7 Ways to Build a Kick-Booty Referral Network

Work hard, be kind, and amazing things will happen.
— Conan O'Brien

Happy Monday, friend! 

As promised, we are wrapping up the three-part “Big Scary Questions” series today, and I’m so excited to talk about how to build your referral network! (And if you missed the first two, just go here and here.)

But first, here’s a little story about how that Conan quote came into my life…

Before I took Apt. B full time, I worked for a woman who was Miranda Priestly incarnate. (Ten points for Gryffindor if you know that reference!) She asked me and my co-workers to join her for a “team building” exercise, and we all had to bring a quote that defined what we felt was most important in our roles as Communication Managers. I chose the quote above (from Pinterest, duh) as a passive-aggressive dig at Ms. Priestly, because she was legitimately one of the least kind people I’ve ever known. (She didn’t pick up on it, but I got a lot of pleasure from talking about how being kind is so important. Ha!)

After that day, I kept that quote taped to the cabinet above my desk, because I truly believe working hard and being kind is the key to success in any job. In fact, I believe it’s exactly how you build a referral network that will bring you clients who already trust you before they’ve even met you.

So today I want to chat about a few specific ways to show kindness in the midst of all your hard work, and I promise — if you actually put these into practice, you will see your referral network grow by leaps and bounds.

1. Treat fellow wedding vendors like co-workers. You’re all on the same team, and you’ve got the same goal on a wedding day — make your couple’s day beautiful, special and stress-free. Get to know the people you’re working with—whether it’s taking a moment to chat with the makeup artist or staying in contact with the DJ throughout the reception, just being a friend to the people you are working with will build the vendor relationships that lead to referrals.

2. Send photos to the vendors after the event! I typically send a sneak peek gallery to the bride and groom within a week of their wedding, and I make sure to send the same gallery to all the vendors. That way they can share photos of their work (they are JUST as much responsible for those photos existing as you are—you couldn’t shoot any of it without their hard work!) and tag you, which is essentially free advertising for you! And then I send them the full gallery when it’s done as well. I’ve booked weddings because people have seen my photos on a vendor’s Instagram feed, so don’t underestimate the power of sharing your work. And no watermarks either—if you ask kindly, 99% of the time you will be properly credited. 

3. Attend vendor events and make new connections. I know this isn’t an easy one—if I don’t know anyone at an event, I want to hide behind the snack table. But after the first couple of times, you’ll begin seeing the same people, and friendships will begin to develop. Taking the time to go to these events and show genuine interest in other people in your industry will be completely worth it when not only do you get referrals from them, but you also turn some of your “co-workers” into friends.

4. Make friends with the other photographers in your area! Don’t operate under the assumption of scarcity—I promise there are enough weddings to go around, and your brides will find you. If you develop friendships with other photographers, you can refer each other if you’re already booked on a date, and then it’s win-win for everyone.

“The purpose of a business is to create a customer who creates customers.”
— Shiv Singh

5. Delight your clients at every turn. I want to expand on this more another time, but I think it’s worth mentioning. If you go out of your way to delight your clients with thank you notes and gifts, thoughtful points of contact throughout the planning process and special touches that go above and beyond what they thought they were getting, you will turn a client into a cheerleader who WANTS to spread your name to everyone they know.

6. Even though you were technically only hired to be a photographer, you should go into the wedding day knowing you are more than just another wedding vendor—you are an honorary bridesmaid who will fix lipstick, tuck hairs, and fluff the dress. You are the person who protects the bride from ever knowing something went not quite right on her day. You are the one who will make sure the bride and groom take a moment to fully soak in how special their day is. If you consider your clients your friends on their wedding day, they will see you that way too—and who doesn’t want a friend to be at their side on their wedding day?

7. Maintain a relationship with your clients after the wedding is over. Send Christmas cards. Comment on their Facebook posts when they have a baby. Send an encouraging note or a thoughtful email when you know they are going through a big life event. Any way you can continue the relationship with them will make it more likely they will refer you when their friends get engaged.

And there you have it! Now get out there and start spreading the kindness, friends. It really does make amazing things happen.

Don’t forget — I’ll be hopping on Facebook Live today at 12:30pm EST for a deeper dive into this topic. Can't wait to hang out with you all for our Monday lunch date! :)

Stay lovely,