I’ve just arrived in a largely deserted hotel lobby, clamming for a strong caffeine infused hot drink. Tea is my weapon of choice this early, but to be fair I’d drink anything to give me that kick right now!
This is a ritual I do. Every. Single. Friday. Morning.
Being a photographer can be a very lonely existence, we spend the vast majority of our time sitting alone behind a computer screen editing the memories of those who’ve been in front of our camera. It would be very easy to lock yourself away from everyone else and deal solely with your clients and thats it.
So in the (slightly adjusted) words of Tina Turner…. “What’s Networking got to do, got to do with it?”
14 months ago I decided to visit my local networking group on the invitation of a friend I’d met a few years back in a similar vein. Going and sitting in a room of 20 business people, most of which had no real connection or even need to or for photography could look a potentially foolish waste of my valuable sleeping time. Who am I kidding, my kids wake up at 5.30am every morning anyway!
So here was my thinking behind it. The average person knows about 600 people. So if I am in a room of 20 people, thats a potential of reaching 12,000 through word of mouth.
92% of consumers trust the recommendation of a friend or family member. 92%!!!!!
Bundle all of those numbers together and it makes the Networking, and more importantly, referral opportunities very very appealing.
Before attending this group my business was dominated mainly by wedding photography which accounted for 70% of my total business revenue. Portrait work and Workshops accounted for 15% & 10% respectively. The rest of my income was nominal from a couple of different areas. Now I get that those percentages are only really credible with a total Stirling value…. that aint happening!
So when I joined this networking group I made a fairly conscious decision that my Wedding Photography work didn’t really need to grow. I was happy with the level of income I was earning from shooting weddings, if I could bring the levels of other work up to nearer that £ figure then it would make more sense and still give me a good work life balance.
So with that in mind I specifically targeted certain types of work that would deliver a high sale value per job with a minimal investment of time in shooting and editing. Now this isn’t to say that I wouldn’t put the effort in and take my time with the client, but more that I would work more efficiently in the shooting element and “get it right in camera” to reduce post production time.
The type of jobs I identified that met this criteria were Corporate Headshot’s, Publicity/Event Photography and Commercial images such as product/editorial work. So in a room of 20+ businesses I automatically had a link in to 20 businesses right?…. WRONG!
I don’t want to necessarily be selling to these 20 businesses, I want to educate them to sell me to their 12,000 contacts. If I can educate them around the value of what I do, how efficient it is and the results that I create it is going to increase the level of ‘Word of Mouth Referrals’ rather than only getting me exposure to the 20 people in the room.
This is the long game; farming its called in Networking terms. I don’t really want an instant return, if I get that, I haven’t really done what I need to. I want to get people to know me in my group, get them to like me and ultimately earn their trust. This is when I will reap the biggest benefits. This is when my investment of both time and money into this group will pay off.
So getting back to the type of work I wanted from networking in this group. I wanted introductions to accountancy firms, solicitors, sports teams, any type of business who need professional looking head shots and team shots that needed to be shot in a relatively short space of time, and with a quick turnaround. My USP is that I could go to their place of work (despite owning a studio) set up, shoot, edit and turn the images around while still onsite, pack away and leave. Very simple, yet very effective.
Since joining this group I have seen a huge shift in the balance of where my work comes from. My commercial work has gone from being sporadically low at best to accounting for around 25% of my total business, with further growth anticipated for the next 12 months.
Every single penny of Commercial work I have gained has come as a direct result of being part of this networking group. I work closely with an excellent Marketing company, a printer and a web designer and gain work from all three, as well as passing work back to them. There is once of the main purposes of my group. Givers gain- if I work hard to get them business, they will want to do the same back to me!
Networking certainly isn’t for the faint hearted, and its one of those mediums where you have to put the effort in and get to know people in order for it to pay off. It certainly has paid off for me, and I’ve just picked up my biggest commercial job to date for an event in 2017 as a direct result of being recommended by one of the members of that group.
Incidentally since joining that group of 20 businesses, we now have over 30. So I now have the potential to reach 18,000 people through a direct referral or through word of mouth. Pitch that up against advertising on Facebook or in the yellow pages and I’ll take it every day of the week!