We asked the professional photography community one key question: What’s your #1 business challenge? Let’s look at the results and see how we might be able to solve the biggest reason photographers aren’t making what they should or enjoying the lifestyle they hoped for when they started their businesses.

An overwhelming 76.9% of survey respondents entered some variation of “Getting more clients” as their #1 business challenge. Interestingly, every other service-based business I’ve worked with started out with the exact same problem.

Let’s take a look at why this is the case.

Why Most Photographers Struggle To Find Clients

Wedding PhotographerWhen you made the decision to turn photography into a profession, the world was full of possibilities. You were about to embark on a journey to turn your passion into your income – which meant you’d always be doing what you love!

So, you made sure all your equipment was on-point and made some badly needed upgrades, just to make sure you’d be taken seriously.¬† And you’re business savvy enough to know that you needed to name your business, get a website, and print out some business cards. Maybe you went even further and had a professional logo designed, got some business insurance, or wrote out a business plan… bring on those high paying clients!

But then reality started to set in. It didn’t make sense, you’re talented and produce top-quality work. The clients you’ve worked with love you. So, why isn’t your phone ringing or inbox blowing up?

I bet you forgot the funnel!

How A Marketing Funnel Works And Why You Need One

Maybe you’ve heard of a sales or marketing funnel before. But for me to explain why that phone isn’t ringing, let me first describe what a marketing funnel might look like.

Picture a funnel. It has a wide top and a narrow bottom. In order to get a steady stream of liquid coming out the bottom of the funnel, you need to first fill it up from the top. Simple.

Now, rather than liquid, let’s fill the funnel with potential clients! Picture hundreds of potential clients being dumped into the top of this huge funnel. No, really, picture it. ūüôā Some of them will immediately jump out – they don’t have any interest in spending time in your funnel. But others will dive a little deeper to learn a bit about you. Eventually, some of those will sneak out after they don’t see an obvious need or fit. But the clients that remain in the funnel are raising their hands, indicating to you that they just might be a potential client.

As they venture a bit deeper down your funnel, it starts getting a little cramped, especially when you ask them to take an action to indicate that they’re a potential client. A bunch more scramble out the top. They just aren’t ready yet – but maybe they’ll be back when they are. It’s the remaining prospects who are willing to stand up and identify themselves that you need to pay special attention to. Here’s why. These clients happened into your funnel and then stayed as others left. They went deeper, liking what they saw. Then they went deeper, even as more and more people jumped out. They were willing to call out and say, “Hey! I like what I’m seeing and I might be interested in what you offer.”

So, you provide these remaining potential clients with more information via email, or maybe you get on the phone with them. At this point, three-quarters of the remaining people scratch their way out of your funnel. But you’re left with a handful of hot prospects who are just waiting to be converted into clients. You spend your sales energy on these people and, one at a time, they start to squeeze their way through the opening at the bottom, where they become paying clients!

If you don’t have a steady stream of clients, you simply don’t have a marketing funnel that works.

How A Photography Business Marketing Funnel Might Look In The Real World

  1. Send traffic to your website and social media accounts
  2. Educate prospects about how you can help them
  3. Offer something of value in exchange for contact information
  4. Provide the requested value and make personal contact
  5. Close the prospect into a paying client
  6. Convert your new client into a referral source

Books have literally been written about each of these steps, so I’m not going to try to get into details here. For now, just try to think about your marketing funnel. Whether you know it or not, you absolutely have one! Unfortunately, your funnel might suck… If it does, start thinking about how you can turn it into the solution to the biggest challenge in your business!

I’ll be posting articles that dive deep into each phase of a marketing funnel in the future. But for now, I’ll start with a part of your funnel you can start implementing right away to supercharge the most common source of business for photographers!

Something You Can Start Right Now To Find More New Clients

In the survey, we also asked photographers, “What’s been your most successful method of finding new clients?” An astounding 72.7% of people replied that “Word of mouth” or “Referrals” were their¬†primary way of getting clients.

So, you rely on referrals, great! And what are you doing to get these referrals? Most photographers use the tried and true method of… hope. And if you’re anything like most service providers, you do a great job for a client, get paid, and then hope the client is happy and sends a steady stream of referrals. But you neglected a very important point. Just like you, clients are busy. They have their own priorities – remembering to identify opportunities to send you business is low on their list.

Let’s think about some ways we can attack this low hanging referral fruit!

Don’t Assume Clients Know How Important Referrals Are To You

Your clients aren’t in your business, they don’t know that you rely on referrals to keep the lights on. So, the first step is to make sure they do! As your project is winding down, let your client know that you appreciate their business. Explain to them how you rely on word of mouth referrals and how much you’d appreciate them referring you to people who would be a good fit – be sure to let them know exactly what constitutes a “good fit.” For example, “I’d really appreciate it if you’d refer me to anyone you know who’s having a wedding with more than 50 people in northern Oregon.” While defining your target market will sound like you’re limiting yourself, you’re really making it easier for the client to refer you. When the specific opportunity arises, they’ll be much more likely to remember and refer you than if you asked to be referred for “any photography jobs.”

During this conversation is a great time to pick their brain right away and see if you can walk away with an immediate referral. Sticking with weddings as the example, people getting married often know other people who are about to get married. So ask, “Who do you know that’s getting married in the next year?” Let them think. If they come up with some, get the names and numbers and follow through immediately. If they don’t, let them know you’ll be sending them some referral program info to use when a referral opportunity comes up (more on this later).

Are you cringing, feeling like this is a bit aggressive? It’s totally understandable. Particularly if you’re like a lot of service providers who are masters of their craft but maybe don’t have a lot of confidence when it comes to sales. Trust me, this technique, when done in a friendly and authentic manner, is not aggressive. People want to help people they like. And a referral is an opportunity for them to help both you and the person they refer. It feels great to make a connection for people!

Referral Programs To Boost Word Of Mouth Business

Alright, we’ve already had a conversation with the client letting them know how much you appreciate referrals and who you should be referred to. But that can’t be the end of your referral efforts. Now it’s time to solidify your referral program by making it official!

Of course, there are a million ways you could do this, but an example system you can build from:

  1. Mail your client a handwritten thank you card.
    A simple personal thank you card can go a long way to building client loyalty. Businesses rarely send personal thank you cards, so this is guaranteed to stand out, particularly in our world ruled by email and Facebook.
  2. Send them a referral package that explains your program.
    It should include referral business cards with your referral program website address (ex: yoursite.com/referrals) for your clients to share with potential referrals. My personal preference is to be a little vague about any gift they might receive for sending referrals. Because whenever possible, I want to send a custom gift that suits the person. But that’s just me, you should craft your program to your audience. What motivates them? Would they prefer to feel like they’re doing you a favor or do they want to be more like an affiliate? If you’re not sure, I’d be conservative and lean towards the former.
  3. When a referral comes in, send a thank you card to the referrer, even if nothing came of the referral.
    If you prefer, you could always go to social media, email, or a thank you call over the mailed thank you card. Either way, you want to reinforce the action your old client took trying to help you out. Just send a simple note saying something like, “Thanks Bob, I truly appreciate the referral you made to Jim. I’ll be sure to let you know if we end up doing a shoot together. Thanks again!” It’s simple. It further shows your gratitude as well as reinforces your professionalism, making it even easier for them to refer you in the future.
  4. When a deal is made due to a referral, send your old client a “thank you” immediately!
    A relevant gift is great, like maybe some free print credits or a free basic portrait session. Don’t try to get fancy here and make the gift something that requires your client to spend money in order to receive it – like a discount offer. You can also do something like a romantic night for two – this could be particularly nice if it goes to a couple whose wedding you shot. Make it personal to the client whenever possible.


Download a PDF of the above referral process chart here.

Download a spreadsheet to track your referrals. Note that there are two tabs in this spreadsheet, the first for tracking the referral program for new clients and the other for tracking referrals that come in and making sure you give credit where it’s due: MS Excel | Google Sheets

I hope that this brief overview of the survey results, along with some actionable steps you can take to greatly increase the number of referrals you receive, has been helpful to you. If you’re not ready to implement an entire referral system, pick and choose some of the easiest items. When you start to see results I bet you’ll get excited to set up an entire referral generating system!

Want The Work Done For You?

We’re developing turn-key templates and systems that will enable you to implement a number of different referral programs without all the time-consuming setup work! If you’re interested in having us do the work for you, enter your email address below. We’ll send you a message when the product is ready.