The barriers to entry in the photography business are extremely thin. Nowadays, just about anyone with a somewhat decent digital SLR camera can open shop - simply put an ad on Craigslist advertising your services and you're in business. As the market becomes more saturated with wedding photography providers the competition to capture a potential client's attention becomes much more important.
Before I launch into the techniques I use to find clients, a few assumptions:
1. You have the five essential things everything wedding photography must have
2. You have photographed a wedding before or, at the very least, have assisted as a second shooter in multiple weddings (if you have not, I hope you realize that photographing a wedding is much more difficult than it looks).
3. You have strategically analyzed and decided on your price. Doing so requires knowledge of your target market and your competition.
Utilize Past Clients
The absolute best and most cost effective marketing technique to capture new clients is through word-of-mouth. And no word-of-mouth is stronger than that of people who have utilized your services before. Some of your clients will naturally recommend you to their friend (well, assuming they liked working with you and the photos met their expectations). But, sometimes a little prodding helps you keep on their top of mind.
1. Always under promise and over produce - find ways to "wow" and impress your clients. Delivering what you promise is great, but going beyond makes you memorable. Surprise them with a free canvas print of a photo you really liked. "Spontaneously" offer them a free engagement shoot. Whatever it may be, knock their socks off.
2. Ask them for referrals. I always include a hand written card thanking them for allowing me to be part of their big day. I also conclude that card with a line telling them how much I appreciate referrals.
3. Followup at some point. I find the best way to reconnect with past wedding clients is on their first anniversary - maybe a note on Facebook with one of their photos, offering my congrats on their anniversary.
Network with Vendors
It is a staple in business: network network network! Getting to know other vendors (and even other photographers) will help you connect with more potential clients. But don't forget to do the same. At every wedding I exchange business cards with the other vendors that are there. I offer them free copies of photos that showcase their product (whether it's photos of the flowers for the florist or the delicious food for the caterer). This gives me a way to connect with them after the wedding day.
Network with other photographers. I get inquiries for dates that I am not available and I have a few trusted photographer friends that I happily refer the potential client to. I also get referrals from other photographers when they are not available. Networking with others in your industry is a great way to share referrals, talk shop, and discuss the latest trends. Don't be intimidated by your competition (consider it friendly, respectful competition).
Anytime you do receive a referral from another photographer or vendor be sure to always say thank you. I am surprised at how many clients I send to other vendors, never to hear any word back. Just give a simple thank you; show your appreciation.
Connect with Venues
Most often the first thing a couple will decide when wedding planning is where they want the celebration. Picking out and booking the venue will determine the wedding date, the foundation for the rest of the planning process. This is going to be the front line for vendor referrals. Networking with venues gives you the opportunity to become a "preferred" vendor and can expose you to the clients before they even begin to shop around.
Always look for someone from the venue to connect with at each wedding you are working. Exchange business cards and, like with other vendors, offer a few free photos for their website or blog. I know of some local venues near me that love having photos of weddings on their blog. If they like your photos, they will want you to come back and photograph other weddings, to again provide more for them to post. It becomes a mutually beneficial relationship.
Your Own Website
In today's digital world, nothing is more important from a marketing standpoint than having an attractive, appealing website. Your website should have samples of some of your best work and portfolio to show off your diversity of photos - snippets from each part of a wedding day. Remember, you are an artist. Photography is a fine art and your online presence is a huge reflection of that. Great photos on an ugly website are not going to get you very far.
Some photographers use Facebook as their website. Not a great idea. Although Facebook has a place in the online presence and marketing scheme, it should be your main landing point. Your website is central, the place with all the pertinent information a potential client needs to make a decision to inquire further. Facebook is great for engaging people, but always use social media to point back to the website.
Blogging is also a great tool on your website. I highly suggest this, despite the fact that my blog is a few months out dated (yikes!). Do as I say, not as I do - blogging provides a more in-depth sample of your wedding work and can be a great strategy for utilizing SEO. Once you have created a solid blog post with good samples of a recent wedding, add a few teaser photos on Facebook with a link going to your website.
There are so many ways to spend money on advertising, some effective and some not. The tips I have provided above are without cost and, in my experience, more effective. Although there is nothing wrong with paid advertising, the best way to get your business out there is through relationships - utilizing past clients, networking with other vendors and connecting with venues. When a bride or groom is shopping for a wedding photographer, nothing is stronger than a personal endorsement from someone they trust. This is far and away more effective than paying for Facebooks ads, Google Adwords, The Knot, or any other paid media (though, again, these can have a place in your marketing mix).
Whatever you decide to do, always keep shooting. Keep your website and social media fresh with new images and samples of work. If you're in a lull period without any new work, take advantage of the "throw back Thursday" trend, or anything else that welcomes images of old. Take on a new personal project and show that off. During my off-season I end up taking a bunch of pictures of my cat. Whatever it might be, just keep shooting. It gives you more material to market and keeps your skills fresh.
And remember, network network network!
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