I’m going to state the obvious: without clients, there would be no professional photographers. Most of us spend inordinate amounts of time marketing to potential clients, trying to get a foot in the door with a photo editor or art consultant. These folks are notoriously busy. They’re not easy to reach and when you finally do, you’d better knock ‘em dead with your pitch as it is unlikely you’ll get a second chance.
Let’s assume you’ve already got them on the hook and they’ve done business with you. Now that you’re “in”, you can sit back and wait for them to send you new business, right? While you could certainly try this approach I’m willing to bet you won’t find wild success with it. What you should really be doing is building and nurturing a relationship with your new client.
We all like to feel important. We like to be appreciated and to know that we’re needed. It’s just human nature. Your clients are no different. What can you do to let them know that you genuinely appreciate their business? I’ve italicized “genuine” for a reason: if you aren’t sincere, it’ll show. Send the same “thanks for your business” email that you send to all of your clients and they’ll see right through it. Send them a handwritten thank you card, instead. You’ll probably be the only photographer who does and they will remember the effort. On a similar note, send a thoughtful holiday card to your clients each year.
Last year one of the art consultants with whom I’ve done quite a bit of business inquired about images of Colorado with a specific interest in the Denver skyline. I sent her what I have and asked her if it would be okay to share her request with a couple friends whose Colorado portfolios are much deeper than my own. She ended up buying a number of images from my friends – and none from me – but the good will it bought me was tremendous. I’ve since done more business with her and my friends have also referred clients to me who were in need of Utah images. Win-win!
You never know where a small initial sale will lead. My most lucrative client relationship began as a $135 stock image sale. I delivered the image promptly and I followed up to ask if I could answer any questions or help in any other way. A couple weeks later I sent a handwritten “thank you” card. A few months later I got an email asking for more images for a new project. I quickly responded with a submission and thanked them for thinking of me. Those images were seen by an administrator in the same organization who was looking for images for a different project. My client recommended me and I was offered an assignment. I later learned that they didn’t even consider another photographer for the project because of the glowing recommendation I’d received! Since then I’ve done thousands of dollars in business with the client including stock image sales, fine art prints and assignments.
After two years of trying to schedule a meeting with a local organization I finally succeeded in getting a few minutes before their committee. I was trying to convince them to sell my small matted prints through a few of their retail outlets. The meeting went well and though they loved my work, they didn’t feel there was a large enough market for my prints. I sent a “thank you” card. Handwritten, of course. A few weeks later I received an email from them. They were interested in using some of my images in their annual calendar. Funny thing is, I’d been trying to get images in their calendar for ten years. Ten years! They used three of my images the first year and are using more in the 2014 calendar. They’ve also used a few images on their website and in a brochure. I don’t know whether I would have earned their business without the card but it certainly didn’t hurt my prospects.
The bottom line is this: treat your clients and wanna-be clients with respect and show appreciation for their time and business. Go a little above and beyond what the next guy is likely to do. Respond quickly to your emails. Find small, unobtrusive ways to make your clients feel special. Don’t forget that a small client today can be a huge client a few months from now. Most importantly, be genuine and fair in everything you do. Your clients will respect, and remember, you for the effort.
What have you done to build relationships with your clients that have helped to increase sales?