It’s the age old question for a budding entrepreneur – how do I get clients?

The fear, the panic, the anxiety – yup, I had all those feelings when I thought about how I was going to find people to let me photograph them.  Who am I?!? Just some girl with a camera — who loves to take pictures! That’s who.  And, I knew that I wanted to be a photographer.  You will have to step out of your comfort zone to get those first few clients – it takes a little bit of courage – but as I will share with you below, it doesn’t take much for it to explode!

Truth be told, my first few clients (ok, ok, more than a few) were free shoots.  I wanted to practice but what I really wanted was for to people to know what I was up to, because I knew that I needed people talking.  When I did start charging people, I started small – embarrassingly small fees for shoots that included digital files.  Yikes!  But, it served it’s purpose.  People were talking and business was growing quickly.  My first ever paying client was a friend of mine who watched everything I was doing for a few months and wanted photos of her kids.  Then, I decided that I would offer Mommy & Me mini sessions for Mother’s Day – filled all my spots and those people helped grow my business.

In this series, all the Flourish Academy contributors will be writing about how they got their first clients.  Below are some tips for you based on my experience.

Use your network!

I volunteered with my church youth group.  When I decided to make a go of it as a photographer, I knew I was going to start there.  I had lots of girls at my disposal who loved having their photo taken, and who also happen to be active in their social circles!  I would take the girls out for photo shoots, show them their images, and get them talking.  More importantly, though, I showed the parents what I was doing.  They were impressed with how I was photographing their children – that sparked them talking about me and getting business going.  The word spread quickly.

Kids activities, church, social clubs, sporting events – look everywhere!  As a photographer who does not have children, I always think those with kids have a much bigger advantage!  Use it – be bold!

JUST ASK!  I know it’s scary, trust me, I KNOW – but imagine what could await you. I remember approaching some of the youth group girls I wasn’t so close with and said, “You are gorgeous!  I want to take photos of you!”  And, they’d be all on board for that.  Yes, in the beginning I sacrificed income for exposure but I felt like it was worth it for me.  I had this group of people that were spreading my name all around town.  I think people are generally pretty flattered when they are approached about being photographed.  It doesn’t hurt to ask, and you never know who you are going to find when you are asking around.

How did this work for me, you ask.  Well, who do you think all those girls came to when they needed senior photos?  I even photographed a wedding recently for one of those girls, with more getting married shortly.  Seeds start small but they grow!

Define your target client!

It really helped me to define my target client, and part of that process is figuring out where they are, then finding creative ways to reach them.  I spent a lot of time thinking about my clients, where they are, what they want to see, how they want to be approached.  That helped give me a clear guideline on reaching them.  But, it’s OK when you are first starting out to take clients who might not fit your ideal.  Some may disagree with me on that, but I took most of the jobs that people came to me with – that worked for me.  It was about spreading my name, and when it came time to target groups of people, I knew who I was going to ask to help me with that.  Now, I turn down almost all jobs that aren’t boudoir photo shoots — except for my sneezers….read on!

Find a sneezer! 

What are Sneezers?  Well, they are people who will tell everyone about you and your business.  This is mentioned in the book The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.  They are extremely critical to your business.  I want to find sneezers and cultivate relationships with them.  I will admit to you that there are a few people who I felt could be sneezers for my business but I wasn’t terribly confident in my abilities yet to begin to build a relationship with them.  Sneezers start as clients but end up being so much more to you.

I put everything into my relationship with my sneezers.  I bend over backwards for them.  They want a photo shoot on a weekend – they get it!  They want to have both indoor and outdoor photos – sure thing!  Within reasonable terms, they get what they want.  They are worth more than anything to your business.

I have a few sneezers.  Does it work for me?  Heck yes!  I can track about 25-35% of my annual business to my sneezers.  They are invaluable to me.

Word of mouth!

NOTHING – I repeat – nothing is better than word of mouth when trying to build your business.  I spent a lot of quality time working with my clients, making them feel special, going above and beyond – things I still do to this day – but they knew they were getting a top notch experience from me.  I am very approachable, easy going and have a fun personality, so people are able to connect with me very easy.  Clients will talk about you and spread your name around if they like you as a person.  I would say about 75% of the clients that come to me now are told by their friends, “You’ll love Maura!” There isn’t a word mentioned about my photos – they want to be around me.  You have to be outgoing and charming, and let people endear themselves to you – that word of mouth spreads like wildfire!

Make it an experience!  Always be thinking of ways that you can make your photo shoots the best possible experience for your clients – if you do, they will tell people!

When I transitioned to boudoir!

Talk about terrifying.  It’s easy to find someone to photograph but ask them to do it in lingerie and everyone runs for the hills! This is a hard one because honestly you have to start showing boudoir photos to build that business, but you can’t expect clients to let you share their photos everywhere.  I started small by asking a close friend of mine to be my first test shoot but I promised that I wouldn’t share her photos anywhere.  All I asked was that she tell at least 5 friends about her shoot.  For that shoot, I found hair and makeup artists to partner with, and when they came over, we worked it out that they would trade some hair & makeup services for shoots for themselves.  I asked if they’d also be willing to let me share their photos, they said yes.  And, my boudoir business took off from there!  It just takes a few!  Another friend came in for a shoot, I didn’t share her photos but asked her to tell people about it and show them a photo or two privately.  More business came in.  I just started, no hesitation.  And, most times clients will let you share photos that don’t reveal their identity, so you can start with anonymous photos.

Some final tips from me:
  • Facebook isn’t what it once was.  I came into my business when Facebook was changing all of their algorithms, so while it’s a great way to show off your work, it’s not always effective.  And, numbers are misleading.  Let your work speak for itself – who cares about numbers!
  • Don’t underestimate opportunities.  When I was just starting out, I would look for any moment to be photographing something.  I photographed a 5K that my close friends put together in memory of their father.  I did it for free – just something fun to do.  Someone at that race started following my Facebook page to see race photos, and 2 years later she became a boudoir client.  As a matter of fact, she just had her third boudoir session with me!  You never know who you are going to impact so take opportunities as they come.
  • It only takes a few clients to get started.  Reference the sneezers section above.  I can count on one hand the people that have brought the most business to me.  In the grand scheme of things, in the hundreds of clients I’ve had, it only takes a small fraction of that to build your business.  See?  It’s not so intimidating when you think about it like that!
  • It doesn’t need to be elaborate.  You don’t need some fancy method or guidelines for finding clients.  There’s no hidden secret – you have it inside you.  You are giving something to people that they can’t give to themselves so go out and make it happen.
  • Just start.  Start somewhere.  Don’t want to approach someone you don’t know?  Ask a family member, ask a friend…but ask!  In the beginning, clients aren’t going to find you, you have to go find them.


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