What’s new this time is that we’re under a three-sided attack. First, the economic slowdown (or recession) signals the end of discretionary spending for a lot of folks; second, the continuing and unstoppable onslaught of technology allows even the rankest beginner to produce decently exposed images; and third, the dumbing-down of what is considered acceptable quality reduces the number of potential clients willing to pay the price for excellent images.
The bar is dropping—and quickly.
A case in point: A military wife contacted us about boudoir photographs for her husband, a Marine on his second overseas tour of duty. She loved our work that she’d seen on the Internet and was grateful for our military discount. But in the end, she chose to take her own photographs by holding a digicam at arm’s length. That the results were blurry and distorted didn’t matter. It’s hard to compete with free and convenient.
At the same time, though, market segments do remain that will not settle for badly lit, blurry, distorted, or awkwardly composed images. The challenge is finding them. Call me a contrarian, but I don’t think that Internet advertising is the best option for boudoir photographers. Why? Because that’s what everybody is doing, making your business nearly invisible on a crowded Yahoo or Google search page—and it’s never a single page!
A recent search for boudoir photographers in San Diego returned over 11,000 hits! Many of these aren’t even photographers—let alone boudoir photographers—and virtually none of them live and work in my area. They show up anyway because of disingenuous and self-serving keywords, and because search engines aren’t as discriminating as they’d like you to believe. Narrowing the search to just my section of San Diego County reduced that number to some 3,500. Nope, they don’t live here either.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that you abandon the Internet. On the contrary. It provides endless opportunities for others to see your work. And yes, pay-for-click advertising can be effective. But search engines and Internet advertising aren’t the best way for a local business to stand out from the crowd—especially a business as personal as boudoir photography.
So, what’s the answer?
(1) Make yourself locally famous. I got this advice years ago from celebrity photographer Marc Hauser. When I asked how, he said by hanging your work in local places where it will be seen: restaurants, bars, gyms, nightclubs, lingerie stores, hair salons, barber shops… you get the idea. Remember that for the most part boudoir photography is a local business where word-of-mouth and reputation count for a great deal. (Marc was at the top of his game then and was more than gracious to talk with me. Several years later a tragic accident turned his life upside down. You can read about it in the January 8, 2008 issue of Rangefinder Magazine, or click here for a PDF.)
(2) Market more aggressively on a local level—where you can meet face-to-face with prospective clients. Carry samples of your work. Large prints are best, and not just because they’re impressive, but because they represent the type of product most often ordered. If you offer DVDs, then carry a sample or two on your iPod. And don’t be embarrassed to ask someone, “Have you ever thought of boudoir photography”
(3) Use direct mail and custom mailing lists targeted to a customer base that might want—and can afford—boudoir photography. No cheap paper flyers—send full-color 4”x6” postcards. Two sources that specialize in postcards are psPrint and Modern Postcard. Both of these companies offer a free sample kit. They also offer complete mailing services, including the tools you need to design a customized mailing list based on a wide variety of demographic data, like zip code, age, gender, marital status, income, and more.
(4) Focus your direct mail campaign—random noise doesn’t work. Make your offer specific and limited (for an example, see the top of this page.
(5) Do you have images of past clients that weren’t purchased? As a reminder of your services, send them a wallet-sized print of one of those images and then follow up with a call asking for referrals.
So, while the sky may not be falling, it’s certainly bearing down quickly—and on three fronts: the slowing economy, increasingly sophisticated cameras (even at the low end of digicams), and most damaging, the dumbing-down of what’s acceptable quality. All of these contribute to a tightening market. While we can do nothing about the first two, the last one presents an opportunity to stand out from the crowd. Use your website, of course, but also aggressively pursue local clients by displaying large prints of your best work in as many public venues as possible—show them what good work really looks like! And don’t forget those targeted mailings with high-quality postcards highlighting a specific limited-time offer!
Please keep in mind that this is very much an open discussion, so if you have ideas on this subject you’d like to share with others, please leave a comment.
Today’s image: Cristie on Couch No. 0056