As photographers, we are always on the hunt for new ways to acquire more clients.  When asked the best way to grow their business, most would quickly answer “book more clients.” And while that is true, it’s not the most cost-effective way to grow your business. And the reality of it is, that’s actually the hard way of doing it.

To better understand this, let’s look at what it takes to acquire a new client.  First, there must be some sort of lead generation going on. You have to be marketing or advertising your company, your product, your services in some way, be it paid advertising via online or print, or through more guerrilla tactics like word-of-mouth campaigns, social media. Either way, you’re either investing money or time and effort.  And often times, it’s both.

That’s just the start of it all, too.  At this stage your entire objective is to have someone ‘raise their hand’ and indicate that they are interested in you as their photographer (among several candidates as well most likely). Next comes follow-up, education, persuasion, and lots more effort.  This is one of the most challenging stages in acquiring a new client: nurturing a lead into a bona fide prospective client.  Typically this involves dedicating time to follow up, answering questions, setting up an in-person consultation (or via phone or Skype), preparing an estimate, resolving concerns, building trust…and that’s if they are communicating back to you on a regular basis!  For those that are difficult to get a hold of it often requires much more time and effort….all  for the chance to book them as a client.

Hallelujah there’s a better way!  And it doesn’t require nearly the time investment (and headache) involved with traditional lead generation.  The smart way to truly grow your business is through taking care of your current and past clients.  They truly are a hidden goldmine…an ever-giving source of potential repeat business that can also provide a substantial amount of high-quality, easy-to-close referrals.

Think of it for a moment.  Who already has a great relationship with you? Who has experienced first-hand your unique style of photography and the awesome service you provide? Who has already overcome the ‘fear’ barrier and developed trust in you and your abilities?  Your past clients! They know from personal experience how easy it is to work with you. They understand what they are going to get and aren’t worried that you are going to screw them over.  As a result, these are people that are so much easier to get to come back and do business with you again and again. And they are happy to refer their family and friends your way as well.

How To Apply

In order to take full advantage of this hidden goldmine, you need to consistently maintain (and hopefully strengthen) the existing relationship you have with your clients and past clients.  One of the biggest mistakes that most photographers make is that they fail to contact their past clients enough.  Whether out of fear that they will be annoyed or out of sheer laziness, they simply don’t reach out and communicate to them enough.  Huge mistake.  Remember that these are people that generally know, like, and trust you!  Many of them would be thrilled to hear what is going on with you these days.

Warning: The key to building and strengthening these relationships is to provide continual value.  You can’t send out a monthly email that says “Buy From Me!” month after month.  That is not value.  That is a solicitation and your relationship will suffer as a result.

So what is a good way? 

Here are a few suggestions that have worked really well for me:

1. Monthly Newsletter: We talked about this last week but these babies are POWERFUL when done right. Dollar-for-dollar one of the most effective marketing tools out there, especially printed & mailed newsletters. Read more here…

2. Educational Messages: People enjoy learning how they can make more informed decisions. For me, I created a monthly article called “Built To Last” for my past wedding clients that discusses ways to continually improve their relationship with their spouse.  For past photographer students, it was an article about the technical side of photography (ie. rule of thirds, use of lines, capturing the story, etc.) that showed them how to better their photography in that specific aspect. The key here is to cater the message to your recipients and provide something that they will find informational and helpful.

3. Entertainment: People love to be entertained.  Look at the meteoric rise of Youtube, the second most searched website after Google.  By providing entertainment, you can give your clients a welcome break from the daily pressures of everyday life.  These can be short stories, jokes, funny pictures.  One of my favorites is to include a “Stupid Criminal of the Month” story. I’ve had great response with this and love reading them myself :)  Be creative, be goofy, be outrageous.  I’ve sent funny pictures of myself, shared photos from road trips with my kids, and even talked about challenging personal experiences. All these things provide value and insight that allow you to better connect with you clients.

4. Show Them You Care: Another very powerful way to connect with your past clients is to demonstrate that you are thinking about them. This could be an anniversary card, hand-written note, short email asking how they are doing, or even a photo print from their shoot with you.  These are all very easy things to do. But most photographers simply don’t do them.  And they are missing out big time.

In summary, you are sitting on a true goldmine in your past clients. Take care of them and they will take care of you!