If you read my last posting on creating a portfolio of images, you may soon have a well thought-through body of work to show potential commercial clients. It should be one that really represents you now: what you love to shoot…your specialisms, your stand-out signature style and would give a client a pretty good idea of what could be expected of you were they to hire you.
The next logical step would be face-to-face meetings. These are a great way to begin a relationship with a potential commercial client and create an impact. But let’s be clear: this goes both ways – leave a poor impression and you’ll not hear from them again.
It’s harder than ever to get in-person meetings mostly due to lack of time rather than lack of desire to meet new photographers, so tenacity and patience is essential. While you should consider this to be the equivalent to a job interview, it’s also important to be yourself and be relaxed and to go with the flow so that your true character can shine through.
- Make lists of prospective clients; research the names and contact details.
- Make sure these people are the creative decision-makers.
- Do your homework – they will expect this of you: research your client by checking out their blog and social media sites as well as their website so you are in a position to demonstrate your knowledge of their clients and recent work, campaigns, etc...
- Make sure your work is compatible with these prospective clients.
Initial request email
- Send out an email around 7-10 days before you’d like to meet your contact. Too far in advance and you risk them forgetting or cancelling. Too little time and they may be already booked up.
- Make your initial email personal to who you would like to meet.
- Don’t’ be pushy. Keep it short indicating how your skills and interests match their needs in a single sentence or two.
- Include a link to your site.
- Give dates/times when you’re available. Give the impression you are in town for other meetings – you don’t want them to feel pressure and that you’re making a special trip for them.
- Never request for too much of their time – ‘a few minutes’ is all you should ask for.
- There is no need to include many (if any) images in this initial email. Your email may get through a spam firewall better without them.
- If you’ve not heard anything after a few days, follow-up with a phone call.
- Being proactive is part-and-parcel of running a successful business and while it can be an intimidating prospect, it’s good practice to speak directly with a client.
- Keep your chat brief and friendly and rather than implying they haven’t read your email, reiterate that you’ll be passing by next week and wonder if they have a few minutes to take a look at your book.
- If you don’t get any traction after this, you have to assume they don’t want to meet with you at that point in time. Move on to the next client rather than lamenting the situation…and certainly don’t be a pest and chase them further.
- Be charming and engaging, relaxed and focused.
- Ask how much time they have available for the meeting at the start so they can sense you are aware of their pressures.
- Leave the page-turning to the art buyer/art director/editor. You can always slow them down by a quick, relevant anecdote about one or two pictures. Otherwise, leave the images to speak for themselves or wait for questions.
- Don’t expect the client to give you a critique on your work – that’s not the purpose of the meeting.
- Don’t ask them if they have a job for you to work on. Have faith that this is at the back of their minds at all times.
- If appropriate, ask which photographers they have used recently. This may give you a clue as to the calibre of who they are currently hiring and against whom you may be competing.
- Never suggest the photography that the company has used in the past was below par as you may be insulting the very person who was responsible for it.
- At the end ask respectfully whether you can add them to your promotional email list.
- Never appear desperate for work – it will be a real turn-off.
- Remember to have a ‘leave-behind’, which has your name and contact info on it.
From the client’s point of view
- They don’t have much time and certainly won’t appreciate chatterboxes.
- They won’t want to be overwhelmed with impressive lists of past clients, which may make you appear arrogant. A more subtle approach in mentioning a few names at the appropriate time would be more appropriate.
- They will expect you to ask incisive questions about their business and campaigns.
- They don’t want a sales meeting with you pushing your work and telling them how great you are.
- They will want to feel you can be collaborative: a good listener and able to be part of a team.
- They will love a photographer who has a can-do attitude, is resourceful and is a problem-solver.
- By meeting you, they will want to have got a glimpse into who you are, what you’re like and how you work.
It might be useful to take an iPad, along with you also if you want to show additional images from a series they showed particular interest, or perhaps you also shoot motion.
As a follow-up, a courteous acknowledgement of their time is respectful and might help you to stand out. This could be in the form of an email or perhaps a hand-written note or postcard.
Remember that you are your brand. It’s not just your work that may get you an assignment; your sense of professionalism and your personality are also determining factors.