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Thread started 26 Jul 2013 (Friday) 01:27
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How do you get clients, as an amateur?

 
supfresh
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Jul 26, 2013 01:27 |  #1

All summer I've been looking to build clientele, to network, and ultimately get more gigs. I have been reaching out to my friends and family, and my previous clients on referrals, but really none have come through.

I have two potential weddings in August, but the B&G are teetering between different photographers. How do you secure or land gigs as an amateur photographer? I definitely still have things I need to work on in terms of technique, but i believe my portfolio is solid (for the most part) to ask for some compensation. (www.choicephotoschicag​o.com (external link))

Mostly, I have been getting my gigs through craigslist. I am from the Chicagoland area and it seems that it is almost impossible to second shoot for someone, let alone find a low-budget wedding to shoot.

I am comfortable in charging for my work, but my goal is to build my portfolio as I am slowly gathering more equipment. I really enjoy shooting weddings and love the whole process from capture to edit. My question is, was your transition from "looking for work" to "booking gigs for next year" a jump, or a slow build over the years? I have read virtually almost all the posts on this forum regarding the business and relationship aspect of it, and most of them suggest on shooting for free. While I have no problem in doing so, I find it very hard to find to shoot for free, as the clients usually are skeptical about my skillset or there are other photographers looking to do the same.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Sorry for the wall of text, I'm just getting a bit desperate to shoot a nice event as the summer is coming to an end.

Cheers.


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memoriesoftomorrow
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Jul 26, 2013 01:55 |  #2

If you are and amateur you offer shoots for free. Hence "AMATEUR". You need to work on your technique still = you should offer to shoot for free. Why do you deserve compensation if you can't guarantee an end product?

Don't make the mistake of calling friends and family "clientele". They are not. They are friends and family who see they are giving you a boost by getting something for next to nothing or free. They aren't clients as such.

If that is all the equipment you have I hope you intend on renting backup equipment if you charge even a dime for the wedding. Otherwise you are just playing at being a wedding photographer and being negligent in the process.

Your potential clients have a right to be sceptical about your skill set if you think this " I definitely still have things I need to work on in terms of technique".

The moment you charge the game changes. You better have all the bases covered if you do otherwise things have a habit of coming back to bite you if things go wrong.


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gmaize
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Jul 26, 2013 02:17 |  #3

For me it has been slow and steady,not overnight. My best advice is to shoot regularly, even daily if possible. Create personal projects with goals and deadlines. Build your skills and experience, without or with little compensation.

Do you have a favorite cause, charity or non-profit group? They often can use photographic services but have little resource to compensate. Some of my most personally rewarding assignments have been images I have provided to a group pro-bono. This way you'll have portfolio material that is for known entities and not simply family and friends.

Most of all have fun and stay positive

--Geoff


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memoriesoftomorrow
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Jul 26, 2013 02:33 |  #4

Step 1) Build portfolio and become consistently competent shooting, this means shooting for free. You still need contracts and model releases to manage expectations and cover yourself.

Step 2) Ensure you have the relevant insurances, contracts in place and backup equipment before you take on your first paying wedding. Why? You are charging and you better be ready for the fall out if things don't go to plan. Not getting the basics covered before your first paid wedding shoot can be like committing business suicide.

Step 3) When you charge for your first wedding do so at a price which is worked out based on your costs and the minimum level of pay you are prepared to receive (after costs, taxes etc). The minimum you can charge will come from the costs.

When you do set your pricing consider that the referral base you establish will be based on how much you charge. Charge $200 for a full day's coverage expect your referral clients to be only willing to pay the same amount. If you start ridiculously low expect it to take years to slowly build up to a profitable level unless you are prepared to completely burn your referral base as you go.

If potential clients do not see the value in what you are offering at the price you offer it for then they won't buy. If this happens you have a problem and need to look at what you are offering (quality, product, experience and service).

Finally. If you want to build up a portfolio and buy gear thinking your best bet is the wedding route is very misguided. It is possibly the worst route you can go. Portraits, other events etc all don't come with either the risk or pressure of a wedding. You can re-shoot a portrait session, you can't re-shoot a wedding.


Peter

  
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Peacefield
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Jul 26, 2013 07:00 |  #5

I agree with all the recommendations above. Once you have sufficient gear, have gathered some experience, built a bit of a portfolio, Craigs List is a good place to advertise for free. You'll find budget minded brides who are willing to gamble on your abilities in exchange for low price.


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Christopher ­ Steven ­ b
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Jul 26, 2013 08:52 |  #6

When your fees are really low, the quality of your work isn't so much of an issue--you're hired based on your price. When you raise your prices so that you're charging a thousand or two, the quality of the portfolio will likely be scrutinized a little harder as clients compare between photographers.

You are charging high enough fees that craigslist will likely become less and less useful to you. This isn't to say that you shouldn't use craigslist, but that it has to be one of a multitude of means of marketing yourself.

This isn't to suggest that what you are doing is wrong and what I did was right, but when I had only one [edit: or two] wedding to show on my website, my fees for a wedding weren't a thousand or two. When I was starting out my focus was not on the present and how much money can I get <this week>; it was on working more, building up my portfolio knowing that it would make me money <later>.



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Phil ­ V
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Jul 26, 2013 09:35 |  #7

Advertising and getting clients aren't compatible with the term 'amateur'.

Practicing and building a portfolio are what you do as an amateur.

Advertising, shooting cheap weddings and building a portfolio are what you do as a cheap professional.

Producing consistently good photographs for customers are what you do as a pro.


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Christopher ­ Steven ­ b
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Jul 26, 2013 10:09 |  #8

^How do you suggest he build up his portolio, Phil ?



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supfresh
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Jul 26, 2013 10:13 |  #9

Thanks for all the responses, definitely put things into perspective. It seems like I'm getting too ambitious for what I have to show in my portfolio, but I am confident in my skillset. Having said that,

memoriesoftomorrow wrote in post #16154856 (external link)
Step 2) Ensure you have the relevant insurances, contracts in place and backup equipment before you take on your first paying wedding. Why? You are charging and you better be ready for the fall out if things don't go to plan. Not getting the basics covered before your first paid wedding shoot can be like committing business suicide.

When you do set your pricing consider that the referral base you establish will be based on how much you charge. Charge $200 for a full day's coverage expect your referral clients to be only willing to pay the same amount. If you start ridiculously low expect it to take years to slowly build up to a profitable level unless you are prepared to completely burn your referral base as you go.

If potential clients do not see the value in what you are offering at the price you offer it for then they won't buy. If this happens you have a problem and need to look at what you are offering (quality, product, experience and service).

Finally. If you want to build up a portfolio and buy gear thinking your best bet is the wedding route is very misguided. It is possibly the worst route you can go. Portraits, other events etc all don't come with either the risk or pressure of a wedding. You can re-shoot a portrait session, you can't re-shoot a wedding.

Reason 2 is why I see myself as an amateur, I am very aware of the precautionary steps and insurance that pros go through to insure shoots. Based on the post above, I am a cheap-professional, by definition so I cannot afford that for my buisness. On a regular basis, I shoot headshots to test new equipment and to practice my technique. I also shoot regular nightlife gigs so I am definitely out there shooting. The reason why I am seeking advice is to expand in the wedding industry.

I guess this is where the problem lies. I am confident in my skillset to charge what I charge. Sure I get a few referral clients here and there, and I have a winter wedding booked, but craigslist has always been a source of business for me. As I am moving out of the budget of craigslist service seekers, how does a photographer looking to expand to higher-paying weddings move from low CL budget weddings, if that is all he has shot for the past 2 years?

"If you start ridiculously low expect it to take years to slowly build up to a profitable level unless you are prepared to completely burn your referral base as you go."

Couldn't agree more. Perhaps this is the situation I'm falling into, but again I am a cheap professional. Is no money, better then little money? How do you reach out to higher-end clients? Google AdSense doesn't seem to get the job done, and my website seems to only exist as point of reference when I direct them to clients.

Also, I apologize, I should have clarified earlier. When I meant friends & family, I was stating that I was asking them for referrals. I stopped shooting friends and family for my website long ago.

Christopher Steven b wrote in post #16155328 (external link)
When your fees are really low, the quality of your work isn't so much of an issue--you're hired based on your price. When you raise your prices so that you're charging a thousand or two, the quality of the portfolio will likely be scrutinized a little harder as clients compare between photographers.

You are charging high enough fees that craigslist will likely become less and less useful to you. This isn't to say that you shouldn't use craigslist, but that it has to be one of a multitude of means of marketing yourself.

This isn't to suggest that what you are doing is wrong and what I did was right, but when I had only one [edit: or two] wedding to show on my website, my fees for a wedding weren't a thousand or two. When I was starting out my focus was not on the present and how much money can I get <this week>; it was on working more, building up my portfolio knowing that it would make me money <later>.

Couldn't agree more. Especially the last part. If you don't mind me asking, how did you get these clients? Like I said, I don't mind shooting for free for the purpose of building my portfolio. While I do charge currently, the main purpose is to network with a couples for future work. Like memoriesoftomorrow pointed out, I want to move from the lower budget weddings, but it is a hard transition.

Would the best recommendation be to just gain a few more weddings under my belt (free), present them nicely on my website, then start charging the price I want to charge? How does one even find free weddings to shoot? A lot of the success stories here point out family & friends weddings, but in my experience, that never works.

Let me give an example. Friends of friends, especially, will barely consider a "free" photographer to cover their wedding, and they would rather pay to get a "professional". A friend of a friend was getting married and was seeking a photographer, and of course our mutual friend recommended me. They asked me what I charge, and considering I only had 1 wedding to show for, I asked for a very small compensation. They chose to go with another photographer who charged more. When I look over their wedding pictures, I was shocked. This self proclaimed "Professional" charged them $1500 for average pictures. Many of the pictures were terribly white balanced or composed. My mutual friend stated afterwards that she would have greatly preferred to have gone with me.

But let's say once I've gotten a couple of free wedding gigs done. How do you get paying clients then? Do you advertise locally..? Online?


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Christopher ­ Steven ­ b
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Jul 26, 2013 10:26 |  #10

@supfresh: most of my first two dozen professional gigs were landed via kijiji (a slightly more reliable canadian craigslist variant). There were a couple of referrals in there, but for the most part I landed each of these jobs independently from the others. I should also add that most of these were NOT weddings. They included engagement parties (Indian, mostly), corporate parties, cocktail parties, sweet 16 and bat mitzvah. These gigs didn't have the same kind of do-or-die level of stress as a wedding does; but they really did allow me to improve my technique, get used to working a room and most importantly working with people.

These are the photos that made up my portfolio before I started really getting into weddings.

My prices were set strategically in order to gain the most clients. I always charged a fee.

Pro tip. If you're good at marketing via google (ie. SEO) then the problem of burning out old referrals due to your raising pricing won't have so much of an impact. It should be fairly obvious why this is the case.



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sdipirro
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Jul 26, 2013 11:22 |  #11

The part of this that concerns me is the business side. You basically want more paid work and are expanding your "business" as a professional photographer, but it sounds like you're not covering or don't want to cover the business side of things. Maybe I'm wrong, but I bet you have no business liability insurance. So if you're shooting a wedding and someone trips over your camera bag and sues you, you're screwed. Or the bride and groom aren't happy with the results and decide to sue you. I'm guessing you don't have backup gear in case things fail on the job. As someone who did a shoot last week where just about everything failed, I can't emphasize enough how important this is! If you want to be in the business, you need to start treating it as a business. As a business, you'll have an advertising budget and can write off a lot of those expenses, allowing you to explore different options to find ones that work for you.

I think it's great that you've done all the work so far and have built up a portfolio, but it sounds like you just need to think about the business side of things as you plunge into it. It doesn't have to be a full-time business, and it doesn't mean you can't still shoot for free and for fun when you want, but you have this business side there for you when you need it.


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Phil ­ V
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Jul 26, 2013 11:27 |  #12

Christopher Steven b wrote in post #16155492 (external link)
^How do you suggest he build up his portolio, Phil ?

I thought that's what he was doing?

My point is that he can't advertise and sell his services and claim to be an amateur. As far as what he needs to improve, we'd need to know more about what he's actually trying to sell and how, in order to help his marketing. But perhaps he's scaring off 'clients' by telling them he's an amateur whilst explaining his fees. ;)


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bigarchi
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Jul 26, 2013 12:12 |  #13

I call what you are in the puberty stage lol
it lasted a wedding season for me, but I eventually grew into the photographer I wanted to be.
i'm still not a full-time pro, so probably still not a real man by their standards, but I never wanted to be a full-time wedding photographer.

some of the posts on this site, not necessarily in this thread, make it sound like you have to have all your sh*t together 100% before taking paid gigs though, and I don't agree with that. you will never have it 100% from doing free/cheap work imho.
even once you become a pro, you continually learn, at least I do. no wedding is the same, no clients are the same, no venues are the same, weather, etc. etc. yes, their are a lot of similarities between gigs, but they are all at least somewhat unique. you should be near 100% though.

hell, even lawyers and doctors who are as professional as it gets call themselves practicing doctors and lawyers. they are practicing law and medicine, and they are often wrong. pro photographers can't have even higher standards than that to be able to call themselves pros. let's be honest.


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supfresh
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Jul 26, 2013 12:23 |  #14

sdipirro wrote in post #16155676 (external link)
The part of this that concerns me is the business side. You basically want more paid work and are expanding your "business" as a professional photographer, but it sounds like you're not covering or don't want to cover the business side of things. Maybe I'm wrong, but I bet you have no business liability insurance. So if you're shooting a wedding and someone trips over your camera bag and sues you, you're screwed. Or the bride and groom aren't happy with the results and decide to sue you. I'm guessing you don't have backup gear in case things fail on the job. As someone who did a shoot last week where just about everything failed, I can't emphasize enough how important this is! If you want to be in the business, you need to start treating it as a business. As a business, you'll have an advertising budget and can write off a lot of those expenses, allowing you to explore different options to find ones that work for you.

I think it's great that you've done all the work so far and have built up a portfolio, but it sounds like you just need to think about the business side of things as you plunge into it. It doesn't have to be a full-time business, and it doesn't mean you can't still shoot for free and for fun when you want, but you have this business side there for you when you need it.

For my shoots, I always rent a 5D backup body. My partner also has a body, and if the event is big enough, will rent a backup. I have just looked at some insurance coverage and rates are hard to find without requesting a direct quote. Most entry coverage plans doesn't seem to have liability insurance either. It wasn't only until recently that I have purchased my own equipment, mostly I have been renting. Carrying around all that equipment does make me a bit more nervous now, can you recommend good reputable companies?

I haven't done extensive research on advertising, but it looks like to get good results, you need to spend a minimal of couple hundreds. Do you have any experience with advertising your company, and how much/how long did it take for you to see results and get clients?

Phil V wrote in post #16155688 (external link)
I thought that's what he was doing?

My point is that he can't advertise and sell his services and claim to be an amateur. As far as what he needs to improve, we'd need to know more about what he's actually trying to sell and how, in order to help his marketing. But perhaps he's scaring off 'clients' by telling them he's an amateur whilst explaining his fees. ;)

I don't ever state that I am an amateur. I give my price, my portfolio, and communicate with the clients on their schedule, their expectations, and time needs for the shoot.

Christopher Steven b wrote in post #16155530 (external link)
@supfresh: most of my first two dozen professional gigs were landed via kijiji (a slightly more reliable canadian craigslist variant). There were a couple of referrals in there, but for the most part I landed each of these jobs independently from the others. I should also add that most of these were NOT weddings. They included engagement parties (Indian, mostly), corporate parties, cocktail parties, sweet 16 and bat mitzvah. These gigs didn't have the same kind of do-or-die level of stress as a wedding does; but they really did allow me to improve my technique, get used to working a room and most importantly working with people.

These are the photos that made up my portfolio before I started really getting into weddings.

My prices were set strategically in order to gain the most clients. I always charged a fee.

Pro tip. If you're good at marketing via google (ie. SEO) then the problem of burning out old referrals due to your raising pricing won't have so much of an impact. It should be fairly obvious why this is the case.

I am looking more into online advertising now and at YELP for wedding discussions. Your responses are much appreciated, thank you.


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Christopher ­ Steven ­ b
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Jul 26, 2013 12:30 |  #15

I may be an exception, but I land 10-15 weddings per year purely by way of ze google. I've never paid for advertising.

@Phil--apologies. I suppose I misread your 'cheap professional' line as an epithet--ie., that the market should consist of amateurs and pros with nothing in between.



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