September 15, 2011

Pancake Session: Getting Networked with Other Vendors

Welcome back for another installment of piping hot pancakes!

Today’s post was inspired by Anne, who wrote in and basically asked, “Ok, so how do you get networked with other people in the industry when you’re just getting started and haven’t gotten the chance to work with any of them yet? When it seems like everyone else already has their preferred people they like to work with and nobody wants to talk to you?” In other words, it can feel like this very hard cycle to break into. Planners, locations, coordinators, all want to refer people they’ve worked with before because they know they can trust them to do a good job. And they know that job is a direct reflection on them. So that part is totally understandable. But the question is if you haven’t already worked with them to get on that preferred list, then how are you ever supposed to get the chance to work with them and thereby prove what you know you capable of doing? How do you get anyone to just give you that chance?

And ohhhh do I totally get that.

The first networking event Justin & I ever went to, we stood off in the corner pretending to have incredibly interesting things to say. To. each. other. We plastered perma-smiles across our faces and gestured emphatically with our hands channeling Mr. George Bush talking about his thousand points of light. But through gritted teeth and barely moving lips we were really saying things like “seriously, how soon can we get out of here??” We didn’t know anybody. And meanwhile, it seemed like everyone else in the room had been best friends since kindergarten. Like they might have honestly swapped pudding packs at some point in their lives. And while they were all squealing and hugging and talking about whichever high-end, over the top, Kim Kardashian herself would be jealous of wedding they had just worked on together, I sank deeper into the corner next to the mini quiches as this one thought hit me like a Mack truck.

We are never going to get there.

But of course, time marches on and eventually we did find our groove and some really awesome people that we love working with. People that I would totally swap pudding packs with now if they asked me. But I also know “it just takes time” and “you’ll find your way” is about the last thing you want to hear when you’re trying to make things happen now. So instead, I’ve put together my top 5 tips for getting networked with other wedding creatives when you’re just getting started. We’ll start with these and take it from there!

1. Do your research.

When it comes to your network, I firmly believe quality over quantity is always the way to go. But I think when we’re just getting started, it can become very tempting to just get your name out there and align with anyone who will listen. But just in the same way that the work that we do is a reflection on the people recommending us, the people we allow into our network are a direct reflection on us. In several of his books, John Maxwell talks about the power of your “Inner Circle” and the determining factor it has on the person that you become and the quality of work that you’re ultimately able to succeed in doing. So before you allow someone into that circle, take the time to find out what they actually stand for. How do they conduct themselves and the business they’re running? Do they act like a professional? Or are they hopping on their blogs and every social media outlet out there bashing their clients or other industry people, talking about flaking on jobs, or sharing stories and information that should have been kept private between them and their couples? Believe me, those are not the kind of people you should waste any time trying to please. Hold out for the people who hold themselves to a higher standard. Because those are the people who will push you to be better too.

2. How can YOU help them?

Coming from the law school background, I pretty much hated the word “networking.” Any time I heard it, the only thing I could think of was this vision of rubbing elbows and swapping business cards and you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. It was icky. That was until I came across this definition that I liked much better. It said “networking is thinking of how you can do the most good for someone else without regard for what they can do for you.” I love that. Because it changes everything. It shifts the whole dynamic. And as soon as you’re not approaching a planner or florist because of something you want from her, I believe you’ll be able to reach out to them much more confidently and without any weirdness getting in the way. Because you know it’s coming from a good place. And that’s when you can start to make a real connection.

3. Ok, so now go do it.

Once you’ve started thinking about networking that way, now go out and put it into action. What are some concrete ways you could help that planner, florist, paperie, etc? Here are just a few to get you started: 1) are they moving spaces? offer to carry boxes. stay til it’s done. bring cupcakes. 2) did they just have a baby? Offer to do a shoot. Send them a box full of prints. 3) Did you notice on the website that their headshot is from 1985? Offer to take a new one. Connect her with that makeup artist you just did a baby shoot for. 4) We got this gem of an idea from Miss Sarah True when she spoke on our 2.0 panel. She said that in the same way photographers like to have video or images of them shooting, planners and florists are dying for shots of them in action setting up at weddings. But usually that’s happening at the same time that the main photographer is shooting the ceremony or couple portraits. So offer to go with them that day and shoot some behind the scenes shots that they can put on their website. Genius.

4. Just ask.

I think sometimes we get it in our heads that no one wants to talk to us, when it might just be that we haven’t reached out yet. And I’m just as guilty of that as anyone. I’ve heard a lot of photographers say that they’re afraid if they write and offer to take a planner out to lunch, that the planner will just think they want something from them and shoot them down. So I asked our 2.0 panel what they thought about that. If they would go out to lunch with a brand new photographer if they wrote and offered to take them. And across the board the answer was yes. Huh, sometimes it really is that easy. Who knew??

5. Once you get the chance to work with them, prove what you were set out to prove.

Do a really good job. Make sure to get lots of pictures of the details and the hard work the planner/florist/caterer put in. Work with the timeline to make sure that happens. Then get them the images. Free of charge. High res. Un-watermarked. I promise you the good will that creates is going to come back to you in waves compared to what selling a few of those images would do. And one final thing that Justin & I have been doing for a while now is in addition to the disc, Julia has been taking one image that really shows off their work and turning it into a piece of marketing material for them. We use their colors, their logo, and we leave all of our info off it except for a very small “photo by Justin & Mary” in gray lettering (no logo, no contact info for us) at the bottom on the back. We do the pearl paper from WHCC and we send them to them in packs of 25. Our treat. And in doing it that way, we’re keeping with #3 and making sure it’s about how we can continue to help them/i>.

I hope that helps! If any of this was confusing, feel free to ask away in the comments below and I’ll try again!
I’m off to get some pudding!

  1. Heather

    This is very sound advice. Thanks guys!

  2. dawn beirnes

    love this post! Question…I’m STILL a newbie (never done an official shoot) but was recently asked about taking team indiviual pictures and group photo. What would be the best way to get each parent their copies? Have them done myself, put everything on a disc and take somewhere and let them order, etc.? If I did the prints, where should I have them done? You guys are just smart….really, really smart!

  3. Amy

    Thanks for this! I’m in the process of connecting with venues and vendors right now so this info was super helpful and validated that I’m taking the right steps!

  4. Tricia

    Thank you for this. I love the "it’s not all about me" tone of these tips. Such a breath of fresh air.


  5. Robin McQuay Anderson

    That number 5 is a winner…love it!

  6. Heather Beach

    I love your pancake sessions! Thank you so much for sharing all the great information – I hang on every word!

  7. Alison

    Love this advice! A couple things I have done (keep in mind I am portrait only) is talking with, working with and helping small business’ in the area that have ties to weddings, families and babies- a fitness instructor who teaches burlseque aerobics (she does bridal showers!! and had brides working on getting into wedding day form. Inquiries I get for weddings get referred out to photographer friends, which is a whole other part!) and found a wonderful close friend in the process. A yoga instructor, a local contractor, some local farms and I am sure I am forgetting someone. I offered help and in return, without asking, they have (most importantly) become my friends and also have been those that have and continue to help me grow! Think outside of the box and the usual avenues!!!

  8. talia

    Love the way you are able to take something which seems daunting and break it down into the basics, M! Bravo.

  9. Nancy Mitchell

    Thanks for sharing J&M! I am super duper nervous. Meeting in 45 mins with a reception hall vendor! Hoping all goes well! Trying to get my name out there. I so totally understand how Anne feels. Just keep on pushing through and hopefully the tides will turn for you! Thanks J&M for all your inspiration and support. You don’t know how much it means to me! I wish I could reach out and HUG you both right now! xoxo~nance

  10. Suzy G

    Awesome information. Thank you so much for being awesome and sharing. Y’all so rock!

  11. Kristin Nicole

    Love this post, so much good advice. It is so good to hear you guys talk about helping others without looking for something in return. It is the mindset that makes all the difference!

  12. Emily Heizer, Photography with Flair

    I did not know you had a law school background too Mary!! (Obviously, me too!) Why are there so many of us? Me, you, Jasmine*, and I know I have heard and read of a few others. That is SO strange. SO strange! We need a support group! LOL

  13. Lori

    I really appreciate your pancake sessons! One question: How do you get the vendors’ watermarks in a format you can use? Thanks!

  14. Regina Marie

    Wow. Once again, you hit the nail on the head with this one. I don’t know how you do it, but you always tell me just what I need to hear.

  15. Jessie Emeric

    You guys always know what we need and when to get our butts moving again. Thanks for your amazingness! xoxo

  16. sarah

    So great! This is exactly what I needed. I have been scratching my head thinking "how do I approach vendors" without sounding pushy, desperate or like i want something. Great tips & ideas-definitely gonna to work on that asap. I’m been wondering how to ask photographers to 2nd shoot or assist too so maybe I can implement some of these same ideas.

  17. Brooke Summer Photography

    These are amazing suggestions, thank you so much! I feel like I have a list a mile long of things to do and no time to do it, I need to buckle down and break it down. Thank you for the information, awesome as usual. :)

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