March 25, 2015

Pancake Session: How to Network with Vendors

I think one of the hardest (and most frustrating) things when you’re first getting started with your business is how to get more of something when you haven’t really started yet. Sure, take great care of your brides, love on them with gifts, and give them a great experience…but what if you haven’t booked any brides of your own yet? Sure, send a thank you gift to that other photographer when they send you a referral that books you a job…but what if you aren’t getting any referrals from other photographers yet? And finally sure, get your vendors images and send them thank you notes for being wonderful to work with…but what if you haven’t worked with any vendors yet? How do you get started when no one will even give you a chance yet? That’s what we want to talk about today!

Even though it might not feel like it, there are a lot of things that you can do to network with your vendors even before you’ve ever gotten the chance to work with them. And for that to make sense, first I have to tell you my favorite definition of networking I’ve ever heard. Having gone to law school before taking up wedding photography, I was used to the kind of networking where you rubbed elbows with people (why do you think law students wear jackets with elbow patches on them??) and scratched each other’s backs to get ahead. So naturally, I hated the idea of networking. It felt fake to me and and unfortunately for me I’m fake-intolerant. (kind of like lactose :) That was, until I heard this definition and it changed everything: Networking is helping the greatest number of people you can without regard for what they can do for you. Boom. Mic Drop. Walk Away.

So if that becomes our definition- finding ways where WE help other creatives even if they aren’t sending us weddings yet- now the options open right up! Here are a few of our favorites!

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1. Everyone needs photos. You might not realize it yet but just by this very thing you do, you have something that everyone needs. Maybe that baker needs new head shots. Maybe that florist doesn’t have any pictures with her family since her daughter was born. Maybe that planner never gets any photos of her in action behind the scenes (that she would really love to be able to share on Instagram) because the photographer is always at the ceremony while she’s setting up. Offer to go along and capture behind the scenes photos. Go into a florist’s studio and photograph her assembling bouquets. Offer to do head shots and family shoots for vendors in your area that you would love to work with. And do it all for free. Yes, FREE. This is not a business transaction, it’s a gift. And gifts given with a pure heart always come back around in spades.

2. Be the hub. Rather than asking an individual planner out to lunch to “pick her brain” (how unfortunate is that saying by the way? It just sounds painful!), which will make her feel put on the spot and like someone is going to be a “taker” with her all through lunch….instead, organize a “ladies night” or “industry tapas night” where you invite 5 or 6 people to get together. That way, it won’t make any one of them feel like they are being put on the spot, and the social aspect will make them actually want to be there. It’s margarita night or champagne at the Four Seasons! Who wouldn’t want to come! And now you’re the hub who brings people together.

3. Invest in them as people. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram and start paying attention. Remember that these are real people behind their business, just like you are. And real people have birthdays. They move into new houses. They get married. They have babies. Celebrate those milestones with them! Send gifts! And also, pay attention to how you can be a help to them as people as well. Are they moving? Offer to come carry boxes. Do they need a recommendation for something? Offer one. And see if you can also make a connection for them to someone who can help. The more you see them as people and not a business, the less you’ll think of them as just someone who can do something for you. And the more likely a real friendship will develop. Because like one of my favorite quotes ever says “All things being equal, people will work with their friends. All things not being equal, people will still try to work with their friends!” That’s because people want to work with people they can trust. And we trust people who care about us.

4. Don’t just send them your photos. We hear about this all the time from our vendor friends and we see it a lot in the photographers who email us. Sending someone your website and asking them to review it without ever investing anything else in the relationship is a “taker” move. Even if you didn’t mean it that way at all (I’m sure people don’t!), it still comes off that way. It just feels like more work for the planner and it also feels pushy. Her looking at your work should either be something that just happens organically (she stumbles upon it on her own) OR it should be one of the last things that happens in you building that relationship. And it should come about because she connected with you so much as a person that she just couldn’t resist looking up your work when she got home! From margarita night…obviously!

5. The same is true for styled shoots. Generally speaking, you don’t want to jump right to the styled shoot pitch if a planner or vendor doesn’t know you or your reputation yet. The fact is, styled shoots are incredibly expensive and a huge time commitment for a vendor to get on board with. There’s rentals costs, floral costs, paper, and just all the time it takes for them to put it together. As photographers, we just get to show up for something like that and shoot all the pretty. It’s amazing! :) So just remember all the hard work that goes into something like that, and lay a lot of groundwork building a relationship before you ever pitch an idea for a styled shoot and ask that much of somebody!

6. Seven Touches. Finally, let me be clear. I’m not advising that you start touching  your vendors in order to network with them! Lol, that would be super inappropriate. What I’m referencing here is a pretty common marketing principle called “the seven touches,” which essentially says that people will need seven touch points or interactions with a business before they are sold on them. It’s human nature. We need to hear things a few times before we take notice. The same is true with getting yourself in front of vendors. My point is that it may take a few a tries before it sticks. Be patient. Keep at it. You’ll get there. And when you do, you’ll hopefully have some new Vendors Turned Friends for life!

As always, we hope this helped!! If you want to check out all of our other “Pancake Sessions” FAQs for photographers you can find those by clicking HERE!

xo M:)

  1. Lorin Fairweather

    SO helpful, Mary! Thank you for being a giver & sharing some of your business insight & relational wisdom with us :)

  2. stacie shea

    i heart you and this post! So incredibly true and from the heart.

    Ps- all my years of stalking you guys paid off by this advice :)

  3. Tiffany

    I can’t tell you how much I’ve been struggling with this and how much I needed to read this post. Thanks!

  4. Lindsey LaRue

    Love this! Now I’m off to go try a few of them!

  5. Jessica

    This post tickled me pink … I love your idea of genuine, down to Earth gatherings over a cocktail … people getting to know PEOPLE … What’s better a way to get to know one another anyway?! ;) Thanks for your ever-articulate insights.

  6. Shalese

    Such great tips! It’s always a good reminder that it’s ok to be the first to reach out and TRY to build a relationship. :)

  7. David Abel

    I love the tip about investing in them as people first. I’ve always found this to be the best way to get cozy with a vendor!

  8. Tatyana

    Love these tips! Thanks for sharing :)

  9. Stephen

    Good read – thanks for the refresher!

  10. Lindsay

    This was exactly the push I needed. Thank you so much for your (always) helpful and genuine advice j+m :) I’m a just-getting-started photographer and I’m ready to take the next steps to start increasing my bookings for 2015!!

    One question … If you offer to do free images for a vendor to use on their website, do you ask that they give you credit for the images online? How should we present something like that to a vendor? I’m worried that the “you have to give me credit” part of the deal might turn some people off ….

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