It seems like the whole world took one giant collective vacation over the last two weeks, but the Olympics are now officially over, and it’s back to the real world for the rest of us.
By the way, if this is your first visit here in a while, you might notice that I did some decorating while you were away! The Zenologue Photography Business and Marketing website is now powered by a brand new professional WordPress theme – the Genesis “Streamline” theme from StudioPress. The site now loads faster, looks more professional, and (more importantly) is fully-responsive, meaning that mobile visitors should no longer need a microscope to read this!
I’m certainly interested in your feedback on the new design, or if you notice any problems as you look around the site, which you can do via the comments below.
But I digress, so without any further ado let’s dive into today’s topic, which is “getting new business leads through solid vendor relationships…”
In short, how can you find more clients for your photography business by leveraging the relationships you have with other businesses who serve the same target market?
There are many ways to do this, but I’ve outlined three very simple steps you can follow to make the process as effective as possible…
Three Steps To More Photography Business Leads
The wonderful thing, for me at least, about this simple strategy that I’m going to share here is that it doesn’t rely on the usual social media channels of Facebook and Twitter, both of which are starting to showing some signs of overuse and abuse, reducing their effectiveness.
But one thing I’ve learned is that people are much more likely to implement a new process in their life or business if it’s simple to so. Complication is our enemy, and many of the problems affecting business owners today seem to be a result of trying to use systems that are just too complex to use or manage on an ongoing basis.
In fact, one of the most common self-sabotage techniques I see in my photography coaching practice is that photographers often take a simple marketing idea and then deliberately over-complicate it to the point where it becomes ineffective, leading to the fulfillment of their own prophecy that “this won’t work” and a failed business.
For example, if there’s a voice in your head right now, saying something like “yeah, yeah, everyone says to use vendor relationships to get more photography business referrals…” then it might be time to ask yourself why you haven’t started doing it yet.
Therefore, I’ve broken down this idea of “creating a stream of business leads from vendor relationships” into just 3 simple components, each of which is easy to implement with only a small investment in time or effort.
So, here they are:
- Foster genuine and solid vendor relationships
- Give first – receive later
- Celebrate and reward the relationship
Really, it’s that simple. Anything more complicated than this just means people won’t bother to follow it, and everyone remains stuck where they are in their business.
So let’s look at each of these in more detail.
Business Leads Step 1: Foster Relationships
Obviously, this first step is essential – other vendors are simply not going to refer anyone to us out of the blue if we don’t have some kind of a relationship with them to begin with.
But what do we mean by a “relationship“?
Generally, we don’t do much in the way of business with other related vendors on a regular basis. For example, how many times have you bought a wedding cake for yourself? Unless you have a wedding cake addiction (and who doesn’t love a good wedding cake), you’ve probably only ever bought one, and it may not have been from the vendor you actually want to nurture a relationship with as a wedding photographer.
Likewise, you’re not really looking to build a client relationship with the vendor that will lead to them buying from you.
Assuming that you each serve a similar target market, the ideal solution is for their clients to also become your photography clients.
Unless your name is Jack Sparrow, stealing their clients through acts of business piracy or underhanded stealth marketing tactics isn’t an option.
The best way is to encourage the other vendor to give you their clients because they just can’t help themselves, and we’ll get into that in just a moment.
So, really, the type of relationship we’re talking about here can best be described as a business friendship, one that’s based around common goals, similar ideals, and properly aligned business philosophies.
To complete this part of the process, all you need to do is:
- Identify key vendors in your market you wish to align with
- Get to know them and their business
- Keep the relationship purely about them, as far as possible
Obviously, and this is really networking 101, you should treat this as a friendship, so it’s not a good idea to start out by immediately asking them for business favors (see step 2).
As it happens, the most productive relationships of this kind are those that have been cultivated with honesty, integrity, and a true desire to help the other party. Self-serving relationships are as bad in business as they are in dating, so focus on the other person more than yourself.
The specific businesses you target will obviously vary depending on the type of photography you specialize in, but it should be fairly easy to come up with a list of candidates.
For example, if you’re a children’s portrait photographer then you could look at independently-owned clothing stores, pediatricians, day-care centers, mom-related groups etc.
Pet photographers could join up with feed stores, animal shelters, veterinarians, groomers and so on.
Business Leads Step 2: Give First, Receive Later
I just mentioned that the best vendor relationships are those that operate more as a mutual friendship, so it should come as no surprise that the golden rule here is to give first and receive later.
Notice that I didn’t say “ask later“.
In fact, if you follow these steps correctly, there should never be a need to ask your partner vendors to refer anyone to you – the referral process will happen naturally, like rain from a cloud. As I mentioned earlier on, the result of all this is that the other business will almost be giving you their clients.
Furthermore, when your partner business owners realize that you aren’t asking them for referrals, and you have a solid relationship with them, they will be even more likely to give you those referrals! However, those are more like icing on the cake (sorry, still thinking about wedding cake again!).
The real and best referrals are the ones that happen in the background, almost as though their clients are referring themselves to you.
Let’s see how this is done…
Now, there are a LOT of ways you can go about this, but I’m just going to highlight a few examples here. If you know of any others, then you can always add them as a comment. So here are some ideas for you, as action steps you can do right now…
Interview the other vendor for your website, blog, and/or newsletter… Professional photographers are in a uniquely powerful position when it comes to dealing with vendor relationships. Because we can create images as well as text, we have the power to produce content that will really showcase the other business in the best possible light.
A great way to do this is to interview the other business owner and then create portraits of them, take photographs of their products, services, or venue, and then present that as a featured article on your website or blog.
Not only will this help with your website SEO, it will also act as an endorsement for the other business.
The interview can be in audio, video, or plain text format, but the idea is to focus on the strengths of the other business and use the article to send visitors to them who might be interested in using their services.
Next, write a guest article for their blog… Once you’ve gotten to know your partner business pretty well, and they can see how much you want to help them succeed in their business, you can offer to help them even more by providing a guest article for their blog.
Your article doesn’t need to be about photography, specifically, although it can certainly have a part to play in the piece. The key here, again, is to provide something that will offer value to the other business and, more specifically, their clients.
For example, if you’re a wedding photographer, and one of your vendor partners is a jeweler, then you could write an article on how newly-engaged couples can prepare themselves to help their photographer create the most amazing engagement portraits.
Your guest article should have a bio section at the end of it, with a link to your website – again, very good for your photography SEO as well as your business.
If the article is compelling, and your partner business does their bit to help promote it, then you should find that the resulting referral visitors convert quite well into new business leads for you.
In a similar fashion, you could also write an article for the other vendor’s email newsletter. If you send out a monthly newsletter yourself, then you’ll know just how useful it would be to have someone else offer to write some of it for you!
So these are just two ideas you can use in the spirit of “giving first, receiving later“, and I’m sure there are many others. The main point here is that these two tactics are mutually beneficial and synergistic in nature.
Business Leads Step 3: Reward The Relationship
The last of our 3 major steps is to reward the relationship when it bears fruit as new leads for your photography business.
There are several ways to do this.
First, and most important, make sure that you treat all referred prospects like royalty! These are some of your most valued clients, and they deserve that extra-special treatment.
If we mistreat referred clients in any way (you’d be amazed at how often that happens), or let them down on the overall experience of working with you, then that will also reflect badly on the business who referred them to you in the first place, which will cause major damage to your business relationship.
Next, take time to reward your partner vendor in some way. It doesn’t have to be a financial reward (and probably shouldn’t be anyway), but it could be something as simple as calling them on the phone to express your appreciation, mailing them a thank-you card, or picking up a lunch tab.
When your partner vendors understand that you honestly value the relationship and the referrals they send you, that can only serve to strengthen the relationship further still.
Update (8/15/2012): I came across a great post over at CopyBlogger today that talks about similar ideas, but this time related to getting your message out to your clients through guest blogging. It’s definitely worth the read and can be found at “How To Win A Zero-Sum Game“.
Tell Me What You Think
Have you put any of these ideas into practice? If so, what results did you see? What challenges did you run into?
Share your thoughts, ideas, and questions below – it’s great to get other perspectives on these issues!
Oh, and don’t forget to share the post on Twitter, Facebook etc.