I recently wrote a blog post sharing my opinion on the state of the industry. This topic generated a lot of responses and as I was starting to respond to one, in particular, I noticed the response kept getting longer so I decided that it was deserving of its own post. This is what one photographer said: “I agree that selling is key. However, that is not the problem. The problem is the number of photographers fighting for fewer prospects. I’ve gone from 4-6 consults per week to 3-4 consults per month. Plus, I’ve increased my advertising and all forms of marketing”.
I completely hear what you are saying – no question the industry is over-saturated with people calling themselves photographers and under-cutting prices. It’s a problem. You asked, so I’m going to try for a few suggestions that just might (can’t promise) will help.
The biggest issue I see is getting the message out. Brides who recieve a DVD DO NOT GET AN ALBUM MADE OR EVEN GET PRINTS. It’s a shame. I often ask people if they have a print of their parents wedding, an event that predates the person I’m talking to. “Yes”, they say, “and it’s one of the most precious things I have.” So we know that what you offer (prints and albums) have tremendous value. We also know that Finao receives emails from brides saying, “My wedding photographer was terrible/horrible/pure crap, can you rescue me?” We can’t, but we do refer them to professionals that can, perhaps, help.
So, getting the message out. I think one day a week should be networking day.
1. Have a form for every wedding you photograph and even every prospect you meet with. Ask them where they contracted for purchases. Obviously, you know the reception site but what about where the dress was purchased, who’s doing the cake, etc. Think of everything right down to the limousine. This is valuable info as it tells you who is getting the business and who isn’t. With time you will see important patterns develop.
2. Now use your lists. If it’s a wedding you have photographed, pick some images from known suppliers and take them around. I like to see the images in a stand-up mat/frame. Folds, is very cheap, but keep the image looking nice. Write a note on the back telling them how much you enjoyed working with them or what a great job they did.
3. As you get new names from new bookings or even those that didn’t book, start making the rounds. Introduce yourself and ask them how their business is doing. People like to talk about themselves and, frankly, they don’t care what the state of your business is. You want to make yourself known, offer images if there is an upcoming event and start a dialog. Remember, I said we need to get the message out.
4. Once you have established yourself with a vendor and asked how business is doing you can move the discussion to new trends you are seeing. Mention that everyone seems to want to pay less and get more – they will be listening because I bet they have the same issues. Let them tell you what the problems are and ask how they combat them. I, personally, would not ask a business to take my cards as I feel it is their business and they need to worry about that. Besides, I wouldn’t want their cards. Exceptions to this always exist and I know a lot of people who do this and do it well.
5. The real key to making this work for you is not giving up. You have to keep going – seeing new vendors, dropping off additional images to vendors you have worked with, and checking to see how they are doing. Your genuine interest will help you get referrals. The more referrals, the more consults, the more bookings. Major, high-end players, have probably got photographers banging their doors down. Maybe not the best place to start. That still leaves a lot of other vendors and a lot of contacts to be made.
Try another approach – this not instead of, it’s in addition to. Media outlets from the newspaper to the local TV stations all do wedding related stories around Valentine’s Day and in prime wedding months of May and June. They DO NOT WANT TO MAKE THEIR OWN CONTENT. They would rather take content from outside sources. So help them along. Suggest articles, send a DVD with images that represent new trends, offer yourself for an interview, direct them to popular bride blogs, whatever. If you get even one place interested you have hit your mark.
Comment on popular wedding related blogs. Even offer to be a guest author. Start a dialog that will help the bride find the right photographer for her that offers the services she will need. Interestingly, it seems that new entrants in the industry never start with high school graduation pictures. High school seniors would never trust an unknown, unproven photographer, yet those images could easily be redone if the student was unhappy. Not the case with weddings. So write about it. Don’t whine and don’t let it seem that it is affecting your business. Speak from the point of, “this is what we are seeing. More and more brides are coming to us after-the-fact asking if we can repair the damage of poor photography.” Talk about how badly you feel for these people and how they could have avoided the situation by putting a bit more effort into finding a qualified professional photographer. I’d even offer questions the bride should ask other than “how much does it cost?”. What about the photographers experience, back-up equipment, back-up photographer in case of an emergency, assistant to help out on your wedding day? Even a small Finao plug here; talk about albums and how important they are. Get it in there that brides without albums remain brides without albums.
For whatever these suggestions are worth I hope something might spark your imagination and lead to some success. For many photographers, it’s a tough market. Let me think a bit more on this and I’d like to offer a few other thoughts.