I often get asked how can someone take their wedding photography business to the next level? Today I am going to give you some examples of things I did that worked for me, and offer some pointers for the direction you could go in. These are from my perspective on the industry. Sadly I’m not going to give you a magic formula to success but can start by saying that sheer hard graft plays a large part.
What makes me qualified to talk about this? Well a few years ago I was maybe a lot like you. I was trundling along nicely and year on year the bookings came in. Yes, I was probably getting a little complacent…. If things were looking quiet I would take out an ad somewhere or submit to a magazine and boom, the phone was ringing again. But then things really slooooooowed down. My home life had been super busy… Hello two small blondes who are the best thing I have ever done but also the most demanding. Looking back I have no idea how I juggled things or got myself to any weddings at all but I did keep working. Then when the Winter kicked in and I had time to review the business, I was a little bit concerned that the next year’s diary wasn’t very booked up and being completely honest I wasn’t that excited about many of the weddings.
Make a Plan and Make Connections
It was definitely time for a change so I created an action plan (okay I wallowed about feeling sorry for myself first) but with the new year I felt a renewed energy and decided if nobody was going to wave a magic wand for me then I would have to fix things for myself. I started with a bit of customer research. I spoke to the clients that I already had to discover more about where they were getting their inspiration and their suppliers for their weddings. This is how I first heard of Rock n Roll Bride. I got in touch with Kat and though I totally cringe now reading back my initial email, it does show that the best approach is always a personal one. I’m not saying call someone up and ask to meet up and be BFFs forever… That is just creepy… but neither should you send an impersonal contact. Talk a bit about yourself and showcase some of your best work. Ideally what you need to do is form associations with people in your industry who are more powerful than you. Getting featured on Rock n Roll Bride lead to my business turning around and I was back on track getting the right clients for me.
At the time I didn’t know this but forming alliances with your peers is a sound business strategy and now I also believe it works the other way. If you believe in someone else’s talent who is newer than you that is also a good connection. If they have drive and ambition then they are only heading in a forward direction which is where you also want to be going. I used to know very few other photographers and now I know lots, and all of them slightly different in their experience, style and outlook. If I can’t shoot a wedding, I will always try to direct the couple to another photographer that I think they would like, and I even share a google calendar with some of them which I can check to see who’s free on a particular date. This of course comes back on me as well and I also receive some great referrals this way. But more than that, by connecting with lots of others doing the same thing as me but at differing levels, I get a bigger view of the industry in general.
Stand Out From The Crowd
You are never going to raise your game by being the same as everyone else around you. Have a good, long look at how your are presenting yourself to the world and decide what areas could be improved. When I decided my site wasn’t representing me well enough, I worked with a web developer to achieve a unique site that I felt really put across my personality and ethos. I worked on my branding so that it is now very ‘me’. If you feel a rebrand is in order I would advise that you look inside yourself rather than all around at what everyone else is doing. It’s good to be inspired by others but if you go to the same designer and ask for the same website or blog template as someone in your field then you will blend in with them.
The next part of my action plan was to win an industry award. This might sound conceited but I had been doing this for a long time. I had never been attracted to any of the traditional industry societies but a fellow photographer told me that the British Journal of Photography was running a Wedding Photographer of the Year competition with Hasselblad. When I entered I thought I had little chance but was hugely surprised that I won it. That opened so many doors for me but on reflection it was because I made the most of it myself. My prize included access to Hasselblad equipment, so I used it for this high profile project ~ The Big Fat Wedding Bloggers Shoot, organised and pulled together by Kat.
The organisers then asked me to speak at the event that would launch the award for the following year. I had never done public speaking and with other revered photographers on the bill including Hugo Bernard who shot the Royal Wedding, my initial reaction was to leave the country or at the very least claim some sort of voice impeding ailment. Then I thought of Kat and how she had spoken at the same event the previous year, and I thought maybe if she could do it then so could I. I was super nervous but I found that I quite enjoyed it and met lots of really great photographers. The award has also given me added kudos within my industry and led to so many other things that I never even remotely imagined. Only just over 200 photographers entered that award so don’t think you are never in with a chance at something. Sadly BJP have decided to not offer the award this year and it was one of the only ones around that was judged solely on your work. However there are some other great awards around. Look for the ones that are talked about in photography magazines rather than the online ones that you either pay to enter or have to try to canvass votes for from everyone you know on Facebook.A respected award sets you apart from your competitors and can be a good springboard for your own press campaign.
With the raised profile I gained through the award, I decided to offer one day workshops to other photographers. This takes the perception of me to a higher level as I am now training in my industry. Again I found that this was something I had a passion for and very soon the Photography Farm was born. To me The Farm is taking photography workshops in the UK to a whole other level. We offer very visually unique styled shoots and cover post production as well as business school. I use my industry connections to create a fantastic team that work on each Farm including Kat, and we all stay at the farm so all the talking, learning and bonding keeps going over the few days. The Farm is now nearly always the first thing that photographers that I meet want to talk about. Some people may never be able to come to it as it is expensive, but if it makes them aware of me and adds some kudos to what I do, then maybe they might want to buy my Photoshop Actions or come on a one day workshop instead. Thar is still great for me. My clients are also very excited about the Farm and always ask me about the shoots.
Get Talked About
So I now found that I was being talked about in the right places ~ I was invited to speak at Christchurch University; I was interviewed for magazines, including a six page profile in Photo Professional and online for the US Photography Website giant Photo Shelter. This led to me including being invited to New York to do a workshop at B & H’s Manhattan building this October. But what has this got to do with shooting weddings in the UK? Well I only want to shoot around 25 weddings a year that I am really excited about, so by keeping a high profile I get inundated with enquiries from potential clients. By being at the receiving end of way more enquiries that I could ever book, I am able to aim to shoot only the ones that I feel really connected to. The rest of my income is made up by sales of Photoshop Actions that I do together with Amy Bartlam. Her computer skills are better than mine but my profile is higher than hers, so again this is industry alliance that works well for both of us.
Get Some Help
Nobody that I know who is successful as a wedding photographer has done so without working long anti-social hours. Getting to the next level can mean having more income so I suggest investing some of it in paying people to do some of the jobs that can be outsourced (book-keeping, accounting, processing etc etc). This leaves you with more time to do all of the above and keep your business progressing. Ultimately you will get paid more but work less. Be prepared to open the doors and then be brave enough to walk through them.
About the Author
Lisa Devlin is a wedding photographer from Brighton and a regular contributor to The Green Room as well as Photo Professional Magazine. She hosts workshops on all areas of wedding photography as well as the 3-day long Photography Farm on a regular basis. If you are interested in attending The Photography Farm (food and accommodation included), the next event will be taking place from the 18th-20th September (with guest speaker & stylist yours truly!) For enquiries or bookings email Lisa on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01273231047.