Building Blocks: Relationship Building with Skip Cohen


Building Blocks: Relationship Building with Skip Cohen

There’s a great book out called UnMarketing by Scott Stratten that’s well worth the read. The subtitle alone tells you want it’s about: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging.

Even stronger is the message on the back of the book: “If you’re ready to stop marketing and start engaging, then welcome to UnMarketing. The landscape of business-customer relationships is changing, and UnMarketing gives you innovative ways out of the old ‘Push and Pray’ rut. Instead, draw the right customers to you through listening and engagement, enabling you to build trust and position yourself as their logical choice when they need you.”

The point Stratten makes isn’t new, but he does an outstanding job bringing the concept into contemporary marketing. It’s all about relationship building, one of your strongest tools to build your business and your brand.

Several years ago, I interviewed Angela Carson on a podcast. Angela is a well-known and very successful children and family portrait photographer in Detroit. At the time I interviewed her, Detroit was economically in the pits. Unemployment was at an all-time high. Crime was up. The city was having one of its worst recessions, but Angela was having one of her very best years.

She knew at the time she needed to do approximately 125 portrait sessions a year. She’d paid attention to her clients over the years, and knew that approximately 70 percent of her sittings were repeat business.

So, Angela focused on staying in touch with her clients all year long. With some, she’s practically a member of the family. Birthdays, anniversaries, all types of celebrations—she’s often involved not just as a photographer, but as a friend.

Let’s look at a list of things you should be doing to build stronger relationships.

Identify your past client base. While it seems obvious, there are thousands of you out there who don’t track much of anything in your business. When I asked one of the most respected wedding photographers in the industry about his database once, he told me, “I don’t know where anybody’s information is. All the past invoices are in shoeboxes!”

OK, so that’s extreme, but you need to build a file on every client you’ve worked with. Make it a point to keep their obvious information—address, phone number, email address—but also record their anniversary date and birthdays of everybody in the family.

Maintain your database. Building it is one thing, but maintaining is just as important. If you’ve ever purchased a mailing list, you already know the likelihood that at least 5 percent of mailings will be undeliverable. Americans move around, and to have an effective database, you want to know you’re hitting your target whenever you send something out.

Track anniversaries and birthdays. Set up your filing system so you’re getting regular updates when a past client’s birthday or anniversary is coming up. People love the pleasant surprise of a card on that special day. If you’re a family portrait artist, keep track of the kids’ birthdays.

I know I’ve written about this before, but let’s hit it again. David Ziser is one of the finest wedding and portrait photographers in our industry. As couples’ anniversaries approach, he congratulates them and offers a free portrait sitting as a gift. Think about the power behind an offer like that. The younger the bride, the more friends she has who will be getting married. Photography is a word-of-mouth business, and a client won’t forget that her photographer remembered her, let alone gave her an anniversary gift.

Send holiday cards. Holiday cards are a necessity, but go beyond Hallmark. Design custom cards featuring your images, and add a handwritten note for special clients. You don’t have to write a letter; just one sentence, like, “Hope all is well with you guys—wishing you a wonderful holiday season.” On the back of the card, you’re always going to have your address, phone number and website.

Own your zip code. Draw a 2-mile radius around your base of operations. Now, get out and introduce yourself to every vendor/business in that circle. The concept couldn’t be more basic: It’s shaking hands and meeting the people in your community.

“But Skip, I’m a wedding photographer!” OK, let’s put that excuse to bed. You’re a photographer and an artist. You can shoot anything. Say something like, “Most of my photography work is wedding-oriented, but if you ever need help with anything in imaging, I’ve got a great skill set and some terrific associates. I’m in the neighborhood and here to help with any of your photographic needs.”

Be a lunch slut. It’s my favorite expression because I’ll go to lunch with anybody who’s interested in photography. A conversation over lunch is the perfect time to talk about photography, your business and your lunch buddy’s business.

Whom are you having lunch with? This is about building a relationship with wedding planners, hotel sales staff, the bridal salon, florists, etc. Remember, the whole purpose is to build a relationship with people who are potential clients, but also referrals. You have an opportunity to work with other vendors and complement each other’s brand, all while focusing on the same target audience.

Be active in the community. Your community is at the center of so many opportunities as a building block for your business. The relationships you build are at the core of your brand, reputation and development of your business.

Social media is a relationship builder. Let’s use Facebook and Twitter as examples of how you can build relationships through social media.

To start, you can’t just watch the parade go by—you need to participate. Get involved in various forums where you can contribute expertise and support.

Here’s a prime example. Chris Fawkes of Australia started the Facebook Wedding Photographers group a few years ago. After a year or so, he had 3,000 members, and although we had never met, he sent me an IM and asked if I had an interest in working with him on building the forum.

We started talking via Facebook. We changed the parameters of the group, and today we’re just over 23,000 members. A few months ago, we had a Skype session, and suddenly the world got smaller. We’ve since brought in two additional administrators. We “talk” all the time and have become the best of friends, yet we’ve never physically met.

We’ve added two more forums to the mix: Advanced Wedding Photographers, with just under 3,000 members, and GoingPro, a forum primarily for new photographers, with just under 3,200 members. Chris is involved in all three forums.

Out of our mutual interest in wedding photography and helping photographers raise the bar on the quality of their images and skill sets, a terrific friendship has grown. Who knows what our next project might be?

Twitter offers the same opportunities, but in 140 or fewer characters. But relationship building on Twitter is exactly the same as on Facebook: It’s about being helpful and sharing information.

With so many conventions and live workshops around the world, there’s always a chance to meet face to face with those artists you’ve been talking with online. I also revert back to using the phone a lot. It’s not uncommon for me to just pick up a phone when somebody has asked a question that’s too difficult to answer on Twitter. Plus, the phone is a wonderful tool, giving you the ability to add a whole new dimension to a relationship versus one based completely on text.

ShutterFest is not a convention, but a community. I can’t think of a better way to wrap up the topic of relationship building than to use ShutterFest as an example. Whether you’ve attended either of the past two programs or are signed up already for 2016 is irrelevant. ShutterFest is a community of artists who all share a passion for the craft. They stay in touch publicly through Facebook. There are almost 2,500 members, and the underlying foundation for everything is about working together and helping each other through the challenges of being an artist and entrepreneur.

Many of us get together at other conventions. We’ve done guest posts on each other’s blogs, done podcasts together and even grabbed a lunch or two after the convention. Anybody needing help on a specific project or challenge has the opportunity to put out a call for help in the forum. Someone will often respond within minutes.

Building relationships means building trust with clients, vendors and other photographers. It’s a key building block for all your marketing efforts. This article covers only the tip of the networking iceberg.

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To read the full article, launch the digital version of the August 2015 magazine.

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