One of the most difficult aspects of professional photography isn’t equipment or talent; it’s networking and finding clients. The photographer that consistently gets the gigs is not the one with the best camera or the degree in photography from a prestigious university, but the one who understands business, is committed to professionalism, and knows how to deliver a quality experience each and every time.
Anyone can take a photo, but few people know how to find photography clients, which is what it takes to convert talent into a thriving business. Finding photography clients that are going to hire you, rehire you, and most importantly, tell their friends about you is the key to success in the field. It requires a great deal of advance planning, social finesse, and sometimes just being in the right place at the right time.
However, because you can’t plan for luck, you should be prepared in the event opportunity strikes.
First, there are two super-basics; the starting-from-scratch steps:
Build your portfolio
Even if you’re the best photographer on the planet, odds are that people aren’t just going to take your word for it. You have to show them. Let’s say you’re interested in becoming a newborn portrait photographer. Your portfolio needs to be stocked with quality photos of newborns.
So, how do you go about acquiring these quality images? I will say it bluntly: free shoots. If you’re going to want people to pay you for your work, you will have to start out not getting paid. Has someone in the family just had a baby? Offer them a free portrait session, and after you’ve delivered quality photos, ask them for feedback. In the early stages, when nothing is on the line, focus on honing your skills, developing your own professional style, and learning as much about the business side of photography as possible.
Your friends and family are your best advocates. If they love your work, and you’ve given them something great, they will recommend you to people who will hire you. No one has to know that the early shoots were free. There are two great secrets to operating a successful business: 1. Never give away all of your secrets. 2. …
Build a website
So, you’ve spent the time developing a solid portfolio. Now people need to see it. It would be unreasonable to carry a print portfolio around with you on a regular basis. Instead, invest in a website. Hire someone who knows what they’re doing to help you. It doesn’t need to be flashy; a lot of the great contemporary photographers just use WordPress for hosting. You can make it unique, but keep in mind that, if you choose a site with all the bells and whistles, people may not be able to access certain pages from their smartphones. If you want Flash, make sure you offer an HTML option as well.
As a photographer, it’s mandatory that you be accessible. If a potential client e-mails or calls you, you should respond in a timely manner. If they are looking for your contact information on your website while on a train going home from work, they should be able to find it easily. Don’t make people work to get in touch with you, because they usually won’t.
Image via Rick Harrison, Flickr
Next come the marketing steps that are fundamental, but that many people don’t take action on. This is the stuff that will separate you from the masses of “professional” photographers who simply put up their websites, post some pictures on Facebook, and hope for the best:
Network, network, network
If you’re going to be a wedding photographer, attend wedding conventions. Meet with caterers, florists, wedding planners—anyone attached to the business. Even well into the twenty-first century, the photography business is still a word-of-mouth business. Don’t wait for people to come to you; go to them. Being shy won’t do you any favors.
This doesn’t just happen in person either; you will also need to be affiliated with at least one social networking platform of some sort. I strongly recommend Facebook, but any site that allows you to network with potential clients and fellow photographers alike will work just fine.
Deliver quality photos
Always put your best foot forward. You will be judged by your worst photo, not by your best. Make sure the “worst” photo your client sees is still high-quality. If in doubt, throw it out. They won’t miss it.
Focus on finding new clients, but remember previous ones
The dream client is the one who hires you and then loves your work so much that they continue to hire you over and over again. Your past clients are your best clients. You want to make them happy. Offer them incentives for referrals; if they tell their friends about you and someone they tell hires you, give them a discount on their next session.
Maintain high standards of professionalism
This cannot be emphasized enough: to be a successful photographer you must maintain high standards of quality and professionalism. When dealing with people, it’s essential to be respectful and friendly, but you also need to dress appropriately and show up to events on time.
If you’re patient, persistent, and most importantly, prepared, you will have a much higher chance of finding and building solid relationships with potential clients.