“It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” I used to hate that phrase growing up. I still do. The fact that it’s such a true cliché really just gets my goat. I really hated that phrase in college because it was always said by the guys who coasted by and actually KNEW people who would help them out. I aced all of my production classes but this one guy quit school because he knew a producer at MTV who got him a job. That dude literally knew nothing about production. AND that’s the way it works sometimes.
The key is not to sacrifice your talent for a superior ability to schmooze. Lots of folks who are still the guys “who know everyone” can sometimes be the guys who have a bad reputation as someone who is unreliable because they have no fundamental skills. If you’re talented then your work will speak for itself but how to get to that next level? When you start shooting or going from a hobby to a side business or full time profession you need to establish a few rules about how you conduct business as well as how you maintain in contact or how often you may contact a former client.
It’s always important to be as professional as possible even when you’re not making a monetary killing on those gigs in your first few months or year. Sometimes you have to eat shit and suck up bad attitudes because the reality is that if you don’t have a full portfolio and are just starting to make your bones in the business you will definitely fall victim to price shoppers. That being said; be as polite as possible and add them to your contact list because you never know what the future holds. I have had clients call me back from years ago because they liked my attitude – not because I delivered great photos – but because I left an impression. Of course some of these clients would try and get the same rate they did a few years ago but I would firmly tell them that the price is the price so to speak and generally they would re hire.
The more experience you gain the better quality of work you will put out, which also means better clientele and more exposure. Keep track of every lead, interaction, soft booking, hard booking, and name of every person you work with or their company. There is no rule against following up with a client whom you delivered a stellar project for. But don’t follow up looking desperate for money. Instead get to know your client through your initial interaction and follow up with a personal question about their life, which would segue into seeing if there is another project on the horizon for you.
Delivering great work is one of the more sure fire ways to get call backs. Keep a client list of people you have worked with that you can check in with from time to time that would keep your calendar full. Another little tidbit of advice is to pepper into conversation what other types of photography you do. Generally, people think photographers do only ONE thing. That is not the case as many of us work in different styles and niches. If you see a company you may be booked for has potential to lead to more work then don’t be afraid to ask questions. I shot headshots for an architecture firm last year and because I asked about their sites in NYC – they now have me shoot all of their completed projects. Once people see that you are reliable they will send more work your work and it would be easier on your end to send out a friendly email touching base. The point is to keep your calendar filled with gigs from new clients and legacy clients. Going forward you can keep your momentum going and transition from client to client rather seamlessly or without a huge lull in work.