Should I advertise in ______ magazine?  Should I do bridal shows?  Should I list my business in the yellow pages?  How do I get the world out about my business?

All of us are looking for the best ways to grow our business - and find new clients.  The problem with these questions is that they're often asked without considering some basic questions about your business.  Marketing is all about building awareness and managing the perception of your business (or brand).  

Advertising is certainly a valid way to do this, but without what your goal - or strategy - is, it's hard to tell whether it's the best option.

What type of photography business are you?

Are you a wedding photography business?  Are you senior portrait photography business?  Are you an "anything that someone will pay you to photograph" - business?    The answer to this has a lot to do with how you market your business.  The tendency is to try to be a little bit of everything to everyone, hoping to bring in sheer quantity of business.  Sometimes this works, especially if you're the only game in town. 

Most of the time, though, it's a constant struggle, because people aren't looking for someone who does everything - they're looking for the person who does the thing they need - and does it the best.  If you needed open heart surgery - you wouldn't go to your family doctor would you?  You'd go to the best cardio-thorasic surgeon you could find right?

Who do you want to work with?

Even if you've decided you're going to focus on being the best at one thing - you still have to decide which clients are best for your business.  If you're focusing on weddings - are you focusing on high-end specialty weddings?  Destination weddings?  Photography for the DIY bride?  All of these things make a huge difference about whether or not a certain marketing or advertising strategy is best for you.

I had a conversation with a photographer a few weeks ago, asking about my experience with a particular magazine.  She explained the type of bride she was looking for, and it was pretty clear that while this magazine had worked for me, there might be a better fit based on who she wanted to work with.  Since she knew who she wanted to work with - and who she was hoping to target based on the magazine - it was easy to evaluate whether or not it was worth the investment.

What do I want to get out of this?

All opportunities are not created equal, meaning, the won't all produce the same results.  If marketing is about creating an awareness of your business and brand, then it's true that advertising can be effective - but not all advertising creates the same level of awareness.

Often, photographers approach advertising as a way to get brides to pick up the phone and call them.  I believe this to be a pretty narrow view of the value of advertising.  Sure, if you're in the right price point, you can get brides to call you by doing a bridal show.  But does that mean that the strategy for doing a bridal show should just be to get brides to call and book?  Maybe - but maybe not.  

What if your reason for doing a bridal show was to create awareness with other vendors - and build relationships with them.  Would the same cost of the show be worth it to you?  Would you approach it the same way?

When does advertising work?

I believe that advertising works when you pick the right venue for your target - and know what you want to accomplish.  Advertising can help create a lot of positive awareness when done right.

On the other hand, I don't think advertising is necessarily a good investment if you're only goal is to get people to call you.  

Magazine ads can be great for creating awareness - especially with other industry professionals.  Even better than ads are editorial features (for obvious reasons).  Pick the magazines that most resonate with your potential brides.

Online advertising with bridal sites can be great for helping drive traffic to your website - but you're often competing against large numbers of fellow photographers.  Again, pick the sites that you think your potential brides are most likely to frequent.  Some target the masses - and lower end brides.  Some target very DIY brides.  Some target high-end style conscious brides.

Bridal shows can be a great source of leads - as well as relationships with other vendors.  They're almost worthless, though, if you don't follow up on both.  Follow up with brides, and with other vendors, is key to actually generating business through a show.

The bottom line is this: know who you want to attract, how you want to create awareness for your brand, and pick the best opportunity for that target.  Otherwise, you're just wasting your money - and your time.