How to Study Photography Marketing

Other essays in this series

According to a poll I recently conducted, the one aspect of photography that artists consider to be the most difficult is selling their work. I couldn't agree more. As I commonly put it, I had to attend "the school of hard knocks" in order to finally learn how to sell my work. I also had to hire a marketing consultant to help me with specific issues I was facing. All in all, it was a rocky road. However, it led me to success, and while I wouldn't do it again if I had a choice (who would) I don't regret having followed that path in the least.

However, it did make me aware that solid instruction in regards to learning how to sell fine art photography and fine art prints was not available. I also realized that my experience was somewhat unique in being able to "pull it off" in the face of serious difficulties, competition and adversity. I also realized that artists --for I consider fine art photographers to be artists-- are not trained to run a business and marketing their work. They are trained to be artists, not to be business people. As a result, when I hear people say that "artists are poor business people" my answer is "how could it be otherwise?" You wouldn't be very good at something you have never studied either! For that matter, no one would. Training, practice and experience is what makes someone a professional. Finding yourself in a situation you have never prepared for is what makes you enter the school of hard knocks. In short, they are ready for you and you are not ready for them. The outcome? A seriously problematic situation which will rarely work out in your favor. As I said, I was fortunate. I have met many other photographers who weren't as fortunate.

The solution is to study, prepare yourself and learn not only what to expect but how to cope with it. In short, what is needed is a Photography Marketing course focused on teaching photographers how to market and sell fine art photography. This course is available on my two Marketing Mastery Workshops on DVD which are available at this link.

Alain Briot

Don't think a marketing workshop is for you?
I have made a career out of selling my photography. Sixteen years of photojournalism and other editorial work, selling my images to various editors, not to mention the other opportunities I have had selling photography services such as advertising and documentary weddings. To top it all off, I am entering my fourth year selling fine art landscape photography at various art shows, galleries, and through my website. So with all of that experience in selling, it would seem as if I, of all people, would find a marketing seminar a waste of time and money, correct?

That was my thought process when, in the fall of 2005, I noticed that Alain Briot and his wife Natalie were offering a marketing workshop in Phoenix in February of 2006. I read through the course outline and discussed it with my wife and business partner, Marci. We began selling my fine art photography at art shows in 2003 here on Cape Cod, Mass. and in three years had some 60+ shows under our belts. We had read all of Alain's articles on selling at art shows and bought his Marketing Mastery DVD. In addition, we did our own research at various shows to see how other photographers and artists set up, market, and sell their work. While we knew there was room for improvement with our own techniques, we questioned just how beneficial a marketing workshop would be in our situation.

We eventually decided that yes, we would sign up, knowing that we needed to address one specific issue we were having trouble with and was mentioned in the course outline - closing the sale. The remainder of the outline we felt we had a pretty good grasp on. We are keen observers and learn quickly and, after all our experience, thought the rest of the workshop would most likely be of insignificant value to us.

We were questioning our decision to attend even as we boarded the plane to Phoenix and, to be honest, still had doubts as we walked down the hotel stairs to the conference room where the workshop would be held. As expected, after introductions were made among attendees, Marci and I indeed had far more selling experience at art shows than the others. My fear of a long 2 days sitting in a workshop more geared to those with less selling experience were starting to materialize.

It didn't take very long, possibly an hour, two at most, for us to begin to grasp just how little we actually knew. It might have been when we learned that marketing should take at least 50% of your business time. We definitely were not spending that much time. There were other clues, such as learning the difference between advertising and marketing, learning the importance of trust between salesperson and customer, important questions that are never asked to the customer, and so on. All of which, we had not yet discovered on our own.

This workshop was not going to be a waste of time at all, it was going to be exactly what we needed. The information being presented to us was going to be exactly what anyone who wanted to make an income from their work needed to hear and learn. Not only just photographers, but painters and other artists would even find this beneficial. Having so many shows under our belts did not necessarily provide us with more knowledge about selling and marketing compared to anyone else in the room. All it did was help us realize just how poor our own selling and marketing had been, and how much we had to learn and improve upon.

I remember talking with Marci in the hotel room that evening following the first day of the workshop. We were discussing the approach we had in regards to sales and marketing. We were not selling to our customers, we were waiting for them to walk right up to us and hand us their money. We were almost afraid to make a sale. Our marketing efforts to those who actually did purchase from us amounted to making sure they had a business card in their bag when they left. We started thinking of the amount of sales we could have had if we had taken this workshop when we first started out. Three years and 60+ shows amounted to three years and 60+ missed opportunities.

Even before the second day began, I had drawn a number of conclusions. What I thought I knew I simply didn't and, no matter how much I learned on the second day, I knew it wasn't going to be enough. I had already determined that in order to maximize the value of the two day marketing workshop, I was going to have to spend additional time and resources. I decided that first night that the next step for me and my business was to hire Alain for one-on-one consulting. While the marketing workshop is enough for most to get them on the right track, my business has been evolving from service photography to fine art sales and, for me, the workshop became just the beginning of my learning.

The second day of the marketing workshop was just as valuable as the first. We spent two 8+ hour days like sponges, absorbing everything Alain and Natalie had to say. And it is important to note that Alain has no fear in teaching all he knows. Photographers can be a peculiar bunch, guarded with their information and experience and setting limits to what they will share. None of that applies to Alain - there is nothing to hide with him. He is direct, tells it like it is, and for those willing to really listen, provides them with a wealth of information one would not be able to obtain on their own or from someone else.

As you are still reading this article, chances are you are currently selling your work and want to find out how to increase sales or are considering selling your work and are interested in just how to get started. Whichever the case, it is important to note that to be successful in business, one must be willing and able to transition from artist to business owner. Not a simple thing to do, trust me. We thought we were on the right track as we understood that basic principle, yet we found out we did not know how to execute it. Execution is key and if you are willing to spend the time and do the work, success is bound to happen. I don't say that from experience yet having just begun the work necessary from my learnings that weekend, but I do fully believe it following this workshop.

That is why taking a marketing workshop can be so valuable, this course in particular. It helped us see things we were either not aware of or were not implementing in our own selling and marketing. This is where we really benefitted from the workshop. It's one thing to read all the articles and listen to all the CD's, but it is a completely different learning atmosphere when you are able to directly interact with the teacher and, just as important, with the other students. By nature, we as photographers are passionate about our work. We need to be passionate about selling and marketing, too. Alain's passion and business experience is truly evident in person, and we found it the most effective way to learn.

So, what exactly did we learn during the two day marketing workshop? What tips can I share in this article to really convince you that this is something for you? To be honest, what we learned would fill up a two day marketing workshop and Alain has that ground covered. I can tell you this, however, upon returning back to Cape Cod, we found the need to pretty much start from the ground up and re-work our entire business approach. We have just begun that process by launching a new website and a more direct and focused approach to marketing and selling my fine art photography. This is a direction we are extremely confident in as a direct result from this workshop. Failure and complacency are not options, as we have just been presented the keys to success and we are opening that door.

Should one visit my site, they may notice some similarities to Alain's with regards to my selling approach, and that would be absolutely correct. But to really understand the business reasons behind our decision to model our approach after Alain's, one would need to a) be very serious about making a living from their work; b) be willing to take some risks; and c) not convince themselves that a marketing workshop is not for them. It doesn't matter if you have never sold a print or have been selling for years, you are guaranteed to learn from one of the best in the business. It is then up to you to implement what you have learned and create your own success.

In closing, I should probably add a disclaimer. I was not offered any compensation for this article by Alain or Natalie. Alain never knew of me prior to the workshop, where we first met. What amounts to a ringing endorsement for one of his workshops is simply that. Shortly after the marketing workshop, I emailed Alain to thank him for a fantastic and informative weekend, and mentioned how this one workshop not only changed my business approach, but also helped me find some answers to questions that clarified my own artistic separation from my documentary work (sounds like another good article topic). He asked if I would write a piece about the workshop and I gladly accepted. While I really don't think I need to add a disclaimer for what amounts to being a testimonial regarding one of his workshops, perhaps it just might help one of the skeptics out there. I should know - I was one of them.

March 2006