Monday, April 21, 2008

Networking Tips

As many of you know, the best investment of your time as far as marketing goes is building relationships. Referrals have the highest rate of closes. Cold calls the least. Take your pick.

There are some proven methods of networking. The first is to join a trade or industry organization that most of your prospects belong to. In my case, it would be AIA, the American Institute of Architects. They have regular outings, meetings and events. Making connections there is the single best way to market myself.

Join networking organizations. There are a ton out there. I have been going to BNI, Business Networking International, for the past year. It was not worth the time and money I spent there. I would however recommend it to portrait/wedding photographers. There is great potential in that arena. I have a portrait photographer friend who made 33k his first year there as a member. It's just not the right place to find architectural photography prospects.

There are many more organizations. Research and let me know what you think. Go to Chamber of Commerce meetings. They are much cheaper and very well attended. Going regularly is recommended. If you just attend a couple of times, people won't have a chance to really get to know you and vice-versa.

Don't come off as a salesman. Vibe with people, be friendly, open and attentive. Become a resource to everyone there. Let people know that when it comes to photography, they can come to you with any question. Give them tips, ideas, and info free of charge. Always be imparting information when you are speaking with someone. Be the expert, but listen for what people need. This will help build trust and credibility.

When you do a job for someone, ask them if you can use them as a reference. Ask them to sign a letter of testimony. If they don't have time, write it and give it to them to sign. When you meet a potential prospect who you can sense is doubting you, bring out the reference letters and say: 'Please don't take my word for it, here are testimony letters from past clients that will testify to the quality of my service.'

Introduce yourself to people you don't know. Oftentimes at networking meetings, members will congregate with others they already know and it becomes more of a social gathering. Remember why you're there: to generate leads for your business. Go to the shy person and help them feel included.

When someone asks me what I do, I share the what and the why, not so much the how. People are not interested in the technical aspects of photography, they want to know what's so great about my service and why would anyone want to hire me. I share the benefits of hiring a professional photographer like myself. For an architect, that might be to develop an outstanding, powerful portfolio of their completed projects to attract new clients to their firm.

Another important aspect is your personal image. I know of a local photographer who shows up at networking meetings in sandals and t-shirts. That may work for some, but it does put off a lot of business people. Looking professional doesn't necessarily mean suit and tie, but decent slacks and a button down shirt.

Let me know if you have any more suggestions we could add to this list.

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