Owning and operating a photography business can be a lonely task. Most hours of the day are spent at a computer with no one to talk to, no one to bounce ideas off of, and no one to help you when you struggle. Most photographers turn to Internet forums and Facebook groups, and these definitely have their place. But what if you could have all the benefits of online communication with the added bonus of working with local professionals that are in the same industry?
Starting the Group
The foundation of our local group is a private Facebook page. While I’m not the one that actually started the group this article is inspired by, I am a fan of how it was created. This group is strictly for professional photographers that have a website and pay taxes. It is intended for photography-related discussions with a hint of rants, raves, and “guess what just happened to me.” I think the website and tax paying pre-qualifiers are important because they narrow down the group to people that run a legitimate photography businesses. The fact that it's private also adds to this by making the group an invite-only environment that can be run on the rules of Vegas (what happens in the group, stays in the group). This allows people to openly share information and opinions that they may not normally feel comfortable sharing when in an open and public group.
1. Vendor lists: When working with couples, it's always nice to have a list of recommended vendors that you have worked with and that you know do good work. The problem arises when the couple is looking for a live band, and you haven't worked with one. Or, maybe you are fairly new and have only worked with a limited amount of vendors. With a vendor list, you now have the ability to recommend people based off you working with them, as well as to recommend others based on the opinion of your peers. This gives the client more options to choose from, as well as giving you the opportunity to work with other solid vendors if the couple ends up going with someone you have not worked with.
2. Client black lists: You always read about photographers that are dealing with a new client that is giving off some red flags, but they take the job anyway. They later find out that the client is super difficult to work with, they don't pay, or they threaten lawsuits to bully them into giving more for free. There are a variety of different reasons for why you may not want to work with a certain client, and that’s what this list is for. If you get a bad client, their name goes on the list. If you are getting red flags and you're not sure you should take the job, you can check the list. This isn’t to say that all clients on the list are forever banned from professional photography either. The list is to inform others of what the issues were when you worked with them so that if you do take the job, you can protect yourself.
3. Referrals and second shooters: We all get asked to do jobs that we can’t do for some reason or another. You have an inquiry for a shoot, but you already have the date booked. Maybe the client is working with a budget that doesn't work with your price range or is requesting a type of shoot you don't normally provide. What you do is post that job within the group and whoever would like the opportunity puts their website on the list. Instead of telling the client you can't take the job and leaving it at that, you are providing a service and giving a list of names of vendors you recommend and are available on that date. On the flip side, you can also throw your name onto a job and get booked by a client that may not have never heard of you without the referral.
4. Business questions: There is no getting around it. Running a photography business can be difficult. You have to deal with websites, pricing, marketing, legal issue, taxes, and more. While there are plenty of places you can turn to online, you always run the risk of getting advice from a no-name keyboard warrior that really has no idea what they are talking about. However, within a group of local professionals in the same industry, chances are someone has dealt with the exact issue you are seeking advice for. New business owners can ask for advice from veterans when encountering strict rules at a particular venue. Everyone can get advice about their pricing and their worth, instead of giving shoots away for free, which brings up the value of all photographers.
5. Help with your “holy crap” moments: It’s not a matter of “if,” but “when”. Everyone at some point or another is going to have a “holy crap” moment. It's the day before a wedding, and you are loading up your gear and drop a lens. Your second shooter just called in sick. You rented a needed piece of gear and a storm is holding up the shipment. Or, heaven forbid, you get into an accident and can't meet upcoming obligations. Now, you have a place to go and not only get advice, but see how truly supportive people are when they offer up their gear for you to rent or use free of charge, offer to help you shoot, or even cover you when you can't. Not that you should ever expect that, but every time I have seen someone in need, individuals in our group have stepped up to help out.
6. Local meetups and shoots: One of the best parts about working with local vendors is the ability to have local meetups and shoots. This is where you get to meet up with people and celebrate the end of a really busy month or plan a stylized shoot during a slow month. You get the opportunity to put an actual face to the name and profile image.
I have only been a part of our local group for a limited time and have already experienced and witnessed great things from it. It allows you to get to know local professionals and helps in growing your business. While this group of people may be considered your competition, at the end of the day, you're a community, and there should be enough work for all to thrive.