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How Would You Expand Into A New Market?

Published: 06/05/2020

Gary, from San Diego, CA writes:

“How do you go about expanding into a new nearby market/area? Haven't been able to get a solid foothold in a nearby town that would work great with our business model. We've done flyers, pop-in's, and even tried to work our connections for referrals and nothing seems to be working. Any ideas/strategies welcome!”

Over the past few weeks, I’ve invited a group of photographers to beta-test the new PFRE 2.0 website. While I’ll be sharing a lot more information about our new website in the near future, I wanted to share with you this question which was posed on the "Community" discussion portal within the new website.

I know that with so many of you in our community, running your business as a “one-person show”, this might not be directly relevant to you. Nevertheless, I think it’s a useful and provocative topic to bring to the community in terms of spurring discussion and creativity. Who knows; you might be in the same boat some day!

Anyway, the advice/suggestions that Gary got on the beta-site included:

  • focusing on improving SEO for the new locale
  • spending some time trying to understand what he's hoping to achieve by going to a new town
  • developing a relationship with a decent shooter in the new market who could benefit from your knowledge, experience, and infrastructure, then adding them to your team while having them grow the volume like you have in your own market.

I hope you’ll add your own thoughts to help Gary out on this very interesting question.

7 comments on “How Would You Expand Into A New Market?”

  1. Have you found out who the top ten agents are for the new area? How many of the new listings are they getting? Are they using a photographer already?

    The common wisdom is to market to just the top agents in an area, but if they are already using a professional photographer that's giving them good photos and service, you will have a hard time getting their business. Anybody that would switch based on price will switch again when the next photographer comes along and under cuts you. A good place to prospect for new customers might be at a local real estate licensing school. They've just spent a bunch of money on training and licensing, but they may also be sponsored by parents or savings and will be at their most enthusiastic stage. If you can make a presentation at one of the classes, you could be in as the first REP the students will meet before they start getting inundated with all sorts of advertising.

    I'm in the same boat. There is an area near me that has nice homes but there is a photographer that's stitched up the region pretty well. He shoots HDR and it shows, misses verticals often and has a tendency to get an astronaut's view from his drone, but for all of that, he's a lot more expensive. It's easy for me to see that his service is very good or I'd be able to pick up many of his clients at my regular pricing. For an all in job, photos, aerials, twilight I'm about $150 per job cheaper and very happy with what I charge.

    I've found that it was face to face time that gets me customers. Spending too much time on SEO and too little on direct approaches isn't going to bring in much business. For SEO to work, you need to have agents actively looking for a photographer. If they aren't, they won't be searching for one. It's still important to keep an up to date web site (FB and IG don't count) and it needs to show up as much as possible when somebody makes a search like "My Town real estate photography" or a variation. First page is great, but if you are looking at Google, the first page is likely going to be paid advertising and not very relevant. Don't forget about DuckDuckGo and Bing as many people use those as an alternative to Google. It's me that's driving people to my web site. I see hits when I'm out visiting open houses and after presentations. That's not an option now, but they'll be back. If I'm cold calling, agents want to look at my portfolio and pricing so I need to have those current.

    Many offices have a sales manager that's also an agent themselves. That's a great person to be in with. Make sure you let them know that you'll pay a commission on referrals in the form of reduced rates for their listings. You may want to keep those commissions coming if the office is doing a certain level of business with you. I only offer a commission on the first job I do for a referral but it can be worth it to keep that going with some reduction if it means being the de facto photographer for a good size office. You could make the commission a few free aerial photos or a twilight or an extra few images on each job. Knocking out 3-4 detail images at a job your are already at is not that hard to do and certainly a good trade for getting a whole other job.

  2. Thanks Ken. Good advice! I think this is a common problem, and the way new photographers try to solve the problem is by undercutting and charging crazy low fees. It's hard to compete against that, but it is a mistake to try. Being the cheapest, as you allude to, is a race to the bottom and not a good long term business strategy. I try to emphasize quality and value and educate agents about how it is in their own best interests to use an experienced and knowledgeable photographer, but there are a huge number of agents who only look at who is the cheapest. But I love your advice to reach out to schools. I am going to try that!
    - Robert

  3. This, again, feels very exclusionary. I get that you want the new site beta tested but why not wait on this question until the site is available to everyone? Or why not just pose the question without having to mention the site that only a few of your friends have access to? Seems unnecessarily exclusionary to me.

  4. "expand" assumes that I was successful in another market.

    1. Create a Facebook page and start friending Realtors. Google the best in the area, get their Facebook info, and friend them.

    2. Start posting your best past shoots, a couple a week, with some little story about an interesting thing from that shoot. Always end with your contact info.

    3. Go to the local MLS and ask what charitable organizations will take donations of free shoots.

    4. Once you get an assignment from an agent in the new market, post the images, thank the agent (while tagging them - then all their Facebook friends, presumably more Realtors, see the post).

    5. Put leave-behind tags in every house you shoot. Agents with buyers see these.

    Its how I did it in this market.

  5. 1. Stay away from Social Media.
    2. Don't post your work, especially your best work to a site where you have agreed to hand them unlimited rights.
    3. The MLS is not your friend. Go to the local animal shelter (if you like animals) and offer to make images to get those animals adopted.
    3a. If you are in a smallish town, offer to make photos at city events. Use that to meet the local business leaders who will also be at those events.
    4.
    5. Randy's best idea ever. The example he posted way back is very classy and makes the agent look good too.

  6. Whether you are just starting out from scratch as a new photographer or you are an up-and-running shooter who wants to expand into a new area, the single most powerful method I believe you can deploy is:

    The "You Choose the Price" Offer

    The plan is very simple. Cold call agents about a listing that they have and offer your services. If they flat-out reject you...move to calling the next person on your list. If they ask some version of, "What's your price?" then give them your memorized "You choose the price" script.

    People like to talk big talk about "knowing your value" and "not discounting your prices". I agree with that. But only to an extent. The truth is that YOU are not the one who decides what your "value" really is. The customer does. If you just up and "decide" that you're services are worth $500 per house for every home under 3,000 sqft...but you can't find a single customer to take you up on that after you have offered it to a significant number of prospect...

    Your work is NOT worth $500 per house. It's worth zero. Because all the customers decided that NOT doing business with you was more valuable to them than paying $500 is. You need to ESTABLISH your value by gaining customers who are willing to consistently pay your price. Then (and only then) can you say you are "worth" what you charge.

    The flip side of this hard reality is that in the beginning...your work is worthLESS. Because nobody even knows you and they are not giving you a chance. In such a situation it is really YOU who need THEM far more than they need you.

    YOU need THEM to get you access to properties so you can create the images. YOU need THEM to use the images in the marketing of their listings. YOU need THEM to say, "Oh...I use Brian...I'll text you his contact info" when a fellow agent says to them, "Hey...I saw those photos on your new listing. They were really good. Who do you use?"

    YOU....need....THEM.

    Once you realize that it is you who, for a time, are really going to the customer with your hands out asking for them to "just give you a chance" you can start building out a plan to get them to GIVE you that chance. Once enough of them do give you that chance...that will get the ball rolling and you can build from there.

    Consider discounted startup work to be like cranking an old-fashioned hand-pump for water. You want the water to flow. It would be nice for it to flow on the first crank of the handle. But more than likely, you will need to pump the well for a short while to get the water flowing. Onve it's going though...it doesn't take a lot of effort to KEEP it flowing.

    The "you choose the price" offer is so powerful because it COMPLETELY removes "price" as an obstacle from you doing business. If they get to choose the price (as long as it's more than $1) then how can they object to what you charge?

    Let me just say that this whole "If you let them have access to your services for LESS then they won't ever be willing to pay MORE" idea is broken thinking. Unless you go in with the unrealistic expectation that EVERY agent you deploy this on "should" stick with you for....forever. It doesn't work that way. Some will stick with you...some won't. Work through all the ones who WON'T stick with you as fast as possible so you can assemble your own collection of agents who WILL stick with you at your full price.

    How many will that be?

    Well..I cold called for less than a week in 2016 when I first started. I got 7 agents to give me a shot. Five of them continued to work with me into the future at my full rate. Two of them dropped out which leaves me with three who are still with me to this day.

    But I have a couple hundreds of agents who I have done business with overall. The rest of them came from referrals from the original five that stuck with me. And referrals from those agents...and referrals from those agents. And on and on it goes. So you don't have to "prime the pump" for very long.

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