Estimated reading time: 20 minutes
Last Updated 18/10/23
Well with over 80 weddings photographed in 2022 and with over 50 weddings photographed as we close out on wedding season in 2023, I can honestly say it's been a hell of a roller coaster ride. I thought I'd update this article again since I've had so much positive feedback from people taking the time to message me and let them know this has helped them out. Thank you to you all!
It's certainly been a very interesting year with lots of economic shocks that have left the UK wedding industry struggling as the cost of living bites, along with sky high interest rates affecting mortgages. This has meant that marketing ourselves effectively is more crucial than ever now! So with all that said, I hope you still find value in this article. Let's go!
I’ve been a wedding photographer in the UK for ten years now and during this time I have seen the industry go through many changes. When I took my first steps in the industry, Facebook groups were just in their infancy and no such thing as Instagram. The place to be seen was still at wedding fairs and paying to advertise on Facebook seemed ridiculous as the reach you got from organic posts was just so amazing.
Back in the ‘glory days’, many wedding photographer’s marketing was just throwing a few photos on their Facebook page and waiting for the enquiries to come rolling in. Sadly this also trained us to start to think that marketing was free, that paying for marketing and advertising was a fools errand.
Even back when I started in the industry a decade ago, the feeling was that the wedding photography market was saturated. Oh how little we knew! Each year it seems more and more people jump into the industry.
And it is totally understandable why the world has so many wedding photographers. It's a great profession to be in. It is a job which can fit around your full time job to provide a great side income. Something you can scale slowly until you are ready to go full time. Many even happily juggle two jobs and get the best of both worlds.
For me though, the best part of the job is the job satisfaction. The feedback you get from happy customers is amazing and I enjoy this job far more than my previous career in the corporate IT world. I don’t miss those days at all.
However, with so much competition. It seems the most consistent problem we have is finding our ideal customer. Ask around in wedding photography groups and perhaps you might be surprised to hear that marketing tips and advice is more sought after than how to take better photographs.
As I often say, there’s no point in being the best wedding photographer nobody has heard of!
A few years ago, a fellow photographer called Chris Giles wrote an amazing blog post on what marketing worked for him. I remember how useful I found his advice & experience and I was grateful he shared it. So with that in mind and years later, I thought the time has come for me to share my own experiences. Hopefully, it will help someone too.
Please bear in mind that I'm talking about my own experiences. I am not trying to say these are the ONLY ways to find your customers, just what I have tried! Your mileage will of course vary. Just because I didn’t have success in one particular area does not mean you won’t either and vice versa!
With that caveat out, let’s begin. And in no particular order let’s start with…..
SEO - Ie. Ranking on Google
SEO or to use the longer name, Search Engine Optimisation. Technically we are talking about any search engine though in reality, we mean Google. The defacto search engine most of us use.
And more specifically when I talk about ranking on Google, I mean the organic 'free' spots. Not Google ads. I’ve never actually paid for Google ads so I can’t really comment on how effective they are.
About eight years ago, I decided to have a go at getting found on Google. I look back fondly at those days as it was incredibly easy to get onto page one for “(location) wedding photographer”. With a liberal sprinkling of keywords around my site and alt texting appropriately, I managed to rank my home page at the top of page one for both of my local cities within a couple of months!
Those were the glory days and at its peak, about 50% of my enquiries came from people who found me via Google.
Sadly in such a competitive market, wedding photographers upped their game and after a couple more years, it became practically impossible to rank for multiple locations with the same page.
Nowadays competition with “wedding photographer (area)” keywords is fierce. And my advice for anyone starting out now is to have a really good think if the effort you will need to make is worth the rewards that it will bring.
It’s hard nowadays, really hard. Not only is SEO information widely available. Google has also got a LOT smarter. It's always been a cat & mouse game between Google and SEO folk. And right now I reckon Google is winning.
But the amount of time you need to get your content optimised, create backlinks organically and not to mention all the other technical stuff like internal linking, passing core web vitals. It takes a lot of time and know how. Time you could be better off spending elsewhere!
And what for? To get to the top of the organic free listings? Even if you do. It's not all sunshine and roses.
Think of your typical search result for a wedding photographer. You have your paid ads first, then the map listings then finally the organic spots. So even if you hold the coveted position 1 on page 1 of organic listings, in reality, you're about halfway down or more to a viewer.
To make matters worse, you are no longer just competing with other wedding photographers but large companies like Hitched whose business it is to advertise other wedding photographers! Whilst it's certainly possible to outrank them, my point is that it is another company fighting for the coveted free spots. Only they have larger budgets and specialists helping them.
But all those lovely enquiries Martin.....
Ahh, but surely once I'm ranking I'll get loads of enquiries right? Well not really. Not nowadays. Even when I was dominating page 1 for two cities, I could easily go weeks without an enquiry. Now I have multiple pages ranking on page 1 yet Google isn't even my most popular source of enquiries!
And I know plenty of very successful photographers who shoot 50+ weddings a year who are nowhere on Google. SEO is only one way of marketing but my warnings are because I often hear people talk like it is the only way. It's totally not true!
What's your advice to someone starting out then?
So if I wanted to improve my SEO nowadays, what would I do? One popular strategy which is to tailor pages to less common/competitive keywords. Such as a venue or smaller village/town. It's basically low hanging fruit. Sure you might not get as many searches on these pages. It may even be months before you even get a single hit. But if you have lots of these venue/town pages then you only need a few to convert to get an enquiry. It’s what I call the machine gun strategy. Fire a lot of bullets, one will hit the target eventually.
Can't I just hire someone to do my SEO for me?
Well, there's certainly no shortage of people offering you their secret sauce....for a price. Companies who will promise you the earth but do little. My strong advice is to be VERY cautious as most of these SEO companies are simply selling snake oil. Those whom I would trust to do a good job will be out of budget for your typical wedding photographer.
The one thing I would recommend though is finding someone who can teach you the SEO basics so you can do it yourself. The right way.
Phew! Nearly there on SEO!
So what am I saying? Is SEO worth it or not? My answer is that ‘it depends’. If I was starting a wedding photography business today then in my opinion, SEO isn’t the place I would start. But if you are established already and want to put the time/effort into creating the content and getting the backlinks then it is still worth being there as part of your overall marketing strategy. But like I say, it no longer is easy for competitive keywords and is not as effective as the ‘good old days’. SEO should be small part of your overall marketing plan, not the majority of it.
When I was planning my own wedding, like many others I signed up to Hitched. That was a decade ago and back in those days, the secret sauce for wedding photographers was the forum. You’d pay for your advert which would allow you to post in their forum. You’d pop your link in the signature and it was like a little advert that readers actually saw. However, the dominance of Facebook groups has really killed off most forums nowadays and I am guessing Hitched’s forum was a victim .
Over the years, Hitched has also evolved and now is owned by The Wedding Wire. Businesses can sign up for a free account but this is pretty much invisible and understandably Hitched will be happy to sell you a package that will push you up their listings.
At the time of writing, you can purchase packages to be seen in various regions. And if you are happy to pay a bit more then they can even guarantee you a top spot (ie. Top of that particular region) or spotlight (ie. Near the top of that particular region). Otherwise, you just get a ‘premium’ badge which means you rotate in that regions listings with all the other ‘premium’ members.
If you like to focus on your local area like myself, it is a little irritating to find advertisers who are advertising as a ‘Nottinghamshire wedding photographer’ but actually based in Kent or Manchester. As a business I understand why Hitched do it.
I had a free account for years which never got any enquiries but in 2021 I decided to give it a go and managed to negotiate a deal to have top spot for both Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire for £80 a month. I was told this was an exceptional deal (more on this later). I suspect everyone gets a 'exceptional deal'
As part of your package, you also get regular thirty minute calls with an account manager whose job it is to help you maximise your experience with Hitched. I'm not sure how much of an expert they truly are. My original account manager told me to put a low start price to draw people in but it didn't seem to make any difference even after I did. The next one told me some very dubious advice which I suspect was more to try and keep me subscribed rather than in my best interests. I will leave it there.
Overall, how was my experience? Well I'm conflicted if I'm honest. It's easy to rag on a big company like Hitched. But objectively, I can't say it was a failure but I wouldn't say it was a raging success either. Let me explain.
I did get lots of enquiries, however at the same time, the quality of those enquiries were low. 99% of the enquiries were the stupid canned messages which couples can send you at a simple click of their phone/mouse.
To make matters worse, it turns out that after they’ve messaged one photographer they are prompted to send canned messages to others. The problem with this approach is that whilst you get an ‘enquiry’. The couple actually wasn’t interested enough with your work to actually do some clicking and only sent you an enquiry because it is a single ‘oh why not……’ click. The result is they rarely replied.
I tried all sorts, quick email replies, calling, texting. The engagement rate was just incredibly low. Of those who did reply, most just wanted to know “How much?” And one thing I’ve learned is that if price is their main priority then it’s a battle I rarely win.
Some photographers think the leads are fake but I would disagree. I think there's just not a great deal of investment made by most couples using Hitched. So you have to accept you are playing the machine gun tactics again.
The nitty gritty.....Right, over the course of the year, I managed to get seven bookings via Hitched. Some would say that is a good result. Except as I explained to my account manager, that for me it was still the most expensive cost per booking I have across all my advertising channels. By a LONG shot. The cost per booking works out to be around £137 per booking. Which is a fair old chunk of change!
Don't get me wrong, if I was struggling to fill my diary then I’d happily pay that. But I am very lucky in that I’m not struggling this year. If anything I’ve been way too busy. And my feeling is I can replace those seven bookings easily without having to pay Hitched £80+ a month.
That being said, I would have been happy to extend my membership on a month by month basis but I was told that isn’t possible. And I simply wasn’t happy to commit for another year with no guarantees of anything. As often said "past performance is not an indicator of future"
So for now I’ve let my membership lapse.
Would I sign up again? If I needed the extra bookings then I would definitely consider it yes. I mean if I was struggling and someone said “Hey….give me £150 and I’ll give you a £1500+ booking.” Would I agree? Yes of course! But for now it just isn’t the right platform for me.
A good friend of mine, Chuck did a very interesting experiment which would explain why you get lots of enquiries but a very low hit rate. He signed up as a potential groom. (To be clear, he is actually engaged himself!). He was prompted by a chat bot (aka virtual wedding planning assistant) that asked him two questions and off they went contacting various suppliers. Have a look at the screenshots below.
That was it! He hadn't looked at anyone's profile, read about their services or even knew the names of the suppliers! Yet it counts as an enquiry and at the end of the year, it allows Hitched to say "But you got 20,000 enquiries!?!?!"
Sure....i got an 'enquiry' and yes, whilst they technically 'agreed' to this, there wasn't exactly a lot of intent from them. Which would explain why the conversion rate is so woefully low.
This sort of approach basically turns bookings into a numbers game. Get 100 enquiries and you're bound to get a few right?
I don't know about you but I prefer my couples to love my work and style. And that's why they get in touch. I don't want to spend hours replying to enquiries that have an incredibly slim success rate from people who haven't even seen one photo of mine.
Personally I don't like the scattergun approach, it's not for me. I've heard some wedding photographer's say it's a been really successful, but it seems far more say it's been a waste of money. I guess it depends on how your other marketing routes are working for you.
If you were starting out in the industry and your prices are sub £1200 for the day then Hitched might be a good place to get some traction quickly. But the trend seems clear to me that success wanes as you get more expensive and you're not selling your photography first but on simply firing so many bullets that a few hit the target.
My Experience (2023)
Bridebook is another well known 'big hitter' in the wedding industry. With lofty claims of how many engaged couples use their platform to plan their wedding but sadly no sources to back up those claims.
In the middle of this year I decided to seriously look into advertising on Bridebook. I felt at the time that their reputation was better than Hitched and their platform looked far more detailed too.
I sent them an email and soon one of their sales team was showing me all the swishy tools that I could use. I liked the fact I could pick one venue to be 'recommended by bridebook' at. Meaning you would appear on that venue listing's page as the bridebook recommended photographer (this is not the same as a venue recommendation). I'd also get to see the client's venue and budget which helps me focus on those enquiries that are the right fit.
I also liked the fact I could proactively reach out to two couples a week. So rather than just sit, waiting and hoping a couple would get in touch. You can see details like which couples added you to their favourites list and maybe it's worth reaching out to them to start a conversation off.
I could also pick one main area and two secondary areas to advertise in. It all sounded very positive!
The price was £99+VAT for the first three months. Then you had the option to exit the contract. After that you'd be committed to the rest of the year at £149+VAT a month. Not cheap at all but hey....if it works then I don't mind paying at all! After all, I regularly pay £200 for a wedding fair space with no guarantees at all.
Things start off well. My account manager showed me the basics but in fairness the platform is easy to use and I had done most things already by the time we had our Zoom meeting. Then all I needed to do was sit back and wait for the enquiries right?
The first week or so I got nothing. Nada, not one. According to the dashboard I was in second position for Nottinghamshire. But ok...Rome wasn't built in a day. I patiently waited. Then the 'enquiries' started coming in! Yay!
I diligently replied to each and waited....nothing. No problems. I guess it's a bit like Hitched. Low hit rate.
The messages kept coming. Some days I'd be getting 5-6 'enquiries' a day. Curiously nobody ever replied to me. Or my follow up emails. Very quickly I noticed a trend.
Without exception all messages were the same canned automated messages. In addition, many of the 'enquiries' had a lot of information missing and/or the couple hadn't booked a venue yet. I'd say up to 70-80% of people messaging me didn't have date and venue. So usually you wouldn't expect them to be enquiring with photographers yet. You might get a few that were keen and accidentally put the cart before the horse but not this many! I even had several messages from accounts that didn't even have their names filled in. Let alone venue & date!
It was all very strange! Something was going on. Eventually one reply explained it all:
To cut a long story short, Bridebook had implemented an app where users thought they were answering a quiz to determine their photography style. What wasn't made clear (if at all) was at the end of this quiz, their details would be used to 'enquire' with photographers on their behalf.
These couples didn't realise this, didn't mean to make an 'enquiry', had never looked at my Bridebook profile and crucially weren't ready to actually book a photographer.
Now isn't more enquiries good I hear some of you say. Well the problem is if you class any message as a real 'enquiry' or not. Personally I don't class giving me details of someone who hasn't seen any of my photos and has been randomly put in touch with me a real enquiry.
Plus there was no way to determine which of these messages were auto generated and which were not.
At the first review meeting I discussed the lack of replies with my account manager who told me I should be following up with couples for eight months! I admit I did lose my temper at that nugget of advice for which I did later apologise for. On my second (and final review) the new account manager admitted that this advice was erroneous.
By my second review meeting (month 2), I'd pretty much given up on replying. What's the point? What's the definition of madness? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. After you've replied to dozens and dozens of messages and fail to get more than a couple of replies. And crucially zero bookings. I concluded it was a waste of my time and I told my account manager I intended to terminate after my trial period.
To her credit she told me they didn't want me to be unhappy so would be happy to let me exit during month 2. I agreed I wanted to and she told me she'd process the paperwork the same day and she'd email me to confirm. I checked that no more money would be taken from my account. To which she replied that I was correct.
Well sadly that wasn't the case. I didn't hear back so I emailed her to check. No reply. A couple of days later, my account was debited! Over the next few weeks I sent a series of emails to my account manager and usually cc'ing the generic email@example.com email. The reason I did this is because the business email auto replies with a reference number. Allowing me to keep an audit trail of my interactions with them.
To cut a long story short I had to threaten to take them to small claims court to recover my payment. My account manager FINALLY replied to explain she'd been out of the office and would process my payment. After a couple of weeks, no money was received.
I then had to start chasing again and eventually in sheer exasperation I sent them a formal letter before action email. The next step would have been small claims. Finally, once again I got a reply. This time from someone else saying my refund would be processed and THANKFULLY a week later the money appeared in my account.
To say this soured my experience with Bridebook would be an understatement. I can understand the zero bookings. I can even forgive the style quiz which I'm told has been turned off now (Hence the lack of messages now). What I cannot forgive is the ghosting. I judge a company by how they treat customers when things go wrong. On this point, Bridebook failed badly. It might have been the actions of one bad employee but my gut tells me it isn't.
I wanted to do a podcast about Bridebook and other directories. I didn't want my negative experience to taint the episode so I reached out to them and sales threw the ball into PR dept's court who ghosted me. I then reached out in various Facebook wedding photographer groups to find someone who has had a positive experience with Bridebook.
I couldn't find a single person who had a PAID listing with a positive experience. I heard from a few who felt positive but had free listings. So were happy with the fact they might get a couple of bookings a year for free. But I wanted to hear from someone like me who had been paying money to be part of their supplier pro package.
So if you're still reading, guess my opinion is quite clear. Bridebook didn't work for me at all and their customer service levels fell well short of the standards I'd expect from any company. I genuinely cannot recommend them and would urge other fellow wedding photographers to be VERY VERY careful.
When Facebook groups first started, it was so easy to just put together a few photos, some copy and paste it into as many wedding groups as you could stand. Sure your engagement rate was ultra low. But whatever, it was free! Machine gun strategy!
And this is how I started my career! Priced low low, I’d spam the groups and book what I could. For years I would also reply to posts in Facebook groups from anyone looking for a wedding photographer. However, due to the fact it’s free, the poor person posting would be inundated with replies. It isn’t unusual to get over 100 replies in under an hour on the larger groups. And that’s not including all the suppliers who would privately message the bride all trying to get the booking. I’ve even seen photographers in America throwing their hat in the ring for a booking in the UK!
It was a clumsy way to market but I got a few bookings a year, so given it was zero cost (except for my time), I felt it was worth it.
As I slowly increased my prices, the less effective it was. To the point where I don’t bother now.
Plus the Facebook algorithm is much smarter nowadays and the adverts you put into these wedding groups are far more likely to be shown to other wedding photographers rather than engaged bride & groom’s.
My advice is if you are trying to build a sustainable business, not to use this as a means to advertise. Nowadays, I pop on now and again in a few selected groups to offer advice only but as a way to advertise it is totally ineffective.
Oh and lastly, if you are using FB groups for goodness sakes please watch where you are posting. It is incredibly annoying to have a wedding photographer advert pasted into a group for wedding photographers! It just smacks that you don't care and it annoys your fellow togs.
I will confess I have never had much success with paid Facebook adverts. That’s not to say it isn’t a good way of advertising. I know many wedding photographers who have built very successful businesses from advertising on Facebook.
But for getting enquiries, they’ve been a very poor return on investment for me. Why are some people getting loads of enquiries but not me? It puzzled me for a long time.
Eventually, through talking with some of my customers and others who would be my ideal client, a consistent message came out. Most of the people I spoke to simply didn't use Facebook! Not on a regular basis anyway. Typically they had Facebook accounts. They just rarely logged in to use it. My daughter summed it up eloquently. "Dad! Facebook is for old people!" Ouch! And just in case anyone is wondering why I was asking my child for research, she's actually 25 (yes I'm that old!) and will probably be looking for her own photographer in the near future.
In short, my ideal clients don't actively use Facebook, they use Instagram. In other words, I was paying to advertise on the wrong platform!
Again, I’m not saying you can’t get bookings using Facebook ads. Just that I didn’t get much success but at least I now understand why.
That's why last year, I pivoted away from Facebook and now put a lot more effort into my Instagram page. I will still occasionally throw the odd post onto Facebook just to show I am still alive rather than any expectation of gaining new business.
My advice for you here is to consider where your ideal clients spend their time. If they use Facebook then paid ads might work well for you. If not then you're just throwing money down the drain.
The other bug bear of mine was how ridiculously complicated and how little control I seemed to have over the Facebook Ad Manager. It often felt like an exercise in frustration! You'd just start to get the hang of it and blam! They'd change it.
If you do want to learn how to use Facebook ads effectively then I would recommend checking out Ben Cumming's Facebook Marketing Training course. When it comes to advertising on Facebook, Ben certainly knows his onions.
I do not consider myself to be an Instagram guru. In fact I am very uncomfortable in front of the camera and don’t feel I lead a very interesting life where I can create stories about myself for others to see.
I also find it hard to find the time during a wedding to actively create stories. Weddings are full on enough without trying to think of interesting things to chuck onto The 'Gram! In fact, I struggle to find the time to devote to Instagram full stop. It just seems a never ending time sink!
The days of getting success by simply throwing a photo onto the ‘Gram and spamming 30 hashtags are gone. From looking at those who really have made a success of getting bookings from Instagram, it seems you need to spend a lot of your time creating content and encouraging engagement. Creating stories, replying to posts. Creating reels. I just don’t have the time.
Instead, my stories are very basic. Usually, I am sharing something funny that might have happened at a wedding. Or sharing some banter between my wife (who is a wedding videographer) and I.
I prefer to schedule my posts using Facebook Creator Studio since it is free. Rather than sign up to a paid service. And I make sure I tag suppliers whenever possible.
In the past year, 25% of my bookings have come via Instagram. Not bad for a platform I’ve spent no money advertising on. Crucially the quality of the enquiries are far higher too. Unlike the weaker ones from Bridebook/Hitched.
Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned is that even when a couple say they found me another way. They almost ALWAYS check out my Instagram account before getting in touch. That is why you should treat your Instagram feed as an extension of your portfolio. So many enquiries come via Instagram now, almost as many as through my website.
Case in point was when my own sister was looking for her wedding photographer, she rejected a few names I sent her because their Instagram photos didn’t match what she saw on their website.
So even if you don’t push hard on Instagram you should still have your best work on there.
If I was starting a wedding photography business in 2023 then Instagram is where I would put a lot of effort into. I’ve seen some wedding photographer’s make a very successful business in a short time by using Instagram effectively. Now that may change in 2024….but for now, I think Instagram gives you the best bang for your buck.
If you want to get your head around Instagram more (And by god it's a big subject area) then you might want to check out Adam Lowndes Instagram workshop. He uses Instagram incredibly effectively and has shown outstanding results by being authentic, without resorting to trying to get a million followers.
When I started out, this was where most established wedding photographers would ply their trade. Getting into an established fair was nigh on impossible and remains so to this day.
The irony is that the best wedding fairs to be at are the ones you can’t get into. The organisers will have long waiting lists of photographers. One local wedding fair organiser has five large events and the photographer spots sold out in less than five minutes!
The cost of them aren’t cheap either. Popular established events at a wedding venue, you could easily pay £150 for a simple table. And at national level shows you’re easily looking at £2000+ for a booth. All with no guarantees of any bookings and more photographer stands than you can shake the proverbial stick at.
Again, some photographers do well at them. I’ve only ever done local venue fairs and open days, never a large national show type wedding fair.
Typically I’d get expect to get 1 booking from every fair I’ve done. Occasionally two. The best I’ve ever done is three from one fair (ironically one of the cheapest fairs I’ve done). But I have been to wedding fairs where barely anyone came along and I’ve had nothing.
My brand and personality is all about being laid back so I'm not the type to be pouncing on each customer trying to get a booking on the day or extract their email/phone number. Instead I often just let ppl look, grab flyers/brochures and engage them in conversation only if they seem genuinely interested.
One thing I’ve learned when you are at wedding fairs, is that networking with other suppliers is just as important as meeting bride and grooms. These relationships you can form will help you as you move forward with your business.
If you can get into the right fairs then it can work well for you. If you have the right sort of personality then that helps too. If you’re a shy introvert then perhaps this is not for you.
It’s gruelling to be stood at a table most of the day, waiting for couples to speak with you. Many times I've been stood there and have thought "That's it....no more wedding fairs for me!" Then a few months later, I hear of an opportunity and I'm in there!
Over the past year I invested in a much better display, completely rebranded and personally I'm much happier with how I present myself now at fairs. However interestingly in terms of bookings it's really made no difference.
I've committed a fair chunk of change this year to wedding fairs. What I've found is that I'm not getting the results I need to keep paying the money I am doing. I've come to the conclusion that this is probably me not fair's per se. I know a few photographers who seem to always do well at wedding fair's. I marvel at their ability to sell without coming across salesy.
I just can't do it. I end up just letting people either walk past or a quick 'feel free to have a look' as they glance at my albums before taking a flyer. I've tried following up via email but get a very poor response.
I've got a few booked in between now (october) and Jan. After that unless the situation changes I think I'll bow out of most wedding fairs.
It is often said that the best enquiries are from recommendations by previous customers. And I get that. It means your customer loved your work enough to sing your praises to their friends/family. Or sometimes they’ve seen you in action already at a wedding. I've had quite a few enquiries from people who saw me working at a wedding and liked the way I worked. So either enquired for their own wedding or gave my details to their friends.
The key difference with recommendations versus advertising is that the trust is already there. You’re in a much better position than a ‘cold’ lead from someone who knows nothing about you. In effect, your customer is lending a bit of their credibility to you.
I don’t know how my stats compare with other wedding photographers but looking in Light Blue, in the past 12 months. 15% of my enquiries have come from recommendations. I’m happy with that. Obviously, the numbers will vary depending on what you get from other sources.
The one thing I will say is that recommendations are easier when you shoot a large number of weddings each year. What I mean is that if you only shoot say 10 weddings a year. You’ve only 10 potential couples singing your praises. Whilst if you shoot 50, that’s potentially 50 couples every year telling their friends & family about you. The cumulative effect over several years is massive!
I love getting recommendations. I find they are much easier to close and typically friends & family will be already used to the price you charge so it’s one less hurdle to overcome.
Supplier / Venue Referrals
As I mentioned earlier, I have found over the years networking with other suppliers has helped my business grow massively. Having other trusted suppliers sing your praises to couples and having photographers pass you referrals they can’t do has been a real game changer for me.
Just like client recommendations, the ‘selling’ has been done for you by the time they get in touch. There’s already an element of added trust because the supplier/venue put their name against yours.
I think this is reflected in my enquiry to booking rate too. For referrals, I am averaging a 50% closure rate. Compared to 15% via Google.
So how do you get other suppliers to recommend you? The honest answer is to be nice and be yourself! I know that sounds ridiculous but it’s the truth. If you speak to suppliers, I’m sure they will all have stories of when a wedding photographer has treated them badly.
Be the photographer who they want to work with. A friendly “Hi!” on the day goes a long way. Don’t assume that just because you’re the wedding photographer you’re automatically more important than the florist or make up artist. They have a job to do too. Share your images with them. After all, you can’t get a photo of the bouquet if the florist hasn’t done her job. You can’t photograph the bride having her makeup done if the makeup artist isn’t doing her job. You get the idea!
And of course venues. One of the most common complaints I’ve heard from wedding coordinators are photographers who take too long. If the couple are due to sit down at say 3.30pm, make sure you’re done by 3.29pm! Saying “I’m not done yet…I need another 20 minutes” means the wedding will run late. The food the chef has timed to perfection is now going to go cold. He/she is now going to get upset at the coordinator. Do they think they will be recommending you? Nope!
Another tip I picked up from chatting to a wedding coordinator. Apparently, a pet hate are photographers who turn up and the first thing they say is "Am I getting fed today?" I don't think I need to expand on why that is annoying. Don't do it!
Working with Fellow Wedding Photographers
Make an effort to get to know your fellow wedding photographers. It's nice to have friends with a lot in common and it's good to know if something untowards happened, you have people you can call upon to help.
It could be as simple as needing a second shooter. Or what if you are ill? When I caught Covid, I had two friends cover my weddings whilst I had to self isolate. People whom I've grown to trust and knew could do a good job.
I've been asked a few times, how do I get referrals from other photographers? And that's totally the wrong question to ask. That shows you are only thinking about it from your perspective. What YOU get out of it. A better question is "Why should the other photographer refer you? What's in it for them?" And I don't mean money.
It's all about offering genuine friendship and not treating the other photographer purely as a potential source of business. People can see through you if you have an angle. Play nice and most importantly compete fairly! Don't undercut another photographer because you know them, know what they charge and you want the deal.
If a customer mentions they have also spoken to someone I know, I spend the next few minutes bigging them up. It leaves the customer with a much better impression of you than if you slagged them off or undercut the photographer 'friend'.
In short, if you want other photographers to refer you then you need to give them a reason to want to!
Be the team player and understand in this industry that a rising tide lifts all boats.
Remember, wedding photographers aren’t special. We’re part of a team on the day of the wedding. All trying to make sure the bride & groom have the perfect day. If you want other suppliers to recommend you, you have to leave them with a positive impression of working with you.
Should I pay?
I've heard some photographers will pay a referral fee to another supplier if they get a booking from them. And I understand why they would do that. I did consider it but decided not to because I want people to recommend me because they genuinely like working with me and like my work. Not because they get paid.
Secondly I know if it were me, I would only give recommendations if I genuinely trusted them and liked their work. The money wouldn't be a factor. So I would like to think it's the same the other way around.
The only exception I can think of to this rule is if it were a wedding planner whose business model relies upon commission.
If you’ve made it here then congratulations! Marketing and finding your ideal client is the hardest part of running a wedding photography business. And arguably marketing is much more important than even taking nice photos. After all, there's no point in being the best wedding photographer nobody has heard of!
I hope my experiences have been interesting to read and hey, maybe it has given you some ideas.
I also hope by now you've realised is that there is no simple formula, or a secret place where brides are hanging out, just waiting for you to find them. The industry is saturated but with the right focus, it is still very possible to do very well. But it will definitely take time and effort.
As small business owners, we don’t have unlimited budgets and time. So figuring out where best to invest the resources you have is going to be key to your marketing success. Play to your own strengths rather than blindly follow the crowd. Just because it worked for photographer X does not mean it will work for you.
If you’re a people person then you may prefer to invest in wedding fairs or network with fellow suppliers. If you’re technically minded then throwing time into SEO may be the way forward for you.
Ultimately whenever you ask other wedding photographers what sort of marketing is best. Usually what worked for them will also happen to be the one that they put the most effort into.
Lastly, building a successful wedding photography business is like turning an oil tanker. Each step you take now will only make a little difference. With the right focus, bit by bit, step by step things will improve! All too often people are looking for a quick fix, a secret formula. And quite frankly there isn't one. It's easy to look at successful wedding photographers and think they got lucky or have some secret they're not sharing. In reality their success is probably largely because they worked their socks off.
I hope you found the information above useful and it is helps you figure out which direction you want to focus on. Feel free to email me with any questions and I will do my best to help. Please don't use my contact form as that is for wedding enquiries only. Much appreciated!
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