Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Local Affiliate Marketing: Love Thy Neighbor

Last night I received a phone call from a lady wishing for me to photograph her family at an upcoming anniversary. The strange thing about the call was that it came to my residence, not to my business number. As we talked, the told me that she saw my work in a local Spa, and the owner had given her my business card, but there was no phone number on it. (I have made a practice of putting my website and company name on wallet shots of kids and leaving them as reference cards.) Between the spa owner and the caller, they figured out where I lived and the lady looked me up in the phone book.

The outcome of the call was favorable: She booked me for a session in the summer. But I came away feeling like I had accidentally gotten this business. She had worked way too hard to find me and it was my dumb luck more than my sharp marketing skills that had won me this gig.

To my credit, I had done a few good things along the way. The Spa in question has a large print of mine, of the owner's son, from when I had taken his senior photos. I also am allowed to keep a book there of some of my images, and a stack of business cards. But had made a few mistakes along the way:
  • I didn't know how many cards are left, if any
  • I hadn't stopped in there for close to a year
  • My cards don't have my contact information on them
  • The book features seniors - but not families, pets, weddings, church, sports and the other work that I do
I have since set about fixing this. I ordered "real" business cards last night. I'll be building a better sampler book to showcase my work. And I owe the spa owner both a thank you, and a courtesy call.

My Marketing Plan

I don't advertise in traditional venues. My marketing consists of three main areas:
- Word of mouth
- Search Engine / Web
- Local business affiliations

I try to encourage word of mouth through complimentary promotional wallets, and through delighting the customer so they tell their friends, family and co-workers about me. I work hard to have good web search results and a heavy web presence. But I don't do well at local business affiliations. So I am creating an action plan that will increase my local business-to-business effectiveness. This way all of us local small businesses can support each other.

Improving My Local Affiliate Marketing

Here are some of the key actions for me:
  1. Write down a list of the 20 local businesses that complement my work - florists, hair and makeup, DJ and bands, social halls, tanning businesses, videographers, cake bakers, pet/grooming places and dance studios. Immediately contact those that I personally know and offer to trade references. Also approach those in my neighborhood and introduce myself.
  2. Provide business cards to all customers upon delivery, and to all of my affiliate businesses.
  3. Build an affiliates link on my web site, listing all information to reach my affiliate partners. Include them in my Merchant Circle network. Visit their sites and enter reviews of their businesses where appropriate.
  4. Produce one or two great sample books that showcase my work and style. Provide a copy to all affiliates. Put a business card holder in them and stuff them full of cards.
  5. Make a schedule of business visits - to check up on my books and cards, and to stay in contact with my affiliates.
  6. Find ways to help my affiliates grow their business through things I can do - pro bono photography, drawings for packages, in-store activities and other ideas.
  7. Consider donating framed artwork to businesses for them to display, with your name on or near the product.
  8. Make a list of questions to ask my clients during consults or session planning, which may lead them to my affiliated businesses. Example: At a wedding consult, I ask if they have chosen a DJ or baker. For Seniors, I would ask if they plan to have a makeover before their images, or tanning.

How About Your Affiliate Marketing?

If you haven't started a local affiliate marketing program, maybe it's time for you to begin. Take out a sheet of paper and list your adjacent business types and name specific business for them. Then think of ways that you can help that business, and how they can help you. And make an action love thy neighbor!


  1. Have I shared Steve Harper's Ripple Effect with you yet?

    This post gives me ideas about how to get word out there. I'm not a fan of business cards myself, but I love to collect free magnets. haha. I don't lose them as easily.

    Sample books are a great idea, too!

    You've got my gears turning!

  2. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.