Hacking Yourself into Long-Term Photo and Video Gigs
Updated: Sep 13, 2019
Over the years, I've developed a mental list of people that I know will work with me on a normal basis, seasonally, or will call me when they need my kind of work done. Not only has this long-term strategy proven to be super helpful from a ton of aspects, but it's also been really important from a growth perspective. I'll break down where these clients come from, how to find them, how to maintain them, and how to grow yourself and your business with them and through them.
The Paint on Your Hand Theory
I believe every long term client I have has been in one way or another, paint on my hand. Let me explain. You start by engaging with them, maybe you book a gig, and it goes well. You've gotten a bit of paint on your hand, but for many, it washes off and you don't expect much to come from that client either long-term or through referrals (unless you've worked this angle really well) . This is how lots of photographers work - just gig to gig. However, where I try to set myself apart from the gig-to-gig mindset is by keeping the paint on my hand (so to speak....I'm getting there). I keep my finger on the pulse of what that organization or person is doing - maybe that means dropping in on a show of theirs, buying a cd randomly, stopping by their work, etc. and just reminding them that I exist. This works as a good way to slide in and offer your services at the next possible opportunity, but it mainly keeps you relevant and now they have some of your paint on their hand. Like the paint on your hand, you're reminded that the organization or person you worked with exists and is real, and they have needs - maybe not now, but down the line.
Actual painters have it easy because everyone knows, wherever that person goes, they are a painter. Because they are coated in it. Every job they've done recently is somewhere on their clothes or hands. They are getting free marketing by showcasing that they've worked lots, and they're reminding people around them that they paint. So the next job is that much easier to get. SO - keep some "paint on your hand" as a photographer or videographer. Remind those around you, casually, and obligation-free that you exist and you are doing what you do. For most, this looks like staying active on social media. I'm not great at this yet. Maybe that'll improve. But for me, this looks like being a real person and going to stuff, supporting your client when they don't expect it. Maybe liking their posts, or sharing their stuff, or just striking a conversation with them to say hi. Be a real person first. Here's where this leads in to getting long term clients and keeping them.
Work on it.
Like any good relationship, getting and keeping a long-term client will be work. For you and for them. If you haven't got the gig yet, take the paint theory a step back and just put your paint on their hands when you can. Try to reach that person without forcing it. Add them on Linkedin. 'Like' their business on FB. Follow them on instagram. Try to find a mutual friend. You're thinking at this stage "well yeesh, how do I even start to find the perfect long-term client (or any for that matter)." Start at an industry level. As a creative, what industry are you good at working with (or more importantly, interested in working with)? If you're still lost, the first step would be finding your niche as a photo/video expert.
But assuming you're working on your career as a professional, my advice would be to just work on the relationship. If you've already finished a gig with a client, and you're ready to wash the paint off, think to yourself "can they use my services more?" If yes: start to think about creative ways you can work with them again. And sit on it. Then think about it again. Then sit on it. But don't wash that paint off. If no: "What other services can I offer them, or what did they like most about the previous gig?" - this will start to shape your next steps - but the theory sticks....leave the paint on your hand. Work on it. Maybe when you're sending the invoice, drop them an idea, or maybe mention that you liked a thing they did that was unrelated. Continue liking their stuff. Add someone as a friend on Facebook. Follow them on twitter. The little things start to add up.
Where the 'work' comes in is in gritting your teeth a bit when it comes to a client you didn't particularly enjoy working with, or where you might've messed their gig up. Those relationships may take work, but you may find the long game may pay off in a number of ways you're not expecting right now. But the work also comes in in being and staying relevant. If you stop reading right now - my biggest take away from today is to stay relevant. If the organization you worked for is shifting, or they did a one-off gig with you because marketing said so - start to shift with them. Maybe they hire someone else in the industry for a gig or two, and you have an opportunity to see their next moves unfold. Maybe you see their growth from a distance. They probably forgot about you or have aimed their trajectory in a different direction. This is all perfect because it gives you the opportunity to shift your business in a way that can benefit their changes. This can look like starting short-form videos of a certain offering of theirs. So, working on a long-term relationship can look like being resilient, relevant, but it should look like keeping your finger on that pulse.
Keep it going.
This is where part of the work comes in, but it gets easier. But once you've planted the idea of working on a new project, or series with someone, you can kind of take your foot off the gas. But allow the next phase to be growth. Maybe this client has a news story coming up, or needs coverage at their next event - but let that good relationship segue into the next big relationship. This may look like a great testimonial from their CEO, some free promotion on their website, your logo at the end of a video...start to get comfortable with how you can continue promoting yourself casually. How can you show off the paint on your hand without pushing it? Just continue asking that. But also, how can you promote them? The greatest growth I've had in long-term relationships has been in organizations that I am also passionate about - and start talking about. And that's how they grow - word of mouth.
At least that's how I see it Through My Lens.