Getting new clients is exciting, but often difficult. If you've got no mutual connection, no contact to introduce you, or no event you can bump in to them at, you're against the odds. So don't make it even harder.
Before I get started, I'm going to try something new. My articles are seldom easily skim-read and so a lot of people have moaned about not having the message of the article easily found. I get it, I often do that with articles too; we're in an era of instant gratification. As much as I want you to read every word and it's good for Fstoppers if you stick around, I'd be a hypocrite if I said I read every word of every article I open. So, I'm going to trial this:
TL;DR: People don't follow up with prospective or past clients enough. Whether you cold-contacted someone by email, or worked with them last year, keep trying with the former and keep in touch with the latter.
Back over a decade ago, I had to get a job and I went for an interview at a double glazing company to cold call people at home, usually while they're eating dinner, to be sworn at and told to find a real job. I remember my trial day, I sat down at a desk and had a headset plonked on my messy head, and it automatically started dialing. I was petrified which was exacerbated by the news that I didn't have the power to hang up; the call ends when the recipient of the unwanted salesman hangs up on me. Then, without time to draw breath or throw myself out the nearest (double glazed) window, the computer dialed the next number. I went home that night and never returned.
Unsolicited sales calls to people at home is antiquated and frankly, dreadful. Somehow, they'd managed to depersonalize it even further with the rapid fire, disposable targets you were calling. I remember feeling as if the chances of securing an appointment for a salesperson to conduct in person was slim to none. The call center manager seemed to feel that way too. They didn't care about quality, they cared about quantity and their script. When I got a far less embarrassing, but still soul-sucking job in business-to-business sales, I realized one thing was crucial: persistence. That — among a great many other things — was what the double glazing company's method lacked. I took this with me in to my photography world and businesses, but I noticed that a lot of photographers made a related mistake, one that will cost you new clients and even repeat work.
The Art of Following Up
I need to start with what "following up" isn't: it isn't pestering someone every day, hounding them to the ends of the earth, and never taking no for an answer. If someone gives you a firm and complete no, maybe check in with them down the line, but consider that lead done for now. You don't want to be a nuisance, but it's worth noting that "no" is rarely concrete and can even be a knee-jerk reaction for many.
You need to be following up on cold contact made when you're canvassing for new jobs and clients. Honestly, if you're not doing that already, you're doing untold damage to your business. Companies get contacted out of the blue daily, and the chances are that each effort will be ignored. Do not misinterpret silence as the recipient being uninterested. You may not have made a lasting impression on your first shot, they may have been too busy, or they may not have even seen it altogether! I typically leave it between a few days and a week, and then if I haven't heard anything back, I'll reach out again apologetically and ask for the best person to speak to.
It doesn't stop there. If you still don't hear back, don't give up. In my entire career I've only secured a job off the first cold contact a handful of times. Coincidentally, one of my newer clients was the recipient of no fewer than 8 emails from me without him responding, before he replied and apologized for not getting back to me sooner. He wasn't snubbing me, he was just busy. Now we're working together on a project. And this is by no means a singular occurrence. Two years ago, I tried to get in contact with a brand 20-30 times over the space of 9 months before they replied and we worked together.
It's not a tired euphemism, it's an instruction for business. If you haven't spoken to a past client for a while, drop them a message or a call. Repeat business is the best kind of business for business (Xzibit warning) because it's low cost to acquire, and easier to complete projects with clients you know and have worked for before. Sadly, however, everyone in business gets forgotten about without careful tending of the relationship, so you've got to stay in the game.
A word of warning that's a sort of sub-mistake that I made: be mindful of taking meetings. A lot of people cannot wait to book in a meeting with just about anyone as it's an escape from their daily routine and perhaps a chance to step out of the office for an hour. Unless there's a reasonable chance that a meeting with lead to paid work or be valuable in some other way, avoid these time and expense sinks!
There are a plethora of mistakes you can make with your photography business, but few are as well intentioned as just not following up on cold contact. Instead, many will just contact more and more people once, which I promise you is not a better route to take. You'd be significantly better off contacting few people, but ensuring you follow up with them. Similarly, make sure you check in with past clients and see how they're getting on. You'll be surprised how many times you hear "actually, you might be able to help me with something."
This isn't a genre-specific piece of advice, it isn't even advice specific to certain business; if you're canvassing for clients, you need to keep following up until you get an answer. You don't need to be forceful, blunt, or annoying, but you do need to be persistent.