6 Creative Ways of Marketing Your Startup on a Budget

Businessman New Bright Idea

 

 

There are endless ways to finance your ideas, but there’s nothing like marketing a startup with a modest budget. Limited funds give you an excuse to flex your creative muscle and truly share your vision with the world.

Don’t rely on the same old banner ads and Google reviews. Instead, try these seven marketing strategies to place the spotlight on your business.

  1. Share your story

Instead of just introducing yourself as an entrepreneur, develop a narrative that differentiates your company from others and sparks conversation. Does your startup support a certain cause with every sale? Say so. Did you come up with your business idea during a troubling life event? Mentioning it may inspire those around you.

  1. Don’t just sell – engage

With social media, it’s easy to engage your target demographic without looking like you’re just trying to advertise. Build brand trust by showing your support, whether of your community or your online following. Sharing someone else’s content doesn’t necessarily mean losing your audience’s attention.

  1. Carve out a niche and build credibility

Your startup’s shoestring budget can’t keep you from carving out its own niche. A blog can offer laymen the chance to understand your trade with a new perspective. A webinar or a podcast can help viewers (or listeners) feel like experts in your field. Speaking at an incubator, expo or niche event can put you in the role of the teacher and allow you to share your groundbreaking ideas with a captive audience. The small business convention you attend every year is probably in need of a few more keynoters; why don’t you try speaking instead of observing?

  1. Help people find your content

If your startup is fit for the twenty-first century, it maintains some sort of online presence. In fact, you may be satisfied with just a website, some social media pages, a blog, or even a pre-launch Web page. Just because your content is online, though, doesn’t mean it’s easily discoverable by your target audience.

With every post you publish, use keywords specific to your niche, to improve your Google rankings. You can also use these targeted keywords to power your social media-based audience acquisition.

Next, help people find your content by practicing a few SEO techniques, starting with your website. Title your pages with phrases unique to your business so they stand apart from other sites.

A tool like 40Billion.com specializes in promoting your content online and helping your business to get discovered by a large network of several million users across the most popular social networking sites – including Twitter, LinkedIn, 40Billion, and even Facebook. Innovative services like tweet ads, future retweets and promoted company listings were created for entrepreneurs  and marketers to tap into a growing, active network online without spending thousands on pay-per-click ads or traditional advertising.

  1. Negotiate a quid pro quo

If you’re just starting out, you may have a hard time introducing your company to the public. A great way to build a niche and generate word-of-mouth is through samples and giveaways.

Try reaching out to eager members of your target audience and offering up your product (or a sample of it) in return for a review and shares on social media.

  1. Co-sponsor an event

Every industry hosts its special events. Unless an event is owned and managed by a single company, most planners seek out sponsors to help fund the event.

This provides you with a fantastic niche marketing opportunity. Ask whether you can present there (or otherwise spotlight your company) to further engage attendees. Aside from giving you a good name, co-sponsoring a niche event allows you to meet and greet with your target demographic, as well as network and generate new leads.

4 Ways to Market Your Bootstrapped Startup Online

 

Happy businessman with growing share

 

Some marketing strategies become less effective and some more effective. As a startup with limited resources, you need to pay especially close attention to what’s current so you can get the most bang for your marketing budget. You already know that you have to setup social media accounts. But here are few other ways you may not have considered.

  1. Make an Explainer Video

Everyone knows that video production is effective for business, but many startups dismiss the idea because they believe it’s expensive. The truth is that it’s nowhere near as expensive as you think. A simple slideshow with a narrator will cost you no more than a hundred dollars to purchase the software and learn how to use it.

Yet video marketing growth can pay dividends. Studies have shown that it’s one of the most effective marketing tactics around.

  1. Get Smart About Content Marketing

You likely already know that content marketing will make up the bulk of your online marketing efforts. These content pieces are longer than the average blog and they answer specific customer queries and issues. If your target audience types in a long tail query, a piece of content will appear, and it should be your content.

Recently, sites like 40Billion.com have made this task easier by broadcasting and promoting your content to its large network of several million users across the most popular social networking sites for businesses – including Twitter, LinkedIn, 40Billion, and even Facebook. Innovative services like tweet ads, future retweets and promoted company listings were created for entrepreneurs  and marketers to tap into a growing, active network online without spending thousands on pay-per-click ads or traditional advertising.

  1. Focus on Existing Customers

Whenever someone mentions marketing they automatically think of trying to attract the masses. Marketing to the people who already know you can be just as effective. When you think about it, 80% of your revenue will come from just 20% of your customers.

Your most loyal customers will make up the bulk of your business. Direct your marketing campaign to those who have already bought from you through your email list and through staying in touch in order to turn them from buyers into brand ambassadors.

  1. Manage Your Online Reputation

The online reputation industry is huge. The power of word-of-mouth marketing can’t be underestimated. The reality is that people have the power.

Managing your business’ online reputation is the key. It’s about setting up Google Alerts for your company name and monitoring every mention of your brand. Not only is your aim to bury the bad apples with a cascade of positive reviews, your aim is to find out what people dislike the most about your business.

By keeping your finger on the pulse of public opinion, you can change your business to ensure that you are not sabotaging your formal marketing campaigns.

Conclusion

Bootstrapping with a startup is the reality for many businesses that have just got off the ground and need to spread the word. Although it would be ideal to have a significant installation of investment, this isn’t always possible.

Just because you are struggling with money in the short-term doesn’t mean that you can’t become a success through effective low-cost marketing online. There are many companies that have become launched successful brands and become household names, even while bootstrapping. Effective use of resources is the key.

 

The beginner’s guide to pricing your freelance business

A lot of new freelancers get hung up on pricing. Should I charge hourly? Or by the project? Is this too much? Am I really worth that much?

Relax.

Today, I’m going to give you a system for pricing your freelance business. It’ll take you from getting your first client to raising your rates so that you’re eventually making $2,000…$3,000…even $5,000 (or more) every month.

It’s the same system that’s helped Ben, the circus performer, go from charging $0 to $60 an hour. It’s also what Julia used to build a successful business where her rates are now $250 an hour. Not bad for a caricature artist who used to make $8 an hour.

Just follow everything I’m about to share with you, and all the guesswork and uncertainty from pricing will be history.

Step 1: Get your first 3 paying clients

It doesn’t matter if you already have a website, business plan, and an LLC formed. If you have no clients, you have no business. Period.

Clients pay you money. And money keeps businesses running. Which is why your number one priority when starting out should be getting your first 3 paying clients.

I’m not pulling that number out of the air. We’ve tested this concept with thousands of students. Anyone can get one client. Maybe it’s a friend, or a friend of a friend who hires you. The second client might be your uncle Jim. Or his former roommate from college who is looking for help with something — who knows. But once you land a third client, you know you’re onto something. You have a service that’s in demand.

For these first three clients, as far as pricing goes, don’t worry about it. Charge whatever — even if it’s a lowball offer like 20 bucks.

The goal here is to get 3 paying clients. As long as they pay you something, you’re on the right track.

Here’s a strategy called Locate and Communicate that’ll help you land them.

1. Locate your clients

  • Who is your exact client? Something like “small businesses” is too vague. Get specific. “Local fitness studios that want help with their email marketing” is much better.
  • Where do they go to look for solutions to their problems? What sites do they read?
  • Where are people already looking for solutions to problems? How can you make a match between them and your service?

This can be something as simple as posting and responding to an ad on Craigslist. Someone needs help moving, and you show up to help them.

Other times it’s not so straightforward. That’s when it helps to identify a specific target market and figure out where they might go to look for solutions.

  • For marketing or content writing help it might be Inbound.org
  • For tech companies, check out AngelList
  • Or maybe you’re in an industry where referrals have lots of clout. How can you get a foot in the door?

The important thing is to do the work and research. If you’re a brand new freelancer, you can’t expect to set up a website and have people beat a path to your door.

Once you’ve done your homework, we can move to the next step.

2. Communicate with your clients

Email will be your most important communication tool for pitching clients. It’s cheap, fast, and direct. And once you have a good pitch that gets responses, you can use it over and over again with some modifications.

All good email pitches have 5 parts:

  • Introduction
  • Offer
  • Benefit to reader
  • Foot in the door
  • Call to action

Here’s how they look in action:

GL EmailNotice what we didn’t do in the pitch. We didn’t mention the price. We didn’t ramble on and on about how we’re passionate about email marketing. We just made an offer, explained how it helps the other person, and then gauged their interest with a simple call to action. And all it took was 5 lines.

A busy person can read this and simply respond, “Yes.”

Use this script to get your first three paying clients. Then once you know you’re onto something, you can move onto the next part of this pricing system.

Step 2: Set an hourly rate

Congratulations! If you’ve made it to this step, you officially have a business. Now it’s time to set some guidelines for your pricing.

There are many different ways to do this. You can charge hourly, by project, on commision, or a monthly retainer.

Forget all these options for now and just set an hourly rate. It keeps things simple. Clients understand it, and they won’t get freaked out over large project quotes. It also reduces risk for them, so you might get more business as a result.

To find a good starting point for your hourly rate, use the Drop-3-Zeros Method.

Basically, you find the average annual pay for someone in a job that’s similar to your freelance service and drop 3 zeros from it.

You can easily find salary information on PayScale or Glassdoor.

For example, I looked up “email marketing” and saw that the national average for that role is roughly $64,000.

So if we drop 3 zeros we arrive at an hourly rate of $64. That’s a good starting point.

If your rate sounds higher than usual, that’s fine. Remember, clients don’t have to pay taxes and benefits on freelancers, so they expect to pay a little more per hour for their services.

Step 3: Raise your rates by doing high-value work

Most freelancers will work for a few months with a client and then ask for a raise. Here’s how that conversation usually plays out:

Freelancer: I’ve been working with you for about 6 months now, and I think I deserve a raise.

Client: Why?

Freelancer: Ummm…well…I understand the company. So I’m much more efficient now. I can get more work done in less time. And you don’t have to train anyone.

Client: But isn’t that what bringing new people on is all about? You invest time training them early so that they can work more independently later?

Freelancer: Ummm…

Newsflash! You’re not entitled to a raise. You are paid for the job you do. If you want to earn more, you must do higher value work.

That could mean managing staff or projects, being responsible for certain revenue targets, or putting yourself in a high-visibility role like being a CEO’s executive assistant.

The definition of moving up the value chain will be different for freelancers depending on their industry. But in general, the closer you are to the sale, the higher you will be valued, and the more you can charge.

For example, a content writer is just responsible for writing a certain number of blog posts per week.

But a content strategist is responsible for the overall strategy of a website to bring in new leads and customers.

The latter is closer to the money, because customers are involved.

You can get the new higher value rates by using the Drop-3-Zeros method from step 2 and finding the roles that match the new level of experience and responsibility.

Now, that number might be very high. For example, someone who is responsible for sales can easily quote $100 an hour.

Many clients will balk at a number like that. This is when you can use a trial period to your advantage.

Here’s a short script you can use to guide that conversation:

scriptThis does 3 things.

First, it gets a foot in the door. The client is more likely to agree to the lower rate if price was the main objection.

Second, the trial period reduces the client’s risk in taking on a freelancer. Another point in favor of hiring you.

Third, it sets the stage for a renegotiation at 3 months. You won’t have to awkwardly bring up raising your rates. You just need to say, “Our 3-month trial comes to an end in two weeks. Would you like to continue working together at my regular rate of $100 an hour?”

And if you’ve knocked it out of the park, and delivered on everything you’ve promised, of course they’ll say yes.

After all, it’s hard to find good help these days. Good workers — freelance or not — are indispensable.

Using these 3 steps, any new freelancer can land their first paying client and raise their rates so that they’re running a profitable freelance business.

Just follow them in order, and any angst you have about pricing will be gone. Then, your only job is to focus on doing extraordinary work.

Viral Video Marketing 101

Hand holding tablet with Viral marketing word on wood table

 

Video is rapidly growing and quickly becoming a staple of marketing strategies. If you have not yet incorporated video marketing then you are simply behind the curve. Not only that, but you are losing out on the various benefits that having a video strategy provides.

Importance of Video:

The reason video is such a powerful medium lies within its ability to engage, educate, and influence potential and existing customers. It’s a quick way to show brand personality and spread your company’s message in a compelling way. Unlike other media, video has the ability to make the audience feel something; and feeling something generally motivates action.

Social Media:

There are many ways to utilize video from a marketing standpoint, so let’s talk about a few. Social media platforms are the perfect place to showcase pre-rolls and teasers to create buzz or start a conversation about your brand. Find a creative way to make a short form video that will be share-worthy and reach large groups of people. With millions of people interacting on social media, creating good video content can be a vital tool in reaching the masses, and making your brand’s content go viral.

Social media platform 40Billion.com makes this easy by broadcasting and promoting your video content to its large network of several million users across the most popular social networking sites for businesses – including Twitter, LinkedIn, 40Billion, and even Facebook. Innovative services like tweet ads and promoted company listings were created for entrepreneurs and marketing professionals to tap into a growing, active network online without spending thousands on pay-per-click ads or traditional advertising.

Testimonials:

Now, lets talk about the value of a video testimonial. Video testimonials can be a great asset to your marketing plan as it allows your clients to sell the product or service for you. A genuine video testimonial can be just as powerful as hearing about a brand or service through word-of-mouth. With websites including a comment or review section under a product, people now more than ever are relying on others to let them know if their purchase will be worth it. Video testimonials take that experience to the next level by making it more personal and building more trust.

Search Engine Optimization:

Video can also help expand your SEO. Website owners can allow people to share their video content, creating backlinks that are registered by search engines. This can greatly increase your search rankings. Also, having a video on your landing page is key because video converts better than any other medium.

Video Blogs:

Video blogs are another important type of video to consider. Content for video blogs could include getting to know key members of a company, interviews with the CEO and executives on a professional and personal level. It helps people connect and feel good about their relationship with your company. Simply put, it humanizes your company. Video blogs are also easy to promote on social media and can help you stay relevant.

In conclusion, every business has a brand identity. There’s a reason why we choose some products over others. There’s a reason why we do business selectively. You need to showcase your passion and give consumers a reason to choose you over the competition. The possibilities with videos are endless, and the results can be gratifying and game-changing.

The Ultimate DIY Guide to Beautiful Product Photography

The Ultimate DIY Guide to Beautiful Product Photography

If there’s one thing that’s true when it comes to ecommerce, it’s that the perceived value of your products and the trustworthiness of your business is often judged by the quality of your web design. And a big part of having an attractive website these days also means having high-quality, beautiful product photography.

But it’s not just aesthetics we’re talking about. Showcasing your products with high-quality images can also be the winning difference between a conversion and no sale at all. This is particularly true if you’re also distributing your products on marketplace sites like Amazon, where they are displayed alongside those of your competitors, or selling on visual platforms like Pinterest.

How to Capture High Quality Product Photos With Your SmartPhone. A free, step-by-step guide that shows you exactly which tools and apps you’ll need.

 

But when you’re just starting out, getting your product photos shot can be an intimidating prospect because good photography can be expensive. There are hundreds of product photography tools to help you get the job done yourself. As business owners with lean start-up roots, we understand this more than anyone, and as a company that works with small businesses everyday, we also know that sometimes the money’s just not there. If that’s you, and your budget is tight, have you thought about taking the DIY approach to taking your own images? It’s not as hard as you might think.

There are lots of techniques for shooting successful product photography, but the one I’m going to show you is commonly known as The Window Light Technique.  From someone who photographs products everyday, this tutorial has been specifically crafted for business owners on a budget, and it’s been designed to be simple while producing excellent high quality results with most product types.

Enjoy!

What You’re Going to Need

What You’re Going to Need

Gear is at the heart of photography and can be really exciting, but typically it’s the aspect that most people become confused about.

There’s no necessity to spend a large portion of your budget on high-tech equipment, so keep an open mind and try not to overspend on gadgets that do the same job lighting your product as a $5 piece of card can do.  You can probably do this window light setup for $20 or less if you already own a camera.

You’re only going to need a few things for this setup:

1. Camera

1. Camera

You don’t need a crazy camera system. While shooting images with a Nikon D800 ($2796) sporting a 105mm f1.4 lens ($740) is awesome, it’s also totally unnecessary.

Still, if you’re feeling excited, and have the budget to stretch to a new camera system for this project, I suggest reading a post I wrote on quora which offers tips to help you pick out a good camera for product photography. If all you have is your smartphone, that’s ok too; check out this helpful guide to smartphone product photography.

When I did the test images for this, I started with my older model (2008), beat-to-hell Canon G10 point-and-shoot.  I love the Canon G series point-and-shoots because they can go full manual and they shoot a really nice raw file. I picked this camera because it’s definitely not top of the line anymore, allowing me to demonstrate that even with modest equipment, good results are attainable.

So what camera do you need?  I would just start out with whatever you have handy and see what the results are. It’s a common myth that it’s the camera that takes the pictures, but in reality the camera is only one piece of the whole.  A photograph is made up of series of choices that incorporates lighting, exposure, styling and post processing decisions.

2. Tripod

2. Tripod

Not to get too technical, but you’re going to set your camera to a very small aperture so that you can have the most depth of field your camera is capable of.

The width of the depth of field defines the area of sharp focus, and to get to that you need the largest f/stop number your camera can obtain. Shutter speed and f/stop are related, and since a larger f/stop number like f/8 lets in less light, you’ll need to counter than by using a slower shutter speed to allow more light through.

When a camera has a slow shutter, you can’t hand hold it or the subject will be blurry – so a tripod is your answer. If you’re interested in learning more about the fundamentals of photography, check out this video I did with Harrington College of Design last year.

I realize that most point-and-shoots may not allow you to choose your f/stop.  That’s ok and there are ways to get around this which we’ll discuss in the step-by-step.

Again, you shouldn’t need to spend a whole lot of money on a tripod at this point in your adventure, and there are many, many options out there that are under $30.  I did a quick search on Amazon and found something that would work for $20.

3. White Background

3. White Background

There are lots of options for a white background and if you’re going to be shooting a lot, you may want to go to your local photography store and get a small white sweep.

If you’re not in an area with a good photography store, you can always head over to your frame shop/art store and get a 32×40 sheet of their thinnest white Mat Board, which is what we’re using in this example.

Look for something that you can bend a little bit to create a sweep.  You can usually get this for under $7.  Remember to look for pure white as off-white or cream, while cool, will be more difficult to make pure white.

4. White Bounce Cards Made of Foamcore

While you’re at the art store/frame shop, ask them if they have any extra scraps of white foamcore you can buy.  You only need a piece roughly the height of your product, and about 3x the width. Typically, a letter size will work.  We like to bend ours in half, like in the above example, so that it will stand up on its own.  Its purpose is to bounce light back onto the product.

5. Table

A standard folding table works best, and a width that’s between 24 and 27 inch wide is ideal.

6. Tape

Depending on the table you end up with, you can use tape or clamps to secure down your board so that it sweeps properly.

7. The Right Room

A room with windows next to a wall is perfect, and the bigger the window, the more light you’ll get in.

How to Photograph Your Product on a White Background

Alright, let’s get into the step by step process for shooting your photos.

Step 1: Set Up Your Table

Step 1: Set Up Your Table

Once you have collected your gear together, it’s time to set up your shooting area. Place your table as close to the window as possible without intersecting the shadow from the windowsill.  You’ll want to start with the window 90 degrees to the right or left of your setup.  The closer you are to the window and the larger the window, the softer the light will be.

Also, remember to turn off all other lights inside the room you’re shooting in as other light will contaminate the set.

You can try rotating the set so the window is at 45 degrees to the set, or try it with the window straight onto the set for a different style of lighting.  Food photography is often shot with a window behind the setup and the camera shooting into the window for a more dramatic setup.  Another variation is setting up in a garage with the door open, it will have the same qualities of light as a window, just without the glass.

You do not want direct sunlight hitting your set. Direct sunlight is harsh and looks bad on most people and products.


Step 1: Set Up Your Table

Step 2:  Set Up Your Sweep

There are a lot of ways to do this, but the ultimate goal is to have your mat board sweep from being flat on your table to being vertical.  You may need to roll up the board to help it reach that shape.
In my set-up, we placed the table against the wall and taped the sweep to the wall and the table. If you don’t have a wall, you’re going to have make something to secure the back of the sweep to. Some bricks or a wooden block would work well.

Place your product in the center on the flat part of the sweep and leave enough room to sneak your white reflector card in later. In this case, our product is a cool Skyrim & Doom toy available from Symbiote Studios. Thanks guys!

Step 3: Set Up Your Camera

Step 3: Set Up Your Camera

1. Set Your White Balance (WB) to Auto.

2. Turn your flash setting to off.

3. Image Settings – set it to the largest quality settings:

  • Set it to raw if you have it.  Most point and shoot cameras don’t have this setting, but if you do then use it.  This file is the largest file the camera can shoot, and utilizes the full bitdepth of the camera.  You will have to edit in a software that reads raw imagery though, like Photoshop, Bridge, Lightroom or Aperture.
  • If you don’t have raw, set it to the largest JPG setting you have.  In my canon there are 2 settings to look out for:
Size –  sometimes L (large), M- (medium) S- (small)  Pick large.  This setting determines the file size, and you almost always want to shoot it at its largest file size for optimal image quality.  You can always shrink an image once it is take but you can’t make it larger.
Quality – S (Superfine), F (fine), N ( normal). You should always set it to Superfine.  This setting determines the number of pixels that are used on the camera sensor.  Not using all the available pixels will render a lower quality image.
  • Set your ISO to 100:  The ISO controls the sensitivity of the sensor.  The higher the ISO the more noise there is.  Typically, the lowest ISO you can set your camera to is ISO 100, so set it there if you can.
  • Exposure Settings

    Step 3: Set Up Your Camera

    Option A:  Set your camera to Manual (M)
    This is the best setting for this type of work because nothing will be moving or changing as you take the pictures.  In manual, change your f/stop to the highest number, which will give you the greatest depth of field.

    Preview the image on the back of the camera through liveview.  Everything is probably pretty dark, which is ok.  Now, switch to your shutter speed and rotate the dial to make it bright enough that the image is properly exposed.  Your shutter number should be going down.  For example, your number may go from 1/60th to ¼ .  These are fractions of a second that your shutter will be open for and as the number lowers it will let more light in.  Adjust this number until the preview of the image is correct.

    Option B:  Use Aperture Priority, Av…
    Your camera may not have this either, but if it does, change the f/stop to the highest number.  This should automatically adjust the shutter to be what the camera thinks it should be.  This may be wrong and you may need to use the exposure compensation dial to add light.

    Option C: Auto Exposure
    If you’re stuck in the all-auto world, there may not be much you can do.  Don’t fret, it’s not a big deal.  If you have an exposure compensation dial, you will most likely need to add +1 or +1 ½ to get the correct exposure.  If all you have is the running man images to choose from, try picking something like sunset. With the iPhone, just tap the area you want exposed properly.

    Use the Histogram on the back of the camera.  You’re looking for the slope to be closer to the right hand side like in the image above.

    Exposure Tip: Don’t trust the image on the back of the camera, instead pay attention to the histogram to know if your exposure is correct.  The far right hand side is white, and left is black.  In the example image there is a little gap on the right hand side which means that there is no pure white. Adjust the exposure till the part of the curve representing the white background is touching the right edge without going over.  In this example, you would probably need to add 1/3 of a stop, or one click for more light.


    Step 3: Set Up Your Camera

  • Zoom In
    Cameras typically have an optical zoom and a digital zoom.  Don’t use the digital zoom as this will lower the quality of the image – it’s essentially just cropping the digital image.  If you have an optical zoom, try zooming in as far as you can without going digital zoom.  A longer zoom will remove distortion caused by a wide angle lens.

Step 5:  Set Up Your Product in the Middle of the Surface

Setting up your product is one of those things that seems simple, but can take time to position correctly.  If it’s a bottle, pay attention to keeping the label type centered.  Many times there are lots of tiny movements needed to get everything lining up perfectly.

Step 6: Set Up the Reflector Card

This simple white card is the single most important light modifier we have in our studio and we use it with everything.  The light will bounce off the card and fill in all the shadows.  How you position this card is matter of taste, so try it at different angles to the product.

Step 7:  Take the Picture and Evaluate

Once you take the picture, take some time and really look at what you’ve created.  This is where experience and education comes into play – what’s working, what isn’t working and what can you do to make it bettser.  Experiment with different ways of making your image better and over time you’re skills will naturally improve.

Upload your images onto your computer to get a better idea of how they look. The back of your camera is never very accurate. I suggest using Adobe Lightroom to organize all your images, and it can be used to do almost all of your editing except very advanced processes.  You’ll no doubt need to make some adjustments to the images to get them to look right.

Post production software like Adobe Lightroom is very in-depth and we won’t have time to go into the details of using it because it’s just too much.

Step 7:  Take the Picture and Evaluate

Step 7:  Take the Picture and Evaluate

Step 7:  Take the Picture and Evaluate

Step 7:  Take the Picture and Evaluate

Step 8: Get Your Pictures Retouched

Once you’ve got a final image you’re happy with, it’s time to get it retouched. If you photographed your product correctly, the product should be exposed properly and your background a light grey.  It should look something like the un-retouched image above, and comparing it to retouched version shows you how important this step of the process actually is.

The retouching tasks associated with on-white photography, for someone without a lot of training, can be tricky, and tend to be the weak link for most people trying to photograph products themselves.  So, instead of trying to teach you advanced Photoshop, I’m going to show you how to outsource it.
You’d be surprised how affordable this can be. From around $4 – $10 an image, you can have a professional retouching company improve your images for you.  Finding a good company can be tough, but one company that works best for consumers is Mister Clipping. They have an office in New York City, so you’re not trying to correspond with someone overseas, and they’re super-friendly.

Their process is simple. Just create an account, upload your images and they’ll give you a quote.


Step 8: Get Your Pictures Retouched

Step 9: Upload Your Pictures to Your Website

Once you get your images back, it’s time to upload them to your site.

If you’re using Shopify you’re lucky, as it resizes the images for you. You have no idea how many websites I see where the image is the wrong size.  When this happens the image becomes skewed and stretched, ruining all the work you put into the image.

With Shopify, completed images will be ready to load directly into your store, thanks to some handy software that prepares and resizes the images automatically for you. Some other CMS platforms, like WordPress, also have this capability.

Uploading Images to your Site for Non-Shopify Site Owners

If your online store doesn’t resize the images for you – perhaps you have a custom built site – you’ll need to crop your images to the correct dimensions and then resize the image.

Step 1:  Find Your Image Size

Images, particularly jpegs, do not enlarge well, so you want your final image to start as large as your camera will shoot it. If your camera shoots a 4416 x 3312 pixels size image than this means that you can shrink this image by cropping or down-resizing (shrinking it proportionally) to a smaller size. The not so technical industry term is down-rezing referring to lowering the resolution.

Uploading Images to your Site for Non-Shopify Site Owners

To find your image size, right click on the image on your website to inspect the image.  You’ll see the dimensions in two areas. Each browser’s ‘inspect element’ is a little different.  I’m using Safari in the above image example.

Step 2:  Crop Your Images to Size in Lightroom

Chances are your images will need to be cropped to fit the exact dimensions required by your website, but thankfully this is something you can manage easily in Lightroom, but entering a custom crop size.

Uploading Images to your Site for Non-Shopify Site Owners

Uploading Images to your Site for Non-Shopify Site Owners

With your images in Lightroom, click the image you want to crop and go into the ‘develop’ menu.  Click where it says ‘original’ next to the lock icon, and click again on ‘custom’.  In ‘custom’, enter in the size you acquired from ‘inspect element’, and click ok to crop your image.

Uploading Images to your Site for Non-Shopify Site Owners

Step 3: Export Your Images to the New Size Using Lightroom

Once you’ve cropped the image, it’s time to export the final cropped image for upload to your site.  Start by right clicking and selecting ‘export’.  The important part is how you set the file settings and image sizing:

  • Image Format: Jpeg
  • Quality: Between 70 – 90, 100 is typically not necessary.
  • Colorspace: Srgb (anything on the web must have this colorspace set)
  • Resize to fit: Width and Height – match your crop size
  • Resolution: 72 pixels per inch (this is a standard screen res)

Everything else is up to you, or self-explanatory.  Press ‘export’ and upload your images.

Conclusion

There you have it!  The simple ‘how to take your own products on white photography the easy way, without having to buy tons of gear and complicated lighting’ article.

If you try this, please post an image of your setup and a final image so everyone can see what you did.  We’d love to see the results!

Conclusion

About The Author

Jeff Delacruz is co-founder of Products On White Photography, a super easy way to get professional photographs of your products for your ecommerce website. You can follow Jeff’s photo exploits on Google+ or connect with us on the POW! Facebook Page.

The Beginner’s Guide to Product Photography

The Beginner's Guide to Product Photography

In the course of processing over 10 million product images, we’ve worked with everyone from international mega-brands to DIY boutique retailers. Product photography can be intimidating for beginners, but it’s a challenge you can definitely overcome – there’s a science to this art form.

Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the marketing industry was energized by a new model structured around “4 Ps”—product, price, promotion, and place. Reducing a complex process to fundamental building blocks created clarity so effectively that the “4 Ps” are still taught today.

To demystify photography and help you skip the growing pains most brands and retailers go through, we’ve compiled a start-to-finish guide covering the “4 Ps” of product photography: planning, photographing, post-production, and publishing.

1. Planning

Before cameras are configured, models make their way to hair and makeup, bright lights begin flashing, and photos stream into laptops, you need a plan.

Where are you shooting? What shots do you need? What equipment will you be using? How should it be set up? Who’s in your crew? What software will you use during the shoot? How will you process your images afterward? How will edited images make it to the web?

You need answers to those questions and more, before you touch a camera. Mapping out your shoot and workflow will save you time, reduce expenses, and result in higher quality images.

Where are your images going to end up?

amuse lookbook photography

Lookbook images are usually taken on location and tell a story; the purpose is to identify the product with a lifestyle. Image source: amusesociety.com

Ecommerce images generally fall into two categories: lookbook images and product images. Lookbook images usually involve fully styled looks in a location that creates context around the product, projecting the lifestyle a brand envisions. Lookbook images are often the result of themed shoots, and are commonly used as banner images on a website, in catalogs, within print and digital lookbooks, and on social media.

amuse product photos

Product images are traditionally clean, focused, and consistent. The purpose is to show the product. Image source: amusesociety.com

Traditional product images are taken in studio against a white or neutral background, and serve to give the viewer a clean, detailed, focused look at the product as they make a purchasing decision. Product images are the fundamental building blocks of an eCommerce website, and usually appear on the page with a “buy” button.

For the purposes of this post, we’re going to focus on in-studio product photography for images that will appear on product pages. If you’re interested in photographing lookbook images, read this post by an art director and stylist on how to shoot a lookbook for fashion.

What’s your budget?

makeup

photo: Foxes & Wolves

You don’t want to limit yourself by obsessing over costs, but knowing how much you have to spend will influence many of your other choices. For example, is it in your budget to hire a professional model? If it’s not, you’ll need to look into mannequin options, or learn how to stage a DIY shoot with amateur models.

Can you afford a hair and makeup artist? Every expert you can hire will improve your final product, but you need to know your budget so you can prioritize.

What shots do you need?

Put together a shot list. A shot list is, fundamentally, a list of all the images you want to capture. It should include your product, the angles needed, details to highlight, and what an item should be paired with if you’re assembling looks.

For example, an entry on your list might say something like: “Jenna Top | Front, Back, 45 Left, 45 Right, Closeup ruffle hem, Back strap detail | Full Body Mannequin | Style with Stacy Capri.” Be sure to include CAD illustrations, or some other graphic element, if your shot list is going to be guidance for someone who doesn’t know your products by name.

A shot list will keep you moving forward at pace during your shoot, and also ensure you capture all the images you need. You can check shots off your list as they’re taken.

Where are you going to shoot?

photo studio

photo: Foxes & Wolves

Many big brands have in-house photo studios, but if you’re not at that level you can hire a studio or do it yourself. Hiring a professional studio isn’t cheap, but it will ease your workload tremendously, provide you quality results, and can be quite educational. Understanding how a pro studio operates will help you improve your own decision making and workflow around product imagery.

If you’re a DIY product photographer, your shoot location comes back in part to budget. If you’re on a shoestring, you need a spacious indoor location with plenty of natural window light. If you can afford to rent or purchase lighting equipment (more on that later), the major prerequisite is abundant undisturbed space where you can set up your studio safely, and leave it built for the duration of your shoot. Ideally, it will be a space you have permanent access to so that you can replicate your setup for future use.

What equipment do you need?

photo lighting

photo: Foxes & Wolves

Your equipment needs are determined by your product and budget. For most products, you can achieve good results with a DSLR camera, tripod, backdrop, and an artificial lighting kit. It’s also desirable to have a laptop for tethering with cost-effective software like Adobe Lightroom, or the more expensive and professional Capture One.

DSLR cameras produce the highest quality image, if you know how to set them correctly. It’s not just about megapixels: DSLR cameras capture images in RAW format, recording all possible sensor data to allow for advanced retouching later, and they can tether to a computer. Tethering will let you immediately see and process captured images, as well as fire your camera with the press of a spacebar. If you’re on a tight budget, you can try using a smartphone as your camera for product photography.

Backdrops are one of the easier problems to solve, as rolls of seamless white background paper are inexpensive (like this $28 option from B&H), widely available, and easily positioned with a C-stand or tape.

Lighting kits are usually the second most expensive purchase a budding product photographer makes, after their camera. Choosing between one or more speedlights, monolights, or continuous lights shouldn’t be a snap decision. Check out our Lighting 101 introduction, and if you’re not ready to buy you can try an option like renting from a site like BorrowLenses.com or ATSRentals.com.

2. Photographing

When your planned shoot day finally arrives, there are a few steps you can take to ensure everything goes according to plan.

Product Preparation

Preparing your product is really about saving time by putting the work in on the front end of your process. Sure, you can edit out blemishes that appear on your product in post-production, but it takes time, and less desirable elements can slip through. It’s smarter to get your products looking their best immediately before the shoot.

For apparel, iron and steam away wrinkles, remove any tags on the product, and remove any lint and dust with tape or lint rollers. If you are using mannequins or models, use clips and tape to create an ideal fit.

If you’re shooting jewelry, thoroughly clean and polish the product surface. If you’re shooting shoes, make sure the laces are in good shape, and check that there are no tags or stickers (or sticker residue) left on the product.

Styling

photo wardrobe styling

Style looks to create context and showcase your product’s fit and appeal. Stylist: Sarah Kensell, model: Jen Hawkins, photo: Foxes & Wolves

When styling your products, you should have two goals in mind: to showcase your products at their very best, and to make it easy for the customer to imagine what your products will be like when worn/used. For example, for apparel you should use a live model or mannequin, and pin the product to demonstrate fit and shape.

Some planning and post-production work can enable you to create realistic shape on otherwise uncooperative products. For example, you can hold up straps on sandals and heels with fishing line or floss. You can shoot watches on round watch holders, then edit the holders out later. Your goal should always be to mimic natural use and present a product as realistically and appealingly as possible.

Lighting

lighting kit

photo: Foxes & Wolves

Your first important decision is whether you are going to use natural or artificial light. Artificial light is preferable because it is more easily controlled, but budget conscious photographers can get great product images using a natural light source – if the weather cooperates.

Even when using artificial lights, it can be to your advantage to supplement with natural light, but you should take care that your light level is consistent. If the sun keeps going behind clouds, you’re probably better off shooting with exclusively artificial light. You don’t want to waste time adjusting your settings between every shot.

Your lighting setup is dependent on your product type and the number of light sources you have available. For example, you might want double overhead lights for highly reflective metallic products, a backlit setup for glass products, or two monolights at 45 degree angles for apparel.

Let’s look at three effective arrangements for apparel using natural light and/or monolights in a DIY style setup. In our first setup, using exclusively natural light, the product is positioned at a 90-degree angle from the window. If the light is too direct (causing deep shadows) you can try hanging a thin sheet over the window to diffuse light.

natural lighting photography

image: Pixelz

 

For a complete list of supplies and equipment needed to create a home studio setup, you can refer to How to Build Your Own Photo Studio on a Bootstrapped Budget.

Our next setup assumes you have a single monolight, supplemented by natural window light.

light studio setup

image: Pixelz

A single monolight has been placed at a 45-degree angle to the product, while the location of the camera and tripod remain unchanged. If shadowing becomes a problem, you can move the product further away from the backdrop.

Our third setup simply adds another light, powered lower, again at a 45-degree angle, to provide fill light. If you can’t afford a second light, you could use a reflector instead.

lighting set up monolight

image: Pixelz

If you are curious about what lighting and shooting equipment you need to get the best product photography shots and what all that equipment costs, you can head over to our blog post Lighting Equipment 101: Why to Invest and What to Buy, where you will find a whole list of equipment and pricing.

Camera Settings

If you have a DSLR, learn how to use Manual mode when setting your camera. The most important properties for product photography are ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. We’ll keep it brief here; if you want to learn more, check out this introduction to camera settings for DIY product photography.

ISO

ISO is the sensitivity of your camera sensor to light. The lower the number, the less sensitive it is and the longer it will take to capture an image. For product photography, you want the lowest ISO possible. Start at around ISO 200 and take a few test shots; if the image seems a little dark, increase the ISO value. A higher ISO setting will capture an image faster, but it also introduces graininess

ISO photography

ISO 400 / ISO 1200 / ISO 6400

Read: 7 Dos and Don’ts of DIY Footwear Photography

Aperture

Next, set your aperture. Aperture controls depth of field, meaning what part of an image is in focus. For product photography, you want as high an aperture as possible. F16 and above are generally considered “full focus,” so the entire image should be crisp and clear.

Aperture controls depth of field, which determines what part of an image is in focus. Model: Jen Hawkins, photos: Foxes & Wolves

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed determines how long your camera sensor is exposed to light. For product photography, when the camera is mounted on a tripod and the product is motionless, use a low setting like 1/13. If you’re handholding (which you should generally avoid) or shooting a model in motion, you may need a faster speed.

3. Post-Production

With well-prepared products, good lighting, and the right camera settings, you have a strong foundation for excellent product images – but you’re not done yet. Now, it’s time to optimize your images for the web in post-production.

Consistent background removal, sizing, alignment, and cropping increase your store’s professionalism. Photo: Nordstrom

The most fundamental edits you can make to optimize your images for the web involve consistent background removal, alignment, size format, cropping, margin setting, and compression. For example, you may want all your images to be JPG with a white background, the product vertically bottom aligned, in a square shape with 5% margins. If you perform the same consistent edits, you will make your category pages easier to browse and increase your professionalism in the eyes of your customer.

Rather than go in depth on every post-production technique, we’ll take a look at the most common edit (background removal), and then show you how to perform batch processing and general retouching. Batch processing can make almost any type of editing more efficient.

Background Removal

Most companies remove the original background of product images and replace it with pure white. In a study of over seven million images we edited, we found that about 92% removed the background.

Removing the background – whether or not you choose to replace it with white, leave it transparent, or use another color – removes unsightly distractions, decreases file size, and increases consistency.

If you are DIY inclined, there are a number of free tools you can use to remove the background. You can use native Mac applications like Preview, or download free image editing software like Gimp.

We recommend paying the $10 per month fee for Adobe’s Creative Cloud Photography suite, which includes both Photoshop and Lightroom. The learning curve is steep, but the range, power, and support of Adobe’s products just can’t be beat.

Batch Processing

Efficiency in your post-production process is essential, and one way to make sure you are working smart is by utilizing Photoshop’s batch processing feature. Batch Processing works like this: if you have a batch of images that need similar editing tasks done, Photoshop is able to record the changes you make to one photo, and apply those changes to the rest of the images in the batch.

Using Batch Processing is fairly simple. The first step is to record a task. To do this in Photoshop, you need to go to “Window” and then “Action. This is going to open up the actions window tab. Once there, click “Create New Action” and then “Record.” If the little red circle has been highlighted, you know you are recording, and you can begin making your adjustments.

Once finished, go ahead and hit “stop.” This will end your recording, and you are now ready to apply your adjustments to the rest of your batch.

To apply your action to our batch, go to “File,” “Automate,” and then “Batch.” In this window, you can select the action via a drop down menu under “play.” It is in this window that you can also select your source/files you would like to run this batch action on and where you would like to save them to. Once ready, hit okay, and your action will be applied to the images in the batch.

General Retouch

No matter how careful you were with preparing your products for a shoot, there is a good chance that once you blow your images up on a big monitor in Photoshop, you will notice a few impurities somewhere on your product. There are two tools that we really like for fixing imperfections in our image: the “Healing Brush” and the “Clone Stamp” tool.

If you have a surface you want to clean up (say there is a dust on a shirt or a few blemishes on the skin of your model) you are going to want to even those out using the Patch tool. With the Patch tool, you are able to take a sample spot in your image of what you would like an entire surface to do look like, and then select the areas that you want to clean up. The Patch tool blends your sample with the selected area, and the result is a smooth, blemish free area.

In the picture above, we see a skin spot we would like to remove.

Using the Patch tool, we can select a sample area and then blend the sample with the area with the blemish.

The Patch tool’s blending results in the skin appearing even and blemish free.

The other tool you are going to want to utilize is the Clone Stamp tool. With the Clone Stamp tool, you are copying your sample and placing it over your selection, with no blending. This tool is ideal for use around edges where, say, you want to remove something from the image but keep the background (this can occur when fixing, say, stray hairs on a model’s head). You can use the Clone Stamp tool for this because it won’t leave behind any color from your selection the way the Patch tool does. It is common to then follow up your use of the Clone Stamp tool with the Patch tool to get a nice even final look.

The picture above, we find a small blemish near the border of the shorts.

Using the Clone Stamp tool, we can take a sample of the skin to remove the blemish.

The result is a blemish free image.

If you’re interested in seeing exactly how to use both of these tools, check out DIY 3: Editing Product Images.

Outsourcing

Editing product images is time consuming and the learning curve is steep. If you have neither the time, money, nor desire to edit images yourself, consider using a specialized company in post-production services for product images.

4. Publishing

When your images are shot and edited, it’s time for the most exciting part of the process: sharing your images with the world!

Thanks to Shopify’s super easy to use interface, uploading your images is simple.

To start, click the tag icon on the left navigation bar on your screen. This will take you to the “Products” area of your shop.

To add a product to your store, select “Products” in the navigation bar. Once there, you should find an “Add Product” button in the top right corner of your screen. Click the button.

Here you will find all the information you need to fill out for your new product listing. Once you fill out the title and description, it is time upload your product images. Keep in mind, the maximum size image that Shopify accepts is 2048 x 2028 pixels or 4.2 megapixels, so you may need to do some compressing if your image files exceed that limit.

Fill out your product information and then select “Upload Image.”

To help improve the SEO of your images, we are going to add some alt text to our image. This will help your images be catalogued in search engines. To add alt text to your images, simply hover over them and select “alt.”

Hover over your image to reveal the “Alt” option.

In the window, add your alt text. Think of it as describing the image to a blind person; that’s literally how alt text is used with software for the visually impaired, and it’s the best way to help search engines understand your image. When you are finished, hit “Done.”

An example of alt text might be “Pair of pink imitation pearl earrings by Brand Name on gold chains.”

Once you have all your information filled out, click “Save Product” in the top right of your screen, and your product listing will be saved.

Select “Save Product” to add it to your store.

Refine Your Process

The 4 Ps lay a foundation for your product photography process from start to finish. Successful brands focus on optimizing their processes, making sure their workflow is as effective and efficient as possible. The great news is that even a one-person operation can create hyper-efficient workflows, so long as they arm themselves with the right knowledge and resources.

We certainly didn’t cover every aspect of product photography, so let us know in the comments below if you have comments or tips on the 4 Ps, or anything else product photography related!


shopify-author Thomas Kragelund

About The Author

Thomas Kragelund is the CEO and founder of Pixelz, a leading product image solutions partner for internet retailers, bloggers, designers, photographers and webmasters worldwide. He has been working in ecommerce for the last 15 years. Sign up today and get 3 product images edited for free.

3 Simple Steps On Using Twitter to Quit Working (and Find the Perfect Business)

When I say “Quit Working”, I don’t mean quit “doing stuff.”Using Twitter

I’m talking about a life that lets you get up every day and do something you care about.

Laying on a beach or playing golf every day sounds great, but most people get bored with that after a day (or week) or two.

Humans (which I understand is the majority of the readers of this blog) are hard-wired to “do stuff.” We have to do stuff that matters.

There are many great tools out there that help you do that, and one of the best is Twitter.

Here are three simple steps on using Twitter to quit working for someone else doing something you don’t care about and start a life that lets you do the work you most want to.

1) Begin a conversation about a topic you FREAKING LOVE

Why spend all your time working on a business that’s based on something you don’t give a hoot about?

Start off with a topic that really gets you excited. Something that you could talk about for decades and never get tired of it.

Enter into already existing conversations with influential people around a topic that excites you and build your own following with other people who are interested in the same topic.

The great thing about using Twitter is that it has a relatively level playing field. There’s nothing stopping you from engaging with the top influencers on your topic.

2) Figure out what people are struggling with

The key part of this conversation is figuring out what areas of this particular subject other folks are having issues with.

What are they concerned about? What do they need help with? What do they believe would change their situation?

These are key questions to ask — just be sure to participate and add value in the conversation first.

Every product or service addresses some problem or need that some people have.

By beginning this conversation around those problems, you are identifying an area where there is demand (people who want, or even desperately need) solutions to their problems.

3) Start selling something

“What? Sell?, easy for you to say!”

OK, anyone who’s considering starting a business usually has that same reaction — it’s hard, isn’t it?

Well, selling appears to be hard sometimes, but that’s usually for one of two reasons:

a) You don’t really care about what you are selling — maybe you don’t even believe in it. That’s not the case if you follow these three steps (refer back to step 1)

b) You are trying to sell something that people don’t want. Not a problem here, because you asked them. Remember step 2?

Starting a business is no easy task, but if you can learn what people want and get instant feedback about your product or service idea, you’ll be way ahead of the game.

It won’t be about “selling on Twitter,” it will be a simple matter of putting that product or service in front of the people who have already told you they want it. (By the way, you’re using Twitter to do that as well!)

It’s sort of like taking a test with the answer key in front of you.

Conclusion:

Follow these three steps above using Twitter.  Doing so you’ll be able to quit work and soon have a business people want to buy from because they’ve just told you on Twitter exactly what their problem is and what they want to fix it.

This is a perfect way to start and validate a business.

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