How to Get Your Foot In The Door With Dream Wedding Vendors

March 1, 2017

By Lance Nicoll

Lance Nicoll

Putting together a styled shoot without a wedding planner can be a great way of connecting directly with wedding professionals that you don’t ordinarily get to work with. Shot for an upcoming feature in Wedding Sparrow, this was done with a team of talented wedding professionals but with styling and planning done by me, the photographer. All photos © Lance Nicoll

Some may argue that marketing for wedding photographers is more integral to success than taking great pictures. I would argue that marketing is the key to financial success, and taking great pictures is the key to being able to successfully market.

A marketing strategy can involve many different facets—online advertising, bridal shows, print ads, publication and SEO—but one factor that often gets overlooked is marketing not just to potential clients, but to other wedding vendors. If you want to be shooting at the coolest weddings for top clients at top rates, you need to have the planners, venues and other professionals on your side.

Spending hours setting up meetings and dollars sending out gifts to a vendor who is stylistically out of sync with your brand is not the best use of your time and money. Survey the landscape of your city or state and make an honest assessment of who is working with the brides and grooms that you’ve been booking. Start by targeting three to five wedding planners who will be able to look at your website and feel that you resonate with their client base.

Then put yourself in their shoes: They are doing just fine, making money and referring other vendors, so why should they refer you? You need to be valuable to them—you can make them look good, you can provide them with higher quality images of their work or you can help them get published more often. This is where targeting vendors that are working with similar clientele will come in handy.

It always helps if your name and work are familiar before making direct contact with any vendor. Put together a mailing list and send out a monthly newsletter that can point to your recent blog posts, published works and share your social media links. This gives vendors a chance to check out your portfolio; even if they don’t, they will have seen your name and taken a glimpse at your photos. Now when you do email them directly, it won’t seem random.

The goal here is to eventually meet face to face or to get on their preferred vendors list, but keep the emails short and sweet so you don’t take up too much of their time. I like to point to something specific about their work that I enjoyed seeing and suggest getting together over a cup of coffee to chat. No specific date or timeline—that way it’s not too pushy. Only set a date when you hear back.

A scene from a real wedding that was styled and planned by Peggy Russell of Destination Wedding Studio in Key West, Florida. “Photographers that I know are just sending a ‘blanket’ letter to all, I never respond to,” Russell says. “I want to know they have looked at my work and they think we are a good match.”

Often vendors want to meet with you but the timing isn’t right yet. Other times a vendor will say that they don’t have time to meet in person. You may (depending on the tone of their response) ask about their preferred vendors list, but keep it light and polite.

When you do meet up, be flexible to the expectation of the conversation. I bring my wedding albums with me, but I leave them in my car and say something like, “I do have some albums with me if you wanted to see them, but I figured more than anything we just wanted to get to know one another and talk shop.” They either say, “Yeah, you’re right, I’ve seen your work,” or, “Oh yeah, I would really love to see some of your albums.” Some planners really want to talk about how you treat your clients, how you price and work up front; others just want to meet you, shoot the breeze and then will casually ask you to send them your pricing as you’re parting ways. Either way, be willing to go with the flow.

Tool Tip! MailChimp is a great way to send group emails and track how many of them were received, opened and clicked through. The emails themselves are easy to design, and you can test with plain-text emails versus more visual ones to see how different vendors respond.

Oftentimes, things seem like they’re starting off really well—the vendor will respond to your first email right away, the face to face will be great, you will get email responses saying they are referring you and really hope you get to work together—but still no bookings. Don’t just park that vendor and move on. A casual and personalized email saying hi and hoping they’re having a good season, or that you saw one of their latest projects and you loved it, will help remind them that you’re around. Once every six to eight weeks, just to stay on their minds, is perfect.

This beachy shoot was styled by Satchel Planning and Design and eventually featured on Style Me Pretty, and it provided a great opportunity for us to work together for the first time.

You can also suggest a styled shoot to keep the ball rolling. If the first direct email didn’t lead to a face-to-face meet-up, I’ll wait a few weeks and email asking if they would like to work together on a styled shoot. I bring some ideas to the table so it doesn’t sound like I’m saying, “Hey, can you do all the work of planning and styling a shoot and I just show up and shoot it?” Remember the value you provide to that vendor. It’s also a good way of nurturing a working relationship that has already begun. We all want to get published, and vendors who get published together are more likely to refer one another.

Every so often I try to plan a trip, even if it’s a family vacation, and use that as a way to connect with out-of-town venues and vendors. My first few “destination weddings” have been booked this way. Drop them a note and see if they would like to meet or work on a shoot. Even if it’s only a 5-minute hello, building that relationship and becoming more than just a name in their inbox can go a long way.

Remember, it isn’t easy; I can think of two specific instances where it took one to three years to finally get a working relationship built with a dream vendor of mine. It would have been very easy both times to get discouraged and say forget it, but persistence paid off.

Lance Nicoll is a fine-art wedding photographer, educator and writer based in New Orleans, LA.

A styled shoot with Sapphire Events in New Orleans. “I love to get to know a photographer’s shooting style in person before committing to a wedding-day working relationship,” says Sapphire’s Valerie Gernhauser. “The more we know in advance, the better we can draft our schedule to cater to the needs of the photographer, which will result in better images overall and a happy client.”

On the Flip Side: Tips From a Vendor
By Valerie Gernhauser, Owner and Principal Planner/Designer at Sapphire Events in New Orleans, LA

1. Get specific. What really catches my attention is when there is something in the email that lets me know the photographer has really looked at my site and understands that our styles are a good fit. Generically written copy with no personal note quickly gets filed in the trash folder.

2. Don’t bother with snail mail. Unfortunately, many of the carefully tailored marketing portfolios we receive by mail serve no purpose, as our clients are making decisions based solely on digital presentations. It breaks my heart when I receive a package that I know cost a photographer a lot of hard-earned time and money. Save the dollars and put them toward an excellent website that reflects your very best work.

3. Follow up with a thank you. One of the most memorable touches a photographer can give us is a meaningful thank you, whether the client books or not. Those that appreciate us sending an inquiry and understanding that clients may go another route for reasons beyond our control are those that stand out as true professionals that I want to go to bat for in the future when another client comes along that I think would be a great fit.