When you first start building your wedding photography business, you want to get your work in front of as many eyeballs as possible. Your website is up and running but the inquiries aren’t exactly flooding your inbox yet; you know you need to drive traffic to your home on the web so you can start booking those wedding clients!
You sign up for free profiles on WeddingWire and The Knot, and you claim your business page on Yelp and Google. Facebook? Check. Instagram? Check. You’re still not getting the traction you were hoping, so you start thinking about what putting dollars behind your efforts might be able to do for your fledgling business…
WeddingWire reps give you a call and you decide to go for it with a “featured” listing so that prospective clients will see your profile on the first page of results. Maybe you invest in a few Facebook ads to get more clients in the door. When you apply for a Little Black Book vendor listing with Style Me Pretty and you get accepted to this elite publication, you can’t turn down the opportunity, right?! So you pay for that, too.
You start booking more clients. Your calendar is filling up with weddings! Some of them are from your paid listings with WeddingWire and Style Me Pretty, some are from friend referrals, and others are simply finding you organically via Google search. Things are happening and your business is growing!
If ANY of this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. When you’re the new kid on the wedding photography block, you want to keep showing up in directories and searches so prospective clients will see you. Maybe you’ve even heard about the marketing “rule of seven,” which says that someone needs to interact with your business at least seven times before they make a purchase. So you cast a net far and wide to make sure you are showing up as much as possible.
This was MY approach to building Anna Delores Photography after booking my very first wedding in 2012. I made sure I was EVERYWHERE on the internet, and most of the income I earned from bookings went right back into the business budget so I could pay for featured listings with WeddingWire, Style Me Pretty, Facebook ads, and more.
My goal those first few years was to book as many weddings as humanly possible; in 2014, I photographed a wedding nearly EVERY WEEKEND (yes, I was exhausted, but I was so proud of how much my business had grown!).
The most I ever spent on advertising in a single year was in 2015 (my third full year in business). It was the year I was accepted to Style Me Pretty’s vendor directory, and I was paying for listings on WeddingWire, Junebug Weddings, Wedding Chicks, Green Wedding Shoes, and 100 Layer Cake. I was also on a printed collateral kick, convinced that I needed to make a strong impression at in-person client meetings by handing them a glossy welcome magazine with printed pricing lists.
In 2015, about 25% of couples who booked were finding Anna Delores Photography through the advertising channels mentioned above (WeddingWire, Style Me Pretty, etc.). The rest of Anna Delores clients were coming from vendor or past client referrals, organic Google searches (I wasn’t paying for Google ads), or unpaid site listings (such as Yelp).
Over the next few years, Anna Delores Photography grew to include a team of associate photographers in addition to myself. My goals for Anna Delores began to evolve; I no longer wanted to book as many weddings as we could possibly manage. Instead, my goal was to transition to fewer weddings at a higher average booking rate. Quality over quantity, right? I’d also noticed a decrease in advertising ROI, and that instead more and more of our clients were coming from wedding planner referrals.
Cue the cliche of a lightbulb illuminating above my head. I started to redirect my budget for paid directory listings to networking events with other vendors. I focused more on building existing relationships with wedding planners and looking for new opportunities to collaborate with fellow wedding pros.
Fast forward to 2019: my advertising spend was down by two thirds. It was my last year investing in a directory listing on Style Me Pretty; the only vendor guide I’m still paying to be part of is Green Wedding Shoes. Also in 2019, the percentage of weddings we photographed that came from vendor referrals was a whopping 74%. Our average wedding package booking was double what it was in 2015, and despite having one-third fewer bookings, total revenue was up almost 20% compared to 2015.
I was been able to reduce advertising expenses by TWO THIRDS over five years by eliminating the need to pay for leads via WeddingWire and instead earning referrals from trusted fellow wedding professionals. The relationships with wedding planners have lessened the scramble to find prospective clients elsewhere.
I don’t regret the advertising investments I made in the early days of building Anna Delores Photography; you have to start somewhere, and paid directory listings were a great resource for attracting prospective clients as my business grew.
But as soon as I recognized and acted on the possibilities for prioritizing vendor relationships, I was able to cut way back on my advertising spend and it proved transformative for my business.
Take a look at how much of your current budget is spent on advertising and promoting your business. Consider how you might be able to shift priorities moving forward to improve your bookings and increase your bottom line!