When you make the decision to earn a living from photography, there’s a seed of change that takes hold at that moment and begins to grow. It’s a slight shift at first, as you begin to think, “I’m going to need some clients.” As you become more dedicated to the idea of earning a living from your photography, that shift begins to take hold.
Photography for the love of the craft is about creating images you love and inspiring others with your art. Photography as a way to earn a living is about getting clients—which means marketing yourself and your services. Many successful pros will tell you that professional photography is 20% photography and 80% marketing.
If you are thinking about going pro, it’s time to consider how you’ll market yourself. Traditional advertising is great for building general brand recognition, but not so great for making the phone ring. As a professional photographer, you will need dozens or hundreds of new clients each year, not brand recognition by thousands of consumers that aren’t hiring you. So the marketing method you choose is key to your success.
That’s where networking comes in. As an artist, you need contacts and referrals to clients. Networking is all about finding those key contacts and building long-term relationships with people who can give you business. Networking is one of the best ways to get out there quickly and connect with people interested in business relationships. If you want to succeed, it’s crucial. Internationally known fashion photographer Lara Jade created INSPIRE, a networking group for photographers because “networking is one of the most important things to do in the industry we are in.” She feels that “an artist cannot pursue a career without contacts.”
1. People do Business with People
You’ve probably heard the saying “people do business with people,” and it couldn’t be more true with photography. Once you step outside the mall portrait studio environment, photography becomes a very personal service. Clients need to connect with the person behind the camera, so it makes sense that successful photographers rely on networking to get personal referrals.
Networking is all about doing business with people. It’s not about a slick marketing message, a great tagline, or even being the most talented photographer in the room. It’s about authentically connecting with people who can become your clients and/or refer clients to you. The focus is on building great personal relationships with people for the purpose of doing business together. What’s great about networking is you don’t need a fancy website, brochure, or other expensive collateral, so even if you are just getting established, you can start networking immediately. The most important ingredients to great networking are active listening, being genuinely interested in others, and following up.
2. You are your Brand
As a photographer and artist, you are your brand. Your talent is your eyes, in the way you see the world. Your product is not the paper your images are printed on; your product is your vision. Getting an ad in print might show your work, but it doesn’t show you. When someone recommends you, they aren’t simply recommending the final output; they are recommending you as a person, your passion, your talent, your vision. It’s the relationship you have with people that will lead them to refer you.
3. It’s the most Cost-Effective Strategy
Unlike many advertising strategies, networking costs very little. Many networking events are free, and others cost a nominal fee to attend, which is great for beginners and starving artists. Check meetup.com, your local chamber of commerce, and industry-related associations for upcoming networking events you can attend. To make networking pay off, you do have to invest time to attend events and follow up with people. If you are hungry for business, time shouldn’t be a problem.
4. Relationships are the Foundation of a Successful Business
Most successful photographers cite referrals as their best source of clients. Relationships are the key to an h3 referral network. Once you’ve met a potential partner, it doesn’t stop there; it starts there. This is where a lot of people get confused and give up on networking before seeing results. You don’t just go to the event to collect business cards. You go to get to know people and to identify potential partners you might do business with. After the event, follow up and build relationships. By follow up, means a phone call, a note card, an invitation to meet for drinks. Get to know each other.
Once you’ve established a great relationship, it can lead to repeat business for you. Business contacts who are fans of your work have the ability to send many clients, particularly if you maintain the relationship. When you have multiple referral sources in place, business starts coming in consistently. If you want to grow your business, this one of the most effective strategies there is. Bill Gates agrees: “Our success has really been based on partnerships from the very beginning.”