Tying The Knot: Three Steps To Networking Nirvana

I’m coming to the end of my first year as an emerging wedding photographer and what a ride it’s been! From seeking my first wedding to building a brand identity and website; from running promotions to blogging for Current Photographer, it’s been non-stop all the way and I wouldn’t change a thing!

I’ve gained a huge amount of knowledge from first hand experience of running a business as well as the hundreds of hours spent learning, training and networking online.

And it’s that last point that I’d like to focus on in this post: the need to network.

For a lot of photographers and artists, it’s about being an individual and expressing their thoughts, feelings, passions. They’re happy to spend all day alone and even enjoy having a reputation for being a bit aloof. But when you make that excited decision to turn your hobby into a business you have to realise that, like it or not, it’s the business side that becomes a priority. Sure you can sit at home after shooting your first few weddings and expect that one day you’ll be discovered by a celebrity couple who are dying to have you shoot their six figure wedding. Good luck with that! The reality for the rest of us is that you have to get out there are make yourself known ‘cos bills don’t pay themselves!

Looking back on my first year there are three clear ways that I’ve made networking pay off for me and I’d like to share them with you.

1: Network with suppliers

Committing yourself to a life in the wedding industry means accepting that wedding gowns, hair styles, flowers and table decorations are going to feature a lot in your day to day conversations (in addition to “cheesecake” of course for me!). That means you need to gain the knowledge to speak intelligently to clients and peers as an informed wedding professional. And if you’re a guy this means you’re heading for one steep learning curve! So look out for regular supplier meet-ups in your area where you can get to know local celebrants, planners, stylists, florists, stationery designers and other photographers. Meet-ups are quite often organised by wedding planners as they have an intrinsic need to know suppliers who can be matched to their clients’ requirements. I go to the monthly Thursday Throwdowns in Sydney organised by Girl Friday Weddings which essentially involve catching up over a lot of red wine! But that’s the fun of networking; not only do you make useful contacts and learn loads about the various industry niches, but time builds trust and pretty soon you find yourself part of an invaluable referral system. And on top of that you also make awesome new friends who actually understand what you do!

2: Network with other wedding photographers

What?! Network with the competition?! Yep, it might sounds counter-intuitive at first, but as we know photographers are a social and friendly bunch. I mean, here’s me telling you everything I know! Ok, so some places will be more competitive than others depending on population, demographics etc. But if you’re in a metropolitan area the reality is that there are more weddings than there are professional photographers to shoot them, so don’t feel that you’re directly competing with every wedding photographer you meet. Instead learn from them and even team up with them. Have preferred partners to refer clients to when they enquire about a date you’re already booked for. Your partners will be extremely grateful and will return the favour at some point. What goes around comes around right? I’ve taken it a step further and now shoot as an associate photographer under the MacDougall Photography banner. This means I take on bookings (if I’m available and choose to) when the lead photographer is already booked and I get paid purely to shoot the day. This works to my advantage as I gain valuable shooting experience, I make money, but I don’t have to allocate precious time to editing.

3: Network with wedding blogs and magazines

You’ve got a handful of great weddings under your belt but what are you doing with them? Ok, sharing on facebook and your website will get you exposure, comments and even referrals. But what sort of influence do they have on future clients compared to the wedding blog giants like Style Me Pretty or Australia’s Polka Dot Bride? These sites have thousands of brides visiting every day so submit your shoots to be featured in their real wedding sections. I did and I got bookings. If you think about it, it’s a symbiotic relationship: they need your content and you need their audience. Sure, there’s competition to get featured on some of the larger sites so try engaging them through facebook and twitter to get on their radars. The same can be applied to wedding magazines. Imagine if you’re invited to actually have your work printed like they used to do with photos back in the day!

So there you have it – three simple ways to network, make new friends, increase your visibility and get more business.

If you have other great networking ideas I’d love to hear them so please share in the comments!

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