A 5 Step Guide To Facebook Ads That Actually Work

You hover over the Post button as you finalize your last edit. You had to futz with the layers in photoshop all night, not to mention the hours you spent removing coldsores pimples, but you know that it was all worth it: this is the photo of a lifetime. You breath a long sigh of relief as your computer spurts out a successful ding. Suddenly: another ding, followed by a chorus of even more. Within the last minute, your post has been shared 26 times. Your heart is racing so fast you can barely hear your cell phone ringing. After fumbling with the thing, you finally catch a glimpse of the caller id: it’s the local news channel.

Honestly, you should forget about that dream of yours where your photo goes viral and your phone rings off the hook. Viral photos are universally shared unattributed, with watermarks removed or blurred out, and you’d be lucky to gain any exposure at all for your brand. Aaro Keipi’s wedding photo went viral, and he had to use every trick in the book just to turn the exposure into new clients.

So, if that doesn’t work, what does? The fact is Facebook is actually really good at one thing: being an ad delivery platform. If you don’t advertise on Facebook, there’s almost no way Facebook will help you find new clients. Don’t freak out. Here’s a list of 5 repeatable steps you can use to run any ad campaign. It’s not sexy, and it takes work, but it’s time you understood how the real world actually works.

1. Your Clients are NOT all the Same

Narrow down your target audience, and I don’t just mean “someone who has money”. For an ad to work, it must motivate them to take some action (click a link, enter their email, phone a number, etc…). To state the obvious: you can’t please everyone. Instead, focus on a specific version of your ideal client. For instance, if you’re a wedding photographer, think about niches like LGBT, military, or even 50-and-over.

NOTE: Niches aren’t just for advertising. Modern photography is so competitive that if you really want to set yourself apart, you should build your entire brand around a niche. This lets you be the best photographer serving that niche in your city (Someday: The World). Don’t be afraid, photographers are asked time and time again to photograph events by almost everyone they know. Using a niche strategy doesn’t mean you have to turn those jobs down, it just means you’ve made a conscious decision about what you’ve built your brand around.

Once you have a niche identified (and it’s best to focus on one at a time), come up with a customer persona. A persona is a description of a person’s key characteristics, including what problems are top of mind, and what kind of values they identify with. One of the best ways to flush out a persona is to share a coffee with someone you know who identifies with your niche and use the opportunity to listen to and understand their viewpoint. For online advertising, try and figure out:

  1. Imagery they like or identify with (Places, objects, etc…), you’ll need this when you create your ad/landing page.
  2. A problem they have and the language they use to describe it (Finding a caterer, Keeping the mother-in-laws in check, What to name the baby, etc…), this is what you’ll use to attract attention later on.

2. Goals are Good (but Achievable ones are Better)

Next up, what are you trying to accomplish? This needs to be something that you can measure and track, but don’t forget to be realistic.

NOTE: Session bookings are not a realistic campaign goal. You have to understand the odds of trying to get someone wasting time on Facebook (probably while sitting on the toilet!): to notice your ad, click on it, and then call you to book a photo session. This is not going to happen. Even if your ad only targets people who are pregnant or only targets people who got engaged in the last 2 months, it doesn’t mean they’re ready or willing to book a maternity or wedding session right then and there.

Photographers are called upon during some of the most important milestones in a person’s life: Pregnancy, Marriage, and Birth (Not necessarily in that order). Most people wouldn’t trust a stranger to photograph these events, and need some level of familiarity with their photographer, or at the very least a personal recommendation. This is part of the reason why truly exceptional customer service is so important; you will literally live and die as a photographer based on customer referrals. Want more bookings but don’t (yet) have enough referrals? Your campaign goal needs to help you generate familiarity and build trust.

So, how do you bypass the chicken-and-egg problem and start adding to your client list? You need to increase your ability to reach out and help people, and at the same time, present yourself as someone knowledgeable and helpful. When in doubt, I’d say the best campaign goal you could have is to increase the number of people on your mailing list.

Why a mailing list? Email remains the number one way to reliably reach out to your potential customers and build trust. Gaining Facebook likes and Twitter followers may seem like a great idea, but third parties like Facebook and Twitter are highly motivated to keep you paying for advertising, and the advent of algorithmic timelines in all major social networks means that having a Facebook like or a Twitter follower is no guarantee that they will ever see anything from you. A good email list may literally be a more valuable business asset than all of your gear combined.

3. You need a Carrot (so Channel your Inner Design Geek)

To convince a stranger to do something, you’re going to have to present them “an offer they can’t refuse”. This offer needs to be easy for them to do, and provide immediate payback. Think about the problem from your persona research, and how you can help do some of the dirty work to make their life easier. Free offers provide minimal resistance, with the added benefit that the word “Free” is a power word that has persuasive properties deeply rooted in the human psyche.

If your goal is to grow your email list, then in exchange for an email address offer a useful guide or workbook. Think about information packages (ebooks, workbooks, checklists, etc…) that would make their life easier (this is the tricky part). Remember: most people are lazy, so making something super easy to do always works.

A Wedding photographer could offer a downloadable guide of the “7 best <venues or caterers> in <your city>”. A Maternity photographer could provide a list of the “12 Best (and Worst) baby names of <current year>”. Even better, you should tailor the content to your exact niche. The key to building trust is to present something that is both useful and relevant.

Of course, once you have someone’s email (for example), you’re going to have to continue to build and maintain that trust. I’ll be talking about what to send out to your email list in future articles.

4. Create the Damn Facebook Ad (but that’s NOT All)

You’ve just spent a bunch of time crafting a beautiful guide, and now you think you can just plop a download link on your homepage and call it a day. Unfortunately, you’re dead wrong.

Your homepage, almost without exception, is the worst place to send people after they’ve clicked on an advertisement. There is way too much going on, and more importantly, they don’t know or care who you are, not yet anyway. The entire point of crafting an offer was to come up with a starting point for a long term relationship founded on trust. To be effective, you must not let them get distracted or confused about the process.

What you actually want is for someone clicking the ad to view the advertisement and the link destination (the landing page), as one seamless experience. They share the same imagery, text, and design, and must present your offer concisely and clearly. If you understand your audience, have a clear goal, and a present a compelling offer, people will be motivated to act upon it.

If you are still looking for inspiration, here are some examples (Click for a larger image):

Facebook Ad Landing Page
Facebook Ad Example for Wedding Caterer Guide Landing Page Example for Wedding Caterer Guide
Facebook Ad Example for Baby Names List Landing Page Example for Baby Names List
Facebook Ad Example for Kennel Guide Landing Page Example for Dog Kennel Guide

Images above used with permission under CC0 licensing. Photo credits: Albert Chernogorov, Liane Metzler, and Jay Mantri.

You Caught Me, I Just Cheated

Those links don’t go to landing pages at all!

And that simply won’t cut it. What you need is an actual webpage, one that will work whether someone is using their 32 inch iMac screen or their 5 inch phone screen.

There are a ton of services out there for creating landing pages (Unbounce, LeadPages, Instapage, …). However, they are geared for people with hundreds of landing pages, not 1 or 2, plus they typically charge you a crazy monthly fee (some of them $50 and up). If there is enough interest, I’ll put together a simple tool to create great looking responsive landing pages designed specifically for photographers.

Contrary to most people’s expectations, actually designing your ad should be one of the last things you do. To do it right, you need the imagery and attention grabbing problem you identified in Step 1, a purpose (Step 2), and something of value to offer in return (Step 3).

5. It’s go time

You can now punch in your credit card and launch your campaign. For most photographers, Facebook remains the best platform for advertising because that’s where most of your customers are. If you do commercial or real estate photography, you might also consider LinkedIn, or even Twitter if your customers are typically small to medium sized local businesses.

Be careful with Google AdWords. They can generate good results because someone searching for “Wedding photographers in <City Name>” probably intends to book a wedding photographer in the near future. However, Google search ads are text only and are not a great fit for the highly visual medium of photography. Plus, they are extremely configurable, and as a result, it is extremely easy to spend a bunch of extra money advertising to the wrong people.

Start small, because it’s easy to make mistakes. Over time you’ll learn what works for your audience and what doesn’t. The point is to make money off of advertising, not lose it. If something isn’t working - figure out why, and change it. Even the best marketers in the world can be really really bad sometimes (Don’t believe me? Just watch some television).


  1. Research (then laser focus on 1 niche)
  2. Plan (a goal)
  3. Create (something valuable)
  4. Design (the Ad and landing page)
  5. Launch

Don’t be lazy, you really do need to craft a custom offer and promote the heck out of it, and you need to do it for each persona you serve. The payoff is that you will consistently and repeatedly gain more and more clients. Each of those clients has the potential to refer many more clients, and once you have an established client base, your schedule will fill up and you can focus on other parts of your business (like how to upsell so you can make more money by doing fewer jobs).

-Andrew Steadman

NOTE: For the sake of brevity, I’m sometimes forced to gloss over technical details, but that doesn’t mean you should waste your valuable time fighting with hosting or setting up services you barely know how to use. If you need help, feel free to contact me.