shooting, production workflow, suppliers, vendor relationships, booking rates etc. Any area of our business gets reviewed for improvements.

Review Past Photography Marketing Results

One of the key areas we look at is marketing our studio to brides. What is going to be the best way to use our marketing time and money? Some years it’s more time than money, other years it has been more money than time. [For our studio, the marketing budget ranges between $10,000-$30,000 in case you are curious. I hate it when people refuse to talk numbers, how else are we supposed to learn?].

There are so many different ways you can approach wedding marketing. How do you know what will work? Should you focus more on photography branding this year? How about bridal shows? Editorial submissions? Vendor relationships? Ads in bridal magazines? The list goes on and on. Choosing the right marketing strategy is key. Choose wrong, and you are in for a lean year financially. Choose right and business will be better than it ever has been.

Track Leads & Bookings

How do you choose? Simple. You look at where your bookings came from in the past. Are you tracking your leads? Do you know how many bookings you got from Google versus Here Comes the Guide versus the fancy hotel you have your best sample album in? If you don’t know exactly how many bookings you’ve gotten from each wedding marketing effort, that is where you need to start.

If you aren’t basing your wedding marketing decisions on where your past bookings have come from, you are making a huge mistake. What you want to do is look at what is working for you, and what is not working. The only way to see if something is working is if you are getting actual bookings from it. For example, if you invested in 6 bridal shows this past year and you got exactly 2 bookings from it, you can conclude that it is not an effective strategy for you at this time. On the other hand, if you provided a sample album and large wall portrait for a venue and you have received five bookings + many more inquiries from that venue, then that is an excellent return on your time and marketing dollars.

If you aren’t currently tracking where your bookings come from, you need to start, and dig through past years bookings in order to get this information. Bookings are the only proof as to what marketing is working for you, not leads. You can get all the leads a venue has to offer, but if none of those brides book, then it’s not a good match between your services and that venue. If you are just starting out, remember that marketing takes time to take effect. 

Our Tracking System

We track our bookings through the use of a spreadsheet called “Booked Weddings.” Each year, we track each and every booking and key details. Here is what we track in our spreadsheet:
photog./wed. date/book date/months between book & wed. date/names/total $ spent/venue/how they found us/

Over the years, this has been an incredible resource for us. At the end of each year, we review where we spent marketing dollars, and where our bookings came from. Strategies that have proven effective are allocated more money for the next year to expand those efforts, while of course strategies that failed are given much less money (or zero’d out). It’s very effective, and helps us to avoid the same costly mistakes year after year.

Review Trends

We also take a look at average package prices to see what the trends have been, and this helps us understand how to adjust our packages. The other key metric we look at is how many bookings we had at this point last year. The booking pattern has been very similar each year. We know that we book weddings between 6-8 months out, we know at what point during the season we book the bulk of our weddings, which allows us to really maximize that period of time, our ‘booking season.’

If you haven’t been collecting this information for your studio, it’s not too late. You might be able to go back through old emails to find the ‘how you heard about us' details. It’s well worth the time to set yourself up for this, you will gain so much valuable knowledge about the best wedding marketing you can do for your studio.

Do More of What's Working

Whatever is working for you, do more of that. So for example, if you are having good results from a sample album at a venue, put together a list of other venues that you might be able to put a sample album in. I will tell you right now, some will work for you, others won’t. It’s a combination of factors including-does your album stand out from the others? Does the venue person personally choose and hand your album to prospective clients? Do you have a good relationship with the venue? Was the wedding(s) you’ve photographed there good enough to excite and inspire brides to call you?

What do you do that makes a huge difference with your marketing? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.


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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Cindy Brown | Atlanta Wedding Photographer October 14, 2011 at 6:54 am

I use ShootQ and the contact form that connects through to ShootQ has a place for clients to choose how they heard about you. I set up the pull down menu with as many places as I can think of that they could’ve found me to jog their memory. Sometimes they still can’t remember … Was it google search, bing search, a facebook ad?
Thankfully most folks remember (or think they do … I’m sure there’s some bad data in there from people like me with a poor memory 🙂
Shootq then pulls all the data into graph from so you can see where you are getting the most leads, what percentage of leads from each source are booking, and how much profit you are making from each booking. I would never be that organized without ShootQ.

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Lara White October 14, 2011 at 8:06 am

I heart Shootq in a big way. It does so many things (like what you just mentioned) that we used to do manually. It also keeps track of all the vendors you have worked with, and you can input each potential client’s referral (if they don’t fill that out themselves).

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deb1990 October 2, 2011 at 3:24 pm

How exactly are your tracking the sources you sales are referring from? Do you ask your clients or do you have a form or questionnaire that you make them fill out?

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Lara White October 2, 2011 at 4:36 pm

our contact form asks them how they heard about us. If they don’t fill that out, we ask them during the consultation as well.

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Lara White October 2, 2011 at 9:19 am

Katie, thanks for the suggestion to Linkedin, that’s a great idea. Especially for networking with your local wedding professionals, which can lead to new referrals.

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Katie Cavanagh October 2, 2011 at 7:26 am

Olivia, another great resource in Linkedin. You may want to try joining a group or starting a group to gain more connections. It’s a free resource so if your marketing budget is a little low it could prove to be useful!

Lara, great advice on developing a tracking system. Having some sort of system not only keeps your organized but saves you time and money.

Thanks

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Olivia H. September 27, 2011 at 11:03 pm

I just started out so I don’t have much of a budget for marketing right now. It never occurred to me I should be keeping track of this kind of thing. It makes a lot of sense though. Mostly all my bookings come from word of mouth or Facebook at this point, I’ve got a new project, time to fire up excel.

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Lara White September 28, 2011 at 9:17 pm

Facebook and word of mouth are fantastic methods for marketing, but you still need to understand what Facebook activities lead to business (tagging clients, conversations, linking to blog posts, asking questions, etc.) otherwise you might be wasting half your time on activities that are not leading to anything. Or let’s say that you decide you need to raise your prices significantly (most photographers go through this phase once they get on their feet) and when you do that, often your word of mouth clients really drop off as you are no longer in the ‘free’ or almost free range. If you start now, you’ll be able to review this at the end of a year and really understand where your paying clients are coming from, and put more time and effort into that area for the next year. good luck and let me know how it goes!

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