(The following is excerpted from the new book The Successful Wedding Photographer , by the editors of Photopreneur.)
Julie Kim  has been voted one of the best wedding photographers working in the U.K. She earns over £2,500 for a full day’s shoot, including album and files, and covers about 30 weddings a year. And she’s only been shooting professionally since 2006.
In building her business, Kim has had success with Facebook ads as well as with referrals from past clients. But her biggest source of referrals might surprise you.
It’s other photographers.
Colleagues, Not Competitors
In 2008, Kim made a conscious decision to contact other photographers and begin networking within the industry. Instead of looking at other photographers as competitors, she started to see them as friends, colleagues and sources of information about technique and business strategies.
The “referral networks” she forged as a result now generate the “bulk of my bookings,” Kim says.
That other photographers can be sources of referrals might come as a surprise to wedding photographers more used to seeing other professionals as competitors. But a photographer who works alone might only take 20 or 30 weddings a year and receive many more inquiries than that each year.
They might also receive those inquiries at inconvenient times, with potential clients hoping to book the same photographer for the same date.
That’s an opportunity for smart photographers to become sociable, to get to know other wedding photographers in their area — and their work — and to create a professional network in which support is provided and excess work is shared.
Building Your Network
Like any form of social interaction, making first contact with a photographer you don’t know might be a little tricky — especially for shy photographers more comfortable shooting parties than attending them. But a quick email that contains three kinds of information should be enough to begin forging a relationship:
- a note saying you admire their work;
- a question about technique;
- and a mention that you’re looking for a way to help your leads when your schedule is full.
All of those things help to pull the photographer toward you and persuade him or her to write back. Other photographers will appreciate someone telling them that they admire their photography — as you would — and genuine respect is a foundation of any kind of relationship.
Asking them about technique gives the photographer an opportunity to talk more about their work, something most photographers enjoy doing and rarely get the chance to do — at least unless they’re in the company of other photographers.
And saying that you’re looking for a place to send your overflow makes your approach a valuable offer with no obligations but plenty of possible rewards. It also makes it very likely that the person you’re contacting will reciprocate, opening up a series of potential channels to good quality clients.
The Real World
This kind of individual contact was how Julie Kim began building her network.
Kim didn’t settle for email and Internet communication, however; she also meets members of her network in person for chats and coffee.
Online contact is a good first step, but real relationships need to be built in the real world. They can make you part of a community of photographers that is rich in support, information — and referrals.
tomorrow: going viral