Photography: Kanaka Menehune
Brides aren’t the only people who hire wedding photographers. Wedding planners choose them too — and they need them more often than couples.
Business owners are always told that it’s easier to hold onto a client than to try land a new one, but that’s not much help for wedding photographers. Clients will always hope they only need a wedding photographer once in their lives and few will return to the same company if they do find themselves working down the aisle twice. Baby photos and family portraits can help to turn a wedding couple into a lifetime client but years can pass between bookings, providing plenty of time for both sides to lose touch. Wedding planners, however, can be repeat customers. They put together dozens of weddings every year and while they might not need to hire a photographer for all of those events, having found someone they trust and like working with, that photographer can look forward to a steady stream of work.
According to Heather Smith, a wedding planner with more than seventeen years’ experience and President of Columbus Bridal Consultants, a networking group for wedding planners, about 8 percent of couples ask a professional to organize their nuptials. (A 2010 survey by The Knot, an online wedding resource, puts the figure even higher, at one in three.) The couples aren’t necessarily rich. Smith’s 300-plus clients have included school teachers and university students as well as doctors and lawyers. The average cost of a wedding in Ohio, where Smith works, is about $30,000, she says, and that’s roughly the amount she expects her clients to be spending on their event.
How to Attract a Wedding Planner
1. Network. Attend wedding planning events and let professionals know who you are.
2. Be easy to work with. Have a pleasant manner, avoid arrogance and show that you’re focused on the bride.
3. Reciprocate! You, too, are a wedding professional. If you’re getting referrals, you should be giving them too.
Wedding Planners Want to Trust You
Not every booking, though, gives a wedding planner the chance to pick the photographer. Most clients, in fact, prefer to find the vendors themselves then turn to a wedding photographer to sort out the details, plan the day and make sure that everything runs smoothly. The wedding planner will only need to give a photography referral when asked to plan the entire wedding. At that point, talent, budget and a style that matches the bride will be important but trust will be the key factor in the photographer the wedding planner recommends.
“I have been in this business a long time, so I tend to recommend the vendors with whom I have had a long-term relationship,” says Smith. “I trust them, I know they’ll do a good job, and I love working with them.”
That doesn’t mean that wedding planners never change their photographers — Smith noted that she doesn’t always use the same photographer and that she does like to recommend new ones —but she has to trust them first.
That trust can come from a number of different sources. The best way for a photographer to win her trust is to come recommended by another wedding planner. That suggests that having broken into the community of wedding professionals, your name can spread widely bringing in even more business. It does little though to help a photographer make their first steps.
A website has surprisingly little use. Smith says that she won’t hire a photographer who has only invited her to look through their online portfolio.
“How do I know that work is really theirs?” she asks.
That might sound unduly suspicious but accounts of new photographers building their portfolios by filling them with pictures swiped from other photographers aren’t entirely unknown. A client who is paying $30,000 for a wedding wants to be certain that the images they’ll receive of the day are as good as the photographer promises — a return that the wedding planner is supposed to guarantee.
Send the Referrals Back
Even offering to meet the wedding planner might not be enough. When Smith started her business she used to arrange to see photographers at their home or in cafés to review portfolios and to discuss their work. These days, she says, she doesn’t have the time for speculative meetings, preferring instead for the photographer to make the effort to attend networking events for wedding professionals. Columbus Bridal Consultants, for example, invites vendors to two of the meetings they hold each year to hear about their businesses.
That networking doesn’t just allow Smith to look through a set of pictures. It also gives her the time to assess the photographer’s personality and the ease with which she’ll be able to work with them.
“If they are taking the time to network, then I want to know who they are,” she says. “I gravitate toward the photographers who love what they do and are in the business to give the bride a great wedding. If they are in the biz to get rich, I don’t care for them. There’s a lot of emotion in the wedding day….the photographer has to feel for the bride and put her needs over their need to fill their wallet.”
So a wedding photographer hoping to win referrals from wedding planners will need to produce great pictures and be reliable. But they’ll also need to invest in face-to-face networking, a method that will allow them to demonstrate their commitment and their personality, to show that they’re confident without being arrogant. The reward won’t just be a place in a wedding planner’s contact list; it can actually be the sharing of that list among other wedding planners. Smith says that she’s more willing to recommend a photographer herself if he or she has attended networking events.
And that’s one more thing that a wedding photographer can do to make sure that the jobs continue to flow in from wedding planners: return the favor. One of the first lessons that Smith learned when she started meeting wedding photographers was that they were after her business but didn’t always reciprocate.
“As a wedding planner, I need referrals, too,” she says. “So, I like the photographers who recommend me. If they recommend me, I’m much more likely to recommend them. The door swings both ways!”
Interested in Being Successful at Wedding Photography?
Be sure to pick up a copy of Photopreneur’s wedding photography book on Amazon, The Successful Wedding Photographer. It’s filled with case studies of what’s working now for wedding photographers.