How do you get more clients if you don’t have many, to begin with?
It’s a “chicken or the egg” conundrum, and a tough spot that many portrait photographers find themselves in early on in their careers. But take heart: even if your social proof and marketing dollars are short, there are still ways you can get spread the word about your business. While these strategies are simple, as with most things business related they do take time. But these are absolutely worth it in the long run.
Build Relationships With Other Businesses That Share Your Audience
Forming relationships with businesses that share your target audience but are not direct competitors can be a powerful move to market your business. This is essentially building your marketing team with you having to do little extra work on your part once the relationship is established. For example, if you are a wedding photographer, you could seek out florists, bridal shops, wedding planners, event halls, and even caterers to get to know. Eventually, you could ask them to recommend you as their “photographer of choice” to engaged couples they encounter.
If you don’t immediately know any businesses, you might like to work with, get out there and attend some networking meetings through your local Chamber of Commerce. Research businesses via Google search, and offer to take the owner out for coffee or stop by their office so that you can get to know them better. It’s similar to dating in that you’re not going for the kiss (the ask) immediately, but rather, you’re getting to know them and trying to see if you’re a good fit for each other in the first place.
It’s a reciprocal street, by the way. If you are eventually asking them to recommend you to their customers, offer to recommend them to your own. This is why it’s important to choose businesses that you genuinely trust, and also that complement your target audience. When done correctly, you both are offering additional value to your clients.
By the way, make it easy for them to recommend you. Create certificates or packets for them to give to their clients, and offer an incentive for people to book a session with you. It could be an added-value move (additional prints with a session), or even a discounted or complimentary session itself.
Don’t Have a Client Booked? Make Great Photos Anyway and Promote Those
Even if you don’t have any official clients yet, seek to recruit aspiring models, patient family members or willing friends to be your photo subjects. This will give you tons of practice with zero pressure. It will also help you discover your unique sense of photographic style and will begin to attract the ideal clients that identify with your style as you post these images on your website and social media. This will help you begin building your ideal portfolio.
Take these practice shoots a step further and treat them as if you were working with an actual client. During the session, have your assistant shoot some still and video footage of you as you work with your subject. This will serve as great behind-the-scenes footage to put on your website and social media. You could even have them take some quick Facebook Live video during the session. It all goes a long way towards building your social proof and credibility as a professional.
Afterward, write up a handful of quality case studies about how you “made the shot” and put them on your website. Post them on social media. When you reach out to prospective clients that you would like to work with, send them to the case study that relates the closest to them.
Update, Entertain, and Intrigue with an Email Newsletter
As you begin to get clients, a personable, entertaining, educational email newsletter is a cost-effective way to keep in touch with them. Even if you only have a handful of past clients, you should be sending out an email newsletter at least once a month. Make your newsletter fun, and have it focus on your local area. Celebrate your clients. Tell true stories, and make it focus on them.
It’s been proven that past customers who have spent money on your are statistically more likely to spend money on you again, as opposed to those folks who have not worked with you yet. Also, happy past clients tend to refer services they approve of to friends and family. As a photographer, this is huge. As far as the technical aspect of getting started, many photographers get started on Mailchimp or Aweber, among the many options out there.
A word of caution: don’t try to make a hard sell in every email. That’s a sure way to turn people off.
At the end of the day, it’s about taking action. Building relationships with other businesses, building a targeted portfolio, getting footage of you in action, creating well-done case studies, and engaging your past clients with an email newsletter are great ways to attract more work.