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Struggling With Marketing? Three Truths & A Love Letter.

Attention:  This post is just between me and the people who get queasy when they have to “promote themselves” or “market their business.”

If you’re one of those people who came out of the womb ready to promote your business, I invite you to check out one of the other awesome posts on this blog.  Or come back on Wednesday for something even more amazing.

Because this love letter isn’t for you – and you wouldn’t go and read someone else’s deepest thoughts, now would you?

This is a safe space between me and the people who get a pit in their stomach when they think about marketing.

The folks for whom marketing isn’t just a Thing-To-Be-Dreaded, but a treadmill of anxiety and self-doubt.  Sound familiar?  This is for you.

Dear You,

You’re not alone. 

I also get nervous and self-conscious when people tell me they Love! Marketing! So! Much! 

Because I don’t love marketing.  Not the sound of the word, or the uneasy nausea of ‘self-promotion.’

I’m happiest when I’m helping others get what they want.  I earned a master’s degree in psychology for this reason – it seemed to set me up for a profession where I could teach and help people all the day long.  And a university would take care of paying me, so I wouldn’t have to worry about charging people money directly.  Joy!

Besides, when you study academic psychology, it’s unspokenly understood that you don’t “market” your work.  People who do are treated like slick slimy weasels who would rather campaign than produce actual good research.  Because good research should speak for itself.  Everything else is smoke and mirrors.

So this dislike of marketing isn’t just me being lazy.  It’s a part of my history.  It’s in my intellectual DNA.  It’s how my education “raised” me to think.

But when I dove into photography, I learned rather quickly that you cannot survive without doing any marketing at all.  It’s not that good photos don’t speak for themselves, it’s that everyone’s way too busy to listen.

Marketing and I have slowly entered an uneasy truce.  Which is good, because I’m staring down the barrel of building a photography business from scratch, in a new city, with zero connections, for the third year in a row.  And there’s no way my photography business is going to sprout up and thrive if I’m not out there talking to people about it.

I’d like to share with you three things I’ve learned about marketing, why we dislike it, and how we should REALLY think about it.

Truth #1: Most of your negative thoughts about marketing are probably superstitions.

Superstitions aren’t just black cats and broken mirrors.  A superstition is a resilient little idea that persists without actual evidence that it’s real.  Such as:

“If I market my photography, I’ll step on toes and offend people.”

Really?  Are you sure?  Or will they be glad they found out about your services, because they wouldn’t have known otherwise?

What evidence do you have that you spreading the word about your business will actually offend people?  No really, sit down and make a list.  (Spoiler alert: I bet it’ll be short.)

Try performing this test if you’re really worried:  Ask yourself “If a friend of mine started a business, and I saw them __(insert marketing tactic here)___, would I be offended?”

If you answer “yes,” then rethink.

But the answer will probably be “no.”  Almost all of the time.  It’s usually fear, a superstition, something not grounded in evidence, that unhealthily sways your decisions about marketing.

Fear is not evidence.  

There are plenty of non-pushy and even fun ways to market your work.  If you find that you do actually offend someone, then apologize and change tactics.  Re-read this post about worst case scenarios.  And press forward.

Truth #2: You avoid marketing because it puts your heart – not just your work – up for scrutiny.

When you toil and sweat to produce something good, something beautiful and of the highest quality, it’s NOT just an abstract exercise.  For you, your work is absolutely heartsoaked with your identity and love.  It’s personal.  And the more you market it, the bigger your audience grows.

And it’s scary to open your heart to so many people, especially when something bad might happen.

That’s not to say that people who love marketing don’t pour their heart into their work.  They just recognize that their own worth doesn’t take a hit when people reject it.  For you and me, it’s a rocky journey to get to that secure place.

I was so afraid of marketing that Psychology for Photographers almost never existed.

I was scared.  I worried about asking people to read it.  And if they did read it, I was worried that they would get mad at me. That they would scoff at my background, ignore the hours of work and research poured in each week, and accuse me of just adding to the noise of the photography blogging world.

That they’d disregard what it takes to keep this blog afloat.  Disregard that more often than not, when I tell my husband “I’m almost done with this post” it actually turns into two more hours, and I have to go to bed without hanging out with him that day.  That crafting these posts cuts into the time I spend working on my own photography and business.  That today I’m eating chocolate pudding for lunch so I can keep writing instead of taking the time to cook something real.

I was also afraid they’d ignore all the free education and get mad if I ever produced a more advanced product that I charged money for.  Yeah, I’ll go there.

It scares me to release Irresistible Website, because even though I’ve spent 10+ months working on it, even though it represents more research than my actual master’s thesis, even though I subjected it to stringent editors, even though I’ve lost sleep over what to include, even though it contains contributions from three other successful professionals, even though I beta tested it with photographers (who clamored to buy spots in the testing group) – I already know that some people are going to get upset with me and accuse me of “just trying to make money.”

And that’s okay, they don’t have to buy it.  And if they buy it and hate it I’ll gladly give their money back.  But I can’t pretend that their words won’t make me sad.  Because it’s not just a crafted piece of helpful education – it’s part of what I’ve poured my heart into over the past year.

It’s no different with my photography.  Or yours.

The first step into healing a fear of marketing is simply recognizing where the fear comes from.

You’re not afraid because someone will say your work isn’t good enough.

You’re afraid that someone will tell you your heart isn’t good enough.

Once you understand that, it becomes easier to push through.

Be certain you are producing something that’s top-notch and adds tremendous value to others’ lives.  Then let the words of others fall where they may.  No, you can’t control what they think or say.  You can only control the quality of what you make, and stand behind it.  So control what you can control, and don’t waste emotional energy on anything else.

Truth #3:  You may worry about ‘offending’ people by marketing too much.  But what about the people who will miss out if you don’t spread the word?  Who is looking out for them?

If I’m your ideal client, then I’m chomping at the bit for you to create a service that I’m going to love.  That I’m going to flip out over.  That I’m going to be more than delighted to pay you for.  Because it’s going to be something I can’t do for myself – I need you to do it. 

But I don’t just need you to do it, I need you to tell me about it.

I need you to dedicate yourself to finding a clever, standout way to show me how you’ll make my life richer.  Because I see about 3,000 advertising messages a day, which is going to make it harder for me to see what you’re doing.  Please don’t leave it up to me.  Stand up and learn about how I think, because otherwise you’re going to get drowned out.

If you don’t market to me, you’re going to start to think that I don’t value what you’re doing.

That’s not true – I just don’t know about you.  I need you to communicate with me in a way that gets my attention.  That’s it.

And please, don’t let the fear of having one non-fan prevent you from helping me and a hundred people like me.

Every single one of my favorite YouTube videos has at least one dislike.

There’s not a successful company on the planet that doesn’t have one person saying it’s a pile o’ poo.

It’s impossible to please everyone because everyone has different needs.

All you can do is dig down and identify my needs and show me how you’re going to fulfill them.  Get really specific about how you’re going to do it, reassure me that my fears and hesitations aren’t going to get in the way.

Then watch me run to book you.

You can do this.  We’re sitting here waiting for you to do it. 

Take a deep breath, and dive in.

Love,

Jenika

Michelle - Hello Jenika! Thank you for the love letter. Your words of encouragement are much needed and appreciated. Even though I need to be professional because I am a business owner, I can’t keep my heart out of the equation. My heart is what got me started, so all the hours of work are out for being scrutinized. It is much safer to keep to ourselves. Thank you again for this post and the labor of love.

Lynzie - I read EVERY single blog post you write, and absolutely love them all. This one in particular hit home, but they’re all so awesome! Thank you for sacrificing so much of your time to help others in this business! You really are amazing.

Jenika - Thanks for the kind words, and thanks for reading Lynzie! YOU are why I do this. :-) Have a great week!

Jenika - Hello Michelle! Thanks for all the kind comments and e-hugs, it’s a pleasure to hear when something I write helps someone awesome like you. I hope you keep creating!! :-)

Nina - Thank you so much, Jenika! Your post is so helpful! I will try to do my best :) I know where my fears come from and it’s so sad, my husband doesn’t share my passion for photography and says that my work is just waste of time… It’s hard to believe in yourself when people we love can’t understand us.
And you know, I think you are perfect! I try to follow your example, you give me the lead :) I read you posts and feel like I have known you for all my life. Thank you for everything you do, it’s so important for me and I’m sure for thousands other people!
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Jenny - Oh Jenika,
This post made me cry – really – there were tears on my face. The thing that got me was “You’re afraid that someone will tell you your heart isn’t good enough.” Yes indeed.
Thank you for taking the time to help me see this.
Jenny
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Jenika - ::hugs:: thanks so much for sharing that. You can do this!

Jenika - Thanks for the kind words Nina. I promise I’m far, faaaaaar from perfect up in here :-) but I’m glad I can be of some support from afar. Hugs, and thanks for writing.

Kaylie - I’m so glad that you did market this blog! I found it through Liz. I love your blog! It’s inspiring and such a pick me up. Thank you for your posts!
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Allison - “I was also afraid they’d ignore all the free education and get mad if I ever produced a more advanced product that I charged money for. Yeah, I’ll go there.”

I feel like that. I feel like everyone will get mad at me for changing up my format and charging more for digital files. But you’re right. You can’t please everyone, and I can’t walk on eggshells in my own business, afraid of what others will think of it. Thank you!
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Jess - I really enjoyed this post! Marketing is the monkey on my back…

I’m starting to wonder if I need to segregate my business for different clients (e.g. a wedding site and a family site) – I do want to solve my clients’ specific problems, but I also don’t want to limit myself to a narrow niche just for the heck of it.

i.e. I do weddings and families, but families can encompass regular family portraits, birth and newborn photography, event photography (e.g. birthday parties), and maternity. I have one client currently who I am doing maternity, birth, newborn and naming day sessions for.

Any suggestions?
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Jenika - Tough one. First question is all about you – do you truly LOVE doing ALL of that? That’s the only question that really matters. As for presenting it, if it were me, I would divide my website into two sections – “for brides” and “for families” (better yet, “for moms” since let’s face it, they do the booking). That way the info would be concentrated to their most relevant concern. I personally combine newborn/maternity into a single “new life” gallery so people see the whole process. You could have some tagline that indicates you ‘photograph for every moment in the family’s life’ – something that unifies the themes, despite the different kinds of photography. If it were me, I’d probably put up session info that would cover any kind of session (I’d use the same prices and such for 2 hours of family or 2 hours of maternity, etc), and then a per-hour rate for stuff like birthday parties, etc. That would streamline it.

Here’s something to consider: no matter what you put on your site, people are going to ask you to do other things. I get asked to shoot weddings all the time even though I’m not a wedding photographer. I just got another email a couple days ago asking to shoot a wedding in another state, even though I don’t have a single wedding image on my site. So I’d probably focus on putting up the things you love most. You don’t have to advertise every single thing, it just dilutes your message. Come up with a theme.

Hope that helps.

Sharon Huey - I just found your site a few days ago.
Immensely glad that I did. :-)

Glenn - Wow Jenika….you certainly have a knack for hitting the nail on the head so many times!
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Chung Nguyen - This was an awesome read and I definitely appreciate that you were able to get over your personal fears to share valuable stuff like this to all of us. Yay!

Janelle - Thanks for this, Jenika! Like others, I’m so glad you DIDN’T back out on creating P4P — it’s a unique niche, and one that’s definitely needed. And who cares if people say you’re just trying to make money — how many times did we hear growing up, “find what you love to do, then get someone to pay you for it!”? That’s exactly what you’re doing, and kudos to you for it!!

My marketing problem is that I feel that I don’t have anything unique and new to offer, so why is anyone going to hire me over the next momtog out there? (Objectively, I do feel this is accurate, and I am doing some serious consideration about actual branding and specializing, in an effort to change that.)
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Anna - Hello Jenika! I am one of those silent stalkers who’s been following you for a while, without making a peep. I would like to thank you for all of your hard work, and so much of valuable free information! You’ve really hit a nail with this article for me. I really struggle with the business side of photography, especially, always afraid to annoy people by approaching and talking to them about what I do. I have to make myself speak up, and am literally stepping over something inside myself to do that. So, thank you for giving me a little push this morning! And good luck to you:).

Jenika - Thanks for speaking up, Anna! It’s so nice to be able to put names and stories to what would otherwise be traffic statistics :-) I am totally on board with how you feel about “stepping over something inside yourself” – what a perfect way to describe that feeling. I’m happy we can overcome it together. Thanks for your comment, hope to see you around here again!!

susan ramos - Can I just tell you how much I value you and your site?!?!?

I think you are freaking awesome Jenika!

Thank you for all that you do!!!!

xoxox
Suzy

Jenika - Thanks so much Susan! :-) You’re very welcome!!

Cassandra - Wow girl you totally spoke to my core! I was a psychology graduate and am now a photographer. I suffer from this fear of marketing which I know has held me back. After reading this post I feel more confident and have gained a different perspective on marketing. It kind of heralds back to the old adage that you can have the best product in the world but if nobody knows about it, what good does it do you? Thank you so much!!

Marek - Jenika, you are the special one. fascinating story about overcoming fear and resistance. Thank you!

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