(Editor’s Note: Jessica Sterling is a Los Angeles-based brand photographer. You can find out more about her on her website.)
In this age of social media, it’s sometimes easy to overlook the impact of direct, live, human communication. For me, meeting people face-to-face or reaching out on the phone, is essential to booking work.
Not only has it directly resulted in closing jobs, but I’ve also made many new friends along the way! Here are five ways I’ve found the old-school, personal touch to be vital to running a successful photography business.
#1 Direct Communication Beats Social Media
In my experience, personalized, direct communication with potential clients is way more effective (and trackable) than blanket, general social media posting. When you post something on social, it is almost like standing in a crowd and mumbling to yourself. Maybe someone will hear you, maybe they won’t. So, actually talking with someone and making sure they received your message is a kick-*ss way to promote. And yes, it takes some chutzpah to actually reach out and talk to people these days, but it’s a learned skill that can be developed and improved.
Also, picking up the phone has helped me find out that someone’s web information isn’t up to date. Sometimes people have staff listed on their website, but they’re no longer doing that job. Talking to someone directly will give you the intel you need. Another workaround is to check LinkedIn and see if they’ve moved on to another company. It is all part of building relationships and following up.
#2 Find Potential Clients and Follow Up
Reaching out to new people and following up when you don’t hear back from them is amazingly effective! Most people don’t cold call anymore and hardly anybody sends postcards or hand-written notes. Think of who you’d like to work with or know better and keep bugging them (nicely). At the very least you can make a new friend. Even better if they also become a long-term photography client. According to sales guru Grant Cardone, it can take upwards of a dozen follow-ups to make a sale, so you’ve got to be upbeat and persistent.
Staying in touch and following up, building actual relationship and friendships is what running a healthy and successful photography business is all about. I’ve gotten big accounts from random contacts. You never know who knows who. Build a “fan base” of people who are rooting for you and are excited about your work.
#3 Keep Track of What Worked
Track what worked in your promotions and marketing efforts. Keeping statistics on leads and bookings will lead to more bookings. Track how much and which type of communication (posts, postcards, cold calls, personalized emails, e-blasts, videos, etc.) led to actual results. Do one at a time to see which one caused the change. That way you’ll know what type of marketing is working for you so you can double down on it. Pour gas on the coals of the good stuff that gets results.
At the same time, don’t be too precious about your communication. Getting the word out regularly and in volume, is way more important than being “perfect” about what you say. You can improve your message as you go.
#4 Be Personal but Don’t Take It Personal
As the saying goes: you win some and you lose some. My first thought when someone doesn’t email me back is that they don’t like me, or that I’ve annoyed them (totally possible). But don’t let that nagging voice stop you. Keep communicating. They may just be busy (like we’re all busy) and don’t have time to respond to your random communication. Or it may be nothing personal, except that they’re bad at responding to emails, etc.
#5 Make the Sale!
Some people think “sales” is a dirty word, but it is the lifeblood of a business. That desire to make the sale, to close the job, to make the cash, they’re all part of making a business solvent. Be hard-nosed about your sales targets because they’re literally the life and death of your photography company. Give yourself a bonus when you make a quota. “Coffee is for closers!”
Like most photographers, I hate promotion and reaching out can be uncomfortable, but I love working. So doing the tough work of getting leads and making it happen is what allows me to do the creative work of making great pictures that people love and use. Oh, and pay my bills.
One more thing! Photographing things that people need photographed is key. I look for tough, “garbageman-type” photography jobs that other people might not want to do, but that clients must pay someone for. There has to be a reason why someone isn’t just going to use their iPhone and shoot it themselves. Be essential and deliver what people need, and you’ll keep the gigs coming in. 🙂