Before I dive into to all the FREE ways to get your business going, I'd like to share one PAID item that is a must: Business Cards.
Business Cards are still a must in my opinion for anyone doing business. If you are in business, you really need two basic things: 1) Business Cards 2) A Website. Although you may be able to get business cards for FREE or print them yourself, don't cut corners on this very affordable basic business tool.
Moo.com is one site that you may want to check out. You can also go locally to get an office supply store and likely get basic business cards for $20 or less.
Although all of the options below are FREE, they will all involve YOUR TIME.
1) Social Media: There are so many social media platforms that it is impossible to do all of them well. You should pick ONE in the beginning that you know how to use and that you enjoy using that also provides ENGAGEMENT opportunities. Engagement meaning BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS. People do business with people they know, like and trust. So don't think Social Media will cause the phone to ring of the hook when you are just getting started. As a photographer, POST samples of your work and mention projects that you have worked on or are working on.
2) Shoot For Free: Yes, I said SHOOT FOR FREE. However, this should only be temporary to build up your portfolio with the exception of maybe one or two charities that you volunteer your services for as a way of giving back. Try to keep the shooting for free to friends and family not people that you don't know because that can be bad for business long term. You should also tell anyone that you are shoot for FREE that your normal rates are X, but you are shooting their WEDDING for FREE for example because you need to build a portfolio. That's better than being a $495 wedding photographer. If your work is good enough, you could shoot two or three weddings for FREE and come out of the gate with PROFITABLE pricing and not $495 deals that will not be sustainable long term especially if you want to be a FULL TIME PRO.
3) Assist for Free: Many wanna be photographers will invest in training programs, classes, books, etc. which are all good, but the best training is in the REAL world on a REAL photoshoot with an experienced pro. Assisting for FREE should likely be short term or whatever you feel comfortable with if you are really gaining knowledge, but you can learn a lot by assisting a veteran professional photographer. Even if you get paid to assist at some point, the money will likely not be all that great in the beginning depending on what you are doing. However, starting out by assisting for FREE when you have time should prove helpful.
4) Watch YouTube Videos On Photography, Social Media, Marketing and More: There are numerous AWESOME videos on YouTube that can make a huge difference in your business not just about photography but about business and marketing. A few photography channels to check out are: Glyn Dewis, Karl Taylor and Kelby One, But there are plenty of others. Don't forget to look up business and marketing videos that may give you some great ideas beyond photography. Photography is a business which means you have to know about business and marketing.
5) eBooks and White Papers: Look online for FREE eBooks or White Papers (often short PDF's): that can make a difference on both the business side and the photography side. For example, Duct Tape Marketing has several FREE eBooks. You can get a 54 Portraits Ideas from Digital Camera World. Just be careful who you are giving your email too and what you are downloading. That's true about anything you do online.
7) Creative Live has GREAT FREE Training: The trick to Creative Live for FREE is to be able to watch it when it's streaming LIVE. The training is great. However, in my case, I prefer to watch training on my own terms and don't have the attention span that Creative Live requires when it's streaming for FREE. But for you, Creative Live may be a perfect fit. The training is GREAT. I own lots of it and love Creative Live. It's just that the FREE live streaming option is not a fit for me personally, so I prefer to just buy the training that I am interested in.
8) Gig Masters and Gig Salad: Both of these services have FREE options. Personally, I wouldn't want to pay $25+ per month roughly for each of them, but that's just me because most of the leads that I have gotten from them don't fit my area of focus. They may be better resources for a consumer photographer especially a wedding photographer. However, there may also be better resources for wedding photographers than these two. But considering you can have an account on both sites for FREE, you might as well sign up.
9) Website or Portfolio Site: As a photographer, you have to have your work visible online. That's a MUST. Remember with FREE, you get what you pay for and FREE is fine for most everything listed on this post until you get the money flowing to invest in your business. A real website in which you own the domain that looks professional that will likely cost you several hundred dollars on the low end should be one of your first investment goals into your business. However, since this post is about FREE. I will provide some links for you to look at: Photographers: Top 10 Sites to Showcase Your Work, WordPress.com, Wix.com and GoDaddy Website Builder ($1 per month). Ideally, you should at least have your own domain name, that you can purchase for under $20, forward to a portfolio site. For example. you may set up a FREE site on .... yourdomain.wordpress.com ... but buy a real .COM for under $20 and give out www.YOURDOMAIN.com that forwards to your FREE site as a temporary option.
10, 11 and 12 below are likely the 3 things out of the 12 that will put money in your pocket the fastest but 1 to 9 are still important:
10) Network: It's true that not all business networking is FREE. However, in the Raleigh Area, there is Business and Beers as well as North Hills Networking that are both FREE to attend. There are numerous other networking opportunities like Meetup Groups that are FREE. Once you make a few key business connections, ask them what other FREE networking are they doing. Networking, like Social Media, is about building relationships. Don't go to a networking event just to push your business card off on everyone there. If you cannot find a networking opportunity, pull some of your business connections together and have a monthly meeting of your own.
11) Email Your Business Contacts And Friends to set up a strategic WIN-WIN face-to-face meeting: Notice that I said "strategic WIN-WIN face-to-face meeting" meaning not just what's in it for you but what's in it for them as well. Social media was the first free resource that I mentioned which can help build relationships; however, don't neglect the power of face-to-face. Remember, people like to do business with people they know, like and trust.
12) Find Photographers that do other types of photography and cross refer: Yes, photographers can and do work together as well as refer each other business. You should probably build a relationship and start slow in this area because like in any business not all photographers are created equal, but this FREE way of working with those in your field that don't do exactly what you do can make a difference. One way to connect with other photographers is to ask people you know if they know a photographer that does X that they know, like and trust. Then either have your contact make an email introduction or contact the photographer and mention your contacts name. Just picking a photographer blindly at random is likely not the best way to start this process.
NOTE: One FREE resource that I would recommend avoiding is CRAIGSLIST.
ACTION! ACTION! ACTION! - Everything above will not make any difference without action. You might not be able to do all of them today, but find something above that you can take consistent action on that will make a difference in your business. There are a few that will yield faster ROI as in potential money in your pocket than others, but all of them have value.
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