First and foremost, I want to say that I’m no saint. I’m guilty of a lot of the characteristics I’ve listed below, and this post is partly to share my lessons so that you can learn from my mistakes.
The other part is to help you stop acting like a dumbass.
So in my time as a photographer, I often run into scenarios where I’m either:
1. Already booked on a date that someone has inquired
2. Out of the price range of a prospective client.
In both of these situations, I want to help everyone as best I can and create a symbiotic relationship so everyone wins. The client gets a quality photographer, the photographer gets new work, and I get to retain good customer service by connecting the two. WIN WIN WIN.
However, I can’t begin to tell you the amount of stress that I’ve gone through in trying to find reliable photographers that I feel comfortable referring. Like it or not, whoever you vouch for is an extension of your brand – and how they perform is a reflection on YOU!
So with that – I try to find photographers that I can stand behind and feel comfortable referring on a regular basis. (Some might not know this, but I actually follow-up with those potential clients to find out how the experience was.)
If the photographer messes up, it’s a hard conversation to have to tell them what they need to work on. A lot of times they take things personal, and it’s really unnecessary drama that I don’t really need. Especially considering that I’m the one offering them work. So most often now, I’ll just stop referring work without telling them why – and move on to another photographer. (Or if it’s in an inquiry for an area of photography where I don’t know anyone that excels, I hate to say this…but I’ll actually just respond with a “sorry but I’m not available email” instead of referring them to a photographer that has shitty work/service.
I decided to create this post for my future/past 2nd’s to consider, and also to communicate my expectations for my referral circle – so that everyone can be on the same page.
(PS – if you’re a photographer who used to receive a lot of work from me and is now reading this, I will gladly explain why I don’t refer to you anymore – AS LONG AS YOU DON’T TAKE IT PERSONAL. Sorry for yelling, but it just seems ass-backwards for someone to get upset at someone that’s trying to give them work.)
13 Reasons you’re cutting yourself short from getting more business
1. Ego – I can’t even believe that I have to include this as it’s so ridiculous - but it’s also the most prevalent. A photographer will communicate with the client in a way that comes across as pretentious or as if they wont take direction. While you may very well know which shot may look better, or if the client suggests an idea that may not be the best…it’s important to make them feel like you’re on the same team. Never come across arrogant.
2. Ego (again) - However this time I’m referring to 2nd shooters at weddings. 1st shooter makes the call. You listen. That should be enough said already – but I’ll elaborate because I like you. Don’t ever question the 1st shooters ideas/techniques (ESPECIALLY in front of the bride and groom) – and if you’re to make suggestions, do so in private and don’t come across as if you “know it all”. Ideally, you want to bring it up so it comes across as if it were THEIR idea in the first place. I know you want to show them how great you are, but the best way of doing so is to find what it is they particularly want out of you – and FOCUS ON THAT! You can bet your ass you’ll be hired again, and maybe even referred a wedding that’s under their price range.
3. Bad Product – This really should have been first, but it’s really a given. A big lesson I’ve learned is not to judge a 2nd shooter’s ability by their portfolio. Or ANY photographer at that. While they may have some awesome shots on there – it’s more important to see consistency. I’ve recommended photographers in the past that I thought were on top of their game, only to find out that they weren’t quite there yet – and were most likely just using some “lucky” shots on their portfolios. Don’t be offended if I ask to see a few complete galleries or full weddings that you’ve shot.
4. Bad Service – It’s like getting the wind knocked out of you when you hear that someone you referred has taken months to deliver someone’s images. I vouched for you! It’s like the scene in Tony Montana when he fails to kill the mark. Sosa tells him “there’s not going to be a next time”. And look what happened. Point is, I’m going to expect reasonable turn-around, and reasonable communication. Be professional on the phone, don’t answer just waking up at 11 AM, and don’t answer in a crazy party. Make sure they know you’re attentive and alert, and they have your full attention.
5. Unprofessionalism online – If you’re doing any of the things listed in #1 on this post, I’m probably not going to refer you. But that’s just me. Others might be different, but I hold online presence to a high standard – and I’d be embarrassed if a client I referred found you online and you had some alarming personality traits that would cause a client to question your stability.
6. Being socially awkward - If you’re quiet in person and can’t make clients comfortable around you - that’s a deal-breaker. Like I mentioned above, referring you to my potential clients is an extension of my brand. My brand is fun, upbeat, outgoing, and ON TOP OF IT. Be comfortable in your own skin, and I’ll be comfortable referring you.
7. Unwillingness to try something new – I’ll actually use a specific time in the past for this one, since I still refer him. About 6 months ago, I asked my friend Mark if he’d be down to shoot a PR event (awards ceremony/speakers/grip & grin) and he felt he wasn’t equipped for it. I knew that he had the gear, he was just worried that he wouldn’t be able to get the right images. I have no doubt in my mind that he would have done great, but he didn’t think so. And often times I’ve been completely willing to bring them along on one of my events so that they’re comfortable with expectations – and THEY’RE STILL SCARED. So in the end, their fear has gotten the best of them, and have missed out on growing and gaining more work as a result. Their loss.
8. Being a pain in the ass – I’m guessing this one is going to be bias on my end, but I really don’t prefer working with people who stress me out. You’ll get paid. Rest assured. But if you’re constantly bugging me about $50 or something insignificant like the cost of valet at an event you shot for me, I’m going to remember it. I haven’t *not paid* a single photographer in my entire career. It’s bad business. But I also believe it’s bad business to leave a bad taste in someone’s mouth and be remembered as “the annoying one”.
9. Bad Presentation – You don’t dress professional, you’re unkempt, or your breath stinks. Okay, I know the last part was a little harsh – but it stems from an experience I had in a nightclub one time. I was talking to another photographer who’s work I respected, and his breath was terrible (you have to talk close because the music is so loud). It was so bad, that while I had intention of talking business with him, I was more eager to end the conversation so I could get away from him! It’s silly to think that something that trivial could affect an entire relationship, but it did. (From then on, I made sure to bring gum with me whenever shooting nightlife.)
10. I don’t like you - I’m a part of an online forum based in San Diego, and I’ve had conversations with photographers who’s work is GREAT – but they argue with me and take things personal. And while I don’t doubt they’re on top of their game when it comes to their business…if I don’t like them – I’m not exactly excited to help them “win” in a symbiotic relationship. I know, it’s messed up – but I’m being real. Also, if we come from different backgrounds (age group, lifestyle, perspective on life) – odds are I won’t be inclined to bring you on as a 2nd. I like to vibe well with who I shoot with, as I just feel it helps the energy gain momentum and the process of the day flow smoothly.
11. Price point – This is an essential factor, but one that’s expected. To help ensure I’m sending you the right leads, if you change your pricing or just want me to be familiar with your costs, I’d love it if you would send me an info sheet. I don’t want to mismatch clients with photographers outside their range – in the same way I don’t want to refer gigs to photographers under what they’d be willing to accept. While this one isn’t surprising, it’s definitely one to consider. And flexibility is always a benefit, as I’ll be more inclined to send more referrals your way.
12. Style – Another given, but it’s important to make the distinction that it’s not something personal. You might be a GREAT portrait photographer, but I’m looking for someone more photojournalistic and familiar with candids. Nothing wrong with that, just not the right fit. My friend Brett reminded me of this point, thanks man!
13. Biting business – This applies to both referrals AND 2nd shooters. What an idiotic thing to do…bite the hand that feeds you! There’s a certain photographer that I specifically wont refer to even though he is great at photography because he has a reputation for stealing clients, and never referring out. When it comes to 2nd shooters – NEVER EVER EVER pass out your own business card when associate shooting or 2nd shooting. This shouldn’t even have to be written – and it’s really unfortunate that people do this.
6 Reasons that Cause Me to Keep Referring to You!
1. Awesome personality - My roommate has told me he’d hire someone that has a better personality but not as good quality of photos for 2nd shooting a wedding merely for the effect that their energy has on the day. Pretty crazy huh? Well, I agree. Although I’m VERY picky with who I choose to come on board, so both better be on point. I’ve got about 3-4 guys that I love working with regularly, and I’m so stoked that I’ve connected with them.
2. Make it easy as possible for me - A 2nd shooter of mine in San Francisco arrived with coffee in hand when she met me to shoot a wedding last year, and it made a big impression! I love things like that, and when a photographer makes the process ‘enjoyable’ rather than just ‘good’, it goes a long way. That goes with payment too. Accept Square? Awesome. Paypal? Even better!
3. Create amazing images I wouldn’t recognize on my own - This is actually a big factor in my thought process to hire 2nd photographers. I’ll pay a higher price point for someone as experienced as myself or MORE experienced so that I can be assured good imagery from them. If they impress me and show me something that fits with my brand but is something I’ve yet to try out – they’re “IN.” Mark (who I mentioned above) really wowed me with some images at a wedding we shot last year, which led me to book him as my 2nd photographer for a Cabo wedding that I have this year.
4. Being flexible in price, or willing to invest in themselves or ‘our relationship’ - There are times when I’m doing a shoot that I don’t necessarily have a budget for an additional shooter, but recognize that there would be a ton of value in bringing one on. As I’ve done with some consistent clients, I really appreciate it when photographers will just opt to “help out” without worrying about payment. Sometimes you have to take a step back, think about how much business someone is bringing you – and show them you appreciate it. *Take note*
5. Returning the favor - Another illusive obvious – but when someone regularly refers me work – I always think about what gigs I can send them to help them out. I referred about 5-6 weddings to a photographer last year with no reciprocation. Well, guess what…my referral circle has now changed.
6. Going above and beyond when 2nd shooting - My friend Jeff Youngren wrote a great post about ALL of this kind of stuff, and really – he hits the nail right on the head. Check it out if you wanna learn how to get in a photographer’s good graces.
If you got a lot out of this post, and think other photographers can get value out of it as well, I’d be stoked if you shared this. And as always – love/hate mail is always welcomed in the comments below, would be glad to talk about any of these topics with you!
(PS – this photo above is of my friend Jason Kirby when we were making our ridiculous holiday christmas card portraits last year. And so you know – Jason currently gets a good portion of my on-site printing corporate clients. He avoids all 13 points mentioned above very well, and I’m happy to refer him business.)