Bridal Shows. Most photographers love to hate them. They’re tedious. They’re expensive. They waste a perfectly good Sunday afternoon that you could be spending with your family or shooting a session you are really excited about. For all the pain they cause, though, they can be excellent tools for getting your work out to clients you may not have reached otherwise.
I do most of my business from referral. However, that isn’t always enough 100% of the time. With weddings, I can get referrals years later when the bride’s friend finally gets engaged. I can do a drop dead amazing job on a wedding, but if it’s only children getting married, who are the last of their friends to get married, then well, there’s not a whole lot of referrals I’m going to get from that client. There needs to be an alternate source of potential clients coming in. Bridal shows are great for that.
But Lisa, what about your website? If you rock out on your SEO and Google rankings, you’ll get a lot of people finding your business. Well, I happen to really like my website. I spent a lot of time working with a designer to get things how I felt they best represented me. But you know what works great for representing myself? Actually representing myself and being present at a bridal show booth. With a billion photographers out there (especially in my D.C. market) the quickest way for me to assert my individuality is to interface with potential clients face to face. They will immediately see my personality and my work and know if it’s a relationship they’d like to pursue.
The biggest key to success at bridal shows is yourself. Be yourself. Be open. Be honest. Be friendly. Be interested in what each person has to say. All of these things are collectively known as “Just don’t be a jerk”. I look around the expos you wouldn’t believe the number of vendors I see people sitting down, looking disinterested, having a sour face on, talking to attendees without enthusiasm or talking to them like a broken record with their sales pitch. I don’t know anyone who likes to hear a sales pitch, but I sure do know people who like to have a conversation. When you allow people to feel heard, magic happens. They want to know more about you. The more they know about you the more they more they’re likely to choose you.
Printed materials also matter. I’ve seen (on multiple occasions) professional photographers using consumer available commercial printers for press books. Think about it from the client’s perspective; would you want to hire a professional for thousands of dollars to get a book you could have gotten online for $35.99 with a coupon? Absolutely not! Even if you’re new to photography or new to shows, you must must must make the investment to have proper sample materials. If what you’re showing looks like anyone can make it, then no one will be willing to pay a premium for your services.
Promotions can make a difference as well. Even at the most high end of bridal shows, you’ll find vendors doing something special for the attendees. Some vendors choose to have this be a “value add” product (maybe a planner gives away a wedding planning booklet, or a baker gives away a set of measuring spoons). For photography, I feel it is a little more worthwhile for me to extend a discount or freebie of sorts. Each show I play around with it a little bit depending on what service or product I’m trying to get into the hands of my clients. Sometimes my offer is an extra quantity of photos for the album with booking, or maybe it’s a free parent album, or if I’m trying to sell more wall prints, it’s a free wall print or discounted wall set. Whatever it is, I make sure it’s something that has a moderate to high perceived value (value = incentive) while still being something that the cost of goods on my end is minimal/appropriate to my bottom line return on investment.
Lastly, put a little effort into your booth setup. Most shows give you a 2×6 foot table with an ugly drape and boring pipe and drape behind. Bring in your own linens, add some decor to reinforce your brand and show off your personality. Make sure things are set up to have a good flow in your booth; that people can easily and clearly see your work and easily reach for your marketing materials. If it’s difficult to see or grab, they’re just going to move on and you could have missed the potential best client of the year.
So the next time you’re contemplating trying a bridal show but aren’t sure how to make it worth it, make sure to follow these tips so that you’ll have a solid foundation to have a successful show.