You’ve invested in the embossed business cards, the custom website, and a photo gear bag that doubles as a sleeping bag that doubles as a bounce house. So why aren’t photography clients beating down your door to hire you?
While smart marketers are busy convincing you that you can’t possibly do your job without the latest and greatest in gear and gold foil packaging, the pathway to client loyalty meanders through much less expensive territory.
Here’s how to build a diehard fanbase of passionate photography clients by investing into your own creative community.
Find Your Photography Community
We all need community. Friends who cheer you on, family who listens, neighbors who’ll loan you a cup of sugar (or a backup camera when yours is being serviced): all play a crucial role in getting us through life and work. As photographers, we need community in ways unique to our industry. Working alone day after day can become drudgery, and hearing our own inner monologue repeatedly assuring us that we could have done better can quickly drain us of our creativity.
“Going it alone is… kinda lonely,” acknowledges Cole Roberts, co-founder of Way Up North. “Sure, you could be this nomadic artist buried in a computer banging off a career. But life is more fulfilling when the highs and lows, successes and failures, are shared. Way Up North had its first event in Stockholm, Sweden, in October 2015, and the first words on the cover of the event material were a proverb we love: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ That, in a few short words, is why creative community prevails.”
Establishing a healthy creative community is the first step toward making your clients fall in love with you and your photos. With a strong creative community surrounding you, you’ll be more likely to explore fresh ideas, implement innovative strategies, and respond with patience and purpose to your clients’ needs.
Creative Community: In-Person
Every major city has photography meetups, many of which are free to attend! Here in Atlanta, Trigger Happy and Atlanta Photo Night are both incredible resources. Your creative community will become your referral network, your emergency contacts when your flash fails mid-event, and the folks who give you honest portfolio feedback. Education is everywhere. You just have to look for it!
Creative Community: Online
East Coast photographer Sam Hurd is best known for creating one-of-a-kind images for his photography clients. Teaching in-person workshops became part of his career path as photographers began clamoring for lessons on freelensing, prisming, multiple exposures, and other Sam-specific techniques.
But in-person education is tough for a photographer who still maintains a full shooting schedule. It’s also expensive – both for the educator and their students. So Sam turned to an alternative platform for offering education: Patreon.
Patreon is a membership platform launched to assist makers and artists in earning sustainable income. For a small monthly membership fee set by the artist, other creatives can learn from and interact with a musician, author, or (in Sam’s case) photographer.
While a monthly membership fee of, say, $10/month may not seem like much, for well-loved educators, it can add up to a sustaining income. And though some creatives see their artistic processes as proprietary to their style, Sam has a different perspective.
“Sharing what I’ve learned motivates me to grow creatively,” Sam explains. “Once I’ve put a technique out there, it raises the bar – for me and for the next person. Somebody can now start from an easier, clearer space than I originally started. It’s like getting the partial answer to an equation and starting from there, instead of having to solve the whole problem from the beginning. We only have so much mental energy to dedicate to new things and new ideas. It’s nice to get a head start.”
Collaborative Photographers Earn Loyal Clients
Client loyalty takes root when photographers engage their clients with love, encouragement, honesty, and a deep desire to see them thrive. When photography clients see that their photographer is open about their process, it reassures them that their own experience will be a collaborative one.
Keep Connection At the Forefront
Any manner of things can go wrong when you’re a human being working with other human beings. People get sick, drop the ball, fail to read the fine print… All manner of challenges are bound to arise, regardless of your professionalism and your clients’ good intentions.
“Network early, network often, network everywhere,” advises Cole. “The day you gravitate away from photography as your career passion, you’ll need to start somewhere. It will be your connections to whom you go first. Your network is like the roots of a tree, and those don’t grow overnight; they’re nurtured over time. So be patient but proactive with building a solid creative community. You never know when you’ll need to reach out to someone for help (and visa versa).”
By holding connection as the touchstone, you’ll find yourself less concerned about dollar signs and print orders, and more attuned to your clients’ genuine happiness. The beautiful end result? People who feel seen, heard, and valued are more likely to get and stay connected.
This means more referrals to new photography clients, more repeat business, and more willingness to invest in the services and products you offer.
How Will You Grow Your Creative Community?
- Join Facebook groups, follow inspiring creatives on Instagram, and attend local meetups of likeminded entrepreneurs.
- Send thoughtful notes to your clients, design special offers for repeat bookings, and show up to events and experiences you know your ideal clients also attend.