With fall on the horizon, I know that I’ll undoubtedly have conflicts where I can’t accept every single photoshoot out there. I’m not a large enough operation to have a full-time assistant shoot it, but I still want to take care of my clients as best I can.

Offer referrals to your clients when you can’t be there

It’s already happened twice in the past month — I had to refer other photographers to clients for upcoming events because I was already booked. When a client reaches out and you can’t make a photoshoot, my immediate response is to ask if they’d like a referral.

Not all clients will say yes. Depending on your client, they might have a variety of photographers they work with, that they can call on if you aren’t available. But for smaller businesses, this usually isn’t the case.

Have your referrals ready

It’s important to be able to respond to your client in a fast manner. This lets them know that you care about making their photography as great as possible, even if you can’t make it.

Because of this, it’s a good idea to have a list of a couple referrals handy. Make a small Word or Google document and type in the person’s name, contact information and website link.

Refer those who you know are a good fit

While you might have a referral list handy, you shouldn’t just copy and paste the entire thing. Depending on your client’s needs, send them a few people who you know are a good fit, and will make you look good for referring them. If you know a person won’t be up to par because of what has to be photographed, it’s probably best to save that person for the next time you’re asked for a referral. Give the person that’s getting the referal a call to check that they are available and willing to work for the client’s rate. Also, give them detail of what the job entails and client expectations, too.

Won’t I lose work to my competitors?

No — absolutely not. Your client will appreciate your diligence and efforts to make their job easier, and you’ll still be known as “their photographer.”

For instance, I photograph events for a large Big Ten university’s medical school. This means alumni events, fundraising events, speakers, etc. Every summer the college hosts a big Gran Fondo bike ride to benefit cancer research. In past years, I was unable to attend because I was a part of a photography conference, but this year, I could finally make it.

With the years I couldn’t make it, I did my best to refer people who I thought would do a great job for them. And even though they were happy with the photos, they kept asking me, because they knew my quality, style and how I work. So when I finally could photograph that Gran Fondo race, they jumped at the opportunity to hire me. And they hired me a year in advance!

Your referrals will return the favor

Those who you refer will ultimately return the favor and refer you when they have a conflict. This has happened to me a number of times, and it’s resulted in a few of us creating a “network” of sorts of photographers in the area. It’s easy for us to pass work off to each other because we know each other well, and how we all work.

Referrals don’t make you lose business. If all goes well, you’ll end up getting some referrals of your own out of it, and come out on top.


For more on Photography Marketing, see our weekly column.