Tips for Running Successful Promotions Without Looking Desperate

Does it seem like you are running one giveaway after another without any real results? Do your mini sessions hear nothing but crickets? Are your promotions successful but may be sending the wrong message and end up hurting your business in the long run? Then this is for you!

Last week Katie sent in this message where she shared her frustration over trying to run successful promotions without looking desperate or undermining the boutique business model. I loved her question and promised to write a blog post sharing some tips as well examples of successful promotions have worked in the past.

Hey Megan,
Have a question for you… I love the idea of boutique photography and I’m slowly on my way there. However, as a boutique photographer, how do you handle promotions without looking too desperate? For some time now I’ve wanted to encourage others to ‘like’ my page, perhaps through a contest of sorts but I don’t want to give away my services. I work very hard! I also think that some giveaways in this industry can make your business look less boutique… I would love your input on the subject! Definitely a blog post I’d love to read!!

There are pros and cons when it comes to running promotions of any kinds. By definition, a promotion is essentially “the act of furthering the growth or development of something” (according to Webster). Traditionally, we think of promotions as a mini session campaign or advertising a sale, but in reality a promotion is simply using marketing avenues to help grow our business, whether that be building our newsletter list, booking more weddings, starting up a baby club, or showing off our new session albums. Each of those promotions has the potential to grow our business, gain new clients, and bring in more revenue. However, a promotion doesn’t always have to take place with the goal to produce more income, sometimes can just be to gain a larger following, garner more goodwill, further your community outreach, or build networking opportunities.  Those results still help the overall growth and development of your business, just not always in a tangible way.

A promotion can be great because it does help grow your business, as mentioned above. However, they can also be physically, mentally, and financially draining, consuming your limited resources at a faster rate than they are replacing them.

At the end of December I started preparing and planning for the new year and knew that January would prove especially challenging since I would just be returning from both Christmas vacation and maternity leave. There were only a few sessions booked for the month since I wanted to ease back into my work schedule, but at the same time I didn’t want to lose the beginning-of-the-year momentum and needed to come up with a successful promotion that would produce bookings farther down the line. In past years I had held a “Best of” contest at the beginning of the month but was dissatisfied with the results as it felt more like a popularity contest than anything else.

This year I sponsored a “Best of 2012 Showcase” where each day I shared a different favorite image from 2012 for the entire month of January. What’s more, each week I randomly chose a winner from those that had liked or commented on the showcase images for the past week and they were given their choice of an iTunes or Starbucks gift card.

 This type of promotion proved extremely successful in both the tangible and intangible ways. For starters, I was able to share a different image each day from my stash of favorite images, which allowed me to remain constant in my fan feeds and also generated excitement as they anticipated what I was going to share for that day. Since I was running low on sneak peeks to share, I was able to look busy and productive during this lull. It also helped me rebuild the lines of communication with past clients who suddenly remembered “Oh, yeah! I need to book my family session for the year!” or excitedly called with the news that they were expecting a new baby.  As I’ve said before, our clients don’t wake up thinking about booking a session with us and sometimes they simply need to be reminded.

During the thirty-one days that this promotion was running I received nearly a dozen inquiries, booking about 75% of them. Several of them directly referred to an image they had seen in the showcase as the motivation for making the decision to schedule a session, reaffirming the overall effectiveness and giving me the idea for making this an ongoing promotion (more about this in a bit!).

Altogether, the Best of 2012 Showcase has cost me around $50 in gift cards for the weekly bonus winners as well as an additional $100 in products for the Grand Prize Winner, who was randomly chosen from the 31 showcase images. At first, that $150 can seem substantial, but in actuality, the showcase was directly responsible for nearly $800 in session fees alone, not counting the upcoming orders. Should each of the orders placed after the sessions be even my lowest collection, the showcase will have brought over $6000 in revenue, more than making up for the initial investment.

Now the key here was that this was a silent promotion. Never once did I ask people to book a session with me or give some kind of sales pitch, instead I simply showed off my favorite images, raved about past clients, and spoiled my fans. In a nutshell,

I made it more about them and less about me.

A large part of the problem with typical promotions is that we are essentially begging for people to book with us, which makes us look desperate, as Katie put it. Instead, we want to give a sense of value and worth, establishing a demand for our services in the minds of clients. With customer service at the core of the boutique mentality, the more we make a promotion about the client, the more they will be inclined to book with us, purchase the product, or whatever we would like the result to be.

When it comes to giveaways people do love to get free things, however it is easy to get carried away. I know that as a consumer myself, I do pay attention to the giveaways that pages or websites sponsor, but the number that I actually enter is significantly smaller. We tend to think that bigger is better we it comes to giveaways but then we run into the danger of it being too big. If they are giving away stuff worth $25,000 and 50,000 have entered I am simply going to shrug, say “Why bother?” and move on. Sure, it would be nice. But the numbers are so surreal and I don’t have the time to go through and like to 20+ pages required for entering.

Giveaways should be…

  • enticing enough to enter (don’t make a big deal out of something that isn’t a big deal but make it special and desirable)
  • for something that people will want to win (don’t give away discarded items or something that you wouldn’t want to win yourself. consider giving away items besides your own services as that would alienate clients who have recently had sessions or fans that live out of the area. BONUS HINT- Giveaways are a great way to network and cross-market with local businesses!)
  • simple to enter (don’t make them fill out a 3-page survey unless you really need survey results, a simple email address or liking a Facebook page will do)
  • for a short amount of time (don’t make the giveaway last for 3 months because people will forget they entered and you will lose momentum. 4 weeks MAX)
  • only mentioned periodically (don’t post about the giveaway 3x a day, mention it 1/week if for a month 1/day if for a week, 2/day if shorter than 4 days, 4/day if 24-48 hours)
  • spaced out instead of bunched up (don’t hold all your giveaways at once as that undermines their impact. instead, only hold small giveaways once a month or once a quarter and big giveaways once or twice a year)

Since I experienced such great success with the Best of 2012 Showcase, I intend to share my top three favorite images each month, and then draw a random winner from those that like/comment on those three images. This will help carry the momentum throughout the year and keep the buzz active throughout the month, ensuring continued traffic and fan interaction. Since this is a small giveaway (just a $10 gift card), I can hold it on a monthly basis, keeping my large giveaway for just the once a year so its considered very special and exclusive.

If you are wanting to expand your Facebook page fanbase, make sure you don’t overlook the obvious and extremely simple methods that are already in place and don’t require a promotion of any kind. After a client books, add them as a “friend” (either under your business profile or under a special client list) and tag them in any pictures you post. This has been my #1 way of getting validated likes, and by that I mean people who like my page because the genuinely like my work and not because they did it just to enter a contest or are networking. Those likes are great, too, but the ones that matter the most are those that will translate into actual clients and the majority of them come from the friends, family, and acquaintances of your existing client base.

When planning your next promotion or giveaway, take the time to plan it out fully and to see how it would benefit your client first and use that as your introductory marketing angle. People respond to receiving gifts, and that can be a great incentive for promoting a sale or special on sessions. Right after I had launched the showcase I held a special promotion with the goal to get more sessions booked. There were three key points that made it a success:

  1. It required a quick decision and turnaround, as the special was only available for a two week period and even that way long by the promo standards, the best ones require a 1 week responsive action.
  2. It included a no-strings-attached gift for the client where they received a complimentary spot at an exclusive not-open-to-the-public VIP mini session event AND they received products along with the session. The goal with these was not to make money but to reward clients for booking.
  3.  It was simple. Book a full session or baby plan by this date = get a free session + goodies. The more simple your promotion, the more successful it will be.

It is possible to run successful promotions while operating a boutique business and to do it without looking desperate or undermining your business. But it does require careful planning and execution. Always make sure that you have the client’s best interest at heart and even more importantly, that you relate that care to the client.

Thank you for the great question, Katie! I hope this has proved helpful and I look forward to seeing your many successful promotions and giveaways in the future!

What is your advice for Katie? How do you navigate the difficult waters of promotions and giveaways?

September 23, 2013 - 1:54 am

Steven Burkhart - This was super helpful as I’m planning out my promotions for fall. Thanks!