Finding new clients and getting them to hire you is the crux of being a professional photographer. However, keeping them is the easy part, which explains why the crux of being a professional photographer is finding new clients and getting them to hire you.
Let me explain.
Marketing and self promotion is tough work. You know that. It requires the genuine discomfort of activities like calling strangers on the phone who don’t have time to take phone calls from strangers. It also requires a special brand of creativity that lies entirely outside of your usual creative comfort zone of taking pictures. You rack your brain trying to come up with eye catching mailers that will get thrown away, witty slogans that will get ignored and a web presence that must compete with the other 227,469,346,154 web sites out there. Oh yeah, and then there’s social media. Haven’t even talked about that yet.
If you’re not comfortable doing all of this stuff, then you hire someone else to do it, which of course, requires spending money that, frankly, you would much rather spend on a cool new lens, a Nikon D800 or a new mountain bike. And still, there’s no guarantee that any of this will actually get you a single new client. You do it anyway, because you know that it’s a numbers game. The more impressions you make on your carefully culled client list, are more chances for someone to finally give you a chance.
Which, of course, is why, when you actually DO get a new client, you fight like hell to keep them. Aside from working your ass off for them and delivering the images that they need WHEN they need then, you do the little things that let them know they’re special. You give them presents. You call, visit and touch base with them every so often, now that you’re not a stranger anymore. Basically, you do everything you can to give them a reason to call YOU the next time they need a photographer.
It feels good to get these kinds of clients. It feels like success, because it is. It’s this building block of establishing and fostering client relationships that lies at the core of every kind of business, whether you’re a photographer or a washing machine salesman.
Go ahead and picture yourself there for a minute. Think about one of your favorite clients with whom you’ve built up a special working relationship. Think about what it feels like to know that they next time they have a project, they’ll likely to bring you on board again. Think about the sweat, the creativity, the overtime and everything else it took to get you that status.
Now, imagine another photographer approaching this favorite client of yours and trying to market their work. You would hope, and in some cases, even expect, that while your client might give them the time of day, they’ll still hire you. They might even just come out and tell that other person, “Your portfolio is good, but we always use insert your name here.” Yea, you’ve heard that before, haven’t you. Don’t worry, we all have. I still hear it, in fact.
Of course, what this really means is, “We’ve built up a strong relationship with insert your name here, over the years and (s)he’s worked hard for us on every project, so we prefer to use him or her, but we’ll certainly keep you in mind for future projects.” It may be nothing personal on your end, but for the guy at the top, it’s entirely personal.
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This illustrates why getting new clients is so tough. No matter how good your work is, you’re not just competing against other porfolios, you’re competing against relationships. And as tough as it is to hear this from a prospective client, if you’re the established photographer, it’s what you hope that your client says to every other photographer out there. Why? because you don’t ever want to hear it again. You want to be the guy at the top and you’ll do whatever it takes to hold onto that position.
So how do you break in? You keep marketing yourself. You keep shooting new work and improving your creative eye and style. You keep busting your ass, because sooner or later, there will be a scheduling conflict with the other guy, a new art director, a new project, a personal recommendation, the need for a fresh look, or a photo editor who just really digs your imagery and wants to give you a chance.
If your work is good, then you will eventually get your foot in the door. Your turn will come. Trust me. And when it does, start building those relationships. Do everything you can to make it that much harder for the next guy in line.