If You're Making This Mistake, It'll Be Costing You Clients

If You're Making This Mistake, It'll Be Costing You Clients

Photography is a competitive field and establishing yourself is difficult even if you're not making mistakes. So analyze your business practices, with cold contact being a common problem.

When you're starting out in your career as a professional photographer, getting any client at all takes real grit. I remember every cent I earned felt like I had fought tooth and nail for it. The bad months were rough and the good months were still exhausting. I remember I had some very early success with headshots, so I created an email explaining my headshot service, my introductory price, and past work. This email was intricately crafted, poring over every word for maximum impact. I then spent a full day finding the email addresses of every local person or institution that could benefit from my work and sent my offer out to over 50 addresses in the first day. How industrious.

I got zero jobs. In fact, most people didn't even reply, let alone turn me down. It hit me hard, primarily because I'd always been taught the notion that hard work pays off, and it felt like an injustice that it wasn't. However, when I decided I need to find my own niche (I recently wrote about how to find yours) and gave myself some direction, I took a new approach.

I began tailoring emails to every single person or company I wanted to work with. I would research them, I would familiarize myself with their work, then I would come up with an offer specifically for their needs. Every word would be written from scratch; no templates, no copying and pasting, and no genericisms. It took 10x as long or more to send one email, but the difference was ridiculous. It wasn't ridiculous insofar as inexplicable, but it was ridiculous in the difference in response. Suddenly, I was getting replies to well over half of my emails, as opposed to around 1 in 30. Secondly, I started booking jobs almost immediately. In fact, as I mention in the niche article linked above, I secured my first job with my first email, and my second with my fourth email.

Now the years have passed and I've become more experienced and well read in business, I can see my mistake with glaring clarity. I get lots of emails per week asking me if I need a retoucher, asking if I want to write about a product, asking me if I'd be interested in this and that, and if on my first skim read it's copied and pasted, I'm off on my merry way. You could argue that this hinges on how the email is written, and that could be true, but for the most part, it is painfully obvious when you're sending blanketed emails.

So if that sounds like something you do — and there's no shame in it, I think we all have — try tailoring each contact carefully for a while. Yes, it's far more longwinded and yes you're likely going to contact far fewer potential clients, but the recipients will notice the difference in care and interest you're showing. Chances are, they get a lot of emails and with photography being so competitive, you need to stand out, and stand out in the right way.

Do you have any tips for making initial contact with potential clients? Share them in the comments below.

Lead image by energepic.com via Pexels

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Mr Hogwallop's picture

Unless you are a superstar coming out of nowhere the response to cold calls is going to be less that satisfactory. If you are getting a 50% response that is about 10x the average, how many of those were turned into jobs, how were your fees compared to other photographers?

Don't spam,tailoring your message is essential. Make it personal.

Robert K Baggs's picture

Absolutely, but there are few other options when starting out. From 18 to 21 years old I worked a sales job making cold calls, around 100 per day, for just under 4 years. Which put me at something ridiculous like 80,000 cold calls. I know how awful the return can be. Which is partially why I deviated from a script based approach. The above 50% response rate was on the first 50, but it settled, though still high. I actually have a break down of the first 250 tailored approaches and I don't mind sharing it:

250 tailored cold contacts
82 of those responded
21 of those hired me
14 of those hired me more than once

Andy Barnham's picture

Would you be happy to share an example of a tailored cold email? I’d be interested to read what you have to say and how you say it.

GI PAMPERIEN's picture

Great response! Thank you for your candor!

Sean Sauer's picture

The best way to get started IMHO is by mining current and former contacts you've done work for. Their word of mouth is very powerful. If they like your work they'll refer you to a friend etc. If you don't have former clients yet start off with family/friends by giving them free or discounted work, ask them to spread the word or inquire if they know anybody that would like photo work and build from there. Random spam emails never worked for me.

As an old guy who's had five different careers, worked for numerous companies and helped to start three companies I can say that there are at least 40 paths to success. Probably 42 :-)

The most satisfying path always involves a great product from people with good character. Great sales and marketing can make a bad product successful but for any decent person it leaves them feeling empty.

The point of any contact is to get the next step, get them to look at your work and consider you for a project.

SO, number one is to continuously perfect your craft. Shoot & edit ALMOST EVERY day. Create pretend jobs and perform them. Even put them online and say what assignment you'd given yourself. As a buyer (which I once was) I'd be impressed by someone who did this if the results were good and I'd certainly give them a shot when I had something.