Whether you're a full-time photographer, interested in making the transition from hobbyist to professional, or just using photography on the side, attracting more clients is paramount to success and growth. With a plethora of photographers saturating the market, it can be intimidating and difficult to carve yourself a slice, but carve you must. Here are five of the most important ways I have attracted new clients.
This is first on the list for good reason: it's the most important. It's almost a cliché to promote networking in the business world, but its value cannot be overstated. There are many ways in which you can do it, however. There is the traditional path of networking events and business coffee mornings. I know photographers who have picked up a lot of work, particularly local work, with companies who would prefer any services they require to be carried out by local businesses. In the interest of complete honesty, the sort of work I do and seek is almost never local and so this isn't the most effective path for me.
Instead, I do a lot of electronic networking. Within my particular photography sub-industry I am an active member in Facebook groups, I am a part of forums, and sub-Reddits. On top of this, I regularly reach out to companies within my field that I haven't previously spoken with and I even go and meet them face to face if possible, but not always with the obvious intentions. Here's a major point worth noting with my brand of networking: I don't always look for work. If I see companies doing things I like, sometimes I'll just have a chat with them and not try and get any work out of the conversation. This isn't disingenuous either. I want to know as much about my area as humanly possible and I want to know as many people in my area as possible too. Yes, it's true that if these companies require a photographer they are more likely to come to me, but that's an added perk. Network and network often.
2. Ask Existing Clients for Recommendations
The problem with dating is that if you split up, it's considered rude to ask your ex for suggestions of replacements, even though they're probably the best placed to advise. In business, however, you can ask the company for suggestions while you're still in a relationship with them. The advice was given to me by my father when I first started working full-time for myself and put succinctly, it's this: ask clients if they know any other companies who might benefit from your services. This is probably most effective in B2B photography, but it can work in private situations too and for every brand of photography there is. The chances are, the company or companies you are working with know other people in and around their industry and nothing is more valuable than the personal recommendation of you to someone else.
This tip is a sort of extension of networking as you are, in essence, getting your client(s) to network for you. It is such a simple question and I'm yet to see a downside; it shows you are hungry and ambitious and at the very worst, the client will just saying they don't know anyone at the moment, but they'll bear you in mind whether they want to or not.
3. Follow up With Clients Who Never Were
No matter how meticulous, organized and outgoing you are, some prospects will slip through the cracks or fizzle out. This can happen for a great many reasons and could warrant a book on the subject alone, but simple one-size-fits-all advice would be to periodically follow up on old enquiries and quotes. It's easy to think the worst of people and situations and arrive at the conclusion that the prospect didn't email or call you back because they weren't interested, but that's often not the case. The truth is, you're not that important and they're rather busy. At least 50% of my clients in the last year have required me to chase them up after I didn't hear back. I don't do it daily and relentlessly and I don't insist they pay me attention, I just reach out and let them know that when they're free, I'm open to sort something out. Sometimes I have to do this multiple times before we get something on the books and of course, sometimes they change their mind or never respond again. That's fine. What's not fine is letting warm leads go cold because you've presumed something about the prospect that is untrue. The client who has sent me the most amount of business I chased on and off for four months before it was the right time for him to set up working with me. He wasn't annoyed and he even replied to my apologies for my persistence with "I'm glad you've chased me...".
The phrase "it's not personal, it's business" applies here too. If a friend or love-interest doesn't text you back after a couple of times of contacting them, you might get the hump with them and not bother in the future. On occasion when you've worked hard on a quotation for a company and they stop paying you attention, it's tempting to go the same route of not bothering, but resist. As I like to remind myself: you're not that important and they're busy.
4. Work With Agencies
In honesty, this can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, by teaming up with an agency of one variety or another, you are getting access to clients that you probably wouldn't have had access to without them. On the other, they will be taking a cut of your money for that very reason. I would estimate that only a small portion of my work is done via agencies and I don't tend to obey tip number 3 with them; that is, I don't chase them to find me work. However, they do reach out from time to time with work and I almost always would have not crossed paths with that company or person otherwise. In fact, it's usually work that I wouldn't have thought to go for and don't usually do much in the way of photography in that area. I'm sure some photographers have had enormous success with agencies and some have had disastrous experiences with them. For me, it's just a nice string to my bow and a channel that sometimes brings in unexpected work.
5. Become an Influencer/Expert in Your Field
I loathe the word "influencer" but it carries with it a number of connotations that are pertinent here. Whatever area of photography you primarily earn money from and want more clients in, you need to dominate in more ways than one. Perhaps, once upon a time, it was enough to be the best at your craft in an industry, but perhaps not. Either way, it's rarely the case anymore. It's easy to become obsessed with being the best photographer and taking the greatest images, and I am guilty of this on more than one occasion. The reality is, there's so many more moving pieces, particularly for your clients. I recently had a regular client of mine explain to me that part of the reasons they turn to me first is because I'm reliable, always contactable and prompt. It really knocked me off balance for a second. In what was a mixture of two parts arrogance, one part ignorance, I was under the illusion that they just really liked the images I created. They of course do, but I have no doubts there are others who could do the same. The difference is, I tick a number of other boxes and it's these other boxes we must not neglect.
One important example of said boxes is knowing your industry. I attend events, read blogs, research and immerse myself in my particular industry in which I do most of my photograph work and it has lead to many opportunities. I am passionate about what I work on and although I like to think that has a positive impact on my photography, it also instills confidence in my clients who are getting not just a photographer, but somebody who is genuinely clued in to the industry in which they reside. Put the work in outside of just technical photographic ability and get to know whichever industry you want to be a real part of. It will be more than worth the time invested if done correctly.
What would your greatest piece of advice be to somebody looking to attract new clients?