This is a un-sugarcoated look into what life is really like when you walk away from the steady paycheck and enter the world of being self employed. I will be sharing my experiences, thoughts, and anything else that comes my way as I navigate the waters of being a full-time photographer. I also hope to interview other full-time photographers to share their experiences with you as well. To see the rest of the articles in the series, click here.
Booking My Own Wedding Photographer
Recently, the tables were turned on me. Instead of meeting with a newly engaged couple interested in having me capture their wedding day, I was actually the potential client. Over the last few weeks, my fiancé and I have been communicating and meeting with numerous wedding photographers for our own wedding. We finally settled on the one we both loved and now we are moving on to looking for a caterer, DJ, florist…oh, how the list seems to never end!
As I was reflecting on the process the other day, I thought to myself, ‘Wow, being in the industry, I knew what I was looking for and was still completely overwhelmed.’ I now know how my potential clients feel. Searching for my own photographer has actually helped me with my own business and I’d like to offer some insight to what your clients might be thinking when they meet with you.
Before I go into more detail about our experience, I want to say that all of the photographers we met with were great at what they do and without a doubt, I know any one of them would have done a wonderful job for my fiancé and I. My fiancé and I went into this process with an open mind, and I personally tried to go about this process as a client vs. a photographer. Here are some things I took away from this experience and was able to apply to my own business to improve my client communications and meetings.
8 Things I Learned While Looking For My Own Wedding Photographer
The biggest issue I had when looking for our wedding photographer was photographer websites. So many websites were hard to navigate, had broken links, had hard to find contact forms, and were flash based vs. HTML. I did a lot of my searching on my iPhone with my fiancé on our couch and flash sites don’t work on mobile, so those photographers were instantly crossed off the list. I’m not one to tell you how to build your website, but you need to give yourself a fighting chance. If your site is hard to navigate or slow to load, most clients will just move on. We live in the digital age and many couples are going to look at your website long before they reach out to you. Make sure it looks good, works on every device, and has an easy way to contact you.
2. Displaying Your Prices
I’m one of those people that believe pricing is just one part of booking your photographer. I believe you need to like the photographer as a person, love their work, and the budget should be used as a guide, not the end all be all. With that said, many couples are price shopping, and to a degree, my fiancé and I were no different. We had a budget, but decided that if we loved someone, we would not be afraid to spend a little more. It was nice to have an idea what someone cost right away. Do yourself a favor and if nothing else, post your starting price on your website.
This will help to weed out the couples who cannot afford you at all. I believe it’s fair to give couples an idea of what it will cost to hire you. I know some of you are going to cry foul, but stating your starting price on your website just makes the process easier for potential clients and yourself. There is nothing worse than getting inquiry after inquiry for a $1,000 less than your starting price because potential clients have no idea what you cost. Time is money; you don’t want to waste time replying to a bunch of emails only to find out that a couple cannot afford you.
3. Call Couples On The Phone
You know what blew me away more than anything during our search? The fact that almost all the photographers we contacted called us within 24 hours. You read that right; they called us, like on a real telephone with a real human voice on the end of the line! I personally just emailed people when I got a new inquiry in the past, but after all these photographers called us, it hit me that it was a great idea to do that myself. Since then, I’ve called every inquiry I received. Even if the couple does not pick up (they probably won’t), you have an opportunity to introduce yourself, mention how excited you are to meet with them, and also say that you will send over an email with more info (just in case your email goes to their spam box, now they know to look for one).
Phone calls might seem old school since so many of us text, or write emails, but getting actual phone calls really stood out to us. It was more personal to receive a call. It showed us that these photographers were excited to meet us and were not afraid to open up the line of communication with us. I know it’s not fun to cold call inquires, but if you don’t want to call them, then why even ask for their phone number on your contact form in the first place?
4. Inquiry Response Time
Want to know a simple trick to catching a potential clients’ eyes, besides picking up the phone and calling them? Reply to email inquires quickly. I’m not saying the second you get a new inquiry in your email you should drop everything and respond, but at least within 24 hours. We live in a world of instant gratification. We want what we want before we know we want it. If you can’t give people what they want right away, they will forget about you and move on. The truth is, you really have no excuse to not get back to someone quickly; you can have a simple drafted email response ready to send, with some basic information or a lot of information. Just make sure you send something quickly.
5. Tell Couples About Yourself
This is another area I’m improving on myself, and was just starting to before my fiancé and went through this process. Couples want to know who you are. They want to know that you’re an actual human who has a heartbeat and shares some of the same qualities they do. I read so many ‘About Me’ sections on photographer’s sites that was written in the third person, or worse had no ‘About Me’ section at all! We are social creatures; look at Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We love to share our lives with the world. You should do the same with your photography business. Share some of who you are on your website, in blog posts, or in your initial email to a couple. People want to know who you are. Do them a favor and tell them!
6. Blog Frequently
When I was looking at websites, the first stop after their portfolio was to their blog (if they had one). I used their blogs to see a larger variety of their work, to see if they are consistently shooting (business or personal), and hopefully, could find a more personal blog post that let me into their lives to read about who they are outside of photography.
I’m a big fan of blogging, and I know some of you hate it, but it’s your personal space in this world to share whatever you want with anyone. If I’m looking at blogs for more information, you can bet couples that know nothing about photography are doing the same. I should note that many times when I used Google during the initial search, it was photographer’s blogs that showed up first before their websites. If you are into SEO like myself, blogging can really help attract potential clients.
7. Choose Your Meeting Space Carefully
I’m not a photographer with a studio space, nor do I think you need one just for client meetings, but let me tell you, as we met with photographers, those that had a dedicated meeting space that was not a public space (like Starbucks) was really nice. We felt more comfortable meeting in their space vs. meeting at a public space. It allowed the photographers to focus solely on us as clients and allowed them to showcase their work around the room. Personally, I’ve been toying with the idea of having client meetings in my home. I have an area to meet with them and being able to control the environment would be nice.
If you don’t have a dedicated meeting space, I would suggest ditching Starbucks. I have a love/hate relationship with Starbucks for meetings and I try to avoid it at all costs. It’s too busy, can be hard to find a seat, and overall, just does not feel personal to me. I go for a more intimate public space such as a nice hotel lobby with a bar, or even meeting clients for dinner. No matter where you decide to meet, try your hardest to keep the meeting personal so you can focus on getting to know the couple sitting across from you.
8. Be Ready To Show A Full Wedding
Be ready for the educated client like my fiancé and I. Many clients don’t think to ask to see a full wedding, but I did. I wanted to see a full body of work to see if a photographer’s style was consistent throughout a wedding day. All the photographers we met with had multiple full wedding galleries to show us.
In all the meetings I’ve had in three years, I’ve only been asked once for a full wedding to view. With that said, I have two weddings and two engagements sessions uploaded and ready to show a client if I get asked. You can use a online gallery service provider like ShootProof or design a few albums with full weddings ready to present. My fiancé actually said she would have never thought to ask to see full weddings, and I think most brides don’t think to ask that question either. Trust me, it’s easier to have a few weddings ready to show, than coming up with some excuse why you don’t have any. That would be a major red flag for me or any other potential client for that matter.
At the end of the day, I think I was probably one of the hardest potential clients to meet with. My fiancé, not as much. I knew what we wanted and refused to compromise. We all have areas of our business we can improve and after going through the process of hiring my own wedding photographer, I noticed areas where I could improve and have started changing how I do business for the better.
Till next time, keep shooting, building your business, and embrace the hustle!
CREDITS: Photographs by Chris Nachtwey have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.