Podcast Episode #44: 5 Quick Ways to Reach Your Ideal Client This Week
At the time of this episode’s air date, it’s January, and for us wedding vendors (especially photographers, planners and venues!) it is BOOKING SEASON! January is my #1 month for new wedding inquiries. This is THE TIME to get the attention of recently engaged couples.
So my question for you is, how are you attracting your ideal clients right now? What are you doing to make sure that you have a steady stream of new wedding inquiries during this very important time for booking?
I’m here today to share some of my own insights with you. In my very first year of business, I booked 25 weddings and was able to go full time pretty rapidly, so this is a topic that I managed to master early and then refine over time. I’m really excited to share my BEST tips that I’ve learned throughout my years in business – so not just in that first year, but also in the following years when I learned to refine my marketing plan and truly reach my ideal clients.
So that’s what I’m sharing today – 5 quick ways to reach your ideal client THIS WEEK. Let’s get started!
One of the most common questions I receive from other wedding photographers is “how do you get your clients?” Well, I almost have to laugh at how BROAD this question is . . . but I also totally get it! What could be more important than having paying clients as a small business owner? So, you could probably get a partial answer to this question in MANY of my other podcast episodes, but in this episode, I’m focusing on some simple, easy-to-implement ways to dive right in and get the attention of your ideal clients.
One more thing I want to mention before we get started – this is the very first step of the booking process that we’re talking about. This is marketing. This will get your foot in the door, but it won’t necessarily make a sale. A great sales approach is also super important in booking your ideal client, and I talk about that a lot of this podcast, so definitely go back and check out episodes 1 and 2 if you want to dive into the sales process more!
Ok, so let’s get started with that list! I’ve got 5 ideas for you today! And #1 is . . .
#1. Actively engage with your favorite clients’ network.
Your best prospects – the people most likely to book you – will always be people whom you have a mutual connection with. People are way more likely to book someone they know (or, feel like they know, because they have a mutual friend), than a stranger with a beautiful photo portfolio or lots of followers on Instagram. Especially if you’re at the very early stages of starting a photography business, your very best prospects are going to be people within familiar networks.
So I want to break this down a little bit and say that there’s actually two different types of networks to focus on. The first is what I said initially – your ideal client’s network. The second is your own personal network. Let’s talk about each one!
First, your ideal client’s network. Your ideal client’s network is the people within their circle, who know and love them, who are going to be excited about their engagement and wedding photos. These may be people that were actually at the wedding, OR they might be people that WISH they got invited to the wedding, or are curious how that wedding went, or couldn’t make it . . . or were even in the wedding party or family!
You want to reach these people.
Why? Well, there are a number of reasons why . . .
First of all, these are people who are PRIMED to love you. If you’ve done a great job serving your clients, then they’re going to sing your praises if one of their friends or family asks about you. They also may have seen you working on the wedding day, which will make them feel more secure in knowing you and trusting you!
Second, it is way easier to get these folks attention that a stranger’s because you’ve got bait. Ok, saying bait sounds kind of like being tricky, but I promise it’s not! A more direct way to say it is that you have the content that your client’s network is going to be excited about. And that content is photos of your client!
Think back to a time when a close friend of your’s got married. Were you excited to see their wedding photos? Try to think like a non-photographer! I know that before I even became a photographer, I was totally that Facebook stalker that was creeping on my older friends who were getting married. I was curious! I wanted to see what they looked like! Now that social media has made us all so connected, it is SUPER easy for someone to creep not just on their friends, but on their friend’s photographer.
But I’m getting ahead of myself! More than likely, most people in a client’s network aren’t actively looking for wedding day photos of their friends. However, if a wedding photo of a friend were to just pop up in their feed, that would definitely pique their interest! This is the start of actively engaging with your clients’ networks.
Social media is the main way I connect with past clients’ networks. Especially on Instagram, it’s super easy to find and interact with those who are connected with my clients. So, when I am posting new work from a client’s shoot or wedding, I will immediately turn around and spend time connecting with their network. I’ll check out the people my client has recently tagged in photos or people who liked their proposal photo that they posted (because you know they posted that photo!) And then I’ll engaged with those people. I’ll follow them, I’ll post a genuine and interesting comment, I’ll like recent posts. This is all with the goal of creating legitimate connection and also organically pointing them back to my feed where their good friend is making an appearance in my most recent post!
Notice that I did not, in any way, suggest that you should actively engaged in conversation about your work or hiring you! This is NOT the strategy we are going for! We are talking about creating GENUINE connection and starting real conversations – no advertisements.
I call this strategy “assisted word of mouth.” If you’ve been in the business for a while, you know that word-of-mouth referrals are almost always the best and strongest leads. However . . . those referrals need to remember your name and get familiar with seeing it often! So popping up on their radar as you’re completing your work for their friend’s wedding day is an amazing way to get on their radar NOW so that when they get engaged and are planning a wedding in the future, they’re already familiar with your name, they’ve been following you for a while, and they TRUST you. And on top of that, they can ask their friend – your past client – for an *official* referral, which you’re gonna get because you always work to WOW your clients!
So that’s how you access a client’s network. Now I want to switch gears and talk about how to tap into your PERSONAL network!
Accessing your own personal networks is the single most valuable way to find clients when you’re first starting your business. This can also work really well for a seasoned business professional, but more than likely, if you’ve been in the business a while, you’ve probably already done this in some way (even if you don’t realize it!). But regardless, it’s valuable information for anyone to apply with intention to their business.
So how exactly do you do it? What does accessing your personal networks mean?
First let me tell you what it is NOT: you know when that random girl from high school who you haven’t spoken to in YEARS decides to slide into your DM’s and casually start a conversation . . . only to quickly turn around and try to get you involved in her MLM scheme. That is NOT what I mean when I talk about accessing your personal networks! DO NOT WORRY. That is ICKY. We’ve all seen it before and it’s a total turnoff!
Accessing your personal networks is actually really similar to accessing your clients’ network, only it’s actually even easier because your point of mutual connection is the network itself. Here are some examples: your group of friends, your college or high school graduating class, the people at your gym, your co-workers, your church or religious group, your hometown . . . the list goes on. Each one of these categories is a network, and these networks are PRIMED for you to make some sales! They are already going to be wayyyy more likely to have trust in you and excitement to work with you because you have a group – a network – in common. The very best referrals from your network are people who *kind of* know you, but you have a mutual friend. So this might be the sister of a friend from college who just got engaged, or a co-worker in a different department at your old workplace, or a friend of someone you workout with at Orange Theory. You want to reach these people!
So, again, how do you do it? How do you reach these people?
The idea here is, again, assisted word of mouth. You just want these groups to know that you have a business. You want to plant the seed in their minds without being direct or trying directly to sell something (like our MLM friends). You simply want to direct their attention to you and your business in an organic way.
Ways to do this are, as we talked about before, on social media. Consider which friends of yours have the best and most ideal connections to potential clients and focus on those connections. Bonus points if you have CONTENT that includes those very friends – this could be a perfect time to offer a free couple’s session to a friend who has connections with your ideal clients!
Because they are your networks and so you’re likely brushing shoulders with them often, it is SUPER important to also TALK ABOUT IT. In person. Anytime you see a friend of yours and they ask how you’re doing, don’t hold back from talking about your business. No one can hire you if no one knows you exist. So be bold – you’re likely already excited to talk about your business, but I know if you’re like me, you sometimes will hold back. I want you to NOT hold back. Be honest – share your genuine excitement about your business! Tell your family and friends. You will be AMAZED by how much this will make a difference, both in the immediate and in the long-run!
The very best thing I did to get clients early on was to capitalize on the connections I already had. So . . . I didn’t even have clients yet, so I actually worked on making connections with people who were one degree of separation away from me. Specifically, I was looking for young women (between 25 and 35) who *maybe* seemed to have a significant other. I literally scoured social media for dating and newly engaged couples and then made sure to naturally get on their radar. These were Facebook friends who were getting engaged or even a friend of a Instagram or Facebook friend that they posted a “MY FRIEND IS ENGAGED!” photo of. I would follow that person, give them a genuine compliment on their profile, like their photos, and react to the stories they posted. I didn’t overdo it. I just showed up every once in a while, making sure that I was on their radar. If they clicked my name, they’d instantly see that I was a wedding photographer AND they might even see a fellow friend’s photo posted on my feed. I reminded people I exist without asking for the business directly.
So, this might sound a little too social media creepy for you, but I just want to affirm you that it is not. In all my years of making connections this way, I’ve booked SO MANY WEDDINGS and I’ve NEVER had anyone message me telling me to leave them alone, or block me, or anything like that. On the contrary, I’ve made lasting connections and even friends by just showing up and giving genuine compliments.
I also want to affirm that talking about your business – sharing what you have to offer – with friends and family is also a seemingly-intimating but really great tool for growing. Especially if you’re brand new, imposter syndrome may kick in and the fear of being judged could stop you from sharing. DON’T LET THIS STOP YOU. I was amazed by the way not just friends, but old acquaintances and friends of friends encouraged me, referred me and said the nicest things about me to their engaged friends! Be encouraged that the majority of people are rooting for you to succeed, and if there are a few nasty people out there who do judge, you’ll likely never know and you are better off without them!
So, tip #1 for reaching your ideal client right now is to actively engage with key networks.
#2. Create a meaningful connection with the right vendor.
On any given wedding day, you work together with other wedding vendors to form a team. The best and smoothest wedding days almost always have an amazing team that works well together. Sometimes, you can actually take advantage of these positive team vibes by creating a strong and meaningful connection with the right vendor who can lead you to new and ideal clients.
First of all, let me just say that I believe that the best businesses treat EVERY vendor, no matter what role they play in the wedding day, with respect, love and kindness. Not only is this going to build up your reputation, but it’s the best way to run a business with integrity. However, not every one of these vendors is the vendor that you want to partner with strategically to get referrals.
So let’s talk about who the RIGHT vendor is for making a meaningful connection. The right vendor is, first and foremost, someone who has the ability to send you leads. This means that it will likely have to be a vendor who typically gets booked before you in the wedding planning process. For us photographers, this is usually just wedding planners and venues.
Next, the right vendor is one who works with your ideal clients. Location, price point, type of wedding, the couple’s personality . . . all of these things and more are factors to consider. So think about the types of clients that vendor works with – do some of their clients match your ideal client’s description? This is sounding more like the right vendor!
As a side note – it is particularly effective when making a meaningful connection with a vendor to really emphasize your ideal client. The more specific your ideal client is, the more that vendor will think specifically of YOU when they are working with those clients.
So, the final thing to think about when selecting the right vendor with which to make a connection is your own compatibility with them. Do you work well on a team together? Do you enjoy one another, or does he/she get under your skin? Do you have similar philosophies or approaches to your customer service and satisfaction? Aligning on this final point truly makes a vendor the perfect fit to form a strong and meaningful connection with!
So now that you know how to select the right vendor, how exactly do you get on their radar? There are many ways to market and attract strong partnerships with other vendors, but honestly, my formula is pretty simple:
2 things: Make an Impression and Provide Value.
If you can do these two things with excellence, making the connection is going to be super easy.
First, making an impression. The very first time you ever work together, an impression is going to be formed. Your goal should be to completely blow them away. For us photographers, I honestly think the final images matter less than the way you conduct yourself on the day-of. Those vendors are going to start forming opinions BEFORE the see the photos. Also, even if you create the most amazing, award-winning images, if you’re a jerk and no fun to work with, no one is going to want to refer you. So make a positive impression by focusing on being the nicest vendor in the room (check out podcast episode #11 to learn more about this concept). Your customer service should be absolutely over-the-top outstanding. Lavish the couple, wedding party and family with kindness, praise and encouragement. You should also be incredibly easy to work with. That super frustrating DJ who treats you condescendingly? Go above and beyond to be kind and helpful to him. The caterer who refused to serve you until 10pm at night? Don’t complain, but instead, but grateful, understanding and appreciative of them. Be kind and generous to the people who are most difficult to work with. A planner is going to be both relieved and so blown away that you were able to handle the jerks that she’ll definitely want to work with you again! And if this sounds challenging or you’re listening right now and rolling your eyes or questioning this advice, seriously go and listen to episode #11 this second.
So that’s making an impression. What about providing value? The second and equally important part of making a meaningful connection with a vendor is providing value to that vendor. You not only need to be a great team player and a delight to work with, but you also need to give that vendor something that is useful to her. Get specific in your thinking about this. What images would be most valuable to another vendor? Is it a behind-the-scenes shot of them at work? Or perhaps a photo of a part of their venue that they never receive but always want? Or a certain angle of their work that is important to them? You don’t have to guess – you can ask! Vendors are going to feel very loved by your care for their needs, and also incredibly grateful for you! Not only that, but they’ll likely post images of your work which will help attract more couples organically! Vendors want to recommend other vendors who are not only going to do a great job for the couple, but also be beneficial in other ways. Consider how you can make yourself incredibly valuable and then emphasize it!
Now those tips did have a heavy focus on wedding photographers, but this is totally something other small business owners and wedding photographers can think about and practice. As a skilled professional, you’re always going to have something to offer others. And making an impression really comes down to customer service, not the service you’re providing, so ANYONE can have great customer service and make an impression this way!
One more thing – what if you’ve never worked with that ideal vendor? This is really tricky, and I think for every vendor, it may look different, but those same basic concepts are the same: make an impression and provide value. This time, however, you should do it in reverse.
First, think about a way that you could provide something valuable to that vendor. Is it free photos of some kind which they may be in need of? Is it a referral from you first? Is it free education for their clients? There are all kinds of ideas here. It’s important not to assume that a vendor would want any one of those individual things. Instead, you should humbly ask if that item or service is of interest to them. You don’t have to be shady in your reasoning – you can be upfront in saying that you love their work and would love to do something nice for them. Finding the natural moments and places were you can start the conversation organically takes a little bit of social skill, but it’s really not too complicated, especially the more you put yourself out there!
Final point for #2 – if you’ve followed these steps for making a meaningful connection, I think that it’s worth it to come right out and ask for the referrals. Not necessarily through a text or email, but in a very personal way. The next time you see them in person, make an effort to tell them how much you love working with them and that you’d love to work together more regularly in the future. It’s amazing how just putting it out there will help boost your chances at referrals (once, of course, you’ve done the important work of laying a strong foundation for a connection).
So #2: make a meaningful connection.
#3. Get specific with your content
My third tip is all about your online presence. We all know that the strongest source of new leads is referrals – or “word of mouth.” However, nowadays, most couples get a LOT of recommendations. Your goal should always be to rise to the top of that list. The more times a potential client can see your name and your work before they’re actually ready to hire their vendor team, the better.
So, you can use your content (on social media, your website, etc) to create multiple touch points with these potential clients so that you are basically a household name by the time they get engaged!
You can also use specific content to reach new audiences, drawing them in and then continuing to pop up in their lives at various points.
So first, let’s talk about who you want to reach. We talk a lotttt about ideal clients, and once again, you obviously want to be reaching these ideal people as much as possible. So your content should be geared towards these people and post in places and ways that will reach them.
This is where the “specific” part of “specific content” comes into play. By posting in super-strategic and super-specific ways, you can reach ideal clients regularly. Here’s why . . . super specific content attracts a super specific audience. So if you know what audience you’re going for, you can plan and post content all centered around reaching that audience.
Here are a few ways, specifically, do to this:
Use geotags and hashtags: so my guess is that you’re already using both of these, at least sometimes. However, I am constantly SHOCKED by how many wedding vendors totally leave off the geotag OR use a really generic hashtag at a BEAUTIFUL venue or location! Yes, I’ll admit that *sometimes* my geotags are vague because the post is, for one reason or another, at a location which I don’t want to attract potential clients. However, the geotag is super-power for venues (in particular) and couples searching for inspiration shortly before or after booking their venue.
Hashtags can be used strategically in super-specific ways, too. I like to use a combination of broader and super-specific hashtags to reach a wide range in some ways but also grab the attention of those super-specific searchers. I always am sure to use hashtags with the venue’s name in it or a specific neighborhood or city. I also use hashtags that describe the content of the image in specific ways – for instance, if the photo is a detail photo of shoes, I’ll hashtag the shoe brand and style or the type of shoes. There are million directions you can take this, but more than anything, consider what your ideal client is searching for and what content you can provide to get in front of them on any individual search.
Another idea is BLOG POST CONTENT. There are so many ways to optimize a blog post in super-specific ways to reach a super-specific audience. You can check out episode #34 for a detailed explanation of how I optimize my posts to book weddings, which I’m not going to go into in this episode, but here’s the basics of what you need to know: you probably shouldn’t be working towards optimizing your entire website to show up on a broad google search for “wedding photographers in your city”. The most effective tool for showing in Google AND reaching that ideal client is to have super-specific content and focus on only reaching couples that are googling for something ultra-specific.
For example: “summer blush and white wedding at ______ venue” or “sunrise engagement session at _____ location in October” – and you can get EVEN MORE specific than that. Again, check out that past episode for the full rundown of how to optimize your blog posts to be found in Google searches!
Finally, you can post specific content and pair it with specific interaction. Like I mentioned earlier in this episode, the “warmest” leads (meaning, those most likely to book) are going to be those to whom you have a point of mutual connection. So when you post a photo of a specific couple, take time to interact with alllll their friends and followers so that those people get directed back to your profile and then get excited when they see their friend’s face! This helps grow your following and keep you on couple’s radar long-term!
We are on to #4!
#4. Incentivize referrals from past clients.
No matter how much your clients love you, nothing is going to give them ZEAL for bringing you new business like an enticing incentive. In other words – a REWARD for doing what you have asked. As we have discussed in this entire episode, the best leads are those that have a mutual point of connection with you. So, why not really accelerate that process of referrals by giving your past clients a great reason to be your biggest cheerleaders!
Just to be clear – an incentive is a potential reward to a client that motivates them to complete an objective. For us, this objective is bringing you new clients. It’s important to be really clear with your past clients what, exactly, the rules and reward are.
First, the rules. The best incentives are only received when a past client actually gets you a new booking, not just a new lead. You should always give the reward only after it has benefitted you financially. Otherwise, it would be pretty easy for anyone to inquire but not actually have any intention of booking you.
Second, you need to give a clear marker of completion to your potential client. How can they know that they’ve completed the task to receive the incentive? How can you be sure that they don’t come to you later on and claim “hey, that’s my referral, give me that reward!” without really knowing if that’s the truth?
Honestly, I know that it’s pretty unlikely that a past client would try to trick you like this! But these rules are actually more for the benefit of those who do want to follow the rules. You see, if a great client who is excited to be a part of your incentive sees a lot of loopholes and ways to cheat the system, it’s going to lower her confidence that the system actually works (and therefore, lessen your chances that she’ll follow through!). Make it clear how clients get credit for referrals. For me personally, I require inquiring clients to type in the name of the person who referred them. Past clients get credit any time someone types in their name to that box!
Now, let’s talk about ideas for incentives. Every business owner is a little bit different because every client base is different. Consider what would make the biggest impact with your clients. Is it a free anniversary session? Free baby photos or family photos? A print product or free album? An extra hour of coverage if the incentive is claimed before their wedding day? There are so many options here! So consider what would entice your clients the MOST and then offer that!
My last and final tip for you today!!
#5. Have phenomenal customer service.
Of all the tips I’ve listed so far, I have to admit this one is my favorite, which, if you’ve listened to the podcast for a while, will probably not be a shock to you! The truth is that when you have phenomenal customer service, word is naturally going to spread. Couples, wedding parties, families and guests are going to love you. You’re going to make an impression.
Amazing customer service is free. It doesn’t cost you any money or really that much time. But it makes an incredible impact!
Customer service is something I’m passionate about because I think it’s one of the best ways that we can serve and honor our couples and make our industry a better place. It has a positive influence on everyone around you and makes you a more pleasant person to work with. It raises the bar of expectations in a good way. And, it helps you build a solid reputation!
In the wedding industry, reputation is important! A wedding day is a huge deal, and couples want the very best. Not only that, but they want to avoid anything that could possibly get in the way of their perfect day. One negative review or a negative comment from another wedding vendor can totally ruin your chances of booking a wedding! And let’s be honest – those really nasty reviews RARELY, if ever, are posted due to the actual quality of the images. The super-nice, incredibly friend and helpful wedding vendors never receive bad reviews. Their couples like them way too much, EVEN if their actual work is terrible! It’s crazy to say and I also don’t want to suggest we should care about the quality of our actual work, but the bottom line is that customer service is equally as important as your skillset or artistic ability.
There are so many resources I’ve shared over time about this topic, but if you’re new to the podcast, go back and check out episode 11 and 12. There is so much to be said on this topic and some really great ways to be intentional about the way you do it!
So friends, that’s my list! I hope you found it super helpful and that you’ll go and start applying these ideas to your business right away! This is peak booking season, so now is the best time to really focus in on attracting a lot of the best types of clients!