This post is one in a series about how I went full time with my wedding photography business. Check out this first post before reading, and keep following along for continuing advice over the next few weeks!
Whether you realize it or not, everyone has networks. These networks are absolutely key to launching your wedding photography business. Knowing them and knowing how to take advantage of them is the difference between success and failure in your first few years and beyond.
First, I think it’s important to explain exactly what I mean by network. A network is a group of people who all share something in common and are therefore connected by it. When you think about “something in common” in your own life, it can be just about anyone you see or have seen in the past regularly – the people in your department at work, your sorority or fraternity, your graduating class from high school, even the staff at the salon where you get your hair cut. Because you are in this network together, it’s not completely weird or out of left-field to send them a message, friend request, follow them on Instagram, etc.
For me, my best networks are my hometown of Beaver, PA, my alma mater, Grove City College, my most recent workplace before going full-time, WeddingWire, and my church, McLean Presbyterian. These are four circles in which it’s completely natural for me to regularly seek out and foster relationships with potential clients.
Who do you think is more likely to hire you for your very first solo wedding photography gig: your best friend from high school’s sister who is on a budget, or a total stranger you found on Instagram? Networks are essential to launching a wedding photography business because these are the places that are best and easiest to get your first clients. Since you’re new to the industry, you’re far more likely to get a friend, acquaintance or co-worker to trust you for with their wedding photographs than you are a random stranger. Because they recognize you and hopefully have built some level of trust and confidence in you as a person, they may be more willing to hire you without seeing a strong portfolio or record of past weddings.
This is exactly how I launched in to shooting weddings on my own. The very first wedding I shot solo was my husband’s sister, Emily. Evan and I were engaged at the time, and the photographer Emily had initially hired didn’t do a great job with engagement photos. Seeing that they were on a budget and in a tight spot, I offered to step in for free. While they were definitely hesitant (I had never shot a wedding on my own!), they knew me well enough to know I’d work incredibly hard and put a ton of work into making it amazing.
The second wedding I booked was similar. A friend at my church had just proposed to his girlfriend, and I mentioned that I was trying to start a business. He definitely wasn’t interested in first and knew his girlfriend would have the final say. But, I had hung out with her a couple of times and had become good friends with her fiancé, who trusted me. Excited to include friends in the wedding day, they hired me for $1000.
An Opportunity to Pitch Your Business
Not only do you have pre-established trust, but you also have so many more opportunities to “pitch” to people in your networks. For example, if your co-worker gets engaged, it wouldn’t be that strange or unusual to casually mention that you are a wedding photographer. On the other hand, if you see a random stranger with an engagement ring on in Starbucks, it’s pretty freaking weird to start telling her about your new wedding photography business. Pitching your business to potential clients is a must when you’re first starting out (I talk about this more in my next post), so taking advantage of natural, organic moments is huge!
Within your network, you can and should be strategic about setting yourself up for conversations with potential clients. Watch your Facebook and Instagram feeds. Talk to your family and friends. Who recently got engaged? Do you follow them on social media? Have you commented or liked their proposal photo? Sometimes all it takes is a like or comment to remind people in your network that you are an option for their wedding.
“Word-of-mouth is the best way to book clients”
When I worked at WeddingWire selling advertising to wedding vendors, this is what almost all of the successful business owners told me – “I book all my clients word-of-mouth.” To me, it seemed like their way of saying they didn’t want to pay for advertising without having to tell me a flat-out “no.” Now that I have a success wedding photography business, I realize how truly essential word-of-mouth is to a business in the wedding industry.
Couples are more inclined to hire someone that a friend or family member recommends. If you’ve planned a wedding, you know this to be true. A personal recommendation from someone you trust has a trust-transfer effect. You trust your friend or family member, so therefore you trust the person he or she recommends. This sounds oversimplified, but I’ve experience it time and time again in the wedding industry and now, about 90% of my clients come from someone else I’ve worked with or know personally.
Use this truth to your advantage. If someone in your network is looking for a wedding photographer, they might just trust you more than the photographer down the street who has owned a business for 5 years. Why? Because they’ve met you! They know that you worked hard in high school, college or at work. They know that you’re kind, generous and funny. They’re comfortable around you. Most importantly, they know they you’ll take the job of photographing their wedding incredibly seriously.
By now, I think I’ve drilled in the point: networks are essential to booking your first weddings! But, guess what? If no one in your network knows that you photograph weddings, then no one is going to hire you! Don’t be afraid to TELL PEOPLE what you are doing. Your network will likely be surprisingly accepting and interested in what you’re doing, which will give you more and more opportunities to talk about your work and pitch your service. Don’t be ashamed or shy about it just because you are new, but instead be open and willing to share your passion with the people you know (to learn more about how to be confident, check out this post)!