If you'd prefer to listen, rather than read, I've included a 10min audio file so you can listen along:
Last May I got so sick of listening to myself say, "I need to update my portfolio- the work on my website is over 7 years old!" that I actually decided to completely eliminate my website portfolio. Yep. Just deleted the whole thing and reduced my beautifully dense portfolio of weddings and portraits to just a one page, no gallery, about.me page
with a photo of my face, one architectural image to suggest my new architectural work, and some text with links:
I actually tried to update my portfolio before deciding to completely eliminate it. I'd worked with Kristi at Editors-Edge
to refine the last 10 years of my wedding work down to several sample weddings and some themed galleries that were perfectly in line with the type of weddings I loved photographing, while also showing what made my style unique. She helped me map it all out and finally got me to a point where I could stop spinning my wheels and just put my work out there. It was all ready to go and yet, I STILL couldn't make myself do it. Something inside me had such a powerful resistance and wall around putting my wedding work back out there that I just eliminated the whole thing.
When I took stock of how my business was shifting since moving to NYC, it became clear that my happy growth path here was going to be in the commercial architecture & lifestyle world rather than the wedding world. The only problem was that I didn't have ENOUGH architectural imagery that I felt proud of yet to put up a portfolio I wanted to share, so I put up this simple one page site instead and sent out portfolio material as it was requested and as it applied to the client who wanted to see it.
What happened next is actually quite amazing.
Let me caveat all of this by saying that, thankfully, I'd already secured a steady interior photography contract that I could easily rely on even if no one else booked me. That contract was the turn-key that helped me dive so fully into architecture and interiors. While the money wasn't anything to brag about, it was frequent work, sustainable, and allowed me to work in my preferred methods, times, days, and locations while still giving me the flexibility to take better clients and opportunities as they came along.
I looked at that contract as essentially getting paid to walk 3-5 miles a day and meet my local neighbors while taking photos of their homes- which has also led to some interesting follow-up work, but not as much as you might think. This was a win-win-win for me, the company, and the clients I shot for, but I knew that leaning too heavily on one contract was too small of a funnel for any growth. I knew it was crucial for my continued growth and success to market myself beyond that steady contract. Knowing that, and how little time and effort I was willing to invest in my online presence, I decided to stop relying on my website or any other online listing to do the work, and decided to take my marketing efforts off-line.
Luckily, I live in a place that would be considered a bee-hive of networking opportunities. You can literally find networking events every morning and night of the week here. It might cost you to attend them all, but if you want to hit the pavement with networking, there's no better bang for your time or buck than NYC, especially if you're working in a commercial context. Even if you live in a small town, there are great networking opportunities to be found, because I've lived in those rural podunk towns too. Over the years I've learned that networking and developing personal relationships is ESSENTIAL if you're a service business, especially one that generates its greatest income from word-of-mouth referrals. There are other ways that don't require as much person-to-person time, but you'll just have to spend a lot more money on advertising.
Anyway, here's what happened when I eliminated my traditional photography website...
I actually received 3x MORE traffic to anneruthmann.com while being hosted on about.me than before on my own server. Why? Because the about.me platform encourages searching other pages and finding similar connections, which ended up getting more eyes to my site. Cool beans, right?! Well, sorta.
We all know that eyes on our sites are only worth something if they convert into paid clients. I did another thing I would never recommend anyone doing- I put a lengthy contact form on my site that required at least 5 clicks to get to submitting your contact info, and even requested that you set up a specific appointment time and day to actually call me, not just send me an email! Want to know how many people actually took the time to fill out that form over the last 10 months? 1. One person actually made it all the way to filling out that contact form, despite having great traffic to my site. Want to know how many people said they called me direct from my website? 1- and it was a sales call for advertising.
Let me summarize - I gave you no portfolio to look at online and I made it ridiculously difficult to get in touch with me! To many people, this would appear to be a total business killer. However, that's because too many people rely so heavily on online marketing to drive traffic and new contacts to their inbox instead of focusing on personal relationships and existing contacts. I essentially flipped the system on its head and made it impossible to get into my inbox. You literally had to know someone who knew me personally in order to contact me, and I can tell you that most of those people don't have my business card. They either had my email or my phone number, and they would have to be able to find it in their phone or in their email if they were going to refer you to me.
What's kind of amazing is that as word of mouth traveled that I was focusing on architecture and interior photography, all the people I had personal connections with made me their point person. I'm pretty sure half of them hadn't even noticed that I didn't have a portfolio of my work online! However, because I came highly recommended from a trusted source, even the inquiries were willing to look beyond the lack of website material and simply requested I send them samples directly.
So, how many new commercial clients did I book this way for something I had no portfolio to represent after just recently moving to this city? 10. That may not seem like much until you understand that some of those clients became recurring contracts that included multiple shoots over the course of the year, some turned into extended licensing deals, and some have already resulted in more referred work and extended contracts for the year ahead. Could I have booked more if I'd had a more refined portfolio online or made my contact form much easier? Probably. Will I book more in the coming year? Yes, but it will not be because I will have a new portfolio online (eventually). It will most likely be because I spent so much time offline, pounding the pavement, shaking hands, and reaching out to help people.
The lesson of this story is, don't expect your website do all of the talking for you. You can have all the SEO in the world sending thousands of visitors to your website, get hundreds of inquiries a week, and still find that the majority of clients who actually pay to work with you, come from word-of-mouth, rather than online marketing. So, get out from behind the computer and meet the people who like to make connections. Get to really know the people who talk to your clients before you ever do. Figure out who you can help and how you can help them- not because you expect a direct return, but because you enjoy your work and love serving others. When you love what you do, it shows when you talk about your work, and it attracts people who value your expertise and passion for your craft.
I hope this has been an inspiration for you, and encourages you to take action in your own business to make more happen offline instead of relying purely on your online presence.