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When you’re building your business, you may think that the photos you make are the most important aspect to focus on. Don’t get me wrong, your images are your brand and your integrity, but you might be overlooking a vital component that can help you become more successful: Creating and maintaining solid client relationships!

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As someone who has worked for the past decade to develop the relationships that have led me to book and work the gigs of my dreams, I’d like to share a few tips I’ve picked up over the years to help you do the same.

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1. Be patient. There is nothing worse than waiting to hear back from a potential client. I know it’s awful to stare at your phone for a call that may never come, but I promise that you’re not doing yourself any favors by constantly trying to make contact—and becoming a nuisance in the process. Make no mistake, reaching out and following up is professional behavior. But reaching out by phone/text/email/Facebook message and following up every six hours is professional stalker behavior. Relationships take years to build, and like romantic relationships, there are ups and downs, slow times and chaotic times. Just because a client doesn’t have any work for you for at a particular moment doesn’t mean that they won’t hire you again in the future, so be patient and treat them like your next gig with them is right around the corner rather than writing them off.

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2. Play the long game. Speaking of patience, you may not always get the gig you want the first time you work for a client. Maybe you’re an assistant when you wanted to be a lead. Maybe you’re doing portraits when you wanted to cover events. Whatever the case, you didn’t get the ideal gig out of the gate. To that, I say: Hang in there! You may be the assistant now, but if you make a good impression, you’ll be on the short list to call when the present head photographer can’t do the next event. Photography is an intimate business; having a good relationship with a client or getting glowing personal recommendations can be way more important than what you look like on paper. Have the mindset that any work you do—even if it’s not the work you want to be doing—will lead to better work, and conduct yourself accordingly.

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3. Have a first date mentality. You know how you act on your first date with someone you really like? You dress nicely, you say please and thank you, you smile, you compliment your date … If you do it right, you are the most attractive, interesting and overall best version of yourself, right? Show up to every gig with a client as if it’s a first date. You want to be the most impressive and professional version of your photographer-self that you can be, and instead of trying to make someone fall in love with you, you are trying to make a client fall in love with working with you. And once they have, don’t let the romance die! Keeping that first date mentality for every shoot—no matter how many times you’ve worked for a particular client—will keep the relationship strong. (And you just might learn something you can take home to your significant other!)

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4. Slow your (en)roll(ment). The photographer knows best, and you may think your client knows this, too. After all, they wouldn’t have hired you if they didn’t need your expertise and vision! But you’ll run across clients who have their own ideas about what images they want and how they want them shot. And their ideas may be … suspect. Instead of ignoring their requests in an indignant blaze of self-righteousness, gradually “enroll” your client into your style. Give them what they want—even if it goes against every instinct you have—and also give them what’s right. Chances are, they’re going to like what you’ve done more than what they specifically requested, and they’ll appreciate that you’ve respected their wishes. As you build trust, your client will stop backseat driving.

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5. Attention –> Energy. Where attention goes, energy flows. This tip is more a general career philosophy, but you can absolutely apply it to creating and maintaining your client relationships. If you decide to pay attention to them—to simply be more mindful of their cultivation and progress—your energy will naturally flow there, where it has not before. Paying attention and devoting energy to your clients also means that they will be doing the same for you! This is meant in a positive and constructive way, but the inverse is also true. If you are paying more attention to the clients you don’t get, or not paying attention to your professional relationships at all, assuming they will happen automatically … well, you’re in for an unpleasant surprise! Relationships take work—but it’s rewarding work!

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I cannot overstate the importance of mindfully cultivating positive relationships with your clients, and I hope the above tips help you do just that! I would not be where I am in the business today if I hadn’t spent as much time and care on my relationships. In today’s marketplace, it’s absolutely one thing you can do that will make you stand out!

About Brian Friedman

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New York-based photographer Brian Friedman started out as a road manager for the legendary jazz drummer Roy Haynes. But it was during Haynes’ 20-city tour, that Brian began photographing Roy and discovered his passion for image making that put him on a road to a new career. Since then, he has sharpened his skills and his eye to become recognized as a photographer of choice by noted entertainment personalities, politicians, corporate leaders, event planners and of course, brides and grooms from all over the world.

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