August 8, 2013

Pancake Session: How to Get Your Name Out There for Free

A couple days ago we did a mentoring session with a young photographer who has just had to move her business completely across the country from the East Coast to California. It was a HUGE move. And in many ways, now she’s feeling like she has to start over.

A little while back, we got this email from a brand new photographer who is just trying her best to get started:

Hi guys!

Thank you SO much for offering to answer questions from other fellow photographers! My questions is this: I recently (since March) decided to follow my dream to take my photography full-time. I’m working on a near-zero marketing budget. What are a few inexpensive, effective ways to reach my potential clients? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Jill Kelly

And I think in a lot of ways, these two photographers are facing the same problem. That whether you are brand new and just getting started or you’re in a place in your business where you feel like you have to start over, the question becomes….how do you go about even starting to get your name out there?

While I was in the mentoring session, I really tried to put myself in the shoes of someone who had just moved to a brand new market, didn’t have any contacts yet, and really felt like I was being forced to start over. What would I do if I suddenly found myself back to square one? What if I were starting it all over tomorrow and just needed to find a way to get my name out there as fast as I could & start building momentum again? In the meeting, I came up with a seven-prong plan of attack. And it occurred to me that all seven could work whether you’re like Jill & just getting started…or you’re finding yourself in a place where you have to start over. So for today’s Pancake Session, I wanted to share them here! Seven ways to get your name out there for (MOSTLY!) free!

(**And because it’s always good to remember where you came from, I’ve also included some pictures of us in the early days! Like, our first website…I’m pretty sure my hair didn’t move back then!)

So here we go! If I woke up tomorrow and found myself as either a brand new photographer OR in a brand new market, and I knew I needed to get really scrappy if I was going to make this thing work….here is what I would do:

1. Find a local photographers group. One of the fastest ways we built our business in the beginning was just by having a strong photographer referral network, ALL of which we met at the local photographer’s group that we started. Which means that if your answer to this point is that your area doesn’t have a good group like this, start one! Step out & be that leader. Either way, when you go to those meetings go with one thought in mind “how can I be of help to THEM?” Trust me, nothing will make you friends faster than putting what you can do for them ABOVE what they can do for you.

2. Put myself out there as a second shooter Before I would ever ask or expect someone to just start referring me weddings, I’m going to let them see how I work on a wedding day. We all know how hard it is to find good second shooters, and this is a MAJOR need that I could help fill in this new market. At those photographers meetings that I’m attending, I would make sure to be likable, helpful & professional (offer to help clean up before you leave!). And I would make it known that I’m available to help with second shooting & anything else they need help with while I’m working on building my business. When I’m second shooting, I would hustle my butt off to be the best second shooter possible. And I would try my best to become actual friends with those photographers, so that when they’re booked they’ll consider me. But even if they don’t, that friendship will still probably prove to be invaluable.

3. Find 3 other photographers who are in the same place as I am in my business. Whether we are all brand new or all a couple years in (or maybe even a mix of that), I would seek out peers who understand what I’m going through. I would put together a lunch (or even better, a fondue night! with wine, obviously) so we can all bounce ideas around together, problem solve together, and hold each other accountable to our goals. And we could also all share a Google Calendar so we can refer each other.

(**Our first blog! Justin & Mary Montage… NOBODY knows what it means, but it’s provocative!)

4. I would email every planner, venue, florist, dress shop, baker & paperie whose work I RESPECTED & see if I can buy them lunch Note that I didn’t say every vendor out there, but the ones whose work I really love and who I would want to shoot a wedding with. I would send out 50 emails if I had to, and if only two people got back to me I would still consider that a win. I would take those two people to lunch & try to help the heck out of them! Remember, “sweat equity” & helping people doesn’t cost you anything. I would listen, learn from them, and keep my ears open for opportunities for me to make their lives better. Do they need new head shots? Are they moving studios & need someone to carry boxes? Is their birthday coming up & I could bake them cupcakes? (ok, who am I kidding…BUY them cookies in my case) In any case, I would buy the lunch. I would try to make a new friend out of it. And I would come bearing a thank you gift for taking time out for me. Remember, small business owners are crazy busy…and even just a little gratitude goes a long, long way.

5. I would have three sample albums made of my work & drop them off at my top three venues I wouldn’t ask first. I would just show up with it. Yes, they’re probably going to tell me that they only show the books of people who pay to be there. And yes, they may even blow me off a little bit that day. But if the book is remarkable enough, and the work is remarkable enough, and it comes wrapped up in a pretty package with a hand-written note….there is not a doubt in my mind that they’re still going to look at it. And if they like it enough, they will show it. We did this at a venue six years ago & we’re STILL booking weddings off of it. Ok, ok so this one isn’t actually “free”, but before you tell me you don’t have the money to make a book…go find it! Remember the name of the game is getting scrappy. This is our dream we’re chasing here.

6. Once I meet some vendors I like, I would see if we can put together a styled shoot I want to shoot with these people! And if we don’t have weddings together yet, we can make that happen with a styled shoot. Then I can get them pictures of their work & hopefully get them published. And a great way to pitch a styled shoot is to put together a design board for it, so they can catch the vision & know that you’re serious.

(**Our first bridal show, which we DON’T recommend! Don’t adjust your screen, that is a giant, over-sized champagne glass you’re seeing!)

7. Finally, I would do some FREE shoots Yes, I said it. And yes I know free is pretty much the four letter f-word in our industry. But the simple fact is, if I’m not getting hired yet…I know I NEED some shoots to do so that I can blog them & put something to tag on facebook. Work begets more work. And I want to WORK! I’m never going to get my name out there if I can’t show anything. So I would find a few couples & put together my own mini-styled shoot with them where it can be whatever I want. They get the shoot for free & in exchange they agree to let me use them on my site, blog them & tag the heck out of them on facebook. If you can pick couples who are natural “sneezers” (i.e. they have a lot of influence and love to talk about the next big they’ve discovered)…all the better! Hint: look for people with a lot of Facebook friends. Obviously, I don’t want to stay at free (or super cheap) for long because I know there’s no faster way to burn out. But if I’m just trying to make something happen, then I gotta do what I gotta do.

And I’m willing to do what I gotta do….to work harder, run faster, and get my hands dirty. If it means that I’m building my dreams in the process.

Rock it out friends!

  1. Palm Beach Wedding Videographer

    Love this blog post, it came perfectly timed as I’m expanding. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Ryan

    TOTALLY in love with this post, thanks for sharing!! I have a question because we are trying to break into some killer venues in our market – when you drop off some books do they HAVE to be of a wedding at that venue or do you think just your BEST wedding is the one to share?

  3. Sandy`

    So ironic you posted this today. I just reached out to another photographer that is also attending you workshop when I do in September. She was so sweet but very busy and hope I get to be someday too!! LOL Huge step for me. Working on the rest……def need some books. The photogs around here are not friendly and don’t want your help. Tried a few times in and out of state., but starting my own group is a great idea. Another thing to add to my to do list!! Thanks Mary you guys rock!

  4. Annetta

    Love this post! Thanks for all the advise. I’m going to put some of it into practice. I’m going to a meet up next week and I’m so nervous but they are photographers that do the same thing as myself so it should be fun.

  5. jane watson

    This post could not have come at a better time! I’m just now wading into the business and am about to dive in headfirst. Thanks for the great ideas!

  6. Brandy

    love the others-focus! the whole approach reminds me of my grandparents generation – lots of hard work and having a good heart.

  7. Morgan Leigh

    Thank you for sharing this! Your posts always make me so emotional…You’re right, these are our dreams we’re chasing! I am hoping a photog friend and I can start a community group, I think those are so important! I met a great group of ladies in Cape May, NJ last weekend, but being in OH makes it harder to connect with them. I am also excited to visit and chat with other wedding vendors and hopefully get a styled shoot together that we can all benefit from! Thanks so much!!! <3

  8. Samantha

    Thank you so much for this post! This is the exact boat I’m in at the moment! We moved to a new city and I’m starting my business. It’s so hard to get your name out there! Thank you thank you!!!

  9. katie

    LOVE this, LOVE YOU! I hope that young photographer gets this awesome list done quickly! ;)

  10. Chrissy Vensel

    Thank you so much for posting this! I started my business in Philadelphia, and recently got married and moved my entire business to Connecticut. I basically started over and I’ve been feeling pretty stuck on how to get my name out. This was really inspiring. Thank you! :D

  11. Megan

    Thanks for this! Start a photographer group! What a great idea!!!

  12. Jaqueline Faria

    Oh my godness thank you so much for writing this. I can’t even express how amazing this post is! Definitly need to put some of these into action ASAP :)

  13. Jennie

    Great post–I’m still in the first two years of my business and I definitely believe in hard work! When I work hard and make connections and get to shoot things that make me happy, I feel successful in my business, even if the bank account is only slowly reflecting that. Hard work and determination rule!

  14. Carissa

    This post is SO great! Especially because I might be facing the issue of moving into a brand new place/market next year. I’m totally bookmarking this post. Thank you for yet another amazing helpful pancake session J&M!!!

  15. Asha

    Thanks sooo much for sharing this. I moved from DC to Tampa, FL and it is a completely different market. It’s so easy to become disheartened when the work was booming and all because of a move, it has stopped. Thanks for the advise and for so consistently being the reminder that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We have only met a couple times and I rarely comment on your blog (even though I read it religiously) but you always speak right to my heart. Often, it seems you are taking directly to me and saying exactly what I need to hear in that moment. Thank you for being so inspiring. Rock on. :)

  16. Rob

    Mary- Thank you so much. You seem to "serve up" the right dish when I need it. I am just starting up and working on getting my name out there. It is hard work but it is SO worth it because I am pursuing my dream. THANK YOU!!!!

  17. Abby Grace

    This is all also really good advice for someone who’s looking to move into a more specific/specialized type of wedding photography. I’m dying to shoot more in some of DC’s higher-end hotels and luxe venues, and dropping of sample albums is such a good idea to get more exposure with them. Thank you so much for this post!

  18. Michael and Carina Photography

    We moved to America with no clients and went full time at the same time. We followed these tips to a T and a year later, we are still doing it full time and booking for 2015!! EXCELLENT tips guys!! <3 from Virginia

  19. Rachel McCloud

    So helpful. Definitely needed to hear this. We started emailing and visiting venues and that has already paid off. Next the florists and caterers. :)

  20. Christy

    Yay thanks for this Mary!!

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