The Writings

Baby Steps To Building A Client List

I recently wrote about how challenging the business of photography can be, which almost seemed like a scare tactic to prevent people from getting into this line of work. For that, I'm [sort of] apologetic. So, to make up for that, I've decided that the best remedy would be to give the aspiring photographer some tips on getting started.

There are numerous tasks that should be done before anyone drops everything and becomes a full-time photography business, but one significant challenge for any photographer is trying to get clients in the first place. Whether you're an upcoming photographer or a veteran, the biggest piece to making your business run is developing a client list. They're essentially the ones funding your marketing, giving you the income to upgrade equipment, and paying your bills. Especially as a budding photographer, how does one go about building a credible client list? There are a few things one can do, and hopefully this list will give you some ideas to be creative and go about getting those clients.

1: Shoot Family, Friends, and Landscapes

You're not going to snag any clients without proof that you have the skills. So, how do you prove you have the skills? Shoot the things that don't complain: friends, family, and inanimate objects. Friends and family will always be open to helping you in your future endeavors (just ask mine - they've been a TREMENDOUS help) and they don't charge a fee. Sure, there are sites like Model Mayhem, which allow you to connect with models and set up photo shoots, some for TFCD (Time For CD) or TFP (Time For Photos) agreements. However, majority of the time, models - whether aspiring newcomers or veterans - will still want to see some kind of work related to their line of work. Therefore, the best bet to get your portfolio started is asking them to strike a pose.

2: Having A Website

Once you start getting a collection of photos together, it's time you started a website. It seems to be the most obvious step, but it's also very under appreciated. You must look at your website as a resume accessable from anywhere.  Sure, if you have a photography degree, it's nice to have an actual resume typed out on that pretty resume paper, but when potential clients inquire about your services, they're not going to know that without being able to see some proof. If you're intimidated about starting a website - don't be! In this day and age, it's easier than ever to create a website, without having a background in web programming.  Most sites provide templates that will make it easy to create an attractive website and keep updated.  Places like Photobiz, PhotoShelter, and FolioLink, are excellent places to get your site started.  Their one-time start-up fee and low monthly fees are very cheap.  If there are cobwebs in your wallet, there are plenty of inexpensive options.  Sites like Flickr, Tumblr, and WordPress are a great place to start.  Once you create a website, don't pollute it with every photo you've ever taken.  Make sure you only select 10-15 of your best shots to use for your portfolio.  Look at your collection and put them through the ringer - if your gut looks at a photo and you question or don't feel too confident about it, don't put it in!  And don't get too attached emotionally to any one photograph; just because it has a special meaning to you doesn't mean your client cares.  Only put the photos that are the best representation of your work.

3: The LookBook

Another step to consider is creating a lookbook.  A lookbook is a collection of photographs to show off your work to potential clients during meetings.  It's something tangible for your client so they can get an idea of what you're about.  The idea is similar to your website - only select 10-15 of your best photos to print and use.  You don't want your client spending an hour looking through your novel of a portfolio.  The idea is a quick glimpse of your work that can be used as talking points and selling points during your discussion with a potential client.  Make sure the pictures are big, too.  An 8 x 10 book is perfect (and standard) for a lookbook, so your client can see all the details and get a better visual.  A lot of local print shops can put together a book for you, but I used Shutterfly to assemble mine, which ran me under $50.  They make it extremely easy to upload and put the photos together.  Plus, their print quality and timeliness in shipping it to me was perfect, and I'd recommend it to anyone.

4: Social Media Networking

You've got some photos, you built a website, and created a lookbook.  Now, it's time to let the world know you're here.  There are numerous ways to market yourself, and thankfully for the upstart business, it's inexpensive - if not, free.  The major players are Facebook and Twitter.  If you're not on these social media platforms, you're getting left behind!  Both sites are free, and it's very easy to set up accounts.  Facebook allows you to create a Fan Page, which lets you update your fans and clients on happenings with your business.  Twitter essentially allows you to do the same thing, except I seem to use it a little bit more, since you have a little more direct connection with your fans and clients and can carry on conversations.  What's the best way to get followers?  Start with friends and family.  There's also WeFollow, which allows you to associate key words (like, "photography") to your Twitter account, so people who are interested in searching for people associated with that tag can seek you out.  Also, there are a lot of groups on Twitter and plenty of "tweet-ups", where numerous tweeters get together to socialize and a great opportunity to network and socialize.  LinkedIn is another useful tool that allows you to broaden your business contacts.  Again, you can associate your business with key words that make it easier for potential clients to seek out your services.  One word of warning, though: be careful what you post on your pages.  All of these social media platforms are accessible to hundreds of thousands of people, and while that's great for exposure, it also means whatever you say is on an international stage.  Potential clients are apart of that mix, and saying anything controversial or opposed to what your clients may want to hear could lose you jobs!

5: Luck

Let's face it: you can do everything listed here and not hear from any businesses interested in your services for what feels like an eternity.  All of a sudden, you could be at a local coffee shop, or taking a walk around the neighborhood, and you happen to run into somebody interested in your services.  One example is how I landed a very big client.  It's obviously known that I practically live at Boccato Gelato in Arlington, VA, and because I'm there so often and use it as my office space to get projects done (such as this one), I meet a lot of the regulars who go there.  One such regular is a photographer for Getty Images, who has been great to talk shop with and get me motivated to get cracking.  However, the biggest connection was a friend of the co-owner, who frequents one of the neighborhood establishments.  She was talking with the owner of said restaurant and discovered he had a need for a photographer for his two new restaurants he has just opened.  Because I had interacted with her for months now, she knew to bring my name up.  Long story short, I've landed a huge deal with this restaurant group, and it will hopefully lead to more major projects in the future.  Sometimes, being in the right place at the right time is all it takes, but you'll never have that happen to you if you don't go out there and make the connections!

Using these steps are a great way to get your photography business' "marketing department" positioned to landing some fantastic clients and getting your name out there.  Sometimes, it's a slow process, since you're building a network from scratch.  However, using all of the tools at your disposal will only benefit your business and get you on the right track to building that client list.

Until next time,

- Patrick

(P.S. Did I miss any tools to help build a client list?  Feel free to throw your two cents in below and let us know how it worked for you!)