2 Ways to Quickly Grow Your Client Base with Laurin Thienes
When you are getting started, growing your client base is the most challenging and important task. If you’re a portrait photographer, you’re probably focusing on one or all of the following areas: families, seniors, children, babies. Reaching these different demographics can be difficult if you don’t have a big network of friends or associations through another job or an organization. Experts say to advertise, use social media and spend tons of time networking to get your name out.
These are good ideas. But what about low-cost revenue-generating ways to grow your client list?
While I was building my first post-production business, I used senior photography as a means to support my entrepreneurial goals. But living away from all connections I had to my previous high school made it difficult to reach an audience that would generate the leads I needed to photograph seniors. As I struggled to do much more than get referral business, I seemingly struck gold: A senior I had worked with wanted me to come photograph one of his varsity football games so he would have pictures of himself in action.
As I photographed his game that evening, I not only captured him but many of his teammates as well. The next day, after I had culled the images, I posted the keepers online and enlisted my client to get the word out. I immediately started getting orders for prints and digital downloads, followed by inquiries from other families about pricing for senior sessions. I was pumped—my client list had grown overnight.
I planned to attend other games where I would capture more action images. For each game, I printed a handful of cards with the website link where people could view the images. Everyone loves looking at sports action of themselves, so I figured at worst, I was driving traffic to my site. But it wasn’t just traffic. It was revenue from the orders of digital downloads, images that took very little time to produce. After a few weeks, my client list had grown significantly. I immediately had recognition from parents and students as the dude with the big lens at the games. Life was good.
Keys to Executing
- Size matters—the size of your lens, that is. Today, everyone has a 70–200. Rent something that helps you stand out, like a 300 mm 2.8 or 400 mm 2.8, depending on the sport.
- Online gallery. Today’s online galleries are much more eye-catching than they were 10-plus years ago. Think about your audience.
- Post a few teaser images to Facebook, but not too many. You want to drive them to your site.
- Sports action photography is not easy. It’s hard to watch a game through the lens, but if you’re not watching through the lens, you will not get the hero shots. It takes practice. Lots of practice. Get out there and shoot.
If you want to reach multiple families spanning multiple age groups, do school photos. I am not talking about your run-of-the-mill public school with a bazillion kids—don’t waste your time unless you are calling in a major favor. Most of the time, those schools are locked up in multischool contracts anyway. But what about those small private or charter schools? These usually need just a little coaxing—especially when your pitch includes a mini senior portrait session for each kid. This offering is so different from the boring blue background that many independent schools will jump at the opportunity.
To an extent, this is run-and-gun shooting, but outdoor portraits at the school are a game changer from what everyone is programmed to expect. Choose a spot where you have two or three different scenes within a few feet from each other—school steps, a trailing brick wall, a tree. These are all cliché, but remember that parents have been programed to expect boring backdrop images with nothing to choose from. When they see that they get to choose from multiple poses, they are ecstatic. Colleagues of mine have turned this model into a six-figure business line, directly from the school portraits, all generated within the first couple months of the year. Just remember that you’re reaching an audience that you’ve never had access to before, an audience to which you can market full-fledged portrait sessions.
Keys to Executing
- The quickest way to run screaming to the nuthouse is to show up disorganized. Have your folders printed with all necessary info—how you’re going to keep track of each kid, tracking deliverables, and anything else that requires OCD-level organization.
- Enlist a friend (or two) to help keep people in check, feed students to you, write details on order envelopes or just be there for moral support.
- If photographing younger children is not your strong suit, do a run-through or two before you show up on picture day. Remember, the quality and experience of working with you will help sell you down the road.
The two main ideas here are tied to working with students, but the difference in demographics can help you narrow your focus to a specific line of portrait photography. While these ideas can be great for someone looking to increase their client base from zero, it is also a great way for established photographers to keep fresh new faces in front of the lens, especially given the new crop of students at the different grade levels every year. This gives you access to grow your client base at a significant rate.
- Don’t be a creeper. Whether you are working with high school or elementary kids, running around with a huge lens on your camera can weird out some people. Reach out to the appropriate people—coaches, athletic directors and the like. If a parent asks you not to photograph (or post) their child, whether or not you have carte blanche access, oblige them. You never know a family’s backstory.
- Donate photos. Schools always need photographers for school pictures, games, dances and other events. If they ask you to cover something and you can do it, do it. Don’t send them an invoice, just do it. The school administrators will become your best friend or worst nightmare depending on how you treat them.
- Collect data. If you drive everyone to your site (especially to view images you shot on your own time), get passengers’ information. You want to be able to market to these individuals. Use this contact info to advertise holiday pictures, mini-sessions, senior specials, wedding photography—whatever you want. Your mailing list is key to having repeat access to everyone who comes to view your work.