Humans thrive on connection. Whether in our personal or business lives, relationships sustain us and help us become more complete versions of ourselves. Simply put, we are not meant to be alone.
With this in mind, relationship marketing should be a cornerstone of any business, especially a service-oriented one like professional photography. Julie Reisler, author, TEDx speaker, life and business coach, and founder of Life Designer Coach Academy, agrees. She works with all manner of business people to help them build stronger, longer-term relationships that feed their businesses and nourish their passion for the work. For photographers, she suggests starting with a few basic tools to map, track, and expand crucial business relationships.
Meeting people is great, but to be successful at relationship marketing, it helps to have a strategy and to track your progress.
Make three to five outreach calls per day.
With these tools in place, make a goal to reach out to a certain number of people each day. Reisler recommends making three to five outreach calls every business day. Phone calls are best since you can have a conversation. Use your tracking spreadsheet to record your efforts, and make notes about when you called each contact, whether you spoke to them, and what you talked about.
One of the primary goals of these calls is to set up an in-person meeting or, if that’s not possible, a video conference. The ideal scenario is a coffee meeting where you can chat and find out what’s happening with them then determine how you can be of service. “This isn’t a sales meeting,” stresses Reisler. “Establish yourself as someone who is there to help and support, to add value for people.”
When you embody an attitude of service, the other person can feel it, and it’s more likely to build a deeper relationship.
Get past the concept of sales being a dreaded process. It’s necessary, and though relationship marketing isn’t all about sales, building sales is one of the ultimate by-products. To get your head in the right place, go back to your why. Why do you do this work? Why is the work you do important? Why is it needed in the world? If you stand behind your work and you understand that it means something, then you should be able to proceed confidently knowing that you are providing something of real value.
Still, some of these outreach calls can be misperceived as salesy if they seem to come out of the blue, which may turn people off. To make sure you’re not coming off as zealous, start the conversation by being as genuine as possible. Point out your connection, introduce yourself and what you do, and ask questions about the other person. Find out how you might be of service. Be genuine about what you offer, and don’t push it on them.
When you embody an attitude of service, the other person can feel it, and it’s more likely to build a deeper relationship. To communicate that service intent, consider how you can add value for the other person while expecting nothing in return. Reisler advises that you strive to remain unattached to the outcome of the conversation. In other words, don’t try to get something out of it. You understand that sales or referrals could emerge later, but at early stages of your interactions you have zero expectations.
“When you get attached to the outcome, you can come across as needy, clingy, and lacking confidence,” explains Reisler. “It can cloud your ability to be of service to someone. On the other hand, when you come from a perspective of adding value, it’s a different mindset. It doesn’t mean you can’t offer your services or offer a taste of what you do, but the approach is about being grounded, confident, and focused on the other person, not your own needs. People respond to that approach much more favorably.”
“Most of all, remember that there is a human being on the other end, not just a sale.”Julie Reisler
Building strong relationships requires nurturing each connection over a period of time. Reisler points out that the process can take six months, a year, or longer until any sort of benefit comes back to you. “Sometimes you meet someone, and you’re not sure how you would work with them, but opportunities arise a year or two down the road,” she says.
How do you stay engaged over these long periods? Think in terms of touchpoints to keep the relationship going. Reach out on people’s birthdays, around the holidays, and periodically just to say hello. Reisler recommends contacting people in your network at least once a quarter. And there’s no time like the present. After two and a half years of pandemic-related disruptions, now is a great time to reach out and reconnect with people, particularly folks you haven’t seen in a while, just to see how they’re doing and if there’s anything you can do to help.
A great way to add continuing value to people’s lives is to provide expertise. Reach out to potential partners and members of your community to offer yourself as a resource. Your expertise could be photography-related or ancillary to your core services, like organizational skills, color coordination, image reviews, or any other services where you could add value for people.
“Most of all, remember that there is a human being on the other end, not just a sale,” says Reisler. “It’s a person with needs and desires and their own story. Come from a place of really wanting to add value for them, and you’ll be more successful.”
Jeff Kent is editor-at-large.