Thursday, June 05, 2008

[B]Business Day Thursday - "HELP....I'm Brand New At This. What Do I Do To Grow My Business?"

A good question a lot of new enthusiastic photographers are asking themselves. The wedding pie is still pretty much the same size, but there are a lot more photographers who want a piece of it. So how do you set yourself apart from the crowd, hook up with vendors in your community, and start growing your business? Let me tell you what worked 25 years ago and is still working today.

LaDawn and I were attending a play at, Playhouse in the Park, one of our local theaters in Cincy two weeks ago. As we were leaving our seats and moving up the steps to exit, I heard someone to my right ask if I was David Ziser. I acknowledged that I was and James (not his real name) mentioned that he read my DigitalProTalk blog every day. I was humbled and very flattered by his generous compliment. Anyway, I invited James to come by the studio and visit. He did just that this past Tuesday. We had a very nice visit. During our meeting the opening question, "What do I do to grow my business?" of today's post came up. Here is what I said to James.

If you want to book more weddings, get to know the people - vendors - doing business with the clients (or market segment) you want to do business with. As for our studio, I try to hang with the vendors who work on the biggest events in the city. In return we end up photographing some of the biggest events in the city. But when I was just starting out, that was not the case. I just started knocking on every door I could to see if I could display my framed images in their place of business.

Some of our readers may be thinking, "Oh, I tried that and it didn't work." My snap answer back would be, "How many times did you try?" Folks, its a numbers game - you may have to knock on 10 doors to get your images displayed in one shop. Here is the simple math. You want to be in five shops, you better plan on knocking on 50, 60, maybe even 70 doors. Yes, it's work, but that is what success is about, isn't it. Once you've start building that relationship, how can you nurture it? We covered that in my posted entitled, "15 Ways To Create "Vendor Referral Buzz" for Your Business " right here.

What kind of doors can you knock on? How about every florist in town, every tux shop, bridal, shop. I even hit the fabric stores back in my early day, and guess what, I had 3 16x20 images on display in a fabric shop in one of our major malls. I remember visiting the mall on another occasion and seeing my images front and center right at the entrance of the fabric shop. They were running a promotion on wedding fabrics and moved my photographs right up to the front of the store with the rest of the display. I couldn't have afforded that kind of advertising space in the beginning and they did free just for the use of my images....pretty cool.

During that same time period, I had images displayed at the local card shop where they took orders for wedding invitations. I also had images on display in the tux and formal wear shop right at the mall entrance. That was back in 1980 - I was just 1 1/2 years in business.

On kind of a humorous note, my friend Jeff Lubin told me his best self promotion story when he was just getting started several years ago. He had no work displayed in any malls, so he would several times a week, visit on of the high end malls in the McLean, Virginia area, and walk the halls carrying a 24x30 inch framed print in each hand. When someone stopped him to compliment or inquire on his images, he promptly presented them with a business card. Jeff now runs an extremely successful studio in the Washington, D.C. area.

I also mentioned to James that joining the local photography associations was another way to learn from the pros and find inspiration from their images and their guest speakers. Enter the various print competitions and work on winning to add substance to your credentials. For me it was PPA, The Professional Photographers of America, also KPPA Kentucky Professional Photographers and my local area association. WPPI, Wedding and Portrait Photographers International.

I was just with a friend and fellow photographer earlier today, who is actually assisting me in covering a job, whom I gave similar advice to about a year ago. He has joined about every association possible - from the Professional Photographers of Ohio to the Professional Photographers of America and Wedding and Portrait Photographers of America. He is going great guns networking with the vendors who are doing business with the clients he wants to do business with. Heck, he just got back from Dubai about 2 months ago. He is really getting his business cookin'.

Folks, it's also about selling yourself. How do you dress? How do you carry yourself? People want to do business with successful people so look the part. Sure you may still be part time, but that does not label you as a part time photographer. Mostly it's our own attitudes that give to ourselves those labels. I suggested to James that he take a different approach when meeting his prospective vendor buddies for the first time.

First, ask permission for the meeting and set an appointment. Once in the door, don't even mention the "part time" thing. Talk about your own excitement for the craft, discuss your differences in approach and style and skills. Also, a dynamite portfolio helps. We discussed the very same thing right here in an earlier article entitled, "Building Your Wedding Business Series – Part 1 of 4" right here. These few ideas have been working for me for years - give them a try.


  1. I like the idea of displaying images in wedding related shops. But what if you don't do weddings and your focus is portraiture? Are there any other places you would suggest that aren't wedding specific?

  2. The thought of doing weddings terrify me........maybe if I did one for free, and just sold prints, I would feel more comfortable in my ability?!?!

    Although weddings isn't something I have placed any focus upon, but I know there is money in it!!

  3. Another great article David! I can see how I can use these ideas in my area and really differentiate from my peers. I learned some of these points at your Digital Wake Up Tour in San Jose. I have a lot of your archives to read through! :)