11 tips for connecting with the clients you want

How to connect with clients that honour your creative vision and value your time.

According to the comprehensive Freelancing in America study, recently conducted by Upwork and Freelancers Union, the vast majority (78%) of freelancers believe that ‘soft skills’—including the ability to communicate and collaborate with others—are just as important as technical skills.

Today, it’s easier than ever for freelance photographers to connect with potential clients, whether it’s through social media or print mailers, but the real secret is finding clients who honour your creative vision and value your time. For that, intrapersonal skills, leadership, problem-solving, and flexibility are at least as crucial as the ability to create great pictures.

A reliable client base can form the foundation of any photography business, helping to bolster both your portfolio and your reputation. Solid client relationships are worth more than just the payment you receive after one or two jobs, as satisfied customers often come back and refer their friends over time. We asked six professionals to tell us how they connect with clients and forge long-term partnerships that feed their artistic practice.

Image by Tropico Photo 1. Cultivate a following online

“We have found that creating personal work regularly and building a dedicated following has been important for attracting clients,” the creative duo Forrest Aguar and Michelle Norris of Tropico Photo explain. “These could be portfolio projects, fun one-offs, or shooting while we are travelling, but the images that we create for ourselves have been great to reinforce our aesthetic, vision, and voice.

“We also send out online newsletters, keep up with our Instagram religiously, and, earlier this year, we created a zine that we sent out to prospective clients and agencies with personal notes inside. For us, continuing to share work with a unified aesthetic has kept clients reaching out to us with potential projects that we can then land with beautiful treatments.”

2. Pick up the phone

“Build lists of potential clients in your local area and start cold calling them,” the commercial photographer Ryan Smith suggests. “Yes, I said cold calling. Nobody likes to do it, but it’s a really useful way to get access to new clients, and it’s free.

“In my experience, this is hands down your fastest way to becoming a professional photographer. You’re not going to start out by landing huge assignments this way, but it will give you the opportunity to make some money while improving your portfolio, creating a more consistent brand, and gaining valuable on-the-job experience.”

Image by Ryan Smith shot for Gildan and Under Armour in Tulsa, Oklahoma

To clarify, cold calling doesn’t mean contacting every one of your dream clients; to start, it means connecting with local brands and vendors. “Forget about cold calling BBDO. Call your local bike shop,” Ryan adds. “Call the winery that’s nearby. What about the landscaping business you keep seeing advertisements for? There are a multitude of potential clients right under your nose. You just have to let them know that you exist.”

“The number one tip I would give an emerging photographer is to be involved in your community,” the Connecticut-based photographer Allegra Anderson says. “The best way to kick-start any business is to immerse yourself in your surroundings, get away from your desk, and put yourself in front of the people that

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