Being a full-time wedding photographer is the most amazing career in the world. I get to meet new people every week, capture love and emotion for a living and combine my two passions of photojournalism and portraiture into one big day. As much as I enjoy being a business owner and having all the freedoms associated with it, being a full-time pro comes with it’s challenges.
Probably the most common challenge I see amongst other photographers struggling to make a career out of wedding photography is finding clients and booking weddings. I see the question all the time in Facebook photography groups, “How do I book more weddings”? There’s no magic formula, but these are some of the tactics and strategies I’ve used over the years to help grow my small wedding photography business to a 6-figure company.
1) Build, Maintain, and Update Your Website
In the world of all things digital, having a strong website and online presence is important. For me, my website is my #1 portfolio and marketing piece. As a result, I’m constantly updating my portfolio, blog and content on the website. The layout and design of your site should compliment your photos well. It’s important that it’s clean, easy to navigate and, this is important, mobile friendly! Especially since almost all clients do their initial research on phones these days. In addition, I also live by the philosophy that “less is more”. Only show your best work as quality definitely trumps quantity. When designing your website, keep in mind how you want your clients to navigate your website, and don’t make it hard for them to find your contact information.
2) Have a Strong Social Media Presence
Invite your friends to “like” your Facebook page, share photos consistently, and tag your clients in their wedding photos. Do whatever you can to bring people to your page. Make it known on Facebook that photography is your livelihood and your life. You’ll be surprised how many messages you’ll receive after creating a consistent strategy on Facebook. Additionally, It's important not to put all your eggs in one social media basket. A lot of photographers extend their social media efforts to Instagram and Pinterest and see success on these platforms as well. Even if it's just to gain awareness of your services.
3) Network with Other Photographers in Your Area
I moved to Fort Collins, Colorado from California in 2013 and I didn’t know a single person, or have any sort of connections or business opportunities in the area. To get started, I contacted local photographers asking if anyone needed an associate or if they would be willing to send along wedding inquiries in exchange for a referral fee. Long story short, I met a gentleman that I connected with so well that he actually referred seven weddings to me in that first year. Now, I’m not saying this will happen with everyone you meet, but it can happen and I’m living proof. You never know who will send you a potential client on days they’re booked, and you may even receive more than just referrals as you develop the relationship.
4) Network with Local Venues
One of the ways I find new clients is from venue referrals. At WPPI one year, a photographer who’s seminar I attended shared his success story on how he gets more than half of his clients from venue referrals. I was blown away by his achievements and decided to connect with venues in my area which has shown wonderful results for my business. It can be a challenge to get on preferred vendor lists, but if you’re persistent and offer venues albums and other marketing materials from weddings you've shot there, they are more than happy to return the favor by throwing you a lead once in a while.
5) Bridal Shows
I’ll admit, I don’t like going to bridal shows. They require you to invest a whole day standing on your feet, selling yourself hard to potential brides, and by the end of the day you’re exhausted. Admittedly, they’re also a hit or miss opportunity. However, even in 2017, they still work. I personally try to go to the ones that are lower-priced (under $300 for a booth) but also charge a small entry fee for brides to come in. This generally yields more serious couples looking for wedding info, as opposed to “Looky-loos” or people that attend looking for free stuff. If you do attend, be sure to put your best foot forward with prints of your more eye-catching photographs and always be friendly and polite with anyone that stops by your booth! You can also offer a booking incentive specifically for the event to give potentials clients more reasons to book on the spot.
6) It’s OK to Boast!
Don’t be afraid to share your accolades and awards on your website, Facebook, at your bridal show booth, or in your showroom. Brides are looking for reasons to trust you to capture their moments, and putting your achievements in the forefront can often help seal the deal.
7) Focus Marketing in One Main Area - and Hit it Hard!
Some of the best advice I can give for finding clients is to focus your attention in one or two areas, and really push your efforts there. There are really no right or wrong places to focus your efforts, just make sure that wherever you do choose offers you the best reach to your target clients. Some examples of areas photographers frequent include Google Adwords, Yelp!, SEO marketing, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, bridal shows, bridal catalogs, and Thumbtack. A big problem most encounter when trying to find business is dabbling in a lot of different areas which results in minimal exposure. Focus your efforts hard in the areas where you want to find your clients, research it hard, and do not be afraid to spend money to get clients once you've chosen the best platform for you.
8) Hire an Associate
A great way to generate additional income is by hiring an associate photographer to take on the weddings for days you've alreade booked. However, make sure the client knows up-front that it will be your associate, and not you, photographing their wedding. Take your time finding an associate you trust, as they not only will be representing your brand, but could potentially cost you money if something should go wrong. If you love your associate, chances are your client will too once they see how much you trust them with this task.
9) Be Quick on Email
This is incredibly important! When you get an inquiry or a question from a client, email them back as quickly as you can. I get compliments all the time on my response rate and have even booked clients before some photographers have had a chance to respond to that same client.
10) Perfect Your Craft, Define Your Style, and Be Consistent!
One thing clients love seeing is consistency. They want (and expect) all of their photos to have a commonality with which they can associate your business. On the backend, this means dedicating years of practice to define your style and to make sure all of your photos are magazine quality. The celebrity photographers you’ve all heard about have one thing in common, and that’s a definitive style with consistency. If you're just getting started in the business, ensure you focus on this first as a defined style that sets you apart from your competition can be the key to success in the early years.
11) Tell Stories, Sell Less
Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to sell our services that we forget about one of the most important elements of the wedding photography business: storytelling. As wedding photographers, we are there to tell the story of a bride and groom’s big day, and our potential clients want to see that! Brides love cruising on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook reading about other couples’ moments to get inspired and excited about their own day. If you blog your weddings, be sure to include the story of how the couple met, as well as the important candids of them and their loved ones that you captured throughout their day. These moments are the ones potential clients are trusting you to capture, and showing that you understand this can really make a difference.
12) Live, Eat, and Breathe Wedding Photography
This may seem cliche and should come as no surprise to you, but in order to succeed you have to give it your all. Dedicate all of your free time learning about the industry, read articles, keep up-to-date about industry trends, and network with as many industry professionals in your are as you can. These are just a few of the many things you can do to stay relevant. When I was first building my photography business, I’d be working my 8-5 desk job every day, and then working from 6-10pm every night on the photo side of things until I was able to make the transition to full-time. Do not be afraid to invest money to make money, and if you want to succeed, you will. Let everyone you come across know you’re passionate about being a full-time wedding photographer, and the support you receive from your family, friends, and clients will amaze you.
Now that I've equipped you with 12 tactics that helped me grow my business, I encourage you to incorporate them into your own marketing strategy. There are plenty of ways to make your mark in this saturated industry, and these tried-and-true suggestions will definitely help you develop your business. Good luck!