One key to longevity in filmmaking or photography is to have regular clients that you enjoy working with. What’s even better is when you have enough work coming in from those top clients, so that you can actually pick and choose the projects you take on, and even go as far as to expand your business or pass work off to qualified associates for a modest finders fee. It takes a long time to get there, but being savvy about building a client base can help tremendously.
I get asked all of the time about where someone can go to find work, but honestly that's an extremely difficult question, without a singular answer. There’s quite simply, no secret formula for finding work. It’s a combination of many things, some of which are out of our hands, as filmmakers, photographers, or any type of independent creative. Outside a few individuals who get lucky early in their career or have projects that go viral, there's little more to do than work hard and put yourself in a position to make the most of opportunities when they present themselves. So where might those opportunities exist? I recently relocated to Lexington, Kentucky, and I’ve been spending my recent time researching and doing honest work to find new potential clients I can market myself to. Here’s how I approached this process, and where I've found some success in finding those elusive opportunities.
Defining your own business first.
Before you can start researching new clients, it’s imperative that you understand what kind of work and clients you’re interested in, and more importantly, which ones you are not.
So question number one to ask yourself, is what kind of work are you looking for? Are you a wedding photographer? Or maybe a documentary filmmaker? Have you positioned your business to take on automotive projects? Whatever niches or industries you’re interested in, that should be established before researching new clients. (If you haven’t written out any sort of “about us” web page or bio for yourself that details the type of work you’re interested in, definitely do that. Being forced to write that kind of content, coming up with keywords in the process, will allow you to target your search.) In even modest-sized cities, there will be many people and businesses you could potentially work for, so knowing what kinds of jobs your after will help limit the search to a manageable size.
Consider your location.
Your location is another factor that will impact the businesses you do and don’t go after. This will be different for everyone, but consider that in most cases it is cheaper for a client to hire locally- it’s not unheard of for me to be hired for a job across the US for a brand new client, but it isn’t the norm. For this exercise, I’d recommend keeping your search to whatever large cities are within about 3 hours drive from your office.
Build a chart to list potential clients and what services you can offer them.
This is the fun part. Use a white board, poster board, or whatever you’d like to create a large area to write on. Use this space and start by defining a few attributes related to the kind of work you’re going after, or the industries you’re interested in servicing. On my chart, I used the terms “Outdoors/Active Lifestyle,” “Non-Profit,” and “Locally-focused.”
I then listed the services I provide to clients, including things like “Video Production,” “Aerial Video,” and “Documentary Photography.”
With this items listed above, I then drew a spreadsheet, with rows to list businesses, and columns to note what industries they were in, what kind of work I might be able to do for them, and an area for making notes and comments. Below is an example.
Google is your friend.
There are many different ways you can approach this, but using the keywords you identified above (what kinds of businesses or industries you're most interested in) start searching the area for potential businesses. As you find them, start filling in your chart’s business column.
Focus on the businesses that are closest to your ideal client.
Whatever your scheme for diagramming where businesses lie on your chart, it should become clear which ones embody more traits than others. For example, if I find a non-profit who works for local outdoor communities, they will be near the top of my list in terms of priority in which I’ll reach out.
This might seem like obvious work for finding target clients, but most people/small production companies I know of, don't do anything of the sort. Additionally, new businesses open up all of the time, so doing this process every six months could yield new results.
Email, call, and get in touch.
Take the written chart, and consider turning it digital with something like a Google Spreadsheet, so everyone in your team can work on it, and keep it up to date. Add columns for phone numbers, emails, contact forms, whatever you can find, and start reaching out. Cultivating a relationship is a process that can quite a while, so don't get discouraged. Politely follow up as you see fit, and try to start a dialog.
Initiate Stalker Mode.
Facebook-stalking isn't just for obsessed exes. Lots of businesses use social media too, and you can use that to your advantage. Keep tabs on events they are holding, places they frequent, and by putting in some in-person time with the right people, you can continue the dialog you previously started. (Be careful, don't "stalk" or harass your prospective clients, but show an active interest in their interests, and you'd be surprised how easy it might be to make real connections.
Go one level deeper.
Getting work from your target clients might not be a one-step process. Just because you’re awesome and so are they doesn’t mean you’re going to score a bunch of new work from them.
If a direct approach doesn’t work, consider researching what businesses they already work with, and aligning yourself with them. It can give you another angle to get your foot in the door, so to speak. There’s a great article by Peter House that explains this indirect approach in great detail, with several concepts similar to what I've noted above, and it’s well worth a read.
Don’t forget your old clients.
Dig through your projects and emails and find those clients that you had good experiences with, and add them to your list. Make sure you take the time to reach out and see what new projects they have been working on, how your previous work was received, and finally, ask what you can do for them in the future! They should be the easiest target on that list!
When you step back and think about it, none of this is too hard, it just takes some time and some research. The hard part is making a connection and pitching your business! Good luck!