How to Start Your Photography Business in a New State

So you’re thinking of moving?

Equal parts exciting and scary, right? Three years ago, I found myself in the exact same position you’re in. I didn’t know one single person in the whole state of Texas. Every friend, job and client I am lucky to now have in my life came from scratch. If I can do it, so can you. This advice all comes from the standpoint of a photographer, but I truly feel these tips can be applied to any business owner who is relocating.

What I’m here to tell you is: it’s completely doable and here’s how.

The Background Story

I lived in Massachusetts my whole life, and nearly every person I know lived within an hour drive. My whole personal and business network was based there. I’m talking small town, everyone-knows-my-grandparents kind of community. My ex-boyfriend and I decided to relocate to Dallas in 2017 for a killer job opportunity he was presented with. We figured warm weather + big city + lower cost of living sounded like a win-win-win. And it was. But I was in a unique pickle of knowing I invested years into growing my business back home and now I was going to have to do it all over again with no contacts or family to help me.

How I made it (and continue to make it) work

1. Network with vendors in your desired industry

One of the most helpful things I’ve ever learned is to build your network of industry friends. By finding friends who work in your industry, you’re not only making your life easier and more fun when you are out doing a job together, but you’re also building your reputation and creating advocates who want to work with you and promote you.

For me, this goes such a long way in the wedding industry. I’m always referring florists, planners, DJs, etc. to my brides. And in return, I’ve gotten some of my best client referrals from these vendors. It’s like that little bird that sits and eats bugs off of the rhino’s back: symbiosis my friends. Everyone benefits. (Fun fact: that little bird is called an oxpecker, and I think that’s hilarious.)

There’s lots of ways to find vendors, but the two I use the most are:

  1. Instagram. I love coming across the account of a super talented florist or a new venue opening nearby. I reach out (using the strategy in point 2  below) and see if I can schedule a coffee date with that business owner.
  2. Industry-specific Facebook groups. There are so many awesome group pages on Facebook that serve as a way to connect with people, answer questions, plan networking events, and all kinds of other things. I searched things like “Dallas photographers” and “DFW wedding vendors” to find a list of groups in my area.

2. Employ some good ole old school marketing

Business cards. For the love of God, get yourself some really nice, high-quality, on-brand business cards. Yes, it’s old school and yes, a lot of business now comes from social media platforms and online marketing, but you’ll be kicking yourself when you make a new contact in person and have nothing to hand them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been complimented on my business cards. They’re heavy weighted, clean, classy, and represent my brand well. They aren’t cheap (around $1/business card), but they make a killer impression and are worth the cost. I get mine from moo.com. They’re great. If you use my referral link, you’ll get 25% off your first order. If you need a business card template and want to have a similar design to mine, I’ve made several Photoshop templates you can purchase and download directly from Etsy here.

Cold calling. I should really call this “cold emailing” or maybe “luke-warm emailing”? I’m not entirely sure. But the point here is, you need to reach out to people. Clients will not just fall into your lap. Once I knew where I was settling down in Dallas, I pulled up good ole Google Maps, made a list of businesses near me that I wanted to reach out to. I RESEARCHED them (this is important), and then drafted emails to introduce myself in hopes of either meeting with them or offering my services. When emailing, be sure to:

    1. Clearly define why you’re reaching out: I’m new to the area, and I’d love to meet for coffee. Or, I’m a huge fan of your restaurant, and I’d love to photograph a few of your specialty cocktails for free.
    2. Explain who you are and why you’re a good at what you do: I’m a wedding, portrait, and branding photographer new to the Dallas area. I’ve shot for x, y, and z, and I think my style is on brand with your business and I’d love to highlight what you do so well.
    3. Always, always include why you care. In your research phase, visit their website and/or storefront in person, learn about what they do best, make note of potential needs you could fill for them, etc. When I want to reach out to a new restaurant in hopes that they are a potential client, I like to say what I love to eat/drink at their restaurant, tell them what I think they do better than the rest, mention that I am a patron of their establishment, and explain how I’d love to work with them.

3. Work for free (and work for fun).

This will have a threefold benefit. First and most importantly, you will build your portfolio. A good portfolio gets you more of the work you want. You’ll need to show that you’ve been working in key places/with key brands/with on-trend styles in your new city. Second, you will keep busy. From my experience, nothing feels worse than sitting alone at home (when you work for yourself, things can get a little lonely) wishing you had work to do. So get out there, exercise your creative muscles, and build a damn good portfolio you’re proud to show off. Third, working for free can get you paid work. I offered to do small complimentary shoots for businesses I wanted to work with so that I could A) show them a sample of the work I’m capable of, B) build up my portfolio, and C) meet new people in the industry I want to work in (see tip #1).

Pardon my lack of a better phrase, but I shit you not, this strategy has worked for me every time. EVERY. TIME. Not only am I super happy with the images I captured for my portfolio, but I also made some new friends AND got paid work as a direct result from my efforts. These businesses all loved their photos and have since hired me to shoot more content for them.

4. Get ya self out of the house.

Go work in a coffee shop, treat yourself to a margarita for happy hour, sit in the park. But do all of this with an open mind and with the intention of striking up conversation. Take any opportunity to introduce yourself and say “Hi, I’m Monika and I’m a photographer who’s new to Dallas”. You never know who you might meet and how they may literally change your life. I once booked paid work by sipping mimosas and striking up conversation with a bartender who needed portraits of his daughter. Now that’s my idea of good marketing.

 

Did you find these tips helpful? If so, share this article with a friend.

 

Cheers!

-Monika

2 Comments How to Start Your Photography Business in a New State

  1. Michelle Lippert January 6, 2020 at 9:42 pm

    Perfect timing, except I’m doing the opposite: DFW to my hometown in Michigan! I’m terrified, but trying to stay hopeful.

    Reply
    1. monika January 7, 2020 at 12:51 am

      You got this! I hope these tips help you along the way!

      Reply

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