10 Ways to Help Find Clients Find You
The hard truth about this industry is never really advertised. The gap between hobbyists and professional photographers has never been smaller. Technology has leveled the playing field when it comes to focus, exposure, timing, and even post processing. More capable photographers means more available imagery and thus lower prices. This presents a challenge when attempting to build and grow a successful photography business. It’s no longer enough to compete solely on skill, talent, or experience. It’s about showing your viewpoint, selling your ideas, creativity, and professionalism.
After 15 years of surviving then building a business in a post-newspaper apocalypse, why would I move from Florida to Denver? Change and growth. I needed a jump start, wanted to go back to what I felt was “home,” and start seeing differently. What I didn’t know was how to find an entirely new group of clients while satisfying my old base in a way that would allow me to keep working in both states.
The solution was a new brand, LOCK + LAND. In order to succeed I needed to elevate my business beyond a dude with a camera who likes to make colorful photos. After many long hours on the phone and many beers in person, I decided to go into business with my friend and fellow photographer, Peter Lockley. This would allow me to move beyond just waiting for the phone to ring, shooting something random, cashing a check, and repeating that cycle over and over. It would give me accountability, someone to collaborate with, and more opportunity to shoot.
I’ve had the luxury of a pretty amazing core group of clients in Florida – LEGOLAND Florida Resort, ESPN, Universal Orlando, The Player’s Tribune, New College of Florida, and Florida Department of Citrus, to name a few. They, along with a steady stream of weddings, kept me busy and fit my vision. In Colorado I had none, so how do you go about that mid career and find new ones? They’re not just going to start calling once I hit the Colorado border.
Peter and I took a very deliberate approach to growing LOCK + LAND. Here’s 10 ways we are approaching growing our business and finding new clients:
Social media is the easiest way to get your work out there, but it’s also a challenge to reach the right people. Apps like Instagram and Facebook regulate the number of people who see each post and they charge if you want to “boost” it to a larger audience. We don’t pay to boost our content, but depending on your target audience, those channels could be very helpful. We treat it as a tool for keeping our clients informed of what we’re doing if they do pin, but it is a small piece of what we do to attract clientele.
2. EXCEL AT CUSTOMER SERVICE
This is a lost art. One of our big focuses is keeping our clients happy in Florida, to keep them using us as we grow. Most of them stuck with us during the transition, so we fly back there a lot and go out of our way to make sure they are happy. Superior customer service, having fun, and adding value to what we do with either digital library management or new services is a priority. Good customer service can lead to new opportunities. When someone in the position to hire you leaves one company, there’s a good chance they’ll end up in a position to hire you in their new job, and your client tree grows.
3. FOCUS ON BEING A GOOD PEER
Make friends in the industry. I would have never landed the LEGOLAND Florida Resort account without the recommendation of a friend for a simple press conference years ago. We also might have lost that account if not for a heads up to a change in marketing personnel from another colleague. Work is often thrown back and forth between photographers. Most importantly, do a great job if someone sends work your way. A personal recommendation is often more powerful than a great portfolio, so try to network as much as possible. We give back, we speak at colleges, we participate in photo gatherings, and we try to meet as many people as we can.
4. RESEARCH + TARGET MARKET
It’s easy to subscribe to a service that emails thousands of art buyers on your behalf. It’s a shotgun approach, and you hope that something sticks, but it rarely does. It’s not to say that you shouldn’t mass market, just be aware that there are limitations and a ton of competition in that space. We’ve talked to art directors who get hundreds of postcards every week. What we’ve done now is a create a local dream client list of 20 ad agencies and companies here in CO and find out who the actual person is that can hire and do a slow introduction to our work and familiarize themselves with our brand while at the same time learning theirs. We want to put all our marketing efforts and money into finding not a bunch of clients, but a few of the right ones. Clients who fit our vision, are fun to work for, and have potential for long-term viability. What we recommend is knowing your market, the work that is being produced there, and focusing your efforts on finding clients who are a good fit. Research every potential client. Who have they worked with in the past? Does your style fit their brand? Do they NEED your work? What can you offer?
5. MAILER, COLD CALLS, and EMAILS OH MY
While most of the time you never know if a card gets thrown out or put on a bulletin board, you still have to make sure people know you exist. You can’t expect one mailer to generate a large volume of work, but repeated impressions on a potential client have the opportunity to pay off in the long run. We try to put our work in front of a target client 4-6 times a year. Sometimes it will be a postcard, sometimes it will be a bigger promotional kit, sometimes it may just be a phone call but our goal is consistency.
6. BUILD AN AMAZING TEAM
We hire a lot of photographers, lighting assistants, digi-techs, and producers now and they’re people we could absolutely trust in any situation to knock it out of the park. In the end you’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with, and if they are giving it their all, you will be energized to do the same.
7. PERSONAL PROJECTS
This is key. I came to Colorado with a portfolio of beaches and palm trees. I didn’t have anything that spoke to the western audience. There’s no reason to sit on your butt when you could be out shooting pictures. Our desire is to do creative projects so we just started doing them. We identified some key potential clients and industries (beer, weed, travel, lifestyle, sports, etc…) and came up with some cool concepts to execute together. This not only gave us great content for the site, but helped us create a stronger working dynamic. It doesn’t matter who presses the shutter. It’s about the concept that drives the image.
8. SHARE WORK WITH THE RIGHT PEOPLE
One of the personal projects we did was within the craft brew industry. In Denver alone there are almost 300 breweries. It’s huge. You can’t really go a block without hitting a new place. What a better place to start meeting some people? We came up with a concept of deconstructing beer recipes and instead of just doing it on our own we recruited the help of 21 of the best up-and-coming breweries to pick one beer for each that used unique ingredients like ghost pepper, kale, and pineapple. In the end, we had a fun gallery showing in one of the breweries and gave all the brewers a print and copies of a time-lapse for each shot as a thank you for their help. We met some awesome people, made some future contacts for work we’re doing now, and built up a gallery to go to bigger breweries and market conceptual work.
9. BUILD A SITE THAT SAYS “I DO THIS”
If you don’t want to shoot sports, then why put that on your site? If you want to do lit portraiture for magazines, then get your friends to pose and build a portfolio. You may be the best damn French fry photographer out there, so load it up with all the golden goodness and own it. For us, we want to be hired for our creativity, and we rock the visuals to back up those ideas whether it’s photo, video, or social. Fill your site with your own unique vision.
10. HAVE FUN, KEEP DIGGING, and SEE WHAT OTHERS DON’T
Photography should make you want to get out of bed every day. Look to your friends and colleagues for inspiration. Read blogs like this and always keep learning about your craft. It’s an amazing thing to be able to do photography as a career. In order to keep doing that you have to dig, you have to create, and you have to shoot how the hell you want and how no one else can.
In the end, only you have your vision, so find the right people to help you share it with the world.