It's a big world out there. Even in your market or area, there are probably more than a hundred wedding industry professionals and vendors. One of the most valuable ways to build your photography business is through the relationships you develop with these key industry professionals. It's also one of the hardest.
Although photographers seem to be a pretty social group, I often hear from friends and peers that the idea of trying to meet planners, venues, coordinators, designers, etc, can be intimidating. Where do I even start? How do I get people to refer me business? What do I do to meet the important people?
Those are all great questions. Just as in any industry, people want to work with - and refer business to - people they know and like. People want to work with people they've already developed relationships with. Calling a bunch of vendors and asking to be on their "preferred" list probably isn't going to be the best long-term strategy. On the other hand, I think that taking the time to develop real relationships can make a huge difference.
A good place to start is this: every month, make it a priority to meet one new industry peer or vendor. It can be a planner, a venue sales director, a florist, a designer - whoever you want it to be. Make it a goal to meet just one. This is a goal anyone can meet. Finding one new person in your market or area to connect with, helps you to start building those relationships.
There are a lot of great tools to connect with people - often Twitter, Facebook, and other social media are great places to start getting a sense for people - and to even introduce yourself. How you choose to introduce and meet with someone is up to you - but here are a few suggestions:
It's about them. No one wants to build a relationship with someone who just wants to get something out of it. Think about how you would feel if someone reached out to connect - and then proceeded to simply give you some sales pitch about their business and why you should refer them. You wouldn't. You certainly wouldn't feel like there was a relationship based on mutual respect.
If you reason for meeting someone is to get yourself business - you probably won't have much success. Instead, focus on learning more about their business - and who they are as a person. People appreciate it when they feel valued - and if you treat your industry partners like you do your clients (as the most important person in the world), you'll find yourself with some very valuable relationships.
Be authentic. Did you ever date someone, and after a while realize that the person who they seemed on those first few dates? Probably wasn't a fun experience right? It's tempting to make our business seem bigger and better than it really is - especially when meeting other people in our industry. The reality is, the truth always shows up sooner or later, and people will eventually see your business for what it is.
On the other hand, people resonate with people that are authentic and honest - even if their business is still growing or developing.
In addition to making one new connection each month, every week - reach out to one person who already has a relationship with your business. This can be an existing vendor or industry partner - or it can be a client. They key is to reach out and touch one person each week - to reconnect, and strengthen the relationship.
For me, my goal is to send one handwritten note each week to someone. Often its a thank you note to a client for their business, or a note to a vendor when I read something good about their business - or see a featured wedding published that they were a part of. I only write a note when it's authentic and genuine - and about them. I look for cool things that are happening with clients and partners, and send them encouragement when appropriate.
You can write for any reason you can think of - but my only rule is this: NEVER, EVER, EVER INCLUDE YOUR BUSINESS CARD. NEVER.
Think about it. If you receive a heartfelt, handwritten note, out of the blue - from someone you've done business with in the past - and after reading it, you find their business card - who is that note really about? Does it really feel quite as sincere? I know that some will argue that without some way for them to know how to contact you, how does it help your business. My thought is that if this is someone, with whom you truly have an existing relationship with, chances are good that they'll know how to get ahold of you when they need/want to.
So, it's January 1st.
What if you sat down right now and made a list of vendors you wanted to meet this year? What if you made a list, and started reaching out to them - one a month - as a priority for your business? What if you started a habit right now - of writing a note to someone who has added value to your business this past year?
How might your business look different a year from now?