How to Build Relationships to Get More Photography Clients
So you’re trying to make a go of it as a freelance photographer. Maybe you are just looking for a few paid gigs on the side, or perhaps you really want to go pro. But the problem is actual paying gigs are still few and far between, even though you’ve tried everything.
So what should you do? Well, I have some good news – it may not be your photography. In fact, you may be an excellent photographer. But here’s the rub: being a successful freelance photographer takes more than artistic skills and technical knowledge. It takes something most photographers would rather not acknowledge is important.
Hang tight, because what I’m about to say may shock you.
Successful Photographers Know the Value of Relationships
Really successful photographers are good at developing relationships. That’s right, I said it. You need to focus on relationships. (I realize this is a photography blog so you can burn me for witchcraft now.)
You need to build the right relationships with key individuals who can help you to achieve your freelance dreams.
Now, this may not sit well with you, especially if you consider yourself a little shy. But the good news is you don’t need to be the life of the party to be good at developing key relationship to support your freelance work.
You just need to have some discipline and focus your energies in the right direction.
How Cultivating Relationships Can Support Your Freelance Photography Career
There are many ways in which cultivating and maintaining key relationships can help your freelance career. For example:
- Clients like to hire service professionals they already know, like and trust.
- According to public opinion surveys, 45 percent of people find work through other people. Thus, keeping in touch with a wide network is crucially important for landing gigs.
- By keeping in touch with editors, publishers and clients, you’ll be top of mind when new gigs come up.
- You may find out about photography gigs and projects that are not advertised.
Now, let’s turn to how you can be proactive about identifying the people who you want to establish relationships with and then go about nurturing relationships with them.
How to Establish and Nurture Relationships to Grow Your Freelance Photography Career
Below, I have laid out five specific steps you can take to start establishing, and building relationships that will help your freelance photography career.
1. Create a list of key relationships
One of the biggest mistakes I see aspiring freelance photographers make, is they fail to think in advance about the types of people they need to be meeting and getting to know better. In other words, they let their relationships evolve naturally and organically. That works well for friendships, but it’s a poor strategy for if you want to make a living using your photography skills.
A much better approach is to sit down and proactively make up a list of at least 50 people who you want to develop a deeper relationship with over the next 12 months. I call this list your “Conversations List” because that’s really all you’re aiming to do – to have an ongoing conversation with people who matter.
Who do you include on this list? Well, picture yourself five years from now as a famous and in-demand photographer. Who is in your ideal circle of contacts? Who are the photographers, editors, agents, publishers or bloggers who you’d like to count as friends and peers five years from now?
Whoever you picture being in this group, write them down. These are the people who you are going to focus on getting to know better.
2. Choose your relationship-building tools
Once you’ve identified who you want to focus on getting to know, the second step is to decide on what tools you plan to use to develop and nurture relationships. These tools may include:
- Lunches and coffee meetings. One of the best sources of getting new gigs is the simplest. Invite a person off the list you created in Step 1 to lunch or coffee. Get to know one another. Repeat.
- Interviews. I am a huge fan of using interviews to develop relationships. For example, dPS’s own managing editor Darlene Hildebrandt and I got to know one another better when I interviewed her for my podcast and when she interviewed me on photography and the law. You also generate useful content that can lead to new clients finding you.
- Business meetings. There may be local business community meetings (such as Chamber of Commerce meetings) that present a good opportunity for you to meet and connect with others.
- Industry Conferences. You should identify conferences where you can meet and get to know people from the list you created in Step 1.
Next, let’s talk about your mentality as you do begin to reach out to others.
3. Give to others long before you ask for anything
Steps 1 and 2 are critical, but may not be as important as Step number 3, which is to provide value to others before asking for anything for yourself.
Dr. Ivan Misner, the founder of BNI (Business Network International) says you need to make deposits into the relationship bank before you can make withdrawals. In other words, you need to help others before you can ask for help for yourself.
Too often, people try to make withdrawals before they’ve made any deposits. They ask before they give. That’s a recipe for failure. What you “give” of value doesn’t need to be big. It can be simple suggestions or recommendations of a restaurant to try or a new TV show.
For example, let’s say you manage to get to know an editor at a publication or website which just purchased some of your photos. You want to sell them more photos in the future.
You should try hard to learn as much about that editor as you can, so you can be as helpful to him or her as possible. In other words, be human and be useful, helpful and giving. As a result, the editor will have a positive feelings for you because you were so giving, and they will be more likely to want to work with you again.
4. Create an easy follow-up system
So far, we’ve identified who you are going to connect with, talked about the tools you are going to use to connect with them, and discussed a philosophy of giving value first.
Now, the challenge is to keep it up over time. If you want your connections to think of you first when a freelance gig comes up, then you need to always be “top of mind” with that connection. And to be “top of mind,” you need to have a good system for following up.
What does that entail? A follow-up system is simply a dedicated means for checking in with people in your network.
You can create a manual follow up system, or put reminders on your calendar, but neither works well. I suggest using a simple CRM (customer relation management) system such as Insightly or SugarCRM. I use a system called Contactually. Whatever system you use, following up is an excellent way to manage your relationships, particularly with people you do not see often.
5. Revisit and revise your conversation lists annually
Around once a year, revisit your Conversation Lists and determine who you should cut out and who you should add. You will naturally meet new people over time. You may decide that certain people on your list are not a good fit for you. And you may even decide to take your photography career in a different direction. These are all perfectly fine.
By revisiting and updating your lists annually, you can make sure you are developing and nurturing the right relationships, proactively, to support your photography career.
Now get out there and start meeting people
Now it’s time to put these ideas to work. The last thing I want you to do after reading this far is to give up now without acting on what you’ve learned.
So sit down and write out your list of the 50 people who you want to get to know better. Then use your chosen relationship-building tools to start developing relationships with them. And have some fun.
How do you nurture relationships to support your freelance photography career? Share your tips in the comments!