One of the things I’m often asked is how to find clients — who typically want experience — without having much experience of your own. It can be tough finding your first clients when you’re trying to move past the “hobby stage” and make a run at earning extra income, but with a little creativity, you can find a few clients who will work, which can, and will, lead you to finding more clients down the road.

Put Yourself Out There

It’s important to put yourself out there, especially in your community. I volunteered to photograph for a local food magazine for a couple months; It was unpaid, but I got to 1) eat some awesome food and 2) meet some pretty cool people along the way.

Working for that food magazine led to me working with a local social media agency, which led to me meeting more and more leaders, and potential clients, in the community.

Not everyone’s that lucky, but that doesn’t mean you give up. Volunteer with a local non-profit. Introduce yourself to some of the leaders of your community. Interact with the visitors and convention bureau in your area.

And even if you don’t have a “in,” get out and photograph.

Is there a local festival or event downtown? Work the different angles of it, photographing people throughout. Heading to a cool brewery? Snap some interesting angles of your favorite beer. Tag those locations and people you recognize, and share — otherwise, how will people see your images?

Girls on the Run

Work Your Connections

Part of my success is due to working with the social media agency. Part of the strategy to get the company known was to shoot several free events for them. Those events connected me to paid gigs after-the-fact. A few of the clients even contracted me outside the social media agency for professional event coverage or promotional imagery.

When I work with those clients, most of them leave me an online review or spread my name around town. One of my biggest clients is a local community foundation, and this experience has led me to be “seen” in the community. Off-hand, I know of at least a half-dozen now-regular clients that have hired me because they first heard of me from them.

Unsurprisingly, today almost 90 percent of my work comes from word of mouth.

If your first client isn’t reaching out on your behalf, ask them to. It might seem intimidating, but many of these local clients are more than happy to advocate for you.

Keep the Connections, Even After They’re Gone

One of the non-profits I’ve worked with in the past had their marketing specialist leave a year after I worked with them. But my relationship with the specialist didn’t end. As soon as I heard about their departure, I made a note to contact them a month into their new job. Why wait? You want to give them time to settle into their new role.

And with that specialist, she hired me for an event, as well as for professional headshots. It’s just one example of how one relationship can lead to several.

Cheers to Grand Rapids

Share Your Photos

I can’t emphasize this enough — in order for people to see your work, you have to share it. Get a website going, share on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram — do whatever you can to get your work visible. Your audience will be small at first — expect to see a lot of “great job!” messages from friends and family.

But when they comment or interact with your photos, their followers see it too. Keep that ball rolling, and Aunt Sally’s “Like” could lead to a new connection, which could lead to a new client.

Conclusion

Just because you have an established client base doesn’t mean you can’t get better and grow. This winter, I’m going back to the beginning of this post; I’ve started to reach out to my connections and put myself out there again. In Michigan, the winter season is crazy slow for many photographers, so I use this time to build my client base back up, work on some marketing, and put myself out there!