How to EXPAND Your Local Market
TRAVELING MORE OR MOVING YOUR BUSINESS
How can I get more non-local weddings & travel more? How do I move locations if I've already established a business in my current location?
These are questions that get tossed around a lot, so I decided to write a slightly longer answer here, using my own experience as a base.
If you’ve already read My Story article, you know where I found myself in 2014. I had started and built my business in Philadelphia, and was now facing a move to California. I used these basic principles to help me move my business across the country, and they can also be used to try to shift your market so you can begin to travel more to shoot. If you haven't read My Story article yet, it may be a good idea to give it a read before diving into this one. But whatever, you do you.
OKAY, BUT WHY?
First things first: I want to urge you to ask yourself WHY. Why do you want to travel more? Why do you want to move your business elsewhere? Why do you think that this is a necessary step? Is it beneficial, not just for your business, but for yourself, your well being, and your family?
I'm a huge proponent of doing what makes you happy, and finding what gives you the most enjoyment in life. So if you think traveling more, or moving to a new place, is the answer, by all means go for it. But traveling is not for everyone, and I'll touch on this more at the end of this article.
Just be honest with yourself, I cannot stress that enough. If you're not enjoying taking photos, or if you're finding yourself bored with your current situation, running away to a new location isn't necessarily the answer. Dig a little deeper and find the why, then come back and do it if you still want to. I feel like I'm giving general life advice, which you didn't ask for, but hey, it's important.
Everyone’s experience with this is very different, so just know that going into it, it's hard to know exactly what to expect. Also, with social media becoming more and more prominent, and changing so quickly, marketing is constantly changing. Social media is extremely different today than it was 4 years ago when I made my move, but the same principles still apply.
Moving markets works best if you start early and plan ahead. If possible, plan your move a year in advance, so that you can start to put it out there with enough time for that new market to find you and book you. Since weddings get booked out so far in advance, you should make it clear as early as possible so people can start to plan for the next year. If you're just hoping to expand, you have plenty of time to do it, so you're good!
Here are some tangible things you can add to your list in order to start early:
- Change your location on your about page on your website (for travel: change your info so it clearly reflects that you are into traveling, that you enjoy it, etc)
- Change your SEO on your website so it reflects your new location (for travel: change the SEO to reflect that you also travel, or to reflect all the non-local locations you've shot in)
- Change your social media profiles to show your new location (or your traveling aspirations, same as above)
- Share the news on your social media outlets (for travel: share that you're now booking elsewhere, not just local)
- Add a travel calendar to your website and social media. (for travel: add any future dates you may be traveling for pleasure in hopes of booking there)
There won't be an overnight or quick change in bookings from this, but it's a great place to start, and to slowly show yourself as a traveling photographer.
TRAVEL AND SHOOT
If you can, plan a trip to where you’re moving and schedule as many sessions as you can. Even if it’s just shooting friends who live there, fellow photographers you know just for fun, etc. Establishing yourself as a “insert-location-here photographer” is way easier if you’ve got the portfolio to back it up, so being able to blog or share “insert-location-here couple sessions” goes a long way to establish yourself.
If you just want to travel more, take photos anytime you're traveling and blog/share them. Plan a small trip to a new location just so you can shoot there. Or if you're traveling for something else, like a workshop or to see your family, just factor in an extra day to shoot. I know it requires a bit of money, but in order to make changes you do need to invest. And besides, you may be able to expense a portfolio building trip, so that's good news! (disclaimer: I'm not an accountant, so please talk to your accountant for any tax questions). You can do it on the cheap if you meet up with people, find friends to stay with, drive instead of fly, etc.
You also don't have to shoot a couple session/wedding/elopement. Start simple, with just shooting a friend, or even just landscape work. Sharing blog posts with your personal travel photos goes a long way to communicate that you indeed travel to shoot. Obviously it would be best to have an actual couple to photograph, but what I'm saying is, if you didn't success at finding someone, don't worry, you can still get something out of the trip.
The goal here is to be sure that potential clients won't have to wonder if you travel or not. You want them to instantly know you travel when they look at your website, or social media, and then to reach out knowing you're comfortable with it and good at it already. The more you show yourself as a traveling photographer, the more people will start to see you as a traveling photographer!
okay, but how?
How do you actually find couples to shoot where you're traveling to? Here are a few options. I'll talk more in-depth about them later in the article, but it's nice to have a list. And of course you can come up with lots more on your own, depending on your own situation:
1. Post in Facebook groups, local to your travel location - I talk a little more about Facebook groups later in this article
2. Instagram - post a couple call on your feed and stories. (Basically a post saying, hey I'm looking for a couple in so and so, you'll get lots of great photos if you let me shoot you! etc). Consider boosting a post or paying for ads. I recommend targeting the exact sate/city you'll be traveling to, in the Facebook ads interface, when making your Instagram ad. The Instagram Business Site has lots of resources to help you understand and make ads.
3. Make friends - I also talk about this later on
4. Advertise in blogs - Also covered later on
5. BYO - if you have couples/friends, then plan a trip together! Bring your own couple friend to where you're traveling to, and shoot them there. It'll be a fun trip for all of you, and a great way to build your portfolio.
6. Facebook search - There's a handy little feature on the Facebook search tool: You can type "friends of friends who live in Portland", for example, and it will show you your friends, and friends of friends, who live in Portland. This is a great way to find people to connect with or shoot, since you might already have lots of common friends, and it's a lot easier to reach out to a stranger who if a friend of a friend. Of course, do your research before assuming anything, you'll come off less creepy that way ;-)
7. Work with local vendors on a project - I'll explain this later on
Before my move, I reached out to CA wedding photographers and tried to meet people, make friends, and second shoot. Even though back east I wasn’t second shooting anymore, this was more about meeting the locals and making lasting connections, and the added bonus was building my west coast portfolio, and building my site SEO.
But here’s an important point: don’t just reach out to say “hey do you need a second shooter”. Actually make connections with people. I can tell you now, from personal experience, that it’s so easy to tell who is emailing you purely for their own benefit, to “use you” as a source, as opposed to someone who is emailing you in search of an honest connection. If you just reach out to your photographer role models to ask if they need a second shooter, chances are they'll have to turn you down. They likely get multiple emails a day from strangers asking the same thing, so don't be offended if they say no.
Instead, try reaching out to photographers you might have things in common with, or who you might actually be interested in having a friendship with, or photographers who have a very similar style and market. Stick to finding friends, not just trying to find a free mentor. Organize small trips together with a new friend, shoot each other for trade, and help each other out by sharing and tagging the mutual photos. It's not about meeting people who can help you out. It's about meeting people you can become friends with, to build each other up and encourage each other along the way.
It's also a bonus if you connect with people who you may already have made connections with on social media, so social media is a great place to start by the way!
And as always, the exact same thing applies if you just want to travel more. Make connections with people in areas you travel to, reach out on instagram, meet photographers that share your style/vibe, do photographer meet-ups to shoot for fun, and encourage each other along the way!
Facebook groups weren't as widespread as they are now when I made my move, but I really wish they had been! Make use of facebook groups by joining groups that are relevant to you and your new location. Use the group feed to meet people, ask questions, and learn more about the local market. I can't help you find the exact one for your needs, but use the facebook search feature to search for your location + photographers, or anything else you can think of that will help you out. For example, this group here is an offshoot from LooksLikeFilm, but is particularly for photographers local to California, so if you're moving to or traveling to California, that's a great one on which to to start meeting people, or finding couples to shoot. You can look also look at the "Suggested Groups" on the right hand side to see similar groups, and continue down the rabbit hole of facebook groups!
Depending on your target market, it's not a bad idea to try paid advertising. When I made my move, wedding blogs were booming, so I paid for a sponsored post on A Practical Wedding to announce that I was moving to the west coast. This helped me a ton, since a lot of my business had come from that blog already, and their readers were very close to being my target market back then. So do your research. Make sure you're advertising in a blog/magazine/outlet that targets your ideal market, where the correct eyes will see it. Don't just pick the most popular blog, pick the one whose readership is exactly who you want to reach.
If you're starting in a different local market, find out where the locals search for vendors and advertise there. Find the most popular local "your-new-state wedding blog" and use it for promotion and advertising. These blogs may be way smaller than the big popular nation-wide blogs, but they'll reach your exact specific location market way better.
Instagram ads weren’t a thing when I moved, but social media advertising now is a super handy tool you can use. But make sure to do your research as well. Target the geographical area you want to be shooting in, the right demographic, the right audience. For instagram, you can either promote posts through the Instagram app, or use the Facebook ads tools on your desktop to make your own audience and build ads. For specific locations, I recommend targeting through facebook, so you can select exact states or cities for your audience. There are tons of articles with thorough explanations of social media ads, so I won't be adding anything else here, but here are a couple quick ones here and here to get you started.
All of this applies if you just want to travel more of course. You can use ads to market yourself as a traveling photographer, and to reach a new geographic audience in potential places you'd like to be shooting in.
working with local vendors
Another great way to build portfolio work is reaching out to local vendors in hopes of working together on a styled session project. Reach out asking if they'd like to work together on a project, and pitch the project you have in mind. I can't tell you what styled shoot to do, and I won't try to tackle styled shoots in this article, but just build a shoot that is true to your brand, style, and goals, and find vendors that fit that. Do your research, and use tools like Etsy, local wedding blogs, local dress shops, etc to find local vendors that might be interested in your level of expertise and style. What I mean by this is, if you're just starting out, have a very small portfolio, and have very dark images, don't expect to get free dresses from Claire Pettibone or BHLDN. Instead, find a small local boutique that might be able to loan you a dress in exchange for some images. It's important to keep it local for many reasons. 1. those are the vendors that you may potentially be working with in the future, the more you travel, or after you move to that location, so building relationships is key. 2. These vendors may send future clients your way if they have a positive experience with you. 3. When they use your images online, and credit you, you'll get more SEO juice for that specific location. 4. When you blog the session, you'll be able to give it a lot of SEO juice pertaining to that location or landscape.
As an added bonus, you could reach out to wedding blogs, especially any you've already established a relationship with, and ask if they're currently looking for any specific type of styled session. Some blogs are happy to share their wishlist and you can cater your styled session to what they're looking for, in hopes of getting that session featured by them.
Be creative when it comes to marketing yourself. I can't give you a step by step list of what to do, but here's one example: Say you want to shoot more in California, and you were able to shoot one couple there for free for portfolio building. You could run a promotion where you give that couple a certain amount of print credit for every couple they refer to you, who books you. This encourages referrals, and is a win-win for everyone. (Print credit is a cheap and easy way to encourage this, since it costs you a lot less than it gains them.) You could even give the new potential couples a 10% discount to encourage booking even more. Of course be sure to put a limit on it, for example, the bookings have to happen in 2018. Or maybe you can do something similar to what I did back when I started traveling (read My Story article for those details.) There are tons of creative promotions you can do, but no one knows your business like you do, so just sit down, write down your goals, and then brainstorm ways to achieve them.
REFINE YOUR PORTFOLIO
If you’re moving to an entirely different landscape, make sure you refine your portfolio to show that your style can translate to different places. For example, if your current location is rural Pennsylvania, your portfolio might be filled with small farm weddings and corn fields. Say you’re moving to NYC, where most of your weddings will be city weddings, bar weddings, small restaurant weddings, etc. Having a farm-wedding-filled portfolio isn’t going to translate to great bookings in a NYC landscape, because your potential clients won't have a way of knowing that you'll be great at shooting in a busy city street. So go to a city, (if you can't make it to NYC then go to your closest large city) and shoot couples/friends in the city streets. This will show your potential city clients that you in fact can shoot in a city. This applies to any new landscape/weather/vibe/location. If you're moving to a place where winters are snowy and last several months and weddings are popular year round, go to the closest place you can find snow in and do a session there, to show you can indeed shoot pretty photos in snow. Whatever the new location, adapt and show your work!
Once you've traveled and shot, to build your portfolio, be sure to not only add these to your portfolio/website, but also take out any superfluous work that won’t translate well. If it's not your ideal future client, remove it from your portfolio!
Obviously I’m not saying you should take out all your old weddings, or that you should fool your potential clients by faking and bulking up your entire portfolio with just 2 sessions. Just make sure that you accurately represent yourself to show that your style can translate well to a new landscape (and of course it goes without saying, make sure your style does translate well, or that you evolve your style to fit the new place, but that's another story).
All of this still applies if you just want to travel more. Make sure you have plenty of landscape variety in your portfolio to show your diversity, and to show that you do travel to shoot.
SOCIAL MEDIA TAGS
Make use of social media tagging when you share your new portfolio travel work, or work from your new location. Potential couples definitely search for locations when they're looking for location inspiration to plan their wedding or engagement session, so tag the location in the map (right above the photo when you're posting on instagram). Use hashtags for different places, for example, for specific national parks or locations. If a location has a feature account, or if a park you're shooting in shares user photos, tag them as well in hopes of being reposted. All of this helps new potential clients find you, and also changes your audience's perspective of you. If you constantly tag different locations, they'll start to know what you're a traveling photographer.
getting your work featured
Getting your work/weddings/sessions featured on weddings blogs, especially local ones, is a great way to get free advertising. Most wedding blogs have specific instructions, as well as helpful guides and tips, on how you can better the chances of being featured by them, so I won't go into specifics about it here. But as far as increasing inquiries and bookings in specific locations, getting your travel work featured on a large wedding blog, or getting a local session featured on a local wedding blog, is a huge bonus. Submit your travel work, or your styled sessions in the local markets you're hoping to break into, but make sure you're targeting specific blogs for the right reasons. Don't just take one session and submit it to all the top blogs. Do your research and submit it to one that actually fits the style and brand of your session, and with readership that fits your client base as well.
Wether you're moving locations or just trying to travel more, be prepared for a long transition period. For one year after I moved (2014) I was still traveling back and forth to the east coast a TON, to shoot the weddings I had booked before I moved west. It was really difficult and I was doing way more traveling east than I wanted, but it had to happen. If you start early this transition period shouldn’t be crazy, but it could still take a while, especially if you need to keep taking your old-local-location weddings to make money while you build up your new-location client base. And that's okay. Just know that if you keep pushing, you'll get there. That year for me felt like it would never end, and at some points I had the horrible thought of, "did I make a horrible mistake and ruin my business by moving here?!". But now looking back on it, it was the best decision I made, and maybe one of the hardest, business wise.
If you want to travel more to shoot, don't expect it to be a quick thing. It has taken me 8 years to get to where I am today, and there's no quick secret to traveling more. The first year you decide to try to travel more, you may not book any non-local weddings. The second year you may just book one or two. Or maybe you'll hit the social media jackpot and quickly develop a travel portfolio. But whatever the case, everyone's experience is extremely different, so don't compare yourself to other traveling photographers on social media. I know it's hard, but keep going and do your own thing!
BE PREPARED FOR A POTENTIALLY LOWER INCOME YEAR
All those weddings I had booked on the east coast, before I moved, obviously didn’t include a travel fee because they were local at the time of booking. So I was flying back east and paying out of pocket for all those flights. It was a very expensive year for me, because I wasn’t able to start early. So this just to emphasize how important it is to start preparing early! Your income might be lower while you try to open up a new market, so save up and be prepared.
BEING BASED NOWHERE (& EVERYWHERE)
I couldn't wrap up this article before touching on my current situation now that I live on the road. I could say so much about this, but for now it can be summed up into the following:
- Living on the road, and not having a home base, can be difficult, and is not for everyone. It may not even be a good business strategy for some. Even I still shoot a majority of my busy season in California, because that's where I was based before going on the road permanently. Last year I spent most of September and October in California shooting weddings. I enjoy having that short-term home for the fall, and I wouldn't want to drive to a different state every single weekend in the busy season to be honest.
- It's easy to think that living in a van is easy, thanks to social media, but if you're really considering it, please google "worst things about living in a van" or "why i hate living on the road" and give several articles a read. It's important to know the downsides and be sure you're okay with them, before jumping into it!
- I didn't move into a van because it sounded like a cool idea. I decided to change my lifestyle first, and living in a van is what made my new ideal lifestyle feasible. For me, it was the means to and end. I wanted to be closer to climbing, closer to nature, to simplify my life, and to be able to do my job without leaving my home, and my guy, 3 nights a week. I also wanted to spend more time doing the things that truly matter: seeing friends and loved ones more often, and spending quality time with everyone I love. Living in a van made all these goals easier to achieve.
- Because of the way my business developed, I was already traveling to shoot a lot before I moved into the van, so I didn't do it for the purpose of traveling more. But if you're interested in traveling more and think that living on the road would be beneficial, I just want to give you one big piece of advice: Don't make two big stressful life changes at the same time. Making big changes to your business, that will potentially lower your income AND moving your life into a vehicle are two giant changes that will likely cause you way more stress than necessary if you do them at the same time. This is just me, but I'd recommend giving yourself some time to push for travel first, then once you've established yourself, and once you find yourself traveling more for work, then look into the second big life change.
If this is your goal, all the basic principles in this article apply exactly the same. Start slow, and eventually you can definitely get there! For a little more info on van life and being a photographer, check out these interviews we've done:
THE LEGAL STUFF
I received a lot of questions about the logistics of moving your business to a new state or country, paying taxes when you travel and shoot in different locations, getting visas, etc. But honestly I'm not the person to ask. Every country and state has different procedures and laws, so you'll need to contact the local government branch for information on registering your business, registering for taxes, charging sales tax, etc. I'm not qualified to give legal advice, so I'm not going to! But what I can say is that it may seem like an impossible feat, but just take it step by step. I had to do a LOT of paper work multiple times, when I moved to CA, and then afterwards when I moved into a van. It's a pain, but it's just paperwork and once you're done, you're done!
ONE LAST THING
I do want to add one more thing about traveling. Getting to traveling to shoot is great because you get to see new places and meet new people, but just remember it's not as glamorous as it might look on instagram, and it's definitely not for everyone. You need to have the right attitude and expectations. It can be super stressful having to deal with so many external factors (flights getting canceled, transportation, hotels, etc) and many more things can go wrong. You'll need to do a lot more preparation, plan for more potential issues, spend a lot of time in airports, be super flexible, potentially spend lots of lonely nights in a hotel in the middle of nowhere, etc. Because of all of this, traveling is definitely not for everyone, so make sure you're prepared and have realistic expectations! For me, its worth it, especially since I deal with flying a lot less now that I live in a van, but it just may not be for everyone! I can't tell you how many photographers I know that are trying to do the opposite now: trying to book more local weddings and close up their travel markets, because traveling has taken them away from their families and from spending their time the way they prefer. So weigh all those factors before you decide that you want to be away from home that often!
Whether you're moving to a new location or just wanting to shoot in different locations, I hope this helped!