Lovely and Light by Hayley Lawrence » Charlotte NC Contemporary Portrait & Headshot Photographer

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How to Network with Wedding Vendors When You’re a Complete Beginner

This year marks my 6th year in business and I was thinking about all of the things I wish I’d known long ago. This is the only business I’ve ever owned, I didn’t go to business school and I’m a perfectionist, so I’ve spent way too much time making things harder on myself than they need to be.

How to Network with Wedding Vendors When You

I took this photo at a retreat for wedding industry professionals. A friend was busy and referred me. I happily shot the all-day event (despite suffering from an anaphylactic reaction to a chemical peel – because I’m a boss!) for FREE, turned the images around within 48 hours and met several planners that I might not have otherwise.

My gift to you is these little nuggets of information and encouragement to give you a head start in your journey as a professional photographer.

First, if you haven’t figured out this little wedding industry secret, let me tell you that you’re wasting your time marketing directly to brides only. That statement sounds counterintuitive, but it’s not.

Why? Because brides are overwhelmed with choices and you’re not standing out. What do you do when you’re looking for a new salon? You ask for referrals, right? You post something to Facebook like, “Best hairdressers in Charlotte?…Go!” and your friends can’t wait to comment about their salon that they are so in love with (or the ones who jacked up their hair). Why would you expect a bride to do any different? Except, the difference is that everyone gets their hair cut. Not everyone is also planning a wedding.

In the early days of my business, when my pricing was lower, my wedding clients were mostly friends that saw my work on Facebook and were hiring me to shoot their weddings for $1,000. As prices crept up, I heard crickets and had no idea how to get more clients. I was slow to realize that for their knowledge of “the best of the best,” brides look to wedding industry professionals for their expert opinion. And, if they don’t know about you, you’re not getting referred – plain and simple. If you recognize this fact early on, you are ahead of the game!


 

Here are my tips for one-on-one networking with wedding industry professionals:

+ Start by Googling the types of vendors that brides contact first. For example, “(Your city) wedding venues” and “(Your city) wedding planners.” Only contact vendors who seem experienced and have mostly good reviews. You don’t want to align yourself with any vendor that doesn’t treat brides well.

+ Create a comprehensive database of vendors and keep track of your interaction with them. Find my FREE downloadable spreadsheet at the bottom of this post!

+ Think about what you would like to gain from each relationship. Do you want to get on a preferred vendor list? Do you want to intern for them? Make sure that whatever you are offering aligns with your goals. Be helpful, but don’t be taken advantage of!

+ Extend a genuine offer to fulfill a need of theirs. Photograph their new venue, office, product, service or provide headshots. Make sure to deliver the images within a few days of the shoot and surprise them by providing non-watermarked high-res files, files sized for their blog, LinkedIn, etc. Over-deliver and make it easy for them to rave about you!

+ Set a reminder in your calendar to follow up with a friendly email or call in a week, if you haven’t heard back on your initial email. People get busy and go on vacation. Don’t be discouraged!

+ When the in-person meeting day comes: dress appropriately, show up early, bring business cards, a notebook & pen, samples of your work (if applicable) and a small gift. Vendors LOVE gifts! It helps them remember you in a sea of other photographers. Even if it’s as small as a gourmet cupcake, it will make an impression. Don’t go overboard. Keep the gift small, personal and inexpensive.

+ During the meeting, be casual. Get to know them. Don’t talk about yourself or even your business too much. Be genuine. Toward the end, state your purpose/ideas and discuss them. If they aren’t interested, it was good practice and you never know when they might need you in the future. If they are interested, tell them you’ll follow up…and DO IT!

+ Follow up with an email or handwritten note as soon as you get home. Also fill in your database with things you learned about them/their company (how they got started, # of kids, favorite coffee drink, etc.). Thank them for their time, restate your idea/what you discussed and tell them the next steps. Set a reminder in your calendar to follow up.

+ Repeat. You’ll find that you grow your network much more effectively and for much less than you’d spend on a magazine ad that brides just skim over.

 

Get my FREE downloadable Vendor Email Template so you can get started networking today!

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Also grab my FREE downloadable Wedding Vendor Database spreadsheet!

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