As photographers, we spend a lot of time focusing on our digital marketing. From social media to SEO to email lists, there is a seemingly neverending list of online strategies to reach potential clients. All too often though, we spend so much time on our virtual strategies that we forget the tried and true methods for reaching the real-life clients right in front of us. Social media and digital marketing are valuable tools, for sure. But they cannot replace the value of in-person marketing.

Think about it. According to Microsoft, a person’s digital attention span is about eight seconds. This sounds about right when I consider how quickly I flip through social media. Or when I think of how fast I click into and out of a website that grabs, but fails to sustain, my attention. If we are relying on social media to connect with potential clients, create relationships, communicate our services and value, and close sales, we are trying to accomplish way too much in eight seconds.

To grow your business fast, talk to people face-to-face.

The best way to reach clients in your community is through in-person connections. These opportunities create a direct, interactive, and often immediate opportunity for communication. During a real conversation, you can explain your services, understand your clients’ needs, and connect in a way that is infinitely more likely to result in a relationship and sale.

Personal connections make you real in the minds of potential clients. This separates you from your online competition and allows clients to envision working with you. Authentic, real-life relationships also create trust, a key element in any client’s decision to hire you.

Online marketing is one-sided. You present information that you think will get people to hire you. But no matter how well you know your market, assumptions can be wrong. In-person interactions are relational. A two-way conversation gives you the opportunity to understand your clients’ needs, concerns, and questions. This is valuable information! Now you can present yourself to them in a way that you know will resonate.

Your goal as a photographer and business person is to have as many people in your community know who you are and what you do. You want your community to trust that you are amazing so they hire you and refer their friends. Achieving this simple (but not easy) goal will bring more clients than you can handle.

An elevator speech is a great marketing tool.

1. Be prepared: Create an elevator pitch.

An elevator pitch is a short summary you can use to quickly explain who you are, what you do and what unique value you bring to your clients. By planning what to say in advance, you’ll be ready whenever you meet someone new. It can be as simple as this: “My name is Sue Smith and I’m a family photographer here in Cleveland. While I shoot a little bit of everything from weddings to newborns, what I love the most are my customized in-home family sessions. This is where I really get to know a family and photograph what makes them special. I’ve found that I have a real knack for capturing the special bonds within a family.”

One you have your elevator pitch, use it anywhere and everywhere. There are infinite opportunities to introduce yourself to people as you go about your day — at the park with your kids, in the carpool line, at soccer practice, at church, at the gym, dinner parties — basically, anywhere you encounter people in your community, you can use your pitch.

The more people who know who you are and what you do, the more likely it is that your name will come up when someone is looking for a photographer. Not everyone you meet will be your ideal client, but chances are they know someone who is.

Pro tip: Don’t forget to end your conversation by offering your business card.

Rebecca Wyatt's business cards

2. Effective marketing includes quality customer service.

Going beyond the elevator pitch, it is important to make the effort to talk to potential clients. Effective marketing includes quality customer service. As a service-oriented business, you are your store.

As you move through your life, both on and off the clock, everyone you meet is a potential client. So think of the people around you as customers who have entered your store. Engage with them by offering the same level of service you expect when you enter your favorite boutique, regardless of whether you are just window shopping or are prepared to make a major purchase.

Make a point of meeting people, answering questions, and offering advice. Smile and be friendly. Let people know who you are and that you are available for them. Creating goodwill and a positive impression of you and your brand will pay off big-time.

Kids putting their hands in during huddle

3. Use your network to expand your client base.

Your network is filled with people who have your back. Rally your friends, family, clients and other relationships to spread the word about you. Ask for their support and reward them for their efforts. Create a referral program and write thoughtful thank-you notes. Don’t forget to give them some of your business cards to share.

To expand on this idea, think of ways you can partner with other professionals in your community. Partner with businesses that serve the same client base. If you are a wedding photographer, for example, your hairdresser is an awesome resource for you, as you are for her. Leave a few cards with her and take some of hers in return.

Pet photographers, ask your vet if you can leave a few cards. Even better, hang a few large prints of your work in her office. Family photographers, offer your kids’ orthodontist referral cards (with a coupon or small offer) to enclose in their end of treatment candy baskets. What mom, whose kid is finally out of braces, wouldn’t eagerly give you a call!

Other great partners might include your kids’ sports teams, dance or gymnastics programs, preschools, and child care facilities.

Rebecca Wyatt's referral program
Kids playing soccer - a good place for in-person marketing

4. Close the sale over the phone.

When you receive client inquiries, pick up the phone and call them! Do not rely on sending an email to close the sale. No matter how beautiful your welcome guide might be, it is no substitute for a personal conversation.

By calling a potential client, you can find out exactly what she wants and communicate your offerings in a way that directly addresses her needs. More importantly, a real-life conversation offers you the benefit of sharing what makes you and your business unique.

Ask a lot of questions and you will uncover common connections that build trust. Over the phone, you can educate your clients and address any sticking points that you would never discover in an unanswered email. With practice, you’ll be able to close the deal by taking her deposit over the phone and scheduling her session date.

A black and white photo of a newborn in moms arms.
A mother snuggles her newborn.

Get uncomfortable: Put yourself out there.

The key to a successful photography business is finding great clients. The good news is that they are all around you. Getting out and introducing yourself and your business to your community may not feel as safe and comfortable as posting to social media or sending out emails, but you don’t need me to tell you that safe and easy never leads to growth.

Get started today by making a list right now of five things you can do this week to connect with potential clients in person in your community and commit to doing them. Get uncomfortable, put yourself out there and watch your business grow to be a trusted and valued resource in your community.