Happy Thursday, friends! Excited today to put up another “Ask Anything” post…I’m so glad this section of the blog has been so helpful! My most recent question from a sweet girl came after my last post:
“After starting a photography business, how do you ‘gain’ clients?”
What a loaded question, friend!
I want to unpack one distinction in that question first. Finding clients and finding the right clients are two very different topics. It takes time to learn who the right clients are for you and how to market to them. So first, let’s deal with how to find your first clients. So, you just started a photography business – and now the question lingers, how will anyone know you exist?
I know it may look easy from the outside, but it’s a LOT of hard work when you first start out!
I’m going to walk you through a photo journey of my first few clients, and (YES) post some pictures never before seen on this blog! Then, I’m going to give you my best advice on finding your first clients! Here’s my story:
I received my first clients without having a business at all. I was studying photography and business in my last year of college, and many of my friends knew I was passionate about photography! I was taking pictures for the school publications office, and had a camera in my hands often. My first EVER clients were these two friends, Melissa and Kenny. They will always hold such a sweet place in my heart! They were studying film and decided to marry 2 days before we graduated college, so they could travel together as a married couple across the country for post-grad film internship! They figured, I did darkroom photography, I could do wedding photography, right?! (That makes me laugh now – but I’m so glad they trusted me – over 5 years ago now!)
Right after graduation, a lot of my friends started getting married. After I photographed Melissa and Kenny’s wedding, 2 more friends asked me to capture theirs!
Then, one night, about 5 months later, my aunt called me and told me her friend’s daughter was getting married, and wanted to know what I would charge to photograph her wedding. This was the first time I was working with someone I didn’t know – that was a big step!
The following winter, I photographed another wedding for a close friend of mine’s best friend, back in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, near where I went to college. I actually travelled down there just to shoot the wedding! I remember photographing them on the bridge where he proposed to her in the middle of January, as the wind was blowing beautiful snow flurries, and my fingers took 5 whole minutes to thaw out from the cold!
By this point, I had started a website with a portfolio of all of my different work – including weddings, portraits, and fine art landscape. I loved photography, and realized that in order to do photography as a business, I had to start meeting people and networking. I jumped in and joined a local business network of professionals in all different fields. Real estate, accounting, marketing, printing, computer system networking, you name it. I decided that for the experience, I really would try any type of photography. I did headshots, interiors, studio portraits, outdoor portraits, marketing photos for companies’ websites, parties, and intimate wedding events. Wedding leads were harder to find in the group I was a part of, but it was always something I was interested in. I also decided to take a LEAP – and register my photography business with my local county, and open a business account. This was huge – and I celebrate that decision every year!!
My next 2 weddings came through friends of my mother’s! One of her friends had a niece named who was getting married that summer. Priscila and Ed were the first couple to entrust me with not only their wedding, but their engagement. They will always hold a sweet place in my heart – these two are amazing! Working with them was the first time I realized that there was a type of couple who I loved to work with. Something about their personality, how relaxed and fun they were, made me enjoy photographing even more! (They were not only sweet, but they were such troopers – their wedding weekend was the same weekend Hurricane Irene hit! They just put on rain boots and we took photos in the rain!)
My mom also told a friend of hers at the hair salon about my work, and her daughter Rachel was getting married. (I’m telling you, my mom is the BEST word of mouth marketer!) Rachel and Jason hired me too – and their day was just gorgeous! Over the last few years, I photographed not only their wedding, but their maternity photos and their newborn baby photographs. It’s been incredible being a part of their lives together!
Word of mouth was a wonderful way to get started – and looking back, I believe it only worked because I was doing what I loved and people just kept talking about it. I knew in my heart that a photography business was what I was being led to do – so I threw myself into it! I really photographed everything, and along the way people started to trust me and talk about my work. And the more I worked with people I loved, I realized what it was that I loved to do. I wanted to specialize in wedding photography. When I realized that, I decided to make changes my website, advertise myself online as a wedding photographer and meet professionals solely in the wedding industry. I signed up for a few local bridal shows to find more clients, and also started a blog and Facebook page.
After another year or so, I saw that my brand needed to have a clearer message. I better understood the clients I wanted to work with, and I realized the need to make my website have more personality in order to do that! So I took a huge financial leap and hired a graphic designer to completely re-design my website. After I re-branded, I booked even more weddings, and after another year or so, I was able to quit my part time job and become a full time wedding photographer.
It’s a journey to not only finding your first clients, but finding the RIGHT clients. Clients like these, who will ask you to take pictures with them and their best friends at the end of the wedding day. Even if you’re all sweaty and gross. Because at the end of the day, it’s all about relationship. It’s all about loving and serving the people well who you work with, and they love you back for it. It’s truly amazing. So hold on – and don’t be afraid to take those first steps!
If you are just starting a photography business, and have already asked yourself WHY you want to do this…here is my best advice to attract your first clients!
** Invest in a good entry level DSLR camera and some basic lenses.
** Make sure you’re photographing a LOT. Do it for fun! Post images and make sure people you know see how much you love photography, not just as a job, but because it is a joy.
** Learn photography by studying online or from other photographers.
** Start to brand yourself in a basic way – a logo, business card, website, and blog.
** Communicate with people you know and tell them that you have started a business. Offer your services when you see a need around you.
** Do photo shoots for free. Seriously!! You need to build your portfolio – so do anything you can to build it. Take photo shoots of friends, couples you know, families… Your potential clients don’t need to know if the work was hired or free. They just want to see what you can do.
** Show your personality on your website, and communicate clearly with potential clients. Show them a product that you’d be happy to give them. Price your work appropriately – try not to over price or under price when you’re just starting out.
** Read photographer’s blogs and look at a LOT of great artwork – you need to know what your potential clients are inspired by in today’s media-saturated world!
** Be creative!! Offer clients something unique that is inspired by your story and passion!
I truly hope this post was helpful! Again, feel free to write in the comments if you have a question for another Ask Anything post. It’s truly a joy that my journey can help yours.
p.s. This post inspired ME to take wedding day pictures with more of my clients! I have worked with so many incredible people!