Networking. It’s usually at the bottom of our to-do list. You know, the part of your list that never gets done so you just keep moving it to tomorrow’s list. We tend to think of networking as old school and no longer necessary, but that couldn’t be further from truth. Networking is all about cultivating authentic relationships with vendors and other photographers.
Building a good business is mostly about cultivating great relationships. When you own a small business, you are your brand. The more you let people get to know you, the more they will get to know (and love!) your brand. This industry thrives on word-of-mouth marketing and networking is an inexpensive way to promote personal referrals.
It can be tempting to do all of your networking online. And using social media can be a great way to stay in touch with people you already have a relationship with. But building relationships requires real connections, and often our best opportunities for really connecting with other people happen in person. Social media often encourages superficial interactions like “liking” a post, but real conversations that build connections happen in face-to-face conversations. Now that we can agree that in-person networking is still valuable, let’s talk about how to be effective at it. Below, we share our tried-and-true best practices for networking.
1. Devote time to networking every single week. Networking is not something that’s going to bring you lots of business immediately. If you want to create meaningful relationships with other business owners, it takes a consistent time investment. So move networking from the bottom of your to-do list to the top and remember that stepping away from your computer for a couple hours a week will be good for you in so many ways.
2. Follow up a first meeting with a coffee date. Networking events are great for meeting new people, but there’s not usually enough time to make a genuine connection. Invite your new friend to meet you for coffee or lunch in the next couple of weeks. If you’re nervous about a one-on-one meeting, it’s okay invite a few people. Just limit the group to 3-4 people so you can foster good conversations.
3. Get personal. Building good relationships is all about making connections. And often times, we connect with people best over things that have nothing to do with business. Bonding over your shared love of pumpkin spice lattes, your upcoming travel plans or the new Star Wars movie are great examples of how getting personal can strengthen a relationship. Sharing financial problems, marital drama and political rants are great examples of how getting personal can ruin a business relationship. Get personal, just not too personal.
4. Find ways to serve. When you’re building relationships with wedding vendors, one of the best ways you can serve them is to send them images of their work for free, before they have to ask. Florists, cake bakers and wedding planners work hard to make the details of every wedding perfect for your clients, but they often don’t have the photography skills to do their work justice. Send digital images to all of the vendors from your weddings and consider sending prints and even an album (we recommend ProDPI’s press printed albums) to your favorite vendors. They’ll be delighted to have fantastic images of your work and you’ll get your photos in front of more people because you know they will be showing those photos to everyone. Simplify your workflow and take the guesswork out of creating gorgeous printed pieces for your vendors with our Vendor Marketing Kit.
5. Be a good connector. Networking is all about making connections, so anytime you have the opportunity to help other people make connections, you should always take it. Your new friends will benefit from your introductions and your relationships with them will be strengthened too. Odds are your new friends will look for helpful connections for you too.
6. Focus on quality over quantity. You don’t need all 82 wedding planners in town sending you referrals. You can’t shoot that many weddings anyway and you can’t recommend 82 wedding planners to each of your clients. When it comes to networking and building good business relationships, choose quality over quantity. You’ll find yourself drawn to certain people more than others and we’re willing to bet they’ll attract the kind of clients you love working with. So spend more time cultivating those relationships because they’re the ones that will pay off in the long run.
7. Utilize social media to stay in touch. Social media is a great networking tool when used with actual real, in-person interactions. Follow your vendor friends on Facebook and Instagram and interact. When you share images from a mutual wedding, tag them too and mention how much you love working them. When you’re not working together, use social media to stay in touch and build better connections.
When it comes down to it, networking is not a get-business-quick scheme. It’s a long term effort that will help sustain your business over the years. Photography is a word-of-mouth business and the more people who are talking about your business, the more often you’ll get hired. But at the end of the day, people will refer you if they like you (and your work). And the best way to make that happen is to be genuine about building a great business relationship, serving them as best you can and staying in touch. Make a habit of doing these things consistently and you’ll start seeing the benefits of networking in your own business.
Five places to network:
- Local photography get togethers - find on Facebook or Meetup.com
- Small business owner networking groups like 1 Million Cups
- Wedding venue open house events and parties
- Industry networking events sponsored by companies like The Knot and Perfect Wedding Guide
- Workshops and conferences