Martin Hambleton is a multi-award winning photographer based in Manchester
He’s a prolific LinkedIn user and his passion for people and photography shines through in every post
In this indepth interview we talk about why he rarely looks at Twitter; what LinkedIn does for his business; why engagement is a wise investment on LinkedIn; how humour and a light hearted touch works.
In short lesson after lessons on LinkedIn from one of the most active people on LinkedIn in the South Manchester Business Community
Q: Firstly, do you want to give us an intro to yourself and what you do as a business?
I’m Martin Hambleton and my business is called Commercial Photography North West. I’m a freelance photographer, specialising in shooting marketing, branding and PR photos for businesses. I actually shoot a pretty wide range of subjects – portraits, product, process and documentary – but it’s always with the same intention; which is to get across what is so great about each particular business I’m shooting for. Companies often struggle to get across to potential customers how brilliant they are at what they do. My pictures do that job for them.
Q: Not a lot of people know this but you used to be a teacher before you launched your photography business. You launched your business in 2003. How did you get your very 1st client that wasn’t a friend or family member and what did marketing look like then for a photographer?
Well, the world was a very different place back then of course. The internet was in its infancy, and social media didn’t exist as we know it. Facebook was probably coming second to Friends Reunited for popularity! It didn’t have anything like the reach into our lives it now does. So my first jobs were through magazine adverts in bridal magazines – I was shooting weddings when I started. Print advertising and bridal fairs were the main ways wedding photographers marketed back then. When I started to add commercial work – which would be a couple of years later – it was mostly through word of mouth recommendations that I got work, and ringing up buyers and marketing people in companies to introduce myself. I also mailed out a lot of brochures back then.
Q: We 1st met through the Altrincham Chamber of Commerce and you’d known me for years before you decided to book on our LinkedIn Training Course. I also know you know a number of marketing / social media marketers. Why did you choose to work with us?
Because I knew you as a person. I think we first became friendly because of music – and you’ve got decent taste on the whole! So I knew I’d like you. I’d seen you speak a few times at Chamber events, and it was clear you knew your stuff. That’s a great combination isn’t it – liking the person, and respecting their expertise. So when I was looking for help why wouldn’t I come to you rather than someone I didn’t really know?
Q: We’ll come back to LinkedIn in a while. But I remember you used to use Twitter a lot more than you do now. Why did you slow down on that platform? Was it the mental health aspect and the ranty / negative side of Twitter or was a straight up business decision?
Partly yes, I slowed down because it was making my blood pressure rise. I loved Twitter years ago when I first joined – it was a really fun, silly place. That was back in 2009. It’s become very toxic over the years, and even if you don’t follow negative accounts, it’s hard to ignore them because people you do follow are commenting or retweeting things. I don’t like to talk politics, but I do have strongly held beliefs, and it was becoming too much seeing the polarisation taking place – this descent into a binary ‘you’re wrong/I’m right’ argument that years before would have led to a really interesting debate. So, I just started to use it less. I only visit occasionally now – it’s great for keeping on top of local affairs, and there are still some wonderful people sharing some lovely thoughts. But I limit my exposure to it. So not a business decision really, more to preserve my sanity.
Q: How do the other platforms work for you as a business – Facebook and Instagram for example?
Facebook was great when I was shooting weddings in the early days, as a B2C platform. I used to post quite a bit of wedding stuff, not only to market to new couples but as a way of keeping in touch with couples whose weddings I was booked to shoot. As I’ve moved more and more into shooting commercial work I use it less overtly for business and more just to keep in touch with friends. Although every time I post any kind of photo, obviously I am marketing my skills aren’t I? So I’m careful about what photos I post, because that reflects on me professionally – whether it’s a phone snap out on a walk, or something from a job, I’ll be judged on the quality of it. Other than that, I just use Facebook as the chance to show off my tastes and personality. I see Facebook as a ‘soft skills’ kind of marketing approach.
Instagram is a great platform for a photographer, of course. I try to use the feed to show a broad range of what I do – it’s like another online portfolio in that sense. I try to marry up what I’m posting on there with whatever I’m blogging or talking about on LinkedIn.
Q: When you booked on to our LinkedIn course I remember you were already active on the platform to an extent. It’s rocketed now and I see you nearly every day. But at the time what did you feel you were missing from the platform?
I was moderately active on LinkedIn, but wasn’t getting any real results i.e. booking jobs. The thing about LinkedIn is it’s designed for businesses. So, if you’re not getting business through it then you’re doing something wrong aren’t you. So, I realised I needed some help to figure out what I was missing and, more importantly, to help me work out a strategy to get better.
Q: You spent 4 hours with us on a LinkedIn Training Course – can you remember back then what your big takeaways?
Realising the real power of a good profile was a game changer. It was hard work to sit down and figure out what I wanted it to say about me, and what I wanted to get out of it. Real effort! But worth it, because I noticed the difference in the kinds of people getting in touch and the interactions. Realising that it was a combination of a CV and an elevator pitch was a lightbulb moment, to be honest. I think very few people really realise the power the profile contains.
And understanding that LinkedIn is a slow burn way to success. That taking the time to read posts and articles, make sensible comments and actually engage with people is worthwhile but takes time to yield success. When you’re running a small business and every minute is precious, it’s good to know that such time is an investment, not a waste; just because you don’t see an immediate return, doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. That’s a great thing to understand.
Q: I know that LinkedIn plays a huge part in your business marketing / sales. Would you like to explain how important LinkedIn is for you in 2020 / 21?
My bookings come because people like and trust me, not because I’m a good photographer (though the latter helps of course!). What’s been one of the best things to come out of this year has been seeing the way clients have been so lovely towards me – messages to check I’m okay, people trying to put referrals my way, actually getting in touch to see if I’m working and would be happy to come in to take shots for them. I’ve felt that it’s not just a transactional thing – that these people really are nice people who care, and who I feel I know.
I used to do a lot of networking and face-to-face meetings – that was how I got to meet people and start to build the kind of relationship I’ve just described. Obviously I can’t do that the moment. Sure, I’m online networking like everybody else, but we’ve all got Zoom fatigue so I’m doing less networking than I used to. LinkedIn therefore has a huge role to play in filling that gap for me. It’s how I’ve got to know a lot of people over the years, and it’s the main way of keeping in touch with contacts, and building those new relationships.
Q: LinkedIn Captions / Status updates. I know you’re a photographer – but text only updates often perform better than rich media on the platform. What for you makes a great caption or story on LinkedIn?
Something genuine really stands out, that’s written from the heart and is meant, rather than just some clickbait post that’s aimed at getting likes and comments. I love reading posts where somebody’s saying something good about somebody else – complimenting another person on their great service, or sharing some interesting point for no other reason than it’s interesting to know it. Or saying something funny. Or being human. All the things that aren’t regarded as very ‘business’-y’. And if it’s not trying to sell me something in the last line, that’s even better.
Q: LinkedIn for non users has got a reputation as a cringe fest. Is there anything you don’t like about the platform?
Accepting the connection request, to be immediately spammed with the sales message. When are these people going to realise that will never work?
Q: Photography like social media is a really saturated market place. What do you do to stand out on social media vs other photographers? How do you put “Martin” into your social media?
I’m trying to get two messages across. Firstly, that I’ve got a lot of experience in taking photos, in all kinds of places, shooting all kinds of things. I used to worry that I would be seen as a generalist, rather than a specialist in a particular field, but I think actually over the years the fact that people can see I’m so adaptable works in my favour. Certainly, I get enquiries along the lines of “I see you’ve done x, so was wondering if you could do y for us”. Secondly, I want to be thought of as a good guy with a sense of humour. So often I try to be light hearted in what I write, whether that’s the text of what I’m posting myself, or the comments I leave on others’ posts. A lot of photographers are Tortured Artists and treat themselves and their work very seriously. I take the work seriously, but not myself.
Q: Do you have any content pillars you regularly come back to? How do you remain consistent on posting on social media?
As I said above, I did worry about posting too much disparate subject matter. But there is a thread that runs through everything I shoot – it’s all about making the brand I’m representing, and their values, shine. And I think I’ve got a photographic style that is pretty consistent. So that’s a good starting point.
In terms of the message I try to put out, it’s usually how lovely and brilliant the client is, what a great service they offer, and why you really should buy their products. I try to make it about them, not me. Partly borne of being quite shy and modest at the start, partly it’s just evolved that way into a style that I like using.
Q: Looking back which of your posts have particularly performed well … and why do you think this is?
I did some posts a year or so ago after helping out Let’s Go Forward, which had been set up to provide support to the people made redundant when Thomas Cook went bust. I just posted a grab shot of all the attendees with a note along the lines of “good luck everyone, we’re here to support you”, and it got over 100 likes. Probably the first of my posts to ever do so. I think that just caught the moment – there’s a lot of local support for the ex-employees. It was also a genuine sentiment. There was no veiled sales message in it.
Another that sticks in the memory is a portrait I posted – the last one I took before the first Lockdown. Again, it got over 100 likes. It was a good portrait of a local business owner (Ian Helsby is his name) – he’s got a striking beard and moustache, and he had a real twinkle in his eye. It helped that it was shot against a vivid orange background; so it probably stood out in the feed when people were scrolling. But I think a lot of it was down to the fact that Ian is a lovely guy and very popular! Maybe I should take more shots of striking looking people against bright coloured backgrounds!
Q: If you had to pick 3 (non marketing) people to follow on LinkedIn who would they be and why?
Susan Cain – the author of ‘Quiet’, an excellent book about introverts. She’s got a fascinating mind.
Naomi Klein – the activist. I first came across her when I read ‘No Logo’ back in the day. Then she scared the living daylights out of me a few years ago with ‘This Changes Everything’, which was when I started to understand the extent of the climate crisis. Again, a brilliant mind, and not afraid to take on authority.
Finally, Mariana Mazzucato, the economist. I don’t understand economics really, but I like her world view. She’s like Naomi Klein in outlook – at least, to my ignorant eyes.
Pretty serious choices, but it’s Linkedin right! If you’d asked for Twitter accounts, it’d be lots of penguins and sea otters.
Q: Lastly – for anyone reading this who is thinking “I hate LinkedIn” – what would you say to them to convince them to join?
Learn the rules (by talking to somebody like you), then join in. There are lots of great people out there who want to do business with decency. If you learn a few of the rules you can avoid the sharks and find the kind of people you want to connect with.
For more info on Martin Hambleton’s photographer – check out https://www.commercialphotographynorthwestblog.co.uk/
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