What fishing on my vacation taught me about marketing for photographers.
I had the pleasure of spending a week and a half in Pennsylvania this month for my family reunion. My aunt and uncle live on a beautiful little lake out in the boonies, and I just love visiting them there! One of my favorite things to do is go fishing. It reminds me of fishing off my grandmother’s pier when I was a kid, and it’s a rare chance for me to relax and reconnect with nature for a while. This trip was no exception. Even though the entire family would be expected, my boys and I had almost a week before the rest of the family got there, and fishing was the first thing on our minds as we drove down the steep driveway to my aunt and uncles house.
But there was something different about fishing for me this time, and I don’t mean the fact that it took me three nights of basically no action before I landed my first large mouth bass. This time, while I was out there on the lake thinking about life and my photography business my mind wandered to marketing. I knew that I was going to return to Austin soon, and that my first priority would be marketing. So, I figured I had better put a little thought into it while I was waiting for the fish to bite. Both of my boys had abandoned me due to the slim pick-ins, so I was out there on the lake all by myself. The first real fish that we caught was a 15 inch bass that my 5 year old pulled in, to everyone’s amazement (before he decided he was “bored” and went back up to the house). The funny thing about this catch was that little Max caught it with a fake worm. Now, if you know much about fishing, you know that bass aren’t typically what you catch with worms. Sunnies is what you catch with worms. As a matter of fact, you can pull in sunnies one right after the other with live worms. Worms are what I learned to fish with as a kid. Practically all I ever caught from my grandmas lake was sunnies… because of the bait I was using. Later, when I was in high school, my grandmother got us some live minnows to fish with, and I caught my first bass. Wow! Was that ever exciting! I didn’t use minnows very often, but I had a lot more fun when I did, because the fish were so much bigger and better to eat. The other thing though about using minnows was that I caught less fish. Bass simply don’t bite as often as sunfish… or at least they didn’t where I fished. My grandmother’s lake was stocked with sunnies, and they seemed to be everywhere. The bass were few and far between.
So what does any of this have to do with marketing? Great question! A lot actually. Marketing is a lot like fishing. When you think about it, fishing for fish requires bait… so does marketing. If you don’t have the right bait, you might not get any bites at all. If you use worms, you will get lots of little fish, and if you use minnows or lures, you will catch a few bass. So how does the bait apply to marketing for photographers? Well, what kind of bait are you using to catch your clients? Are you using worms? What is the marketing equivalent of worms? I would say Groupon is a good example of a worm. You will attract lots of little fish with Groupon. But will you catch the kind of clients that you want? Will you attract clients that can afford you? Maybe what you want to do is to attract bass. You know, big fish that are good eating. It takes courage to fish with lures and minnows instead of worms. Worms will get you fast results… like Groupon will, so they seem great. But, when you take into consideration the amount of time, effort and energy you put into each of your clients, do you really want to do all that, just to end up with a big bag full of sunnies? Lures and minnows will bring you long-term clients that are right for you and your photography business. It scary to fish for the big fish. Why? Because to do so, you have to take your focus off of the sunfish (the clients that want cheap photos) and spend all of your efforts on catching the bass. This can be hard to do when you aren’t seeing instant results. Instant results are fun! They are encouraging. And having three nights of no success can make you want to pull in a few sunnies, just to keep your spirits up. I know it was frustrating for me, going three nights without a single bass. And, I actually did break down and fish for sunnies for a while. But pulling in sunfish, one after the other, gets pretty boring. Not only did I know they weren’t big enough to eat, but the whole time I was fishing for them I was neglecting the bass. So I went back to my lure.
So back to the story… Max caught the first bass, on a fake worm. What’s that? What did you say, Kate? I thought you said worms were for sunfish. Well… that’s normally true, and technically, since the worm was fake, it would actually be considered a lure. But I digress. The reason I brought up the fake worm was to teach you something else about marketing. You see, Max caught that big bass on a fake worm, and it was the first time we had thrown that lure in. None of the lures I typically catch bass on in that lake were working, but low and behold, Max lands a bass. So what do you think I did? Your darn too-tin! I strung a fake worm onto my line and tossed it out. We caught five more bass on that lure over the next two days… each one bigger than the last. And we had fish for dinner two nights in a row, which was a huge treat for my boys, my mom and my aunts and uncles (and, of course, me). Why did we finally have some luck? Because we were flexible. We started with our standard lures, then moved to minnows, then worms (just so we could catch SOMETHING), then to the fake worm. Marketing is like that too sometimes. Especially in today’s fast-paced world. You never know what bait is going to pull them in. Start off with the tried and true marketing efforts. But, you’ve got to be willing to try new things, if those aren’t working. I remember direct mail used to be HUGE in photography. But I haven’t been able to get a direct mail campaign to work for three years now. Groupon… that will work… and it will work fast! Especially if you give everything away. But running a Groupon deal can kill your photography business. Think about it, do you ever shop at Bed Bath and Beyond? If you do, you know that it’s crazy to pay full price for anything there. All you need to do is wait for them to mail you a coupon. You don’t want to get that reputation for your photography business.
The final thing I learned while out there fishing on the lake, is that I can learn to be more patient with my marketing. I can trust that the fish will come (the clients), if I use the right bait, and keep putting it out there. And I don’t have to hate marketing either, as I always have. Because I LOVE fishing… and marketing is a lot like fishing.