How to Get New Clients From Wedding Vendors with Phillip Blume
As a wedding photographer, you should be filling your calendar with free leads from fellow vendors. I mean, aren’t they grateful? Haven’t they seen all the amazing photos on your blog? Without your images, no one beyond the guest list would ever see the flowers, fashion and decor they create—at least not in the appealing and professional way you photograph them.
If that’s how you think it works, slow your roll, my friend. It’s not nearly so simple. Artists of all kinds coexist inside this delicate ecosystem we call the wedding industry. None of us is the center of this solar system, and a lot of competitors are fighting to fill every niche.
I know you feel pressure. So do I. And believe me, every other vendor feels it from their competitors as well. If you want to get on a wedding planner’s good side, see your name on a venue’s referral list or even become the go-to personal photographer for wedding vendors everywhere, consider the following tips.
Create Value Without Going Broke
It’s a jungle out there. And after years of seeing new photographers get chewed up and spit out by the wedding industry, my wife Eileen and I have noticed a pattern. Only photographers who learn to live in symbiosis with wedding vendors survive and thrive.
Symbiosis just means “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” Picture the plover birds that manage to safely clean leftovers from the teeth of giant crocodiles. Instead of eating the birds, the crocs provide a meal to them in exchange for free dental care.
So what are you doing to serve fellow wedding vendors? If you scratch that itch they can’t reach, you may have found the ticket to putting bread on your table for years to come.
Unfortunately, many photographers think of symbiosis as sucking up to vendors. Have you ever invited a high-end wedding planner out for coffee or a nice dinner (“my treat, I’d just like to pick your brain”)? Or maybe you gifted expensive wedding books to every venue you’ve ever photographed. You may be trying too hard; as a result, you may look desperate or even go broke with nothing to show for it.
Remember the 80-20 rule: 80% of good results usually come from 20% of your efforts. So imagine the potential results if you focused 100% of your effort on only the smartest, most efficient strategies. (Have you really booked enough weddings from that sample book to justify its cost?) The good news is that the best strategies aren’t necessarily the most expensive.
Don’t run a reactive studio. Be proactive. If you wait for vendors to ask you for what they need, chances are another photographer will meet the need first. Or even if they come directly to you with a request (for sample work or a styled shoot), you will have to provide everything they ask for in order to meet expectations. If you make the offer first, you have the freedom to be creative and set expectations.
Venues are always asking for sample wedding books. Books take time to design, they’re expensive to you and most venues don’t even display or use them well. So get ahead of the curve. Instead of a book, design a single graphic collage featuring the best portrait and detail images from a recent wedding at the venue. Produce the collage as a mounted print 24×36 or larger. We order prints like this from WHCC. The value and quality are excellent. And after you deliver it to the venue in person, its size and impact can’t be denied. It will be shared and seen.
Include both your logo and the venue’s logo prominently. This is your billboard advertisement. But they will only value it if it promotes them, too. Brand association is powerful in a client’s mind. When a couple sees those logos together, it’s equivalent to a strong endorsement from the venue.
Deliver Digital Photos
The most obvious way to scratch a vendor’s back is to share your wedding photos, which feature their work. Just like you, they need photos to market and maintain a relevant presence on social media. This strategy is so obvious, why bother mentioning it? Because even though all photographers know they should be sharing images, almost no one does it. I’m no longer surprised when vendors thank us profusely, telling us we are the only photographers who share photos with them.
Are photographers lazy? Or maybe it’s just too easy for us to take visual marketing for granted. After all, we’re photographers. Our work is our marketing material. But having worked on shoots for companies like Coca-Cola, I can assure you other businesses place a high value on photo collateral. It’s hard to come by and usually expensive.
So how should you deliver photos to vendors? And should you charge for them?
First, prioritize delivery to wedding planners and venues. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share photos with other vendors—you should. But remember the 80-20 rule. In terms of the pecking order, only planners and venues are consistently higher on the food chain. In other words, couples tend to book a venue or planner before anything else, so they are your ticket to the hottest leads. True, we’ve gotten a lead or two from florists and dress boutiques over the years, but couples already have a photographer when they reach that stage of planning.
Speed Up the Process
Next, deliver at least a few photos fast. If you don’t, vendors’ phone cameras will quickly take your place online—and you will have missed a great opportunity to get your brand in front of their customers.
At the very least, we’ve found the modern age now requires us to post a sneak peek during the actual wedding. Otherwise, vendor snapshots often end up being the first shared wedding images on our couples’ social profiles—the ones that get hundreds of likes and comments.
Even worse, any photos you later make public (but haven’t shared directly with the vendor) will be used improperly. Whether it’s screenshots from your blog or proofs emailed to them by your client, the photos are less likely to have your watermark, get tagged or lead to you in any way.
I know what you’re thinking. No, do not send a cease and desist letter to your fellow vendors. I’m a staunch copyright advocate, but right or wrong, your images will be misused. Get used to it, or choose to make the experience a positive one where vendors feel served by you. The last thing you want is to put your fellow industry professionals on the defensive. Even if they loved your work, they won’t be able to refer you anymore. You can’t fight them; instead, learn to work within this reality and use their momentum to your benefit.
For same-day sneak peeks (which I define as one or two images posted to Instagram), we use the Wi-Fi tools of our Sony A7iii to transfer photos directly to our phones. When the couple sits down for their reception meal, we send the JPG versions (not full Raw copies) of our favorite photos to the phone, add our branded preset via the Lightroom mobile app, then post to Instagram, where we tag every vendor from the event. Laptops are no longer required. (Use the IFTT app or a posting service like Buffer to make sure your photo hits Facebook at the same time. This is where social sharing takes flight.)
To deliver entire photo galleries to vendors, you have a couple good options. If you want to get a wedding published, which we recommend, subscribe to Two Bright Lights. Here you can upload a curated gallery of wedding photos and submit it to hundreds of publications (online and print). Even better, you can send vendors private gallery access to download images, too. So even if the wedding isn’t published yet (which vendors love), they can get the images and feel confident you’re working for them. If the photos do get published, the vendors are notified automatically so you don’t have to send that extra email. What vendor wouldn’t want to refer a photographer who gets their business free print publicity?
But using Two Bright Lights does take extra time—curation, detailed submission forms, finding vendor profiles (which are too often out of date on the site) and more. Although I still submit our best weddings for publication on my own time, we’ve found a much easier solution for speed: ShootProof.
ShootProof’s brand-new specialized Vendor Galleries make delivery a breeze. They’ve thought of everything. First, integrate ShootProof with Lightroom. You can literally drop wedding photos in a linked Lightroom folder and see matching ShootProof galleries appear online like magic. Next, highlight any images you want to share and click to create the Vendor Gallery. (To offload even more of the time required, we drop all images in the Vendor Gallery—but limit the number of downloads a vendor is allowed so they’re incentivized to choose only appropriate photos and not the whole gallery.) ShootProof lets us choose the download size, watermarking and delivery of our personal copyright requirements automatically.
The best part is, our couples and their guests never see the vendor options inside their gallery. Even though it’s all there (no separate galleries or additional uploading required), the download buttons and options show up only for our designated vendors. Very cool.
As you begin working more often with the same vendors, I hope you’ll find it easier to become personal with them, as you would with any office coworker. It’s too easy to ignore vendors on a wedding day, as florists and planners move past frantically trying to meet deadline. Yes, respect their time and let them focus. But there are ways to connect with them, too.
We use a 17Hats questionnaire before the wedding to get every vendor’s email address from the couple. Then we start our relationship by sending an email before the event, simply asking if there is any help we can provide to a vendor before the big day. Almost no one needs anything from us at this point. But we’ve made clear that we are in their corner. We also express our excitement to work with them on this event, creating a positive tone. Finally we announce our desire to share photos after the wedding and help them get published. So exciting—but what’s even more exciting is that we share a link to the couple’s ShootProof gallery, where we invite vendors to preregister for a notification when the gallery is ready (so I no longer have to remember to send another email after the wedding).
Next, thanks to this workflow, on the wedding day, every vendor already knows us. We look them in the eye and say hi with a smile. Ask them how they’re doing. Beyond that, we just let them do their jobs. But there is something most photographers forget to do: get a photo of important vendors (especially planners, florists, etc.) alongside the couple if possible. These pros understand that showing relationships helps build trust with potential clients they’ll meet in the future. This photo is often overlooked, but it may be the one your fellow vendors value most.
We can’t be real-life besties with the dozens of wedding vendors we work alongside. But we can be true friends and supporters to them. If you’re helping them put bread on the table, you mean something to them personally. As a result, we like to give at least one personal outreach for all our vendors per year. They get a Christmas party invitation, and we add vendors to our personal Christmas card list. Through this simple gesture, we’re inviting them into our home and showing them our human side. They see our kids grow up in pictures, and we come to know them and their families. It even opens the door to photographing their families, and some join our client loyalty program.
The best vendor relationships are genuine ones. As a result, our studio has remained successful over 11 years with barely any paid advertising.