The focus of our discussion was how photographers can collaborate with planners and earn referrals by fostering a supportive team environment AND creating a memorable client experience (which reflects positively on the wedding planner who referred you).
It was such a great discussion that I wanted to share Vanessa’s points in a blog post, too, so here are the factors Vanessa cited as the most impactful actions you can take as a photographer if you want know how to book more weddings from planner referrals!
1. Build a relationship.
The ability to foster authentic interest in a wedding planner’s work is an important element in the beginning stages of collaborating. Showing up on social media with genuine interaction (not just emojis or generic “love this!” comments) is a great way to introduce yourself to wedding vendors and avoid the feeling of a “cold call” intro e-mail simply asking for their referrals. Once you’ve been able to consistently interact with a wedding planner on social media, you have a natural segue to a more formal e-mail invitation to collaborate.
2. Share your pricing.
Vanessa works with couples on either a full-service planning package or event management (commonly referred to as “month of” coordination) and during our Instagram chat, she mentioned that one of the biggest initial considerations for which vendors to refer to clients is pricing. Different clients have different priorities (and various budgets!), so it’s important to Vanessa that she have solid recommendations for photography at several different pricing tiers.
Because of this, she suggests that if photographers are interested in working with her, they include their pricing information via e-mail early in the conversation. This helps Vanessa understand which of her clients might be a good fit right off the bat based on the couple’s budget and priorities, and it eliminates the step of her having to ask for your package information.
3. Offer a flexible experience, not kickbacks.
A natural result of strong vendor relationships is the ability to serve clients and provide a rave-worthy experience. Vanessa emphasized that she’s not looking for the promise of a monetary “thank you” when a photographer books a client from her recommendation; instead, she wants the vendors she recommends to provide an incredible experience (which makes her the hero with her clients!). Offer to waive travel fees, include a complimentary engagement session, or extend an option for package customization. This flexibility and adding value for the CLIENT will go much farther in building a positive, long-term relationship with a wedding planner.
TIP: if you want to hear more about why “paying for leads” is a terrible way to approach vendor relationships, I recommend Stacey Brown Randall’s “Referral No-No #3” podcast episode!
4. Update your website.
The scroll is real. Instagram can be a great jumping-off point for couples planning their wedding day and searching for vendors, as well as wedding pros networking with each other. But Vanessa points out that if she has to explain to a client why your website is lacking, then you’re starting off on the wrong foot:
“If the most recent thing [on your website] is from 2015, get it done now, because I have no way to send [clients] something that says, ‘this [photographer] is modern, they know how to style details, they take beautiful portraits, they know lighting really well…’ If your website doesn’t say that because you haven’t updated it in forever, I can’t convince them otherwise.“
5. Don’t go rogue on the planner.
When you’re working with a client you know has already booked their planner and you’re hoping to peek at an early draft of the timeline, reach out to the planner first! Vanessa’s pet peeve is when the photographer goes to the client directly to ask for a timeline (especially when it’s months in advance of the big day), because the client might panic and think that NOT having a copy of the timeline means something is wrong or that their planner isn’t doing their job.
Especially when she is working with a full-service planning client, Vanessa wants to minimize the behind-the-scenes minutiae of wedding prep for the couple, and a photographer might undermine this strategy by requesting a timeline draft eight months in advance. This doesn’t mean you can’t ask for the timeline draft, but please, let the wedding planner do their job and ask them directly!
6. Respect the timeline.
Speaking of timelines, don’t mess with a wedding planner’s timeline on the wedding day! Losing track of time during family photos or kidnapping the couple for longer than you’ve been allocated for sunset portraits is a great way to make the planner’s job MORE difficult, because now they have to play catch-up with everything else to get the flow of the day back on track.
The other important thing to know about timelines? Have it with you and know when things are happening! Don’t rely on the planner to give you a constant play-by-play at every turn. Vanessa can’t stand it when she sends the timeline in a tidy, organized PDF to vendors ahead of the wedding day, and then someone comes up to her in the middle of the ceremony and asks what time grand entrance is going to happen. It’s jarring to be mentally focused on one part of the day and then a fellow wedding pro is shifting that focus to something happening hours later, AND frustrating to have shared that information ahead of time, only to have it ignored or forgotten. So print a copy of the timeline, or save it to your phone, or whatever you need to do to avoid constantly asking the wedding planner about what happens next.
7. Dial in your detail shots.
Wedding planners obviously adore stunning portraits of their clients, but they also absolutely want beautiful images of their own work! Vanessa laments that her experience with certain styles of wedding photography (like some of the darker, moodier editing styles) is that killer shots of the flowers, rentals, stationery, and other stylistic details are sometimes neglected. The ability to style details and produce well-captured images of decor and design elements is a huge asset when working with wedding planners!
TIP: if you want to up your styling and details game, sign up for more info about the Wedding Styling Playbook! ;)