Being a photographer is your passion, right? It’s so fulfilling to capture special moments and memories. But it can be super overwhelming, too. One area where I struggle is marketing — aka finding new clients. That’s why I really work hard to keep my existing clients and work with them over and over again to capture their new milestones. This allows my photography to evolve and creates a more stable business.
How? Well, by building a client relationship that extends past one shoot, I’m able to actually increase the revenue I make with each client. Plus, I don’t have to constantly market myself, and I can evolve my photography. Clients get comfortable with me and love the work I produce. That’s a win-win.
But how does it work… really?
Build trust with clients for long-term wins
The key to evolving photography and strong client relationships is being there for all the milestones — and making yourself available to capture them.
For most couples, there is a pretty normal flow to life. They date, get engaged, get married, and have children. There are so many opportunities for photo sessions throughout all of that. You could photograph the engagement, the wedding, maternity shoots, birthing shoots, newborn shoots, family photos, tween sessions, birthday parties, and high school senior sessions.
I’ve been photographing weddings for roughly 14 years now, and I have several families I’ve been working with for over 7 years, capturing each new stage. I’ve seen families grow right in front of my lens and it’s amazing for everyone.
How can you evolve your photography skills and grow with your clients? Let’s look at the pros and cons of building long-term client relationships.
Pros of long-term client relationships
#1: You don’t have to continually book new clients
In my mind, this is the biggest plus of working with the same clients over the years. It takes some of the stress and pressure off finding and getting new clients — especially if you’re mainly a wedding photographer, like me.
Here’s how this pans out financially: Say I book 20 weddings in a year at $3,000 each. That’s $60,000 total. The next year, though, I do a few photo shoots with 10 out of those 20 couples averaging, $1,000 for each for the year. That’s $10,000. That’s 3 fewer weddings to book if I wanted.
As the years go by, you keep building your client list, and the numbers keep growing (but your marketing budget doesn’t have to).
#2: They already know your process
Getting a new client is kind of like the first day of class. Your teacher has to teach you how they do things and you learn all the important rules about where to turn in your homework and when lunch is.
All photographers are different and their process is unique. From initial communication and onboarding to shooting style or how we deliver the final product, every photographer will have a different approach — and your clients may love yours. That makes it easier for them to hire you, know what to expect, and get great images they know they’ll cherish.
#3: You’ve built trust
People buy from people they know, trust, and like. Plus, getting photos taken can feel awkward or even uncomfortable for someone.
When you work with clients, again and again, you learn about them and create relationships that make them feel comfortable with you. You’ll be the first person they think of when they want another event or memory captured — and you’ll be on the tip of their tongue when they know someone looking for a photographer.
#4: Get more referrals
Speaking of referrals… Building long-term client relationships and evolving your photography with them will only compound for you. The more people who trust and know your work, the more likely they are going to refer you to their family and friends. Some people might refer you after one session, but after you’ve been working with someone for a few years, they’ll want to share your talents with other people.
#5: You can spice it up
When you do the same thing over and over again for years, it can get boring. Doing different types of shoots allows you to work with different ages and in different situations. That’s when the creativity comes out! One day you might be photographing a wedding, and the next day you might be working with a high school senior. It makes things exciting and allows your photography to evolve.
Cons of long-term client relationships
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#1: You have to enjoy a variety of photography types
We all have our strengths… and our not-so-strengths. Weddings are my jam, newborns, not so much. I like partying and laughing, not projectile poo. If you really don’t like certain types of shoots or you’re not good at it, it will show.
If you really don’t care for certain types of shoots (like lifestyle newborn photography) or you’re not good at them, no shame! Don’t do them. All that results in is a shoot you didn’t enjoy — and maybe even unhappy clients.
#2: Different shoots require different equipment
For each different type of photo session, you are going to need a whole host of different equipment. Another reason I stopped doing newborn photography is because all the props took up a large amount of space. I had a giant beanbag, backdrops, hats, and a few pieces of furniture. It just got to be too much.
Plus, you’ll also need a whole new email series, digital assets, and a secure, private gallery to go along with that type of session.
#3: More things to keep up with
There is a reason assembly lines were so productive. Each worker only had to know and focus on doing one thing each day. When you start doing several different types of photoshoots, there are more things to keep up with, or rather, lose track of. You’re not doing anyone, including yourself, any good if you can’t focus or are running in seven different directions.
Tips to evolve your photography and your client relationships
Here are a few tips to help you figure out if long-term client relationships are really the right approach for your photography business.
#1: Use a Customer Relationship Management system (CRM)
A CRM helps you keep track of your clients, follow a workflow, automatically email your clients, create a calendar, and even help with bookkeeping.
I’ve been using 17hats for years for the majority of what I need. Other popular options are Sprout, Honeybook, Tave, and Dubsado. About two years ago, I added ActiveCampaign for my email series because it has more options for automation. In both, I can group and tag clients based on where they are in life (engaged, newborn, family, etc.), so it is easier to offer them what they need.
#2: Only continue with clients who are a good fit
We all have clients who just weren’t the right fit. We knew it. They knew it. It happens. Learn from your mistakes and only build client relationships with those who seem like your values align. Focus on the clients you love being around, who love you, and who make you excited to capture their memories and moments!
#3: Keep connected with clients outside of the CRM
Your CRM should help you keep track of your clients and reach out to them when needed, but you also want to stay connected. “Friend” and follow your clients on social media. Keep up with what they are doing. If they get a new job, make sure to comment. If they need help with something, see what you can do. Overall, genuinely care about them, and treat them like you would a friend. They and other potential clients will see and take notice!
As I said earlier, it’s best not to do a shoot if you’re not comfortable. Instead, partner with another photographer and hire them to handle those shoots. This is also a great solution if you have types of photography you want to support but just don’t love (like newborn photography for me).
By partnering with another photographer, you can evolve your photography business and grow its bottom line — but you just don’t have to do the shooting. That’s another win-win!
#5: Wow them on the delivery
Growing with your clients is such a wonderful way to build relationships, but it only works if you’re also really delivering on the photography end. You know — the reason you do all this!
To build long-term client relationships and showcase how your photography is evolving, you’ll want a gorgeous gallery tool that helps make it happen. And since you’ll be photographing multiple events and memories for your clients, it also wouldn’t hurt to have a way to sell more!
That’s where ShootProof comes in. With their platform, you can build a Portfolio Website with no code needed. You can show off all your work — from weddings and births to senior sessions, family sessions, and birthdays.
Plus, you can use our tool to host your client galleries (you can store an unlimited number of photos with our Unlimited Plan!). Share photos, manage access, allow clients to choose favorites, sell prints, wall products, and more. This is a great way to wow your clients and keep them coming back for more.
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Want to give it a whirl? Let’s build long-term client relationships together with your FREE 14-day trial.
Do you want to offer different photography services to your existing clients? Do you already? Let us know in the comments.
Written by Bryan Striegler | Images by Juile Opende Photography via Two Bright Lights