There's one skill that photographers (and everyone, really) need to practice and perfect. The skill is one of those things that's hard to see or quantify. For some people, it's natural; for others, it's painful. You can practice it, though! It's a skill that might not show its value in the moment, but you know right away when it's brought you success.
The photography skill you need to work on is NETWORKING. You have to be good talking with people, fostering relationships, and staying on people’s minds.
It’s in our nature to think we can predict the future. We think we’re in control of far more than we truly are. The world is random, though. We can't predict the future, not months or years down the road, not even this afternoon.
That’s why every chance encounter you have with someone at a coffee shop or the eye doctor or the playground could be a big turning point. But the turning point might not come that day--it might come months or years later. The ability to connect with someone right away, to hold an easy-going, positive conversation, and to talk passionately yet casually about your photography is invaluable.
Every job I’ve gotten since my first one out of college was thanks to networking and being in people’s good graces. Grades, college degrees, test scores, those got me the first job. But they got me nothing else, not exclusively anyway. Without a network of people, I wouldn’t get a foot in the door.
A successful photography business is all about baby-steps, perseverance, and grinding away day-by-day. Many people can take good photos, but not everyone works well with people, both as a business person, a session coordinator, and whatever other hats come with small business photography. You have to be good at talking to people, finding ways to stay in their head as a photographer, and being positive without being pushy.
Here's one example of successful networking:
Last July, I visited the eye doctor in my new hometown. I was in the middle of writing an article about flash photography, and I needed a model for some photos in the article.
At the eye doctor, I started talking with the woman who did initial intake. I told her about my recent move, my small business, and my current project. Turns out, she had a daughter who was a dancer--exactly what I needed for my article.
I ended up going to her home a week later. I photographed two of her kids for the article and spent a couple of hours getting to know her family.
A month or so later, she contacted me to plan two photo sessions. I did anniversary photos for her and her husband and senior photos for a younger daughter. What began as a random chat at the doctor’s office had already turned into two paid sessions.
As the months went by, I used social media to stay on my new client’s mind. I shared photos from the sessions, tagged her, and wrote positive comments about how much I loved the session and the photos.
Five months after that first chat and two months after the sessions, it was New Year's Day. I sent the client an email, thanking her for all of the support over the last few months. She had been the first person to support my business in Columbus, so I told her how much that meant to me.
A few weeks later, her husband contacted me. He wanted to see if I was available to photograph a benefit concert he was playing in. Of course I was available. And I did it for free. If he was donating his time and talent, then I would, too.