Our village in Wisconsin has more cows than people — seriously!
Yet even though Johnson Creek’s population count is less than 3,000 souls, I run a successful photography business.
Before I tell you how that’s possible, I should tell you a few things about this village and myself.
I didn’t grow up here; my hometown is a 6-hour drive removed. I didn’t even know “here” existed until a few months before we leased our place. We had zero reasons to stay here, but then we bought a house and made this little place our home.
We’ve discovered small-town life comes with some major perks, things that make us never want to leave: Our backyard is a cornfield; we get farm-fresh eggs at church every Sunday; and everyone waves at anyone who passes by.
I’m a huge advocate for supporting and growing the creative community, and I spend a lot of time mentoring entrepreneurs on how to run profitable and authentic businesses, how to grow a big company in a little community. (Oh, sure, maybe in your little corner of Paradise, you’re thinking.) Meanwhile, in small-town Realville, the market is super competitive, people don’t see the value in your service, and they will not invest in good professional photography.
How can it be possible to own a successful, six-figure business in a tiny hamlet? I’m here to let you in on my secrets!
Market to larger nearby cities.
Chances are there’s at least one within a 2-hour radius of your business. If you want to charge a premium price, you must reach a premium audience. In my 4 years in Johnson Creek, I’ve never photographed a wedding here. I market myself to the surrounding areas that host weddings that appeal to my ideal clients, and that’s who books my services. You might live in a small town, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pull in big-city business.
Build B-to-B relationships within your industry.
There’s a handful of other photographers in this area, but I don’t pay much attention to what they’re doing. I’ve built solid friend- ships with a few wedding planners and even photographers with similar prices and high-end aesthetics. Our ideal clientele is similar, and we refer one another when we’re booked. And if you can’t fill your calendar, help others fill theirs. The goodness comes back to you and your com- petition grows into your community.
Focus on reaching the right people. It’s sad to see business owners hustling to please everyone.
The truth is, your time and energy are finite. Instead of asking what the people in your area want and are willing to pay, determine how you can appeal to a select audience of the right clients. Once I stopped try- ing to be the right photographer for every bride and began to focus on appealing to the 20 brides I needed to book, my business turned around. Refine your audience.
Don’t lower your price
because you think that’s what people will pay. I’m a high-end wedding photographer in Wisconsin; I refuse to compete on price alone. Small-town photographers tell me people won’t pay a premium for their services. I’m calling their bluff! It is possible to charge high-end prices, you just need to reach the people who value what you do and then make it worth every single penny. When you compete on price alone, you put yourself in a pool with hundreds of other photographers who are appealing to the price shoppers — that’s no way to run an entrepreneurial busi- ness! Charge what you’re worth, not what you think people will pay.
Don’t let your location limit you!
Once a month I travel across the country or the world for work and continue to expand my market- ing parameters. When people see that you’re willing and excited to travel, they just might pay your travel expenses to book your services. If you’re willing to travel, shout it from the rooftops! Put out the vibes that you want to attract, show the work you do, and share your dreams.
Try to get published in regional or community magazines.
When I started out, I submitted a ton of images to our Wisconsin Bride magazine, and I’ve been featured in six magazines so far, so time and energy well spent!
Get comfortable bragging on yourself!
In talking face-to-face, I think we tend to downplay what we do and shy away from shouting our dreams from the rooftop. Get over it! When your new in-town dentist/doctor/hair stylist/butcher/ fresh vegetable vendor/mail carrier asks what you do, don’t say just,
“I am a photographer,” tell them about the kind of photography you do, what you totally love about it and your plans. I’ve actually had referrals from my dentist because I told her about my work and my blog, and she started following along!
Make referrals a goal.
I think in terms of wowing my clients. If you give them a good experience, they’ll probably come back, but give them a Wow! experience and they’ll be back with all their friends. Referrals drove my business after the first year, and they continue to drive my business. Lately, I haven’t put a cent into paid advertising except for advertising for my marketing course on Facebook.
It’s always hilarious when I try to explain our life in this little farm town to my big-city friends. They’re shocked to hear that we don’t have a grocery store or coffee shop in town. But I love living here.
It’s our home now and it makes us happy. My business has little to do with where I live and a lot to do with how I hustle. The next time you feel limited by your ZIP code, I challenge you to take action in marketing yourself in a way that projects where you hope to take your business. I can’t wait to watch you take action, embrace the place you call home, surrender all excuses, and start making big things happen in your little town.
BONUS! 6 Steps to visibility when you’re out in the boonies:
- Launch a brand you’re proud of from the beginning. Truly analyze your strengths and desires — a brand isn’t something you can just whip up. First impressions are key!
- As you grow your business and reputation in your community, keep your message consistent with your brand so people know and recognize your business. Choose three words to describe your brand and make sure to align the look and sound of everything you post, share, and say.
- Get all of your Web accounts up and running, making sure you own all names and URLs associated with your business. Begin posting consistently and develop a strategy around your Web use.
- Find any local Facebook and networking groups for photographers and get active. Don’t be a fly on the wall, start sharing who you are and the work you do. Connection is key when you live in a small town!
- Reach out to other photographers in your area and start building a community, not feeling the competition. Find opportunities to meet and chat, and hopefully, someday you can send referrals to one another.
- Don’t be afraid to tell people who you are, what you do, and what you hope to do. Share your business goals and the type of work you are seeking so that people can connect you with clients.