It’s holiday shopping season, and that means the local businesses in your town are probably seeing more customers come through their doors than they have in months. Did you know that local businesses are some of the best sources of photography client referrals? It’s true!
This is one of the little-known boutique strategies that our shoot-and-burn competitors could never do. Do I use this strategy myself at Sarah Petty Photography? You betcha I do! Some of my best portrait photography clients came from local business referrals. That’s why I love this strategy so much – it really works, and it helps the businesses as much as it helps you!
Talk about high ROI, oh boy!
By simply shopping locally and building a relationship with a local business, that business owner could refer five photography clients to you, each worth $1,500. You spend basically nothing by buying a product from them and making conversation, and they send you $7,500 worth of photography client referrals. That’s a pretty effective marketing strategy, don’t ya think?
A servant heart is the center of this photography client referrals
But this is NOT an “If you’ll scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” kind of arrangement. What I teach — and what I BELIEVE IN with all my heart — is relationship building. When you help out the local businesses in your community with a full heart and honest intentions, the relationships you build with them will come back to you tenfold.
Getting local businesses to refer photography clients to you starts with serving them without asking for anything in return. You do this because it’s the right thing to do, and the photography referrals are really just the icing on the cake — that’s the mindset you need to make this strategy work.
Which businesses do I want to target for photography client referrals?
Not every business is the right fit for this referral strategy, because not all businesses are going to deliver the kinds of ideal clients you want to work with.
When I was first starting out as a photographer, I learned this the hard way! I did a scattershot approach to trying to build relationships with local businesses so we could refer clients to each other.
My heart was in the right place, but my strategy was all off. What ended up happening was that I got photography client referrals for customers who weren’t in my target market. I love a deal as much as the next person, but I want photography clients who aren’t afraid to invest money into things they really love, like photography. I didn’t need customers who were “cheaple freeple people,” the ones who are more interested in “getting the best deal” than investing in wall art.
When you’re out trying to find businesses to partner with, the easiest way to make a match is to look for businesses that you have something in common with — that have the same target audience and share the same values. For example, you may want to partner with a luxury horse tack company in your hometown if you’re looking for family portrait clients, or a high-end dog boutique if you’re a pet photographer. Here’s a list of 37 other clients who can hire you today.
1. Start by shopping local
A great way to establish “first contact” in building a relationship with local businesses is to buy from them! Marketing has seriously never been so fun!
The holidays are coming, and that means you’ll likely be buying gifts for friends, family, teachers, and more. It’s a great time to patronize local businesses to find unique and thoughtful gifts. Many small businesses depend on holiday sales to keep them afloat for the rest of the year. Take your finger off the “Buy Now” button and go inject some much-needed cash and attention into the local businesses that serve your community!
Chat up the people behind the counter, ask to speak to the owner (in a good way!) to compliment their store or ask questions about their business. Friendship starts when two people strike up a conversation!
2. Create a holiday gift guide
Think of local businesses you’d love to send you photography client referrals. Now create an online holiday gift guide featuring their products or services for social media. Include items from each local business (you can photograph them or you can ask them for images they already have). Be sure to include a photography gift certificate from your business in the list, too. Make it gorgeous and share it on social media. Tag the business, yourself, and any other businesses that made the list so they share, too. The more exposure you can give the business, the more likely they are to send photography client referrals your way. BONUS: the more businesses you include, the better. That’s more exposure for YOU when they share the guide with their followers.
3. Interview local business owners for your blog
Business owners LOVE to talk about what they love – their business. Play journalist and feature businesses you truly love as a service to your clients and followers. You can talk to these business owners about any number of topics, including local events, charities, business advice, or shopping guidance for a certain audience. Then photograph a lifestyle image or two of them in their business to include with the blog post. Share your blog on social media and of course tag them so they can share the love with their followers, too.
Here’s an example blog post from boutique photographer Diane Dultmeier of Dultmeier Photography.
4. Get creative on social media
Create a Facebook or Instagram post, reel, TikTok, Facebook Live or Instagram Live from the businesses you want to partner with and tell a story about their products and services you love. When you, as a loyal customer, create content FOR them, you make their lives easier. Think of yourself as a curator of all the cool things in your local market. Be an advocate for shopping local and the photography client referrals will happen naturally. It starts with documenting what you’re already doing – supporting local businesses.
Check out amazing TikTok featuring a local business from my coaching student, Meghan Hughes.
My student, Connie Bensen, has been crushing it as she grows her community involvement by featuring local businesses on her Instagram. Here’s a sample of what she’s doing.
Show your community that you shop local
I had my design team whip up the COOLEST graphic that you can use on your social media to show local businesses that you support them and shop local! All you have to do to grab it is follow me on Instagram @sarah.petty and direct message me the word LOCAL, and I’ll send them your way.
So when should I expect to get photography client referrals?
Now that you’ve established a relationship with a business and you’re doing what you can to promote them in your own channels, what’s next?
The idea is that, once you really get their attention, they’ll think of you first when one of their friends or clients mentions that they need a photographer. But truly, you want to open the door to bigger things – co-marketing events, charitable marketing together, and of course a more formal way of generating photography client referrals, like a gift certificate program.
I hope you can see, there’s more you can do than hope. One great partner can change everything for your business.