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:
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!
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!