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The wedding industry generates over $50 billion annually from more than 2 million weddings in the U.S., according to The Wedding Report.
Of course, there’s a flood of competition for all that potential profit, especially in an uncertain economy. Because of the increasingly low cost of entry for getting into the photography business, you’re competing with talented college graduates who seriously underprice their services, not to mention “shoot and burn” photographers on Craigslist and “Uncle Bob” amateurs.
Add in the long-lasting impact of the Great Recession on wedding couples who’ve become more budget conscious, and the price shoppers are coming out of the woodwork. It can seem almost impossible to compete without slashing your prices down to the bare bones.
Yet some wedding photographers are still thriving — charging prices that are well above average, doing the work they love and getting handsomely rewarded for it. What are the most successful wedding photographers doing today that keeps them on top of the competition?
It turns out that successful photographers share specific traits in common. And you can follow in their footsteps. Below I reveal three of the eight secrets of successful wedding photographers and the strategies you can steal from them.
Secret #1 – Have specific goals and meticulously track your numbers to stay on target
Something almost magical happens when you set a goal: It plants what you want firmly in your brain. This isn’t some mystical phenomenon; having a goal immediately recruits your conscious and unconscious mind, which goes to work scheming and plotting on how to make the goal a reality.
When you create a goal and remind yourself of it every day, it’s literally top of mind. You’ll start to see, hear and meet the very people and opportunities you need in order to create what you want.
The more specific you are when describing your goals, the more likely you are to hit them and the more real they become. Just like shooting arrows at a target, the goal guides everything you do.
Successful wedding photographers know that you must have very specific, measurable goals in order to hit them.
Here are a few revealing statistics about goals:
- 80% of people NEVER set goals for themselves.
- Of the 20% who do set goals, 70% fail to reach them.
- Out of that 20% who write down their goals, only 20% revisit them. They simply write them down, tuck them away, and never think about them again.
It’s been proven that writing down your goals significantly increases your chances of achieving them. (Dominican University study)
Know Your Numbers
“What is your ideal goal for your wedding photography business?”
Most photographers give a vague answer to this question, at best. They want to “book more weddings” or “make more money.” But your brain deals best in specific, measurable goals. After all, booking just one more wedding or adding $1 to your income would technically be more than what you have right now.
Successful photographers know exactly how much money they need to make and they meticulously track their leads, bookings and sales to stay on course.
Identify these numbers:
- How much income does your business need to make this year?
- What is the average income you make from a wedding?
- How many meetings do you need to have to book one wedding?
- How many leads (emails, bridal shows, calls) do you need to set one meeting?
Once you know these numbers, you can reverse engineer exactly how many leads and meetings you need in order to hit your income goal.
- Write down your ideal income goal for this year.
- How many weddings do you need to book to meet this goal? Write that number down.
- Print out your goals and post them where you will see them every day.
Secret #2 – Have a very specific niche with few or no competitors
The average bride or groom is bombarded with an average of 3,000 to 5,000 advertising messages each day. As a result, people are very skilled at blocking out advertising that isn’t memorable.
For your advertising message to stand out in the tsunami of advertising offers out there already, yours must specifically target exactly what your ideal client is looking for right now. Your message has to be clear, targeted and magnetic for the people you’re trying to attract.
Smart wedding photographers stand out from the competition by NOT competing with them. They become the only authoritative source in their niche market by creating a situation in which they literally have no competitors. They do this by specializing.
When you specialize, you instantly stand out from the herd with a message that’s irresistible to the exact brides and grooms you are trying to attract.
Most wedding photographers try to make their message as broad and universal as possible, figuring that if they appeal to a larger potential market they’ll get more leads and more available jobs. While this seems to make sense, becoming a one-size-fits-all photographer actually makes them more generic, and they end up looking exactly like their competitors.
When a bride has to choose between you or the next guy, if she can’t tell the difference she’s going to go with the cheapest option.
If your wedding business is generic — if you try to appeal to everyone — your message is watered down and weak. You look just like everyone else and you will be forced to compete on price.
On the other hand, when you choose a niche you have a built-in specialty. You stand out immediately from the competition and you can charge more.
Niche-ify to Rich-ify
What actually attracts more leads is counterintuitive. You’ll make more money and attract more customers by narrowing your focus. Successful wedding photographers clearly communicate the specific, targeted market they work with, and in doing so their message becomes much more powerful.
Here are a few examples of wedding niches you could specialize in:
- STYLE – Offbeat, rustic, vintage, do-it-yourself
- BUDGET – Celebrity, designer, economy
- RELIGIOUS – Jewish, Catholic, Wiccan, Interfaith
- SPECIAL INTEREST – Eco-friendly, vegan/vegetarian
- DEMOGRAPHICS – Encore Weddings, Over 40, Ethnic groups, Same sex weddings
- CULTURAL – Indian, Interracial, Latin, Greek
The most successful wedding businesses are specialists. Martha Stewart serves the crafty, do-it-yourself wedding niche. David’s Bridal specializes in the budget wedding niche, offering cheap gown options, while Vera Wang serves the couture niche and offers dresses with astronomical price tags.
Your specialty should be the happy union of the work you’re passionate about and a need in the market that your competition isn’t meeting.
How to Identify Your Profitable Niche
- Research your market. Visit bridal chat rooms, Facebook groups and forums. Survey real brides and grooms. What are couples asking for that they can’t find? What cultural or interest groups are prominent in your market?
- Research your competition. What services and specialties do they offer? What can you specialize in that no one else is doing?
- Brainstorm 10 specific things that are completely unique about who you are and what you do. Your specialty is in there somewhere.
If you don’t know what makes you different from your competitors, brides and grooms don’t either.
Secret #3 – Create a constant stream of leads from multiple sources
Ever hear the expression, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket?” This cliche is never more true than when it comes to generating leads for your business.
If all your leads are coming from only one or two sources, what happens if that lead source dries up? You dry up, too.
Successful wedding photographers have at least five solid sources of high-quality, targeted leads. This way, if something happens to one of them it doesn’t kill their business. They’ll still have enough leads coming in that they can adjust and survive.
Most wedding photographers put all their eggs in one basket. Like a friend of ours who gets nearly all her leads from the overflow of another successful photography company. We keep warning her, “What happens if and when they stop sending you referrals? You have to find other sources of leads.” She’s a disaster waiting to happen.
You should not rely on any one lead source for more than 50% of your leads. The more diverse you are — getting leads from the Internet, advertising, bridal shows or other vendor referrals — the more easily you can weather the inevitable changes in the economy.
Fast Strategies For More Leads
Your mission is to create multiple streams of high quality leads. The quickest way to get more leads is to make friends with the people who have referrals to give out. It’s a time investment that will yield dividends for years when you cultivate the right relationships.
Most wedding photographers focus on targeting brides. They end up attending bridal shows and placing ads on wedding websites even though they are in direct competition with everyone else in their local market.
Going to a bridal show may put in you contact with 100 or 200 brides. Going to a networking event, on the other hand, puts you in front of people who each have contact with that many brides.
Marketing to other wedding vendors is far more effective. Successful wedding photographers cultivate powerful relationships with other wedding vendors to generate a stream of warm referrals that keeps on giving.
Get Social to Get Business
- Reconnect with ALL your wedding vendor friends. Invite everyone you know in the wedding business out to lunch, or better yet, buy them lunch. Out of sight is out of mind, so remind them you’re open for more business.
- Attend local meetings for wedding professionals. Find out where wedding vendors are gathering and be there. Establishing even one referral relationship will make you thousands of dollars, so go where the vendors are.
- Spend 15 minutes each day on Facebook. Why Facebook? Brides and wedding vendors are there. “Like” the pages of other wedding vendors, comment and share their posts. Getting social online is another way to get visible and get leads.
The Power Lunch Strategy
Partnerships inside the wedding business are the most powerful marketing you can get. Use the Power Lunch Strategy to take your networking to the next level and find yourself a mentor who will pave the way to success.
When we first started our wedding business back in 2000, we were working 12 hours shifts and struggling to find ways to fill the $500 deficit we had every month. We didn’t have any experience or connections in the business. But thankfully, we did have my husband Jeff’s big mouth.
He told everyone about our big idea to start a DJ business, and one of our co-workers, suggested, “Call up DJ Joe. He’s so good, he did both my weddings!”
Long story short, we met with Joe and hit it off. He let us shadow him on the job for free and taught us everything he knew about weddings.
After we worked six weddings with him, Joe announced, “You’re ready to do it on your own. I’m going to start sending you referrals.”
The next day, the phone started ringing and our business was born.
This is a technique we now call “The Power Lunch.” This can work for anyone, whether you’re brand new or if you’ve been in business for 20 years.
The Power Lunch Recipe
- Identify 5 respected wedding professionals in your local area who work with your ideal clients.
- Contact these individuals by phone — not email — and ask them to lunch. Get an introduction if you can.
- Pay for their lunch and specifically ask for their help and advice. Listen to them and share resources, ideas and strategies with them in return, if possible.
- After your lunch, follow up. Send them a thank you gift or postcard or a link to an article or resource about something you discussed. Keep the relationship going.
The Power Lunch works so well for several reasons. First, people love to talk about themselves, especially when it comes to sharing something they know.
Second, asking “Can you help me?” kicks in a response that is psychologically ingrained in humans. People will want to lend a hand.
Third, when you pay for their lunch, it triggers the Reciprocity Principle of influence and creates pressure for them to do something nice for you in return, such as sending you a referral.
More than likely, only one of the five people you reach out to will actually set a lunch date with you. But you don’t need all five. You only need to find one person who loves to help others and enjoys being a mentor.
This person should already have a well-established business. So don’t be surprised if this person continues to send you referrals for as long as you maintain the friendship.
Read the Ultimate Guide to Photography Networking for more ideas.
The Biggest Source of Leads Most Pros Miss
Think about how many website visitors you get each day. Now compare that number to how many leads you get from your website each day.
The second number is probably a lot smaller.
The biggest untapped source of leads for most wedding photographers is their website. While 50% of your visitors are not qualified leads (these are competitors, staff or people who aren’t searching for your services) that leaves a full 50% that are ripe for the picking.
Most wedding photographers rely on pretty pictures to get those website visitors to take action. “If they’re interested, they’ll contact me,” photographers commonly believe.
Wrong. Most website visitors land on your website, take a peek and leave, never to return. This is because they aren’t at the buying stage yet. Check your website analytics for proof this is true.
The Call to Act
What action do you want visitors to take when they land on your site? Most likely you want them to contact you. You need to tell them exactly what to do. This is a known as a “call to action.”
Make it big and bold. Put that call to action on the top of every page of your website so that it’s crystal clear exactly what you want them to do. A call to action can increase your leads immediately as much as 50% depending on how good your offer is.
Having your phone number, a contact button and the words “Contact me!” in bold font is good. Giving them a reason to call you makes it even better. Don’t offer a “free no obligation consultation,” because every bride knows that is code for a sales pitch.
Call to Action Inspiration
- Offer them a free informational report or video tutorial.
- Provide a checklist or list of resources they can download.
- Give each couple who meets with you a $20 gift certificate to pay for gas.
Tell them exactly what to do when they land on your website and why they should do it. Otherwise, you may lose those website visitors forever.
Read 3 Sources of Website Traffic for more ideas.
- Write down the names of ALL your wedding contacts.
- Call/email/mail/visit them.
- Book a reminder on your calendar and make a regular habit of checking in.
Let’s recap the main points we’ve covered.
Successful wedding photographers have specific goals and know the number of weddings, meetings and leads they need in order to achieve their targets. Start tracking these success numbers in your business today to increase your leads and your profits.
Successful wedding photographers have little or no competition. Specialize in a particular niche within the wedding market to increase the power of your marketing message and attract more of your ideal clients. By specializing, you’ll be able to charge a higher price.
Successful wedding photographers have multiple streams of leads. Cultivate relationships with other wedding vendors to develop multiple sources of leads that keep on giving. Add a strong “call to action” to your website to capture more of your website visitors.
10 Fatal Mistakes That Lead to Lost Bookings
Want to book more weddings?
Watch this free video, “10 Fatal Follow Up Mistakes,” to learn how to avoid the mistakes that mean you are losing money.