This is the second post in our 'start your photography career' series. Last time, we covered photographer’s compensation and pay rates. Now I want to take some time to discuss the real challenge: getting that first client. I got started in the photography business because a good friend of mine, a sponsored athlete at the time, needed a few good photos to show all those companies that kept sending him stuff. One thing led to another, and before you know it, all sorts of people were coming to me for my work. Here are a few tips to get your name out there.
Tip #1. Just take great photos of your friends
There was a trend I noticed whenever I’d bring my camera out with my friends. I would take the pictures for the evening or the event, do some basic editing, and then send them off over Facebook. The next morning, I’d log on, and wouldn’t you know it, all of my friends switched over their Facebook pictures to the ones I had taken. So far as I am aware, some of my friends haven’t changed them back since then. I guess they haven’t come across anything better.
If there ever is a quick way to get a reputation as “the photographer,” this is it. Sure, you are giving your work away for free, but it’s like any business or brand. You need to build buzz before you start selling. Giving out a few free pictures establishes your legitimacy within the community you belong to.
Tip #2. Ask yourself, “who needs photos?”
My friend and I were simply chatting when he approached me with the idea of doing his sponsor photos, but you’ll get that first client a lot quicker if you can identify opportunities and just go for it. Do you have a friend who is expecting? Ask. Got another friend getting married? Here’s your chance. You’ll never know unless you ask.
I would argue that nearly everybody needs at least one good portrait these days. I’m a huge fan of LinkedIn for business, and everyone knows how important it is to project a good image online. Do you have a friend in need of a job? Pitch the portrait as an investment in that person’s future. I’d happily shell out $50 for a picture that will earn me so much more.
Do be a bit careful about overselling yourself. Don’t spam your friends’ Facebook. Just know when an opportunity presents itself, and go for the ask.
Tip #3. Attend lots of sporting events and post the pictures online
Nothing brings people together quite like team sports. Just go to an event, bring plenty of business cards, take a bunch photos, and talk to all of the families watching the game. A great resource is Photoshelter. It allows you to post all of your images from a game for a few days afterwards. Parents can look at the pictures, but they can’t download them unless they pay. Believe me, once the parents see the pictures, they inevitably buy a few.
Don’t forget to include your Photoshelter URL on your business card. Give the parents some clear instructions to get to the pictures. If you don’t tell them what to do, they’ll more than likely throw out your business card.
Tip #4. Get some kind of online presence
It can be a Flickr account, a Photoshelter site, a hosted photo site like Smug Mug or a website of your own making. Either way, there needs to be some place for people to connect with you online. That way, when you hand out those business cards to strangers, they can go somewhere to view your full portfolio. I even do this with friends who haven’t seen my entire portfolio. Sometimes they come back with an idea for a shoot.
As your business grows, you will eventually want to get a full blown photographer website for yourself. I say this because your control is limited with a Flickr or Photoshelter account. When you have your own website, you can post whatever you want, however you want.
Tip #5. Just call up some local businesses
I know cold calling scares the bejesus out of most of us. I’ll be the first to admit that my hands get all clammy when I pull out the yellow pages and start calling people up. Take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay. Nearly all of the businesses I have called have been very respectful, especially when they’ve declined my offers. The worst thing anyone will ever say is “I’m just not interested at this time.”
Who should you call? Good question. Think of your specialty and go from there. Are you a food photographer? Call up restaurants. Even if you don’t have a specialty yet, just browse through your local directory, and then go to their website. Ask yourself if the images look professional. Is there a clear need for better photography? If so, make the call. Your services will make the difference.
It goes without saying that it’s easier to approach your friends and family first. Do that, and if you can’t seem to get your first client, try out some of my other tips. Here’s to a successful first year as a paid photographer!
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