Networking is one of the best things you can do for your business. Period. People do business with people. Networking is a low-cost way to market your photography business, and if you put your heart (and brain) into it, your effort will pay off in spades. Many, many different methods of marketing have been tried, and networking is one of the very best — especially if you are trying to break in to the high-end market. Success won’t happen overnight, though; you have to take the time to build relationships with people.
The most important thing to remember about networking is that you have to make a genuine effort to meet people and get to know them. Simply showing up isn’t enough. Another no-no is shoving your portfolio in someone’s face while the person is enjoying a martini. Have a plan for what you want to accomplish and then take action. You likely will have to walk up to strangers and introduce yourself or ask friends for introductions.
If your marketing plan is focused on cultivating relationships with vendors, networking is a must. Consider attending a networking event. If you don’t have much business yet, it could be six months or longer before you have the opportunity to work with other professionals. Why not get started now with networking? It’s the foundation upon which you will build successful relationships and partnerships with vendors. This fantastic marketing strategy for new photographers is effective and doesn’t cost much.
Where to Network
If you are new to the industry, you might not know where to find networking events. The good news is they’re fairly easy to find if you live and work in a metropolitan area. If you live farther away from a big city, you may need to commute a bit. Here are some ideas for where and how you can find great networking opportunities that are nearby.
- MeetUp — search MeetUp.com for industry get-togethers
- Chamber of Commerce
- Local business owner groups
- Local artist groups
- Local Professional Photographers of America (PPA) groups
- Local SmugMug groups
- Local Pug (Pictage user) groups
- Event and bridal magazines — get on their lists for invitations to their events
Bridal shows are fantastic for networking with other wedding vendors, particularly if you are new to the industry. You don’t have to have a booth. Simply attend the show and introduce yourself to the vendors that have booths and offer them your business card. Let them know you stopped by because you want to get to know local wedding professionals. Since they are displaying their business, keep the focus on them. If they seem open to conversation, spend time admiring their work and chatting. The best time for networking is during the fashion shows, when the booths are mostly empty. Be sure to step out of the way when an interested bride comes along. Also be careful that you don’t approach brides at the show, as this is considered unethical and you even could be asked to leave.
Event booths are a great place to stop and meet a wedding professional.
How to Network
Step 1: Prepare
Be sure you have a good supply of business cards and a couple of brochures with you. Figure out some business highlights (such as recent press, an interesting event or shoot you’ve recently photographed, or a conference you attended) that you can share when someone asks you about your company. Pick out clothing that makes a great first impression. Styles vary by region and group, so select something you might wear to a client consultation.
Step 2: Plan
What do you want to accomplish at this event? Set goals for yourself, such as meeting five new people or three planners. If there is an RSVP list available, you should review it prior to the event so you know who will be attending and who you want to greet.
Step 3: Attend an Event
This one is simple but can be difficult for many people. Walk right up to a stranger and introduce yourself when you’re at a networking event. That’s why you’re there in the first place. Don’t waste a great opportunity by standing around. Be confident and friendly; even if you are new to the industry, it doesn’t mean you fell off the turnip truck, as the saying goes. You have insight and experience from other fields, so take advantage of what you already now.
Be careful not to come off as too pushy. Avoid shoving your portfolio in people’s faces. And don’t focus the conversation too much on what you do; be sure to ask people you meet to tell you about their business, and ask intelligent questions. People love to talk about themselves! You never know what you might have in common that could lead to a business relationship.
Step 4: Follow Up
After the event is over, don’t forget to follow up with the new people you met in your industry. You can do nothing and hope to see them again in four months at the next event (and hopefully remember their names). Or you can follow up immediately and put in the time and effort to develop a new relationship. Here are some options for following up with a new contact:
- Call them the next day to invite them for after-work drinks or lunch.
- Send them a handwritten note with your brochure, letting them know you enjoyed meeting them and look forward to working with them in the future.
- Email a note inviting them out to lunch or drinks in the near future.
Yes, reaching out and contacting someone you’ve recently met via phone or email can be scary. What’s the worst that can happen? They say no or ignore your email. You’ve lost nothing. It’s that simple.
New photographers should try to network with new event vendors, such as planners and floral designers. Unlike seasoned pros, newbies will be more willing to give you time and attention simply because they are in the same boat as you. Understand that established industry professionals are busiest during the height of wedding season (May–October in many places), so be courteous of their time. Don’t take it personally if they don’t get back to you right away.
Think of other newbies as part of your graduating class. It’s a great opportunity to build relationships with your peers, and three or four years later you will have grown up together in the business. These kinds of people can become your fiercest advocates, your close friends and your colleagues. If you align yourself with industry professionals who are as ambitious and hungry for business as you are, over time those relationships might blossom into incredible partnerships.
Done right, networking is a great tool that can grow your business. But if you are shy and nervous and don’t talk to anyone at events, networking can be a waste of time. Networking is going to be a much slower process if you don’t actively follow up with contacts after meeting them. Remember, you aren’t going to these events to kill time and have some cocktails; this is a serious marketing strategy that can grow your business and turn first-time contacts into long-time business relationships.
Plan for Success
- Set goals for the event — e.g., “meet two new planners.”
- Review the RSVP list to make note of who you want to connect with.
- Consider some talking points (toot your horn).
- Have a glass of wine if it helps to relax, but don’t overdo it.
- Do you know many people here?
- What’s been your favorite wedding or event you’ve worked on so far?
- What other events are you attending?
- How long have you been in the industry?
Networking Tips for Connecting with Wedding Vendor
Ask a planner to keep you in the loop about networking opportunities. Planners get invited to ALL the events and are often willing to pass along invites if you ask. When you are at an event, ask people what other events they are planning to go to during the next few weeks. This is a natural subject to talk about and you likely will learn about upcoming events you might not otherwise hear about.
1. Wear something unique that will help you stand out from the crowd. A friend of mine always wears bright yellow, as that is her signature color (and the color of her logo). She stands out in a sea of black.
2. Expect to invest 6 to 12 months networking before you get to know people and start feeling comfortable. Initially you should attend as many events as you can. Some of them will be great; others will be duds. Eventually you’ll feel like certain groups are more of a match for you, and then you can become more selective about which ones you attend. As I’ve emphasized repeatedly, it will take time to grow these relationships — but you must plant the seeds first.
3. Set a goal to meet three new people who will help you grow your business. Simply walk over and introduce yourself to someone. I always think of myself as “helping out” another shy person, and I’ve made some great connections this way. If there’s an online RSVP list, I’ll review the list prior to the event to see who’s coming and whether there’s anyone who I specifically want to meet. Avoid falling into the trap of hanging out with the same people all the time. We tend to gravitate toward the familiar, but you need to meet new people if you’re going to achieve your goals.
4. Create a follow-up plan after each event. Take notes on who you met and any other details you can remember. The next day, send an email saying you enjoyed meeting them. You also might want to mail them a promo packet if the contact seemed like a good match. Invite them to be friends on Facebook. If you’ve worked together in the past, offer to send them images.
5. After-parties. Often people will go out for drinks or lunch together after the event. This is where the best networking happens, so take advantage of these opportunities. Take it a step further by initiating this yourself.
6. If you have a photography brochure, keep a small stash in your car for when the need arises. I purposely carry a larger-size purse at networking events for holding a few brochures. I don’t hand them out to everyone, but I will if it seems like a good connection.
7. For organized events where there is a speaker or presentation, the best (and often only) networking time is the first 30 minutes, so be sure to be on time to maximize the opportunity.
8. The very best networking is at the exclusive invite-only events. These are smaller and more intimate, and often they’re celebrations or grand openings for a studio or the like. In order to be invited to these, you have to expand your network. Attend as many events as you can and talk with people, and eventually you will start getting invites to the private events.
9. Wedding magazine parties. Magazines often have yearly parties for advertisers or potential advertisers, so be sure to get yourself on these invite lists — be persistent and submit to them often. These annual events are great for building relationships with magazine editors. It can take a couple of times, but eventually they will remember you.
10. Bridal fairs are a great place for networking, and the best time is during the fashion show. All you have to do is walk around and introduce yourself. It’s pretty easy, and the vendors usually are open to chatting because they are bored during the fashion show. If you’re looking to break into the high-end wedding scene, the best thing you can do is attend the high-end bridal fairs. Not only will you get to see what high-end looks like in your market, but you also will have the chance to mix and mingle, see upcoming trends, and more. Many vendors attend the high-end bridal fairs simply for the networking opportunities. Frequently they get together after the show for drinks and dinner. Make it happen by inviting another vendor or two to join you after the show.
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The average photographer wastes a fortune on ineffective marketing, and in the process mistakenly ignores networking — the one strategy that’s been proven to generate up to 75% of income. We all network, but few do it effectively. “Get Connected” reveals the many tools available to a photographer for building relationships, increasing awareness and achieving a thriving business.
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Photo credit: Geoff White Photographers