Catching clients with creativity

As a photographer, you’re in creative mode all of the time. But how about using some of that creativity to build relationships with your clients, or to attract new ones in your drive to grow your photography business?

It’s always difficult to think of a way to get a prospect interested in you. Emails and mailers showing your work are important and they certainly do a job. They’ll usually generate some interest and a couple of leads and they’re a good way to keep you on the radar of a large number of businesses, but how do you get the clients that you really want to work with to bite?

An approach that you can take it to create a hot list, maybe 10 or so client names of business that you’d really love to work with or that you really feel you could help, and then create a tailored approach to contacting them.

The key to making this effective is to try and anticipate what their problems are, what they need help with – or simply, what’s going to stand out from the way that photographers normally try and attract their attention.

One thing that nearly all businesses are constantly on the look out for is ideas. There is no such thing as too many ideas, and yet the people who are working either for or in the same business, day in, day out, will probably be too busy to have the time and the space to sit back and think creatively.

Approaching a business with a relevant idea is a good way to get some personal communication going with them, and that could go a long way to setting you up for a face-to-face meeting, which should be a focus for you anyway throughout your communication strategy.

However, a great creative idea is only good if it gets to the right person, so you need to do some homework into any company that you approach, to try and anticipate the best person to speak to, and be mindful that this will vary from one company to an other.

For example, PR companies often don’t have an internal creative function themselves, and tend to be very receptive to photographers who come to them with ideas and want to collaborate. So within a PR company, there could be a lot of people across a wide range of different roles and seniority levels that you could approach.

Which would be quite different to an advertising or design agency, which by definition has its own creative function. Reasonably, because of this, they may not feel that they want or need creative input from an external person. If you had a fantastic idea for an agency that you knew of, then the best people to speak to would be the MD or Client Services Director, who would be able to bring you into consult with the existing creative team if they liked your ideas and felt they would provide a good opportunity for their clients.

A huge opportunity for photographers is going to direct to a business. They may well use agencies for some of their services, but many businesses now take a very open minded approach to who they will work with. They are happy to produce creative content for their business through an informal model, using a network of different suppliers as well as using in-house resources. The days of advertising agencies being paid on a retainer to take care of all elements of the creative production for a long-term client, have long gone. These days clients of all sizes are keeping their options open and operate in an almost constant state of ‘looking around’ to make sure they’re available to take advantage of new ideas or initiatives that would benefit their businesses.

So, you’ve targeted the companies that you want to speak to, found out who the right contact is, and have a great idea that you want to share with them. What else do you need to have covered?

A creative idea needs to be presented in a business context, so you’ll need to have thought through how the client can use your idea and how they will benefit from using it in a commercial sense. You don’t need a full business case of course, but there needs to be evidence of some initial thought process around how this creative photography idea can help and why they should do it.

Then it’s simply a question of putting together a concise but well crafted email together, outlining your idea and the opportunity and stating that if they are interesting in having a talk about this in more detail, then you would be happy to arrange a meeting to go through it in more detail.

If you don’t hear back straight away, don’t assume that they are not interested. People are busy, so be prepared to chase them a few times via email and even a telephone call, before you decide that this isn’t a goer this time.

We know plenty of photographers who work like this – and have picked up clients using this approach – but is this giving away your ideas for free?

Well technically, you are investing your time in showcasing your ability and creativity as a tool to win more work, which no-one’s going to pay you for. But this is very much a standard practice in many businesses and certainly a way as a photographer, to both stand out from the competition and take on a role which is more ‘creative partner’ than ‘commissioned service’, which we know many photographers are keen to do.

That said, if someone did run with your idea without using you they you’d be within your rights to go back to them with a request for reinbursement, and you can protect yourself through this process by making them aware that any discussion with them about any ideas does not give them a right to use them.

However, for someone to steal your idea in this way, is extremely rare – ad agencies and design agencies are always pitching ideas to businesses to get work, and the potential clients know that they can’t just take the ideas and deliver them themselves.

You do have to be canny and manage the process well – make sure you don’t let the client keep you hanging on for too long. You call the shots, and decide for yourself when you have done enough to show them what your capable of.

The strategies and tactics you use to get clients are ultimately your own decision, but one thing is for sure, the world is changing, the competition is intense, so to succeed, you need to strive to be creative in your chosen approach to find more clients and win more photography commissions to grow your own photography business,

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