How's business going for you? How many bookings do you have lined up for next year? There are many different areas of your business to focus on: improving your photography, redesigning your website, getting a new brochure, making better sample albums, pricing, your Facebook page and so forth.
For most wedding photographers, it comes down to one thing-bookings. If you don’t have enough wedding bookings for 2012, you won't survive the year.
You've got debt to pay off, and you need a stable income. Why is this so hard?
Sometimes it seems like the only thing getting in the way between you and a successful business is not being able to book the brides you want. You've tried all the marketing methods and nothing seems to work. Your competitor seems to be doing better than you are, but you aren’t sure.
You research all the different ways you could improve your business and get more brides. Magazine ads, online ad packages, SEO, google adwords, bridal shows, networking, client referrals, sample albums, getting published, a new website, a new brochure, email newsletters, Facebook fans…the list goes on. There are sales people at every turn, trying to sell you the magic solution to your business problem.
You aren't really sure what's going to be effective for you, but you need results fast, that's for sure. You need to actually start getting out of debt. Seriously, right? So you pick something. Some sales person gets you at a weak moment, and convinces you that the full-page ad is going to have your phone ringing off the hook in no time. And that's exactly what you need to happen. So you take the plunge and go for it.
And the results? A lot of nothing. It's a double whammy because not only have you lost money on an expensive ad that you couldn’t really afford but you also didn’t get the business you were expecting from that investment. You aren’t sure how much longer you can survive if you don’t start getting more bookings. You didn’t realize it would be so hard to run a photography business…soon the job you once loved is creating unnecessary pressure at work and stress at home.
I understand what you are going through. We tried so many different marketing methods. We did bridal shows for years, until we realized we were wasting thousands of dollars to book only a couple of weddings. We spent thousands a full-page magazine ad that did absolutely nothing (coulda taken a cruise to Mexico with that money…would have been better spent. Oh well.)
When did things start to get better for us? When we started tracking where our weddings bookings came from. Because we started looking at exactly what worked for booking brides, and what was a total waste of time. From there, we began to back off the efforts that were not resulting in any clients (some efforts brought in leads, but no bookings). Over time, we saw one particular area that was actually very effective for us. So we started doing more and more of it. And guess what? We started to book more and more brides.
It's not a secret solution that you can put under your pillow. I wish! And it's not something you can throw money at. Sometimes that would be easier too! “Here's my check, now make the problem go away!” It's something that takes time. That's just the unsexy truth of the matter.
Ok, so what is the one thing you can do to drive your business? Build relationships. That's the one thing. You don’t need a new website, a slick brochure, fancy new branding. You need to build relationships with people.
People do Business with People
We've all heard the saying, but it couldn’t be more true. How can you start building those kinds of relationships that will get you more business? What can you start doing right away? Here are some ideas to get you started. It's going to take time, so be patient.
- Go to networking events
- Follow up with the people you meet
- Partner with other wedding vendors on projects
- Build a referral network with a couple of other photographers
- Blog about vendors you've worked with
- Find ways to support other wedding professionals
- Give vendors you've worked with prints of their work
- Create slideshows for venues
- Create sample albums for key relationships
- Take planners and facilities coordinators out for coffee or lunch
- Send hand written thank yous to anyone who refers you
These are the types of activities that are going to lead to other wedding vendors talking about your business. Talking with each other, and talking with their brides. These activities (some of them, but not all of them) will lead to referrals for your business. People will start to want to work with you. Naturally, other wedding professionals will begin recommending you when brides ask for a referral to a good photographer.
A bride who has been referred is a much stronger lead that a bride who has randomly come across your name on the internet. There's a potential match. You have experience working with her vendor. Her vendor trusts you. She's not in tire kicking mode, she's in booking mode. So you can see how these referrals are going to be much better for you than someone finding your business via random google searching.
Want more business? Build relationships with wedding professionals. It's that simple. It's also that hard. Make this a key part of your marketing plan for 2012 and you will see results. It won't be instant and it will take hard work. But you can get it done. I know it. Just remember, it's a process.