It takes effort to land a photography client. You have to make sure that your website is seen and persuasive, that your images are attractive and inviting, and that your prices are pitched at the right level. You have to talk the lead into hiring you, and you have to build up the experience that generates the referrals and recommendations. It takes time, and every time you succeed, you have to start again. Only staff photographers have the luxury of a regular salary. For freelancers and studio owners, keeping the money coming in means keeping the leads coming in — and keeping those leads converting.
If you’ve already persuaded someone to hire you for a shoot though, whether that’s a wedding, a catalog or a portrait, then they should be willing to come back to you next time they need photographs. But that means letting them know that you’re still around, giving them a nudge about the need for new images, and reminding them that when they do need new pictures you’re still available. And it has to be done through all of the months and even years when they don’t need a photographer without bothering them.
It’s a particularly big challenge for wedding photographers looking to convert their clients into maternity and children’s photography clients. That process should be natural and could lead right through to the children’s weddings, so that an engagement job becomes the first in a series of bookings with a lifelong client. But each job is separated by years when the clients don’t even think about photography. Commercial photographers too have to struggle with the need to balance staying on the client’s radar with the disruptions that cause the client to break the connection.
Put Your Studio in Your Clients’ Pockets
Tim Gertz offers one way to solve the problem with his photographer’s iPhone app. For $299, studios can put their pictures and updates in their clients’ pockets, pushing pictures to them every day and targeting discounts to client categories and individuals. At least one studio, he says, was able to make back the cost of the app within days by encouraging his mailing list to download it, then offering them a discount on a new portrait shoot.
But an app can only be used by those clients who happen to have iPhones and it demands that they open it to see the updates. The client has to remain interested enough in photography to keep checking and they have to come to the photographer — or at least to his or her app. They might check it the first time they download and use a discount offered the first time they open it, but for how long will they continue to open the app?
In general, photographers looking to maintain a relationship with a former client will need to be a little pushier and put their messages where their clients are likely to see them. Wayne Wallace, a commercial and portrait photographer in Vegas, is just one photographer who provides a newsletter that delivers “news, announcements and special discount offers” directly to subscriber inboxes. Readers don’t have to act on every offer or order a shoot every month. As long as they stay subscribed, they’ll see it. And as long as they see it, they’re being reminded that they have a photographer when they need one.
Email newsletters though, can be treated like spam. By law, publishers have to supply an unsubscribe link that makes it easy for readers to stop receiving them. And they’re not interactive. The relationship between the reader of a photography newsletter and the photographer who sent it consists of a monthly look that last no more than a few seconds. Social media though, is interactive, and allows photographers to maintain a friendly relationship with clients. That’s easier to do on Facebook than on Twitter, where it’s not always easy to find clients. Facebook’s larger audience — and members’ use of real names — means that studios can set up fan pages, invite clients to follow them and push out messages on a regular basis. Those messages can then receive comments and replies, turning a quick note into a brief conversation — an interaction that’s more likely to keep the relationship close. Breaking the connection too, feels a little rude. Unfriending someone on Facebook is a serious business.
Talk About The Client, Not About You
How a photographer stays in touch with clients is only part of the story. What you say is important too. On Facebook, photographers frequently feed in their blog posts, which leads to lots of images and little text, content that’s more likely to please other photographers than clients. Wayne Wallace’s decision to include “special discount offers” in his newsletter together with his own news is a better idea. Readers aren’t very interested in whether a photographer they used a year ago has bought a new camera or just completed a shoot in a beautiful location. They want to know whether can get some more prints cheaply, where they can find a nice frame or whether the photographer has some recommendations for fancy albums.
Newsletter writers have long understood that if they want to keep readers, they have to make their content about the reader and not about the sender. It’s a valuable lesson that’s worth keeping in mind as you’re trying to maintain a long-term relationship with a client.
If all of that though sounds like a challenge too tough though, it is worth remembering that there is one more easy way to stay in touch with clients over the years. A large portion of the clients that many photographers pick up come by way of referrals. Those referrals are a connection to previous buyers. Wedding photographers in particular will find themselves running into past clients when they come to shoot their friends’ weddings, and children’s photographers will find themselves shooting the classmates of previous subjects. Sometimes all you have to do to stay in your clients’ minds is ask how they’re doing — and ask the client to pass on your regards.
And, of course, when you shoot pictures that your referred clients will want to show, you won’t just be reminding your old clients who you are, you’ll also be reminding them what you can do.