Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Q and A: Networking

JESSICA FOLWICK ASKS: "Congrats on your opportunity to shoot at the wedding expo! Wedding shoots are one of the best kinds of photo shoots to do, in my opinion. You have any suggestions on networking with businesses for photo services especially the bigger business names from local malls or expos?"

ANSWER: Networking is definitely a skill set that I'm still trying to learn myself! To prepare for this marketing opportunity, I read a series of articles on About.com related to "Business Networking for Entreprenuers." If you are like me, you have very little money for advertising, so you have to be your own walking and memorable advertisement.

One of the things I made sure I had on hand with me at the expo were as many business cards as I could carry. I made the mistake of running out of cards at one event, and of course that was the time when a potential client wanted to hire me for a shoot. All I could do was scribble something on a piece of paper with the feeble excuse that I didn't have any more cards on hand. Slips of paper are far too easy to misplace. How many times have you jotted something down, lost it, found it and then couldn't remember what or whose number it was you had written down? Business cards are more tangible and less likely to get tossed.

But arming myself with cards wasn't enough. I systematically went to every booth at the expo and introduced myself to each owner. I spent time with all of them, learning about their businesses and products as well as asking questions about what kind of photo services they might need. Many of those businesses were small and up-and-coming like me, and they needed business portraits and product shots for their own advertising. I took photos of them working behind their booths and interacting with potential customers.

The next step is follow-through. I was always good about making the initial contact, but, but my biggest mistake was never contacting potential clients again. I would get too busy doing other assignments for those few people who contacted me. But I would miss out on other opportunities I could have had with prospective customers or referrals if I had only contacted them again! One of the things I intend to do is email each contact a free photo I took of them during the event to help them remember who I was. I have also reserved Fridays as my day to work on my contact lists, following up on meetings and past phone calls. Consistency is key to networking.

As far as contacting larger businesses, the only thing I have as a far instance is my contact at Remo Men's Wear, a men's clothing store in a local area mall. I met Hossam at a fashion show planning meeting. When "Sam" introduced himself, he said that he was hosting his own fashion show at a local club later that month and would need photographers. Apparently, no one else paid attention when he was speaking! I was one of only a few other photogs who spoke with Sam that night about his own upcoming show. I got a call from Sam later that week asking if I was still available to shoot his fashion show, which I did for free. Sam liked what I produced and he hit me up with the wedding expo shoot which led to the wedding I'm shooting next weekend...and so forth...and so on. Get it? One thing can always lead to another so take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way.

I might suggest heading out to your local malls and speaking with their public relations specialists to see if they have a photographer on tab for their various events or shows. I think the same tips can apply. I have made several contacts with chain stores, event promotion companies etc. by networking with their representatives and company spokespeople. Even if they already have a photog on their staff, you never know when someone may be sick or unable to shoot an event, and you get the call to step in! Sow the seeds and reap the benefits whenever they bloom.

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