Hi, we're Hunter and Sarah, a husband-and-wife, luxury wedding photography team. We’re also educators, helping other photographers build profitable and sustainable photography businesses.
Happy Thursday, photographers! If you’re struggling to book paid portrait and wedding sessions as a new photographer, then this blog series is for you! Welcome back to our “Free Marketing Tactics for Photographers” blog series.
The last two segments of this series were about networking, both with other photographers, as well as non-photographer businesses. But this week, we’re going to discuss strategies that can turn your own personal network into raving fans and paying clients! In a way, this post continues a lot of themes from Part 4: Begin Your Social Media Presence, so check out that blog/video as well if you haven’t already!
Before we jump into the specifics, we want you to understand something really important. In the small business world, it’s well known that the most challenging part of making a sale typically isn’t developing the product (which, in your case, is honing your photography skills and style). It isn’t delivering on your promises (which would be actually shooting and editing a portrait session or a wedding). And it isn’t even making a sale with potential clients (usually during a consultation call or meeting for weddings). The most difficult and often expensive part of your entire sales process is getting in front of potential clients in the first place, and convincing them that you’re worth even considering! This, fundamentally, is what marketing and advertising is all about.
And this should probably make sense intuitively if you think about it. Consider how many advertisements you see throughout a typical day. How many times do you scroll past sponsored content on social media, or sit through commercials when you watch TV or stream content? Even a billboard on the side of the road or a political sign in your neighbor’s front yard — those are advertisements too. As consumers, we’re all inundated with marketing material, so becoming yet another voice in that already-too-loud shouting match for the attention of your clients is a difficult and crowded field.
But here’s the deal: if you want someone to hear what you have to say, and consider buying something from you, the thing you need most is trust. And in order for someone to trust you, they need to trust two things: your ability as a professional, and you as a person. After all, you can have the best photos in the world, but if a potential client is convinced you’re shady or unprofessional, they’re unlikely to buy from you. And vice-versa, you could have someone who trusts you deeply as a sincere and wonderful person, but if they don’t think your photography is worth investing in, they won’t be hiring you.
So at the end of the day, if you know what you’re doing on the photographic side, getting someone to trust YOU as a PERSON is probably the harder sell. And when it comes to your personal network — your friends and family and acquaintances– you’ve already won them over! They already trust you. So if you can put quality imagery in front of them, then you’ve already checked both of the trust boxes, and you’ll be the first person they think about when the time comes to hire a photographer.
This isn’t just theory for us, or for our students. We push all of our Apprentices and coaching students really strongly on sharing their work with their personal network, and they consistently tell us that our theory plays out in reality. Below is a screenshot from one of our students! It seems like a simple Instagram DM — this person reached out to our student and said that they saw that she did photos now, and inquired about a session. The reason our student sent us this screenshot… is because this was a friend of hers from ELEMENTARY SCHOOL. They hadn’t talked in more than a decade! But because she had begun posting consistently to her personal Instagram all about her photography business, people she never expected were beginning to reach out.
In our business, we find ourselves consistently marveling at this idea that you never really know who is following along. We’ll be at the grocery store or visiting Hunter’s parents closer to where we grew up, and run into people who we haven’t seen or talked to since high school, who tell us how much they love reading our blog or seeing all our wedding imagery on social media.
And as fun as it is to find out that people have been following along with your work, it’s WAY more fun when they reach out to you and hire you to photograph a portrait session or a wedding day! If you take a look at these pie charts below, you can see that for 4 the first 5 years of our wedding photography business, from when we were charging under $1,000 per wedding until we were in the $3,000-$4,000 range for wedding coverage, word-of-mouth inquiries from our personal network or past clients was our #1 lead source by far.
All of the word-of-mouth inquiries in these charts represent the 40 weddings that we booked in those first 5 years from our personal network, which translated to just under $100,000 worth of wedding coverage. And we had similar results on the portrait side of our business as well. And keep in mind: all of this had a $0 marketing cost!
Yes, over time we incorporated some paid marketing tactics. But $100,000 worth of weddings from $0 in marketing sounds pretty good to us! And you may have noticed that vendor referrals showed up in Year 3, which is exactly what we covered in the last video in this series! (One quick caveat is that this is a simplified version of our actual lead-tracking data that we made for this video, since our full data is much more complicated. We track our paid advertising sources separately, and we also track two different kinds of word-of-mouth inquiries. The first is what we’re covering in this video, and the second will be covered in next week’s video!)
So, if your personal network can have SUCH a big impact on your photography business… how do you actually advertise to them? For starters, think back to when we talked about social media in Part 4 of this series. In that blog/video, we recommended that you start social media accounts on platforms like Facebook and Instagram. NOW, we’ll talk about you what you actually do with them!
No matter how old you are or where you live, chances are you already know people who are getting engaged, getting pregnant, having children, or whose children are reaching milestones, like a first birthday or a high school graduation. And even if you don’t know anyone in those particular stages of life, you probably DO know people whose friends or siblings or children are in those stages of life. And if you followed our advice from Part 4, and created your photography Instagram and Facebook Pages with your personal network in mind, you’re already able to get in front of these people for free.
Assuming your personal network follows you on what is now your photography Instagram, the key is — and I know we’ve said this before — just consistently and professionally putting content in front of them week in and week out! When you shift from posting photos of you and your friends hanging out, pictures of your food or your house projects or your pets, to posting professional images from portrait sessions or wedding days, your followers are definitely going to notice.
And this is especially true if you start this switch with a big announcement post! If your followers are used to seeing iPhone selfies or snapshots of you, and suddenly there’s a professional image of you holding a camera and announcing the business journey that you’re embarking on, it’ll get their attention. So let them know that they’re going to be seeing more photography content as you build your business.
There’s an old marketing adage that people need to see your advertising 7 times before it sinks in, and they internalize it. In the digital world, this number is probably much higher. But one of the implications here is that a single post won’t change your business. Consistently posting your professional work, along with a mix of your personal life to help people get to know you as a person as well as a photographer, will serve as a constant reminder that — “hey, whenever you’re ready for photography, let me know!”
Just be sure to keep it true to yourself and your brand. If you do fun and playful family photoshoots, make your posts and your captions full of fun and playful content and words! On the other hand, if you take very formal, fine-art imagery, maybe your posts and your captions will be more serious and more pensive. Either way, whatever you put out into the world is what you’re going to attract more of. One of the most common mistakes we see is our students and apprentices saying that they’re so tired of a certain type of photography, but their Instagram grid is full of it! If you’re tired of shooting family sessions, stop filling your Instagram with family sessions!
And while social media is a great way to be in front of your personal network, don’t forget about all those IRL relationships you have too! Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom, a student, work a job unrelated to photography, or are full-time in your photography business, you probably have friends or family or acquaintances or coworkers who you see regularly and who you have some sort of relationship with. These people are also in your personal network!
So when you’re catching up with friends or coworkers on Monday and chatting about your weekends, you can talk about all the photography you’ve been doing lately. When you see family around the holidays and they ask how you’ve been, mention your growing photography business! And when you’re out with friends and they introduce you to someone new and the “what do you do” question comes up, be sure to mention the business you run! You never know who your next client could be.
That’s it for this week! We’ll be back next week with more great content, but in the meantime, get out there and start winning over your personal network!
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