Explore new partnerships and expand your client base when you collaborate with vendors
Photography can be a lonely business if you let it. Or, you can step out of your comfort zone and seek out other business owners or creative types and work together for the benefit of all. There are hundreds of entrepreneurs and business owners who could benefit from your photography, and you could likely benefit from having those folks in your life as well. In this post, we’ll cover how to collaborate with vendors, from the reasons why to identifying possible partnerships to explore.
Why should a photographer collaborate with vendors?
Consider this…there are literally hundreds of thousands of rap fans who now know who Billy Ray Cyrus is because of his collaboration with Lil Nas X on the ridiculously popular song “Old Town Road.”
I’m not a huge rap music fan, other than retro artists like Young MC and the Beastie Boys. These days I’m much more likely to listen to a photography or business podcast. But I do listen to country music. And now because of the Billy Ray Cyrus connection, they are playing “Old Town Road” on my country channel and I know who Lil Nas X is and can even sing his song.
Think about the power of that. A middle-aged self-proclaimed farm wife in tiny town in Wyoming is humming a modern rap song while she blogs about photography. That’s the power of collaboration.
Collaborating with other vendors is all about adding value to each brand’s bottom line. That value could be monetary, but it can also come in the form of reduced costs, business growth or expanded reach. The best collaborations provide exposure and build serious buzz for both your businesses.
Here are a few ways you could provide value FOR another business:
- High-quality photography
- Improved product staging
- Wardrobe styling
- Graphic design or web design expertise
- Advertising on your social media networks
Here are a few ways you could receive value FROM another business:
- Free or discounted products such as merchandise, services for your or your clients
- Access to products, models or locations for shoots
- Free or discounted advertising
- Cross-listing on different social media channels
- Expertise in a related field
What types of vendors should I collaborate with?
There is no right or wrong answer on who you should collaborate with as a photographer. It depends on your genre and style of photography, your geographic location and the other businesses in your area. Look for entrepreneurs or businesses whose clientele overlap yours. Put another way, who else is targeting your ideal client?
Some partnerships develop naturally. If you’re a wedding photographer and you run into the same baker at each wedding you shoot in June, it’s easy to imagine some sort of collaboration. But there are likely dozens of other potential partnerships you just haven’t thought of yet!
Begin by thinking about your ideal client. Now imagine all the other businesses that might be attractive to your ideal client. Where does she shop? Who does he take advice from? What other products and services does she need for a special event (like a wedding) or use every day?
Also, consider brands or businesses that share the same aesthetic as your business. For example, if your brand is very high-end and luxurious, it wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense to partner with a business that has a more outdoor, gritty feel to it. Likewise, if your business is whimsical and fun, you might not match up well with say, a serious business-based entrepreneur. Then again, opposite vibes can produce big benefits when done right.
To get you started, here is a list of ideas on vendor collaborations.
If you’re a photographer, collaborate with vendors like:
Wedding and Event Photographers
Venues, florists, make-up artists, caterers, bakers, DJs, limo drivers, wedding planners, event planners, videographers, hair-stylists, second shooters, stationary suppliers, decorators, beer and wine vendors, wedding dress boutiques, hotels, bed and breakfasts, party supply stores, linger stores, rental stores (think chairs, tents, cheese fountains, etc.), travel agents, jewelry stores, or others.
Family and Senior Photographers
Venues (think amusement parks, playgrounds or activity centers), seasonal activity vendors (pumpkin patches, Christmas tree farms, apple orchards, sunflower farms), clothing boutiques for kids and adults, hair stylists, makeup artists, pediatricians, dentists, family friendly restaurants, libraries, bakers for cake smashes, local crafters (props), coffee shops, soda and ice cream shops, flea markets or antique stores (props), or multi-level marketing sellers like Pampered Chef, Thirty-One, etc.
Hair stylists, makeup artists, lingerie stores, clothing or shoe boutiques, jewelers, flea markets or antique stores (props), models, or multi-level marketing sellers like Mary Kay or Lularoe representatives.
Newborn & Maternity Photographers
Obstetricians, pediatricians, hospitals and birthing centers, midwives, doulas, baby boutiques, local crafters, mommy & me groups or activities, or baby-related product suppliers.
Nature and Wildlife Photographers
Libraries, art galleries, chambers of commerce, travel and tourism bureaus, sporting goods stores, hunting and fishing stores, guide services, visitor centers, hotels, area attractions, dude ranches, or wildlife or conservation organizations.
Veterinarians, dog walkers, trainers, shelters, rescues, pet food stores, local crafters (think custom collars, leashes, dog beds, etc.), groomers, boarding or pet day care facilities, pet stores, breeders, professional animal handlers or pet sitters.
Types of Collaborations
When we hear photographers talk about wanting to collaborate with vendors, it’s often in the form of styled shoots. Those are just one form of collaboration, but not the only one. Here are some successful collaborations I’ve been a part of or seen in action:
- A photographer and makeup artist partnered on a series of blog posts about the right makeup to wear when having your pictures taken.
- The photographer provided images for a hospital pediatric center to display on their walls in exchange for being the hospital’s exclusive Fresh 48 photographer.
- Florists, photographers, bakers, DJs and wedding planners agree to have a preferred vendors list and advertise for one another.
- A photographer provided a kids’ clothing boutique with product images in exchange for referrals and a small number of items for the photographer’s client wardrobe.
- The photographer provided headshots for a salon in exchange for a limited number of styling sessions for boudoir clients.
- A flea market provides free prop rental to the photographer in exchange for being mentioned on the photographer’s social media channels.
- A wedding photographer and baker sharing trade show space at a wedding expo.
- Small-businesses catering to women creating a link-sharing loop for Black Friday.
- A senior photographer and clothing store advertising together on the radio.
Building a Partnership – Approaching vendors and developing a strategy
Once you’ve identified possible partnerships and opportunities, you need to do some research. Explore the other vendor’s website and social media. See if you can identify their values, goals, or areas where their marketing might fall short.
Next, brainstorm some ideas on how you could collaborate. What can you offer the other business? What could they offer you? Remember, the best collaborations provide both parties with value.
Now you’re ready to approach the other business. I recommend doing this in person whenever possible. If it’s not a store you can walk into and introduce yourself, call and make an appointment. An e-mail is simply too easy to ignore. Introduce yourself and your business and chat over a cup of coffee. Together, discuss things like how you can work together to expand your collective reach, what resources you can offer one another and how can this be a win for both parties?
In this meeting, be sure to outline the value your work can add to her business. Discuss some of the ideas you had for collaboration, but be open to her ideas, opinions and most especially her needs.
If the other vendor is on board, it’s time to finalize details. Together, the two of you should:
- Clarify times, dates, locations and tasks.
- Outline the deliverables with deadlines. (If you’re providing images, when will you deliver them? Is she writing a blog post? If so, when will it launch?)
- Develop a contract or written agreement outlining all of those details above. Write it all out and have all parties sign it to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Let me say that again so you don’t overlook it. Create a contract that both of you sign.
When the time comes for the actual collaboration, I suggest doing a brief walk-through a few days in advance. Talk through how your shoot or event will go and the timeline of the deliverables again.
Once the event or collaboration is completed, deliver what you promised. In fact, over-deliver. You want to wow this business owner so he can’t help but rave about you to his friends and customers.
Exposure Won’t Pay the Bills
Photographers often get approached by businesses or service providers wanting free photography in exchange for “exposure.” Basically, they want you to provide photos in exchange for them giving you a photo credit or shoutout on their social media.
Remember when we talked above that a true collaboration is mutually beneficial? A great collaboration should also feel fair. You should feel like what you are getting from the other party is about equal to what you are providing.
You’ll need to decide if the “exposure” is worth all the work you’ll put into shooting, editing and sharing that session. If that person is a leader in your community and among your ideal clients, getting your name circulated by her might be worth it.
Then again, exposure doesn’t pay the bills. You can ask for additional compensation, offer something that means less work for you or say no. It’s your business and you get to decide what’s right for you.
What is a preferred vendor list?
No discussion on how to collaborate with vendors would be complete without mentioning preferred vendor lists. Preferred vendor lists are most often associated with weddings and events. It’s a list, usually of related businesses like djs, caterers, bakers or photographers that a third party “prefers” and recommends.
Some lists are just what they seem…a list of businesses the venue or other vendor has experience with and would highly recommend.
But many preferred vendor lists are nothing more than a paid-advertisement disguised as a helpful list. It’s become a pay-to-play system of sorts. Venues will agree to list your business on the preferred vendor list in exchange for a fee. Getting on some lists also requires paying a commission (also known as a kick-back) to keeper of the list. For example, if you pay to be on the Hotel Hoity-Toity’s preferred vendor list and Couple A books you to shoot their wedding at Hotel Hoity-Toity, you owe said hotel part of your fee for the referral. You may owe that fee even if the couple chose you first or is related to you and would have booked you regardless. Commissions can be anywhere from 10 to 40 percent of your fee.
Being on a preferred vendor list that requires payment is a personal decision. You might find it helpful and that enough referrals come your way to justify the cost. Just be sure that you know the rules and expectations ahead of time and that you are comfortable being part of that list.
Additionally, some wedding planning services and blogs are starting to talk about the truth behind “preferred vendor lists,” and that it’s not based on merit but on payment. Being on those lists might actually work against you in some situations.
Vendor recommendations and preferred vendor lists are different
Lots of photographers list the contact information and services of vendors they recommend. Those shoutouts might come in a social media post or a blog post or even a written list. Recommending businesses or service providers you know and trust to do a fabulous job is A-Okay. It’s a great way to collaborate.
Where the icky factor comes in is if those businesses are paying you a fee simply to be on that list or you’re recommending another business simply because they’re willing to pay the highest prices.
Use caution. Remember the reputation of that business will become your business so make sure they really are companies or providers you trust.
Not every vendor is your ideal match
You are in charge of your business. As such, you have the ability to say no to potential partnerships for any reason. Do your brand aesthetics not match? Is there a personality clash? Did the other vendor not hold up their end of the bargain? Are the referrals you’re getting not matching up with your ideal client?
Don’t be afraid to reevaluate when and how you collaborate with vendors! This should be a mutually beneficial partnership. Renegotiate the terms of your agreement the second time around or pass on the opportunity altogether. Do what’s best for your business and your bottom line.
With some planning and forethought, you can collaborate with vendors to achieve more than you could on your own…more clients, more advertising reach, more products, more prestige. The best collabs are mutually beneficial and each party feels like the division of labor is equal. Don’t be afraid to reach out to business owners or influencers in your area and see what the two of you can accomplish together!