How to get clients is one of the biggest struggles of most photographers. This is true for beginners trying to find their first clients as well as more experienced photographers who are trying to expand their photography business.
You probably have noticed that taking good photos is often not enough.
And you’ve probably tried almost everything there is:
- Adjust your style of photography to a more popular one.
- Worked for free to get some exposure.
- Experimented with Facebook ads.
- Lowered your prices.
- Hosted giveaways.
- Took courses to improve your photography.
- Handed out business cards left and right.
- Posted on your Instagram and Facebook page.
- Tried sending out newsletters.
- Emailed people your portfolio.
Some might have worked, but most haven’t.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be hard to attract clients and make more money as a photographer. You just need to know where to focus your efforts and have an overall strategy.
And with the number of photographers increasing every day, increasing the competition in your area, its essential to get this right.
So here is my guide, born from years of experience as a freelance photographer, to help you get clients for your photography.
Table of Contents
Finding Your Ideal Clients
READ THIS: The Most Important Step To Get Clients
Once you know who your ideal clients are, it’s time to go get them.
For this, you need to know the difference between a strategy and a tactic.
To make sure you understand the difference, here are some simple, yet essential, definitions:
- A tactic is a method or technique used to achieve an immediate or short-term gain. (Facebook ads, newsletters, working for free,…)
- A strategy is a carefully defined plan, the overall vision that guides your decisions and efforts.
A strategy is what you are going to do, a tactic is how you are going to do it.
The problem is that most advice mainly focusses on all the different kinds of tactics… and that it can seem somewhat overwhelming and confusing to a photographer who doesn’t see the overall picture yet.
So here is the most important thing you can do towards acquiring more clients for your photography:
(Go read that post, it’s the most important one on this website. Then, come back here. It will make the rest of this post 100x more powerful.)
Or, in other words, a person who hires a photographer is not doing it because they like to have a photographer around.
They are doing it because hiring the photographer allows them to do things that increase revenue or help them relive important moments.
Having beautiful photographs is not a goal.
Those are the goals your clients care about.
So showing potential clients your ability to do one of those 2 things will dramatically increase the number of clients you’ll get.
Let me say this again: the dominant quality which gets you jobs is the ability to give people the perception that you will create value for them.
This is your strategy, your overall vision that you then deploy through the various tactics discussed below.
Let it guide you in all your marketing and sales efforts, from how you build your portfolio and how you structure your pricing model to the way you approach networking events and what you post on social media.
The Biggest Mistake Most Photographers Make
If you let the above guide you (value creation trumps good images) and can avoid this mistake, you’ll already be miles ahead of the competition.
So the question is this: Are you waiting for clients to come to you, or are you actively doing things to get them?
Photography clients almost never come knocking on your door by themselves.
I can’t emphasize this enough.
Especially if they never heard of you, because most people do business with people they like and “know”.
Now, if this is you, don’t worry or feel like a failure.
The good news is that you can learn how to do this (many photographers before you have done so successfully), even if you are an introvert and without sounding like a sleazy salesperson.
Although it might seem out of your comfort zone, it’s necessary to put yourself out there and ask for the sale. Those who don’t are the ones that fail to have a successful photography business.
As we’ve discussed above, the best way to do this is to shift your thinking from being an annoying salesperson to someone who helps their clients.
By creating value or helping someone to relive important moments.
So don’t sell, but talk about ways you can help your clients. Talk about the experience and the results they will get. Tell them how they will feel.
Show them all the benefits they’ll get when they hire you as a photographer, and how you have done so in the past for others.
Time to roll up your sleeves and get those clients…
Where And How To Find Photography Clients
Now that you know that your story should be about your clients (what value will they get by working with you?) and not your images (people hire you for what your images do, not how good they are), here are some proven tactics that will let you communicate your value to potential clients.
Most photography jobs are never available publicly.
In other words: When a potential client is looking for a photographer they often consult their friends and business contacts whether they know and recommend someone.
Contact info is exchanged and you’ll get an email or call after which the portfolio, proposal,… show starts.
This is especially true for photography jobs you actually want to get, and there are many good reasons for this:
One is that publicly visible photography jobs get spammed by hundreds of portfolios.
The other reason is that most people have no experience recognizing a good photographer from a bad photographer, so they defer to others to make the right decision.
Especially since their money (and reputation) is on the line.
So one of the best things you can do as a photographer to get more clients is making sure that it’s easy for others to refer you to those new clients.
Do this by:
- Contacting friends and family, asking/reminding them to recommend you as a photographer to people they know.
- Emailing existing clients asking for a referral. (See my Photographers’ Playbook for step-by-step email scripts.)
- Setting up a structural referral program.
The goal of a referral program is to encourage and motivate your current clients to market your business for you.
I’ve experimented with all kinds of “rewards” for the one who refers me a new client, ranging from 10% of the profit and discounts for future shoots to taking them out for dinner.
For the new client, I generally like to throw in a discount as well but this is optional.
Just make sure you are not losing money on the shoot unless you know the new client will become a returning customer so that you can recoupe the money down the road.
Of course, this works best if you already have satisfied clients.
If not, you can always couple this tactic with some of the next tactics to get the ball rolling.
I know what you’re thinking: Networking events SUCK.
Especially for introverts.
But that’s because people typically go to them looking for clients.
Don’t be that creeper at the networking event.
Instead, I want to introduce you to the “Law Of The Few”, described by Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point.
According to this law, based on the 80/20 principle (Pareto Principle), “in any situation roughly 80 percent of the ‘connections’ will be created by 20 percent of the participants”
It’s these people that Malcolm Gladwell calls connectors. (Or as Seth Godin calls them, sneezers).
Connectors are the people in a community who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions.
And while these people may not turn out to be a client themselves, they can help you tremendously in introducing you to potential clients.
So don’t go to a networking event and try to constantly pitch your photography business.
Instead, go to find connectors.
Talk to them about how you created value for previous clients, and how you can do the same for people they know. Then, couple this with your referral incentives and let them get to work.
Of course, if you stumble upon a potential client at one of these events, don’t let the opportunity slip and start telling them stories about how you created value for people just like them, and how you can do the same for their business.
Finally, make sure you consider every “event” a networking opportunity to get new clients.
For example, find connectors and tell people about the value you create at:
- The local coffee bar
- A birthday party
- A wedding you are photographing
- A housewarming
This makes it especially easier for introverts, as it has a less formal setting with fewer expectations.
Apart from finding connectors and clients, there is a third type of person you can find through networking, and we’ll discuss these next.
Working together with someone else is another solid way to get new clients for your photography business.
Basically, you’re borrowing the audience of the one you’re collaborating with, reaching more people easier than you would be able to on your own.
There are many options you can work out:
- Work together with a wedding planner for them introduce you as a photographer.
- Have an event location promote you as their go-to photographer when people book the venue.
- Give a discount for an event you’re shooting in return for a couple of minutes that you can promote yourself on stage.
- Hang a couple of your images in a fancy restaurant or coffee bar.
You can couple these collaborations with your referral program or another benefit for the one your working with.
For example, wedding planners will gladly give you work if you can get published regularly while mentioning their names. For venues, you can offer large prints and promotional materials to aid them in sales.
In any case, make sure your collaborations are:
- Targeted: It’s no use working together with a furniture store if you’re a wedding photographer and are trying to get new clients that are getting married soon. So the better the audience of the one your working with aligns with your ideal client the better.
- At scale: The more people you can reach through your collaboration, the better.
- No cure no pay: Of course this isn’t always possible, but try to agree that the one you work with only gets paid if you get paid or find new clients as well.
So try to find out where your target audience and ideal client is hanging out and who is reaching them already. Then figure out how you can set up a collaboration with those people.
While you’ll get in touch with most of your clients via the other tactics on this list, a website is still a vital tool to get clients.
It serves 3 main goals:
- Demonstrate and convince people of your value, skills and photography style.
- Make sure people searching for a photographer find you through SEO.
- Capture visitors’ contact details (email) so you can talk to them again.
Let’s go over each of them in detail, and make sure to read my post about websites for photographers to learn how to set everything up, which tools are essential and all the pages you should include.
If you want to know how good your current website is, check out the Photography Website Grader.
Convincing Potential Clients
As we saw above, when potential clients are considering hiring you as a photographer they’ll often go and take a look at your website.
This is true whether they are referred by someone else or if they discovered you through your social media efforts.
They do this for a couple of reasons.
First, they’ll take a look at your portfolio to see whether you know what you’re doing with a camera. Of course, it’s even better if you have some relevant images.
So make sure you show off your images in the best possible way, and that they are easy to find and navigate.
Next, they want to be convinced that you’ll be able to deliver what you promise. Remember, this has nothing to do with your images but is mostly about showing you can creating value for them.
You can do this in two ways, and you should do both: testimonials and blog posts.
So make sure you ask previous clients for testimonials (see the Photographers’ Playbook for how to do this), then put them on a separate page and all over your website. Add some big-name clients to a client list if possible.
This mainly shows that people have trusted you before and that they were satisfied with the result.
Other people often give advice to write some blog posts, and this is true. However, they never tell you what exactly to blog about.
One advantage of writing blog posts is that it’s good for SEO (see below), but the real opportunity lies in being able to show potential clients what kind of results you’ve helped others achieve with your images.
So write blog posts about projects and shoots that you did. Show some images, but especially mention or talk about how badass you were at helping your client accomplish their goal (more stuff sold, more visitors than ever,…) and how your images impacted the end result in these “case studies”.
Then share them all over your social media.
And, of course, make it easy for a potential client to contact you through your website.
Getting Found Online By Clients (SEO)
Making sure your website can be found online by people searching for a photographer is still very important.
Especially as those people probably have a proven need for a photographer (otherwise they wouldn’t be searching for one), these are very targeted potential clients that just need convincing that you are the right person for the job.
That’s where SEO, or Search Engine Optimization comes in.
The problem is that many photographers have no clue about how to drive this traffic to their site.
And no visitors is no sale.
So invest in an SEO expert to help you get found in the search engines online, or learn how to do it yourself.
As SEO is a difficult topic all by its self I’ll be writing a guide SEO for photographers guide soon, but the general thing is this:
How well your website gets found online depends on 3 things:
- Your content: Writing blog posts and including the right keywords, links, images, alt tags,…
- Your website structure: Making sure your website is well-coded, that it loads fast,…
- Links to your site: Having other websites link to your website.
Even if you have no idea what you’re doing, if you have a WordPress site, I suggest you install a good SEO plug-in like Yoast. The plug-in will guide you in optimizing your site in a few steps.
They also have a good article about SEO for photographers that might help you get some new clients.
Did you know that 97 out of every 100 people who visit your website will leave without contacting you or ever returning?
Which means they’ll also never get the chance to become one of your clients.
And that after all the hard work you’ve put in getting them there with your social media and SEO efforts.
That’s why you should try to get them to give you their email address so that you have the opportunity (or their permission as Seth Godin calls it) to contact them again.
This way you can bring many of those visitors back to your website or let them know of upcoming deals and increase the chances that they will hire you as a photographer.
Read more about how to capture emails in my post about websites for photographers.
Make It Obvious That You’re Available For Hire
Once you’ve established a habit where you’re constantly showing how you’re producing value for others, you need to make it clear that you can produce similar value for whoever’s listening.
So when you’re talking to someone, ask about the things they want to achieve or improve.
And then, after listening carefully, suggest what you would do if you were in their shoes and let them know that you could do it for them.
Instead of saying, “If you ever have a project that I could help with, let me know”, show them how becoming a client of yours could help them reach their goals.
Don’t just leave with an open-ended invitation to contact you if they ever need a photographer. Say “let’s fix that problem this week.”
Wherever and whenever possible, make it obvious that you can be hired.
Let people know that you want to help them solve whatever problem(s) they tell you about, and do it often.
Whether in person or through your social media posts and newsletter mailings.
Don’t Forget About Existing Clients
Action Step: Do One Thing Every Day To Get Clients
These tactics to get clients only work if you also implement them.
And I get that you would rather be taking photos.
But without it, you won’t have clients and without those clients, you’ll never have a successful photography business.
The good news is it doesn’t have to take up much time.
Just do one thing every day to help you get clients, whether it’s going to a networking event, writing a blog post, asking existing clients for referrals,…
But make sure to make it your number one priority, schedule it in your calendar or treat it like an appoint with a client that you can’t reschedule.
Even with just a couple of hours a week, you’ll see the results soon enough.