4 Reasons Why Networking Is Critical to Going Pro

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A guest post by Lara White from PhotoMint. In this article, she explains why networking is critical for photographers looking to go pro. To learn more about how to get business by networking, check out PhotoMint’s new ebook, Get Connected: Build Relationships to Drive Your Business.

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.

In this video I share the story of how a single relationship that started at a networking event led to the biggest break in my career:

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.

I’ve wasted thousands on magazine ads and online advertising packages that didn’t make the phone ring a single time. Networking, on the other hand, has been the foundation of my business. Over 70% of my clients come from referrals, which all goes back to networking.

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 a 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, I mean 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.”

I hope I’ve convinced you of how critical networking is for anyone considering going pro. Remember, networking is just the start. What it’s really about is building relationships and making connections.

Lara White is a professional photographer and author. For more tips and techniques on networking check out Lara’s new ebook: Get Connected: Build Relationships to Drive Your Business. To read more of her marketing and business tips for photographers, head over to her blog: PhotoMint.

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  • Great article. I’ve been running another business for 18 years (this month) and networking has been paramount in providing continued business over all those years. As I grow and develop my photography (new) business I’ll be doing the same thing…. because I know it works and I already have networking foundations built.

  • The best thing about networking is that you aren’t wasting thousands of dollars on traditional advertising.

  • This is a great post! Networking is absolutely essential! I run a small T-shirt printing company in Reno, NV and I do almost all of my work off of referrals. So I think what you have to say about networking in the photography field is awesome AND it definitely applies to many other creative arenas.

    Also, in your video you talked about networking with other people who are just starting. This is a great tip and I think it is totally necessary for success.

    Thank you for this insightful post!

  • I’m an introvert, and networking has been one of the hardest parts of my business, especially when it was in the early years. Networking is absolutely crucial to a successful business. Hmm.. maybe a future blog series is in DPS’s future for how to network when you’re not a naturally outgoing person? 🙂

  • Maximo Almonte

    I love post from Lara White. She is amazing and her energy is contagious. Networking is the hardest part of being successful, but it pays off big time in the long end. Sometimes we paralyze ourselves with the idea that “Im not good with people” If that were true, then you wouldn’t have any friends. The same way you made friends, is the same way networking works. Getting to know people, have a sincere interest in them and their story. I have been part of networking companies that offer other services that is not photography and to me is much easier to approach someone about my vision of photography than talk to them about some other products or services I offer.

  • Oh yeah I can’t emphasize how true this is. This is the same thing that I have done to get my site and my photography to where it is today.

    I do Automotive and Motorsports photography for http://CustomPinoyRides.com

    It was my dream once to be part of the crowd of rich people who can afford to buy and modify any car they want. I wasn’t rich, I didn’t have money. But I knew I loved cars so much I wanted to be somethin akin to the motor journalists at Top Gear. I studied photography and started shooting cars, and I put them up on my website. Soon enough, companies started approaching me saying they’ll sponsor me! I said I just do this as a hobby but they said I better take it seriously because they’ll pay me!

    Things went on from there and I met one person and another and started shooting cars and being referred by one group and one company to the next. The network eventually grew and my site is now one of the most followed websites in my part of the globe!

    So taking good photos is just part of the whole formula. You have to have a network to be bigger than you are today. But soon enough, the network will grow itself and your photos will start speaking for themselves.

  • Thanks Mark! I agree with you, most of my business is from referrals too, but initially it wasn’t that way. At first I wanted an easy answer-the full page ad that causes the phone to ring off the hook (and I live happily ever after). But marketing doesn’t work like that with photography. Networking is more of a slow burn that builds over time.

  • Erin, I am an introvert too, and networking can be extra challenging when you are slightly terrified! What’s great about networking is that the best approach is to keep the focus on the person you are talking to. So ask lots of questions to keep them talking! I recommend some preparation in terms of reviewing the guest list if possible, and choosing a couple of work highlights or funny/interesting stories to share when appropriate.

    Another trick I use is when I first get there, I look for someone alone, hugging a wall, nervously looking around. I think of myself as an ambassador and that it’s going to be my job to greet them and make them feel welcome. Usually this is pretty easy (since I know they aren’t going to judge me or ignore me) and typically they are downright grateful and eager to engage in conversation (they’ve been rescued!). Once I’ve gotten this under my belt, I feel more confident and calm.

  • Thank you for this article. I am an amateur photographer who wants to eventually go professional. One thing that I have known for certain is that I would need to network to really get my name out there. This article and the resulting comments has given me some great ideas on where to start.

    Thank you, DPS for great articles like this.

  • Thanks Maximo, that means a lot to me! I encourage you to check out PhotoMint‘s blog for more ideas and articles from me.

  • It might be hard to believe but I totally agree with Lara that networking, not spending money on static advertising, is the best way to find and sustain paying photography clients. Spending $300 to join your local chamber of commerce and attends its dozens of networking events throughout the year will for sure show a bigger return on investment than buying $300 worth of Google or Facebook ads.

    It also helps to take your camera to networking events:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2010/3/11/florida-holocaust-museum-networking-event.html

    I post a few shots on Facebook and ask everyone to tag themselves in them. The people I talked to at the networking event get a photo postcard mailed to them (with a stamp) with a handwritten message asking to meet again to discuss how I might be able to help their business with my services.

  • That’s a great tip Jason, I also use the tagging feature in Facebook to tag clients so that their friends can see their images.

  • Brand is king…………… and this is all good advice. She’s right about the strength of refferals.

  • Lara consistently gives great advice.

    Networking is critical.

    Networking is not saying hello to someone getting a business card and moving on. It is all about engaging people. Show a genuine interest in who they are what they do. Ease into your profession and what you do.

    I have seen it over and over again. Some folks at networking events are so eager to collect cards and talk about themselves that they really miss possible hot buttons and how the may be able to provide a solution. After all how many of us hate it when we walk into a store and we are immediately greeted by a salesperson. What is the usual response to get them to go away? Just looking.

    Same thing don’t be a sales person, be a listener. You will be surprised at how much you will learn and then be able to provide valuable insight.

  • well put Robbie! That actually reminds me of someone in my networking circles who is ‘all business” and after a while you just want to avoid her because it’s not fun talking to her. there’s no chatting, connecting, etc. it just feels like a sales push.

Some Older Comments

  • Lara White March 15, 2012 04:22 am

    well put Robbie! That actually reminds me of someone in my networking circles who is 'all business" and after a while you just want to avoid her because it's not fun talking to her. there's no chatting, connecting, etc. it just feels like a sales push.

  • Robbie McLean March 12, 2012 01:08 am

    Lara consistently gives great advice.

    Networking is critical.

    Networking is not saying hello to someone getting a business card and moving on. It is all about engaging people. Show a genuine interest in who they are what they do. Ease into your profession and what you do.

    I have seen it over and over again. Some folks at networking events are so eager to collect cards and talk about themselves that they really miss possible hot buttons and how the may be able to provide a solution. After all how many of us hate it when we walk into a store and we are immediately greeted by a salesperson. What is the usual response to get them to go away? Just looking.

    Same thing don't be a sales person, be a listener. You will be surprised at how much you will learn and then be able to provide valuable insight.

  • Paul March 10, 2012 02:41 am

    Brand is king............... and this is all good advice. She's right about the strength of refferals.

  • Lara White March 8, 2012 09:10 am

    That's a great tip Jason, I also use the tagging feature in Facebook to tag clients so that their friends can see their images.

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer March 6, 2012 02:31 pm

    It might be hard to believe but I totally agree with Lara that networking, not spending money on static advertising, is the best way to find and sustain paying photography clients. Spending $300 to join your local chamber of commerce and attends its dozens of networking events throughout the year will for sure show a bigger return on investment than buying $300 worth of Google or Facebook ads.

    It also helps to take your camera to networking events:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2010/3/11/florida-holocaust-museum-networking-event.html

    I post a few shots on Facebook and ask everyone to tag themselves in them. The people I talked to at the networking event get a photo postcard mailed to them (with a stamp) with a handwritten message asking to meet again to discuss how I might be able to help their business with my services.

  • Lara White March 6, 2012 04:06 am

    Thanks Maximo, that means a lot to me! I encourage you to check out PhotoMint's blog for more ideas and articles from me.

  • Marcus Davis March 6, 2012 03:07 am

    Thank you for this article. I am an amateur photographer who wants to eventually go professional. One thing that I have known for certain is that I would need to network to really get my name out there. This article and the resulting comments has given me some great ideas on where to start.

    Thank you, DPS for great articles like this.

  • Lara White March 6, 2012 02:04 am

    Erin, I am an introvert too, and networking can be extra challenging when you are slightly terrified! What's great about networking is that the best approach is to keep the focus on the person you are talking to. So ask lots of questions to keep them talking! I recommend some preparation in terms of reviewing the guest list if possible, and choosing a couple of work highlights or funny/interesting stories to share when appropriate.

    Another trick I use is when I first get there, I look for someone alone, hugging a wall, nervously looking around. I think of myself as an ambassador and that it's going to be my job to greet them and make them feel welcome. Usually this is pretty easy (since I know they aren't going to judge me or ignore me) and typically they are downright grateful and eager to engage in conversation (they've been rescued!). Once I've gotten this under my belt, I feel more confident and calm.

  • Lara White March 6, 2012 01:56 am

    Thanks Mark! I agree with you, most of my business is from referrals too, but initially it wasn't that way. At first I wanted an easy answer-the full page ad that causes the phone to ring off the hook (and I live happily ever after). But marketing doesn't work like that with photography. Networking is more of a slow burn that builds over time.

  • THE aSTIG @ CustomPinoyRides.com March 6, 2012 01:49 am

    Oh yeah I can't emphasize how true this is. This is the same thing that I have done to get my site and my photography to where it is today.

    I do Automotive and Motorsports photography for http://CustomPinoyRides.com

    It was my dream once to be part of the crowd of rich people who can afford to buy and modify any car they want. I wasn't rich, I didn't have money. But I knew I loved cars so much I wanted to be somethin akin to the motor journalists at Top Gear. I studied photography and started shooting cars, and I put them up on my website. Soon enough, companies started approaching me saying they'll sponsor me! I said I just do this as a hobby but they said I better take it seriously because they'll pay me!

    Things went on from there and I met one person and another and started shooting cars and being referred by one group and one company to the next. The network eventually grew and my site is now one of the most followed websites in my part of the globe!

    So taking good photos is just part of the whole formula. You have to have a network to be bigger than you are today. But soon enough, the network will grow itself and your photos will start speaking for themselves.

  • Maximo Almonte March 6, 2012 01:18 am

    I love post from Lara White. She is amazing and her energy is contagious. Networking is the hardest part of being successful, but it pays off big time in the long end. Sometimes we paralyze ourselves with the idea that "Im not good with people" If that were true, then you wouldn't have any friends. The same way you made friends, is the same way networking works. Getting to know people, have a sincere interest in them and their story. I have been part of networking companies that offer other services that is not photography and to me is much easier to approach someone about my vision of photography than talk to them about some other products or services I offer.

  • Erin @ Pixel Tips March 6, 2012 12:16 am

    I'm an introvert, and networking has been one of the hardest parts of my business, especially when it was in the early years. Networking is absolutely crucial to a successful business. Hmm.. maybe a future blog series is in DPS's future for how to network when you're not a naturally outgoing person? :)

  • mark omohundro March 5, 2012 07:15 pm

    This is a great post! Networking is absolutely essential! I run a small T-shirt printing company in Reno, NV and I do almost all of my work off of referrals. So I think what you have to say about networking in the photography field is awesome AND it definitely applies to many other creative arenas.

    Also, in your video you talked about networking with other people who are just starting. This is a great tip and I think it is totally necessary for success.

    Thank you for this insightful post!

  • Lara White March 5, 2012 08:27 am

    The best thing about networking is that you aren't wasting thousands of dollars on traditional advertising.

  • Kathie M Thomas March 5, 2012 07:25 am

    Great article. I've been running another business for 18 years (this month) and networking has been paramount in providing continued business over all those years. As I grow and develop my photography (new) business I'll be doing the same thing.... because I know it works and I already have networking foundations built.

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