Photography Marketing: In Search of the Holy Grail

If you have been on a never-ending search to find the perfect photography marketing method that is actually going to work this time, read on to learn how we book 75% of our weddings. If you have struggled with marketing, spent money on ads that were a total flop and you NEED to start making money soon, read on.

One of the most common questions I get from photographers is how to get more bookings. It’s a common problem that we all have to deal with. Brides don’t just walk through the door every day, checks in hand. With wedding season firmly behind us, we are staring down slow season (AKA “broke” season and “low-on-cash” season) and trying to figure out what to do with our time and how to finally get ahead this year. You know you need to do something about sales and marketing. But what, exactly? Get more bookings! Yes, the end result you are looking for is more bookings, but how-now THAT’S the question.

Running a wedding photography business is hard, period. Plus, you’re a creative right, not a sales person. You know you need to spend time and money on marketing activities, but you don’t really know where to start. Let’s take a look at the usual suspects:

Online Advertising

Online advertising very rarely works because the competition is so high. Adding your name and website link to a list of hundreds is typically a waste of your marketing dollars. It can be helpful to start building up name recognition and that’s a good thing for your brand. But reason enough to spend upwards of $1500 ++ ? I’m going to have to say no, unless you are lucky enough to live in an unsaturated market. If you are going to be one of a few photographers in your area listing, then by all means, give it a try. But when the listings go on for 3+ pages…it’s no longer a good investment. You’re better off spending that money on a fun weekend in Vegas…

Magazine Ads

This is another area that is a huge disappointment for most photographers.  The ads are outrageously expensive, and the results are typically dismal. Again, if ALL you are trying to do is build up name recognition, and you are going to invest in a series of ads over the year along with other marketing activities, then you might be happy with the results IF you aren’t expecting to get any bookings. But if you are looking to book brides, like right now, forget it. It’s not going to pay off for you, I promise. Save the money.

Bridal Shows

Bridal shows are another divisive topic for photographers. For some, it can work well as a way to generate leads. For most, it is an utter waste of time. We built our business from bridal shows and figured out how to make them work for us, but it’s a very high cost to acquire clients this way and I don’t recommend it generally. It requires a lot more than just showing up with a few albums and a handout. You have to build an awesome booth, spend hours setting up your awesome booth, be your most fun and engaging self for 6 hours having the exact same conversation over and over and over, have a follow up plan (that you follow) network with other vendors and so forth. It’s a LOT of work and the payoff is not necessarily worth it-because the cost involved amounts to paying about $600 or so per booking.

Client Referrals

Client referrals work great for certain types of photographers but it takes years to build up. If you have a really bubbly personality and affordable pricing, it is easier to get brides to refer you to their friends. If you serve the high end market, it can be more tricky to build up client referrals if your bride has splurged on her wedding but her friends are not necessarily wealthy. For most wedding photographers, client referrals do eventually start to happen, but it takes a few years for your client base to build up enough to start providing referrals. If you expect client referrals to be a significant source of bookings, you had better have a super sparkly personality and a plan to repeatedly engage past clients.

Social Media

Blogging, Facebooking and Twittering, oh my! Social media is taking its place in the world of photography business marketing. It’s a great way to communicate with prospective clients, build a fan base and educate clients. Social media is an important piece of the wedding marketing pie. It’s something you should spend 15-20 minutes per day on, and let it grow naturally. Again, for most, this is not going to be the end all be all of your business.

OK, so we’ve gone through the typical marketing methods most photographers consider and try throughout the years. If most of this stuff doesn’t actually lead to bookings, what does? Where do you get clients? How do you find brides?

After being in business for a few years, and giving each and every one of these methods a thorough try (and wasting many, many thousands of dollars in the process-dollars which COULD have been spent on incredible vacations-Save yourselves people!) We began carefully studying where our actual bookings were coming from. We saw that we were getting more and more leads and bookings from venues, planners and other vendors.

At that point, we began to ease off on all the other marketing methods and put more time and effort into building relationships with venues and event professionals. Lots of networking, lots of follow up. Lots of discs going out to venues, planners and florists. It didn’t work overnight- But it worked incredibly well.

Now, about 75% of our bookings come from vendor referrals. We devote a lot of time to this effort and much of it has become a part of our regular wedding work flow. It’s a process. And it pays off, as you can see in the pie chart below (and when done right, it pays well).

This shows just how important vendor relationships are for a wedding photographer.

If you are looking to expand your business and want to book more clients, there is no better marketing method than building relationships with people. Those relationships are the foundation of our business and have been for many years. All our best clients have been referred to us by other professionals. All of our best album sales have come from clients referred to us by vendors. If you are ready to get in the game, this is where it’s at.


Facebook comments:

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Jason Cowell February 11, 2012 at 3:37 am

The information here is priceless! Thank you!

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Lara White February 11, 2012 at 5:46 am

excellent, and I’m glad you are enjoying it!

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Towerf Photography February 10, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Bridal shows are expensive but well worth it to me. Remember, all it takes is one wedding to pay for itself. I got six weddings off one, four off another and three from one two weeks ago. That’s 13 weddings off an investment of less than $2,000!!!

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Lara White February 10, 2012 at 6:56 pm

that is awesome to hear! What do you think made the difference for you? Most people do not get results with bridal shows-any tips you can offer?

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Susan from Robinwood Photography January 31, 2012 at 2:41 pm

I have booked several from a Bridal show but it was very costly to do the show. I am still trying to work on the vendor relationship through networking events and collaborative projects. It’s really tough to get your foot in the door with some of these folks. I honestly don’t blame them considering there are so many photographers now.

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Lara White January 31, 2012 at 5:04 pm

that is true, and especially the “big fish” that everyone is clamoring to work with. It can take months or even years to build solid relationships with established vendors. Try connecting with newer planners/floral designers etc. and they tend to be more open to meeting new people and looking for portfolio work.

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Malcom January 31, 2012 at 7:04 am

Good Article.
Can you tell me if you pay or asked to pay your vendors and other professionals a fee or commission,
Best Regards
Malcolm

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Lara White January 31, 2012 at 8:35 am

Hi Malcolm,

We have been asked to pay a fee but we refused, as it was done in a very underhanded way and we were expected to hide our pricing from the referral clients so the planner could tack on 10% without offering any additional services. We have also avoided the fees demanded by a certain brochure company that makes all the small vendors pay the costs of the corp brochure.

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Jamie January 31, 2012 at 6:25 am

I’m glad to hear you found a way to make vendor referrals happen. I’ve cultivated a lot of relationships with vendors, and while I get the occassional referral, in all honesty I’ve had a lot more luck with social media and SEO stuff (at least half if not more of our bookings result from that). Maybe you have some tips on how you work with vendors? We just tend to book before most other vendors except venues, but we’ve still seen just a few bookings from them.

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Lara White January 31, 2012 at 8:41 am

Hi Jamie,

Venues are absolutely where its at. Venues can have hundreds of events per year, and a photographer tends to be a high priority right after the venue is booked, so its the perfect time to catch the bride. We strategically build relationships with venues by networking, following up, sending prints, slideshows, sending discs, making wall prints and sample albums, etc. Everything is designed to sell that space, more of a tool for them instead of a tool for us. Eventually, we find ourselves on the referral list, and we keep building and growing the relationship so that we become partners. Obviously, it doesn’t work with everyone, and there is lots of phone calls and follow ups. Sometimes you literally just happen to call them on the day they are thinking about refreshing their referral list and on you go. Once we saw how much potential there was, we stopped other types of expensive marketing and put our time and money into this strategy.

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