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Building Your Business with Repeat Customers

Intro by Skip Cohen

Looking through the archives of SproutingPhotographer.com I came across this post by my good buddy Robert Nowell. In virtually every workshop, class or presentation I’ve spoken at in the last several years I’ve spent time on the importance of repeat business.

But, it doesn’t happen by accident and it’s so important for you to maintain relationships with your past clients. Think about it – how many people do you often simply forget about? It’s not because they were forgettable, but often simply out of sight, out of mind. Well, the same thing happens with your clients and that’s where the responsibility falls on you to stay in touch.

So from text messages to phone calls to social media and things as simple as tracking birthdays and anniversaries on Facebook, it’s imperative to keep in touch with your clients. Think about it – if they loved working with you the first time, then they’re perfect to build more business and keep their family portraits up to date!

By Robert Nowell

ONE OF the things I like most about the Portrait & Wedding photography market is how well they fit together.

People who get married more often than not will, within a few years of their wedding, have a baby and start a family. If the wedding photographer did a great job and gave them a fantastic experience, it is highly likely that they will return to that photographer for their first family portraits.

There is a lot of talk about specializing in our industry these days, almost to the point where being a general photographer (one who photographs many different genres) is frowned upon.

Being a specialist or only photographing one kind of client, such as weddings is an awesome business model if you are at the top of your game. In order to be highly successful at just one kind of photography, you have to be in demand for that one thing. I would suggest for anyone starting out that they first focus on being a great photographer by doing things like mastering available light, strobe light, and all the technical aspects of their gear. It also makes sense to know how to properly pose people, because if you take away the wedding clothes, there’s not a whole lot of difference between posing a group for a wedding or a family portrait. Same goes for couples and individuals. Great posing and lighting are key whether you’re shooting weddings or portraits. Those skills will serve you your entire career. Some styles of shooting and posing are a bit more involved, such as newborn photography. Some of the complex poses used are actually composite images and I don’t recommend anyone get into photographing newborns unless you have been properly trained in the techniques that safeguard the baby during the shoot.

My point is that the business model of being a portrait and wedding photographer is an excellent one for growth. Getting a client with the potential need for future photography is a great prospect for future sessions and sales. Each and every time you work with that same client you can be establishing more and more of a connection and solidifying their comfort with you as a “their“ photographer. The goodwill that is built over time with repeat business is priceless and should be treated with the utmost respect.

Obviously, when you do a great job with your wedding photography, that couple will want to show everyone that visits their home their wedding album, they will share images on their Facebook pages, and if you’ve educated them properly they will be sure to credit you and your work wherever they share it. That kind of widespread exposure to their friends will very likely lead to an interest in your services from others and referrals will naturally follow.

This is what I like to call “the ripple effect”.

If you have properly marketed your family portrait photography skills to that couple who were once wedding obsessed, you’ll find that their focus has changed. The wedding is quickly lowered in interest once a baby bump is visible. Now, this couple is fixed on everything baby and that includes photographs. Many smart studios offer some kind of baby plan where the couple pays a package price to have portraits taken over the first year of the baby’s life, where the fastest and most obvious physical changes take place. Some plans might include a maternity portrait, a newborn portrait and then 1, 3, 6 and 12 months. That’s six portraits over a bit more than a year.

Let’s put this into perspective. Say you photographed an average of 20 weddings a year for five years. That’s one hundred weddings, and let’s assume that by five years each of those weddings started having babies. Imagine having up to one hundred clients start calling you back for new photography over the next few years. Let’s assume that each of those clients have a group of friends of similar ages and with similar interests. Maybe some of their friends will start having babies too. They have already spoken to their friends about your great photography and customer experience based on their wedding, and now they are expounding your virtues again because of the baby and family portraits you have just done for them. It’s like compound interest that just keeps growing. The ripples start to spread wider each time a new client comes in as a result of a qualified referral and then they start the process all over again.

This kind of marketing has little “hard” costs involved but does take a great deal of commitment to implement consistently.

You will have observed by now that I have mentioned a few times the same recurring idea:

Great photography matched with outstanding customer service.

Notice I didn’t say outstanding photography matched with great customer service. That’s because I truly believe that customer service is the one thing that you must truly excel at in order to be successful. You can be the best photographer in the world, but if your people skills are lacking or you give a below-par customer experience, then repeat business is not very likely. I have even heard art directors echo this thought. They’d rather work with photographers who are fun and easy to work with that have decent portfolios, than work with prima donnas whose attitude is insufferable even if their work is the best available.

I suggest having a mission statement for your studio that implements the idea of always striving to give each client your absolute best efforts as a photographer as well as committing to try to exceed customer expectations on each and every job. This is easier said than done, but having solid workflows in place can make that job achievable. Workflows that help you get the customer’s images ready in time and workflows for client education and following up.

As I said, photographers who do just one thing (such as only weddings, only newborns, only boudoir portraits) can be very successful if they are perceived to be the best and deliver outstanding quality in all areas. They must also market harder as they have to continually come up with new clients since the chances of repeat business is less likely (except in the case of newborns when siblings come along).

Trying to be the photographer of choice across a broad market is decidedly more difficult in terms of getting found and used. For example, if you wish to be a destination photographer and will fly anywhere in the world, you have to realize that you are now competing with every other destination wedding photographer from everywhere in the world. Your online presence and brand must be exceptional if you hope to stand out. The good news is that if you are a fantastic photographer with amazing images and you have excellent testimonials from clients and wedding vendors, you only need to attract and book about 25 to 30 jobs a year (if you’re priced right) to make a good income and shoot only what you want to shoot.

Those photographers that opt to build a lifetime of repeat business with the same clients (and their friends) can build a solid client base in their community that builds up a healthy and sustainable business.

Either business model is viable, but there’s a definite advantage to having organic growth from working with the same clients, again and again, that will yield a solid client base and customers for life.