So, you’ve got your portfolio finished. You have strong images that display the work that you want to be hired for. Your website is branded in a way that appeals to your target market. Your business cards are all set to go. So why aren’t clients flying through your door?
Well, that’s because clients don’t just magically appear. It takes a skillful combination of marketing and sales tactics in order to nab your first few clients. I find that many photographers assume being good enough will automatically result in clients just sending emails out of the blue, saying that they’re dying to work with you. That’s not the case whatsoever. Talent will only take you so far these days. I find that most successful photographers are better business people than they are artists. Why? Because they understand the value in sales, marketing, and pricing. Things that most artists are intimidated by.
So, what I’ve done to make it easier for those of you who have a difficult time acclimating to an entrepreneurial mindset is provide you with five simple ways to find your first clients. None of these ideas are outlandish and they’re concepts that I’ve used in order to grow my photography business.
1. Tell Everyone What You’re Doing
This may sound like the simplest idea, but not many people effectively capitalize on it. Let everyone know that you’re now a photographer and it’s something that you’re committing to. Be it friends, family, or if you’re already a photographer — your previous clients. Also, save yourself the embarrassment and don’t mass email everyone. I say that because nothing screams “I’m being lazy,” than a mass email. Speak with each person individually and advise them of your business endeavors.
I know that when I first decided to make photography my full-time career, my friends and family told everyone. I received inquiries about pricing for everything, from weddings to baby showers. In order for anyone to know what you’re doing, you’ll need to inform them. Voice your intent to pursue photographing your specific niche.
This also includes business connections. If you’ve worked at a corporate office or you’re pursuing leaving a corporate job, use your professional clients and connections to request referrals. Remember that these individuals know you in a professional capacity. If you’re serious about pursuing any type of photography as a career, you’ll need to carry yourself in that same capacity. Don’t lower your head and ask for work. You’re providing a service to business professionals.
In my book, "Photographing Men," I purposely discuss the power of photography and the impact that it has on professionals. Our photography can directly influence a business professional’s potential income. Think about it this way: If you were looking for a dentist, and he happened to look like the Dentist from the horror movie in 1996, would you hire him? Probably not.
2. Get Involved With Your Area of Photography
This was the way that I was able to build my "Photographing Men" portfolio so quickly. I knew that I needed to showcase my work to the world in a way that marketed my intent to pursue men's portrait and fashion photography. In the world of fashion, you can submit your work to miscellaneous publications in order to reach a market that you may not have access to. For example, I submitted my first series of men's fashion images to an online publication called The Fashionisto.
The Fashionisto is a publication that reaches art directors, modeling agencies, stylists, ad agencies, etc. Most of the people who view the site are industry professionals. What better way to market my men's portrait business than on a site that specializes in men's fashion photography?
I've also been involved with organizations like PPE, WPPI, and several companies within the photography industry that have led to commercial jobs. I've also had opportunities for jobs based on attending events and workshops. You just need to start becoming more active in the photography community if you want to start producing more paid work.
3. Offer Your Services to People Who Could Use Your Help
Think about how important image is. Within the first few seconds of meeting anyone, most of us already have a firm opinion if we like them or not. Think about all the people that affects: people looking for work, people looking to date, business professionals, actors, politicians, etc. Image affects everyone in some way. By being critically aware of that, you’ll nab plenty of potential clients.
Here’s an example: I was recently out to dinner alone, writing the content for this article and next to me are three businessmen. One of the gentlemen starts a conversation by saying: “I don’t know why real estate agents always include their pictures in their listings.” My ears perk up at the mention of “pictures.” He continues by saying, “It’s a real estate couple and the wife has some crazy eyes in her photograph. The only reason that we hired the couple is because the husband looks halfway normal.” He says this as he’s passing around his cell phone to show his colleagues. I kindly interrupt — purely out of curiosity — and ask, “Does she look like that in person?” He says, “No...” So I ask him, “Just out of curiosity, what do you do?” He says, “I’m a public defender.”
Let that sink in for a second. He’s a public defender. His job is literally to convince a group of witnesses not to prejudge his clients until they see all the evidence.
Regardless or not if he was wrong for judging the woman, that’s how important image is. I purposely brought that to his attention because at this point, he’s already acknowledged the importance of image. He sits back and thinks for a second, then says, “This is why when I start my own practice, I’ll need to make sure that people don’t look at me that way.”
I didn’t have to sell him my services. He sold himself. All I needed to do was pass him my business card. Given the opportunity to work with him as a client, I’d plan on asking him for a referral for the real estate couple. That now opens two totally new doors to potential clients. All of this from a single conversation.
4. Pickup the Phone and Cold Call
Ugh! Cold calling? What? Seriously?! It’s 2016. For those of you who have never heard of the term, cold calling is the act of making unsolicited calls to someone in an attempt to sell them your photography. As nerve-wracking as that sounds, I’ve found it to be a great way to market my business because not many other people are doing it anymore. It’s basically like sending postage mail to someone because they’re not used to it anymore and it sets you apart from the masses.
Have trouble talking to strangers? Look no further:
5. Start Asking Leading Questions
Don’t be afraid to start kindly critiquing images that you notice could be better. While I wouldn’t start off by trying to pitch someone by saying “Holy crap, your photos suck!” I’d give them the old criticism sandwich. Provide them with a compliment, followed by a little bit of criticism, but be sure to follow through with another compliment. That’s true whether you’re in person, social media, or through email.
If your primary focus is photographing men, remember that most men are generally solution-oriented when buying anything. So, how is your product going to better their lives in some way? What problems are you resolving with your photography that no one else can fix?
If you’re intending to photograph weddings, how can you create a unique experience for the bride, ease her mind, and create a solution-based sale with the groom. It’s not easy, but with time, you’ll learn how to do it with finesse.
If your sales tactic is focused on asking clients questions in order to seem solution-oriented, be very mindful of the questions that you ask. You’ll want to get the prospective client to acknowledge that there’s a problem in the first place. Basically, it’s like a game of inception and you want to make it seem like it’s their idea to begin with. These questions are called leading questions.
For example, if I were to ask a business professional, “How important is your image to your business?” Most people would say that it’s extremely important. From that point, I would say, “Well, I love your portrait, but I don’t think that it represents your business in the best way. Would you consider allowing me to take your photograph? You'd be surprised at how many of my clients have seen an increase in sales after they’ve changed their profile photo.”
So what happened there? The prospective client acknowledge that image was important. From there, we gave them a compliment, “I love your portrait...,” followed up by a critique and then provided them with a solution to their problem. To finalize the deal, we also established credibility by mentioning how we’d already done the same with previous clients and how their sales increased. It’s all about solution-based selling.