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The question invariably gets asked: How can I grow my business? It is the variation on the theme of “How do I find clients?”, and “How do I start in the photography business?”. If you’re in business for yourself, you ought to be asking at least one of these questions every single day. Unless you’re a really unusual character, growth of your business is always going to be a segment of your plan that needs nurturing. In addition to your attention to R&D, another segment of your business that needs constant attention, clients in every business are going to come and go. Trends and fashions in photography change with the season and what was hot yesterday is ancient history today. Clients come and go. Sometimes they have a stable of photographers and sometimes they just want to work with someone new. It’s nothing personal. Or it may be. You might want to find different clients to work with. So, in order to keep your business growing and vibrant, you need to constantly beat the bushes for more and diverse clients to not only keep the lights on, but to prevent you from getting stale in your work.

Go Out and Find Them

Also, it’s not unusual for a photographer to find a client who takes up most of their time. This is a dangerous situation. If your one client suddenly goes out of business, or decides to try another photographer or even if the relationship just comes to a natural conclusion, you are going to find yourself at the short end of a bank account. So get started today. Find more clients. Here are some ways to increase your client base and your profitability.

Join a Club

One of the best ways to find new clients is to join a club and get involved. That means becoming part of the organization’s efforts toward becoming a better citizen in your community. The world is filled with business clubs, networking groups and civic organizations. These are the places where you’re going to find a great many of your new clients. In every town there’s a Lion’s Club, Masons, a Chamber of Commerce, a PTA or even a local BNI (Business Networking International) group. The most important factor in your success when becoming part of an organization comes from what can you contribute, not what you can get out of it. It may seem like a contradiction, but that is the way of the world. One of the mottos of the BNI groups is “Givers Gain,” and you’ll either be seen as someone who gives or someone who takes. You want to be the guy who helps other people, not the one who is only out for himself. There are members of every organization who are like that. Don’t be one of them. The most attractive and successful businessmen in your town are going to be the ones who are happy to refer a fellow member of their society.

Think of ways to be of service while showcasing your work. If you photograph kids, donating your time to the local PTA is going to be an excellent place to donate a portrait session to be auctioned off at the local school benefit. If you are a still life photographer, look for the businesses at your local chamber that use photographers and get to know them. If they can’t hire you, they can be a great source of referrals – remember everyone you know knows at least ten other people and that referral base widens with the amount of people you know. Get out there, shake a lot of hands, be a positive influence in your community. Be a giver and not a taker and pretty soon you’ll have all the work you could possibly want, but be prepared for the long haul – building relationships takes time and patience.

Suit up and Show Up

This is a critical piece of information to absorb if you don’t already know it. Dress for success. Most civic organization members are going to wear a suit to work. While it’s not imperative for you to wear a suit every day, it is vital to dress well for meetings, lunches and other organizational meetings. Unless you’re retired, don’t show up for organizational meetings in blue jeans and sneakers when a first impression can make or break you. People jump to conclusions. It’s how they get most of their exercise. The point is, you don’t want to give anyone in your business life the smallest excuse to say no to you based on trivialities. Don’t let it be your undoing. This goes for anyone who works for you as well. In public, your staff dresses the way you dress. Make your organization a trim ship from top to bottom.

Once you’ve determined who your prospective clients are, dress like them. Nothing makes customers more comfortable than seeing their own reflection in the mirror. This is not to say that you need to be a complete droid, but dressing comfortably in a similar manner to the people you work with and for is going to make it easier for you to fit into the community, and easier for you to garner more business.

Associate with Other Photographers

Most photographers are loners; independent, and fiercely so. They guard their ‘secrets’ like gold, and they rarely, if ever, share with other photographers. This is a big mistake that most photographers make. They think that somehow what they do is going to be done by someone else and better, so they play their business life close to the vest, like poker players.

There are groups like ASMP (American Society of Magazine Photographers) that devote themselves to the welfare of their membership, and that is a good thing to be part of. Again, give, don’t take.

Read more: Public Relations for Photographers

But what will help your business more is joining organizations on a local level, and the most local level you can participate in is a group of photographers dedicated to the same business you’re in. That is not a misprint. Your competitors are going to be your best source of shared leads, and shared information about your industry and business conditions in your area. If there are no organizations in your area that don’t cater to your specialty, start one. Let’s say you’re a wedding photographer. Find out who the best photographers in your area are and phone each and every one of them up and find out if there is a small group of say, six to eight other photographers who meet regularly to discuss trends in the business and challenges in the marketplace. Here’s what will happen: you will grow right along side them. When you are booked on a given day, you no longer have to say: “Sorry, I’m already booked.” What you can now say is “I’m booked, but there is another photographer I think you ought to call.” Not only will your prospective client appreciate it, but so will your colleague. And there will come a day when that call will come back to you.

Don’t be afraid of sharing information with other photographers about anything. It won’t hurt you; it can only help. Being in a group with other photographers will provide you with all kinds of benefits, not the least of which will be the remarkable feeling that you are not alone anymore. Get out of the studio and see what you can bring to the world of your hometown and see if you don’t get back in full measure what you put into it.

Just remember: you’re in this for the long haul. There are no shortcuts to success in business and you may be an artist, but you’re also a businessman, and art cannot succeed without good business practices. If you find an organization or two to work with and for, it will take time to build the trust that every business relationship must have to succeed. Once you have secured the trust of your fellow members, they will become your most priceless assets. Every single one of your associates will become a salesmen for your business. It is so much better for your associates to recommend you. Having someone walk through your door that has come recommended by a colleague brings you that much closer and easier to another sale and more money in your pocket.

James Schuck

James Schuck is a writer and photographer working in Southern California. He is a graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York City and has photographed everything from Architecture to Auto Parts to Cookies to Portraits and Weddings.

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