70% of our clients come from networking and building relationships with vendors. With all the competition out there, networking ensures a steady stream of new clients to reach your target number of bookings each year. It’s not easy unless you know the right tricks. Most photographers spend years (and waste thousands) on the trial and error method of learning. This post offers networking tips for getting those referrals rolling in.
When I started out years ago, I tried every marketing method available. Magazine ads, bridal shows, online ads, charity partnerships, mailings and so forth. I tracked results so I could see what was working and what wasn’t. Over time, it became clear that one particular method worked much better than everything else. And the best part? It hardly costs any money at all.
Networking is the place to start. Industry events are designed to meet and mingle with wedding professionals. You can start networking online through places like Facebook, LinkedIn, forums and online Meetup groups. That way, when you attend an event in person you name is already out there, and you aren’t starting from scratch. Your goal is to make friends and be social, not sell your services. That comes later. Much later. At these events, it’s more important to collect business cards than to give them out.
You can find networking events through Meetup, LinkedIn, local photography associations and professional groups such as NACE (National Society of Catering Executives) and ISES (International Society of Event Specialists). One of the best sources for upcoming events is a wedding planner, they get invited to everything!
Here’s a networking timeline from my ebook Get Connected, Build Relationships to Drive Your Business.
Remember those business cards? That’s so you can follow up with people. Networking will not be very effective without follow up. You’ve probably heard this before, but it really is true. After each event, make a plan of who you want to follow up with and how. Start simple, by following up online. You can use Twitter, Facebook and blog comments to reconnect with people you’ve met in person or online. You can send an email, a handwritten note, or call them and invite them out for drinks. Again, the focus is on getting to know them and their business, not selling your services. Over time, some of the contacts you made through networking will turn into business referrals for you, but you have to “sow many seeds” to get good results. Following up is like sowing the seeds. Some seeds (but not all) will take hold and bloom into beautiful, mutually beneficial relationships and referrals.
Think of your network first
The secret to being successful in vendor relationships is adopting a different mindset. Think of your network first. It’s not about “what can they do for me?” but “how can I help them?” Once you change your thinking, you’ll start seeing how you can help wedding professionals with their marketing. A few ideas include mentioning partners in blog posts, mentioning them on your Facebook page, pinning their stuff on Pinterest, etc. By helping them, you will naturally be building a portfolio of your work that will get seen by their clients. More importantly, you are building a fan of your work. Once you have a wedding florist or facilities coordinator singing your praises to every bride that walks through their doors, good things start happening for your business. It’s an investment of time that pays huge dividends when done right.
Here are 5 things you can do to begin building relationships with vendors, and most of these won’t cost you a dime other than the cost of a disc or prints and postage. Some will work better for certain vendors than others, so this is why it’s important to follow up, and get to know them and their businesses. That way you can tailor each approach to what’s going to work best for them.
Make it part of your workflow to send your favorite 5×7 prints to the vendor team after each wedding. This is a great way to stay fresh in their minds as someone to refer, while also providing them with images of their work. Highlight food shots for caterers, floral details for florists and so on. This is the quickest and easiest way to open the doors to a great referral relationship. You’d think that almost every photographer out there is doing this, but you’d be surprised at how few actually do. Which means it’s a great opportunity for you to stand out.
Including the vendor team in wedding blog posts is another great way to build relationships. Give them credit for creating a beautiful event, and link to their sites so your readers can learn about their services. This helps your SEO too. Be sure to send vendors an email with a link to the blog post and use the opportunity to let them know how you enjoyed working with them. Often vendors will email you back asking for prints or digital files to use on their own websites.
Disc of Images
Provide vendors with a disc of hand-selected images highlighting their services. For example, for a venue choose images highlighting the location. Think in terms of what images would best sell the venue? Choose 10-20 images at most to keep it to the very best. Wedding highlights, portraits featuring the backdrop, a reception décor overview shot and anything featuring the location.
Most vendors don’t know the first thing about creating a flyer to sell their services. Often what they are using looks like it was designed back when you were in kindergarten, and badly needs updating with fresh images. With some InDesign or Photoshop skills, you could whip up something brilliant in an hour or so.
Creating online slideshows is particularly effective for venues. To ensure the slideshow gets shown, make it about the venue, not you. Feature their name in the title and leave your credits to the end. You could create a highlights show of several weddings if you have the images. Work with the venue to see what they need.
These ideas really work, period. Vendors will start referring you like crazy. Not only will your images be seen all over their marketing materials, they will gush how amazing your work is, because they’ve personally experienced working with you. Here’s an example of the impact made by a strong vendor relationship:
Preferred Vendors List (Are you here??)
Your business name is listed along with five or so other
“You should check out Geoff White Photographers!”
Vendor to bride: “Oh, you should definitely check out Geoff White Photographers; they are great!”
Strong Recommendation (need to be here!)
Vendor has a 5–10-minute discussion with bride on why Geoff White Photographers is the ONLY photographer to consider; they are the best, so awesome, etc.). Once the bride meets with you, she is practically ready to sign.
Obviously, the last scenario is the best possible outcome you could hope for, but each of these outcomes will create leads for your business.
BE SMART, LOOK LUCKY
The average photographer wastes a fortune on ineffective marketing, ignoring the one strategy that’s been proven to generate up to 75% of their income: networking. We all do it, but few do it effectively. My 150+ page ebook “Get Connected” reveals the multitude of tools available to the photographer for building relationships, increasing awareness and achieving an in-demand status.