Vendor relationship opportunities can easily be overlooked but can greatly change your business. My first year as a full-time photographer was the slowest year in my business. In order to be able to fully support myself with my business during this time was not an easy endeavor. My lifeline became the relationships I built within the industry. I spent a lot of energy establishing partnerships with vendors and industry peers and it greatly (and quickly) influenced my business.
Here are three easy steps you can start taking now to help build vendor relationships:
1 – Connect with vendors via email and invite them to grab coffee/lunch.
One of my goals during my first year in business was to connect with one new vendor every month. I reached out to vendors whom I admired as well as vendors that were in a similar place in their business as I was. If you can find vendors that have been in business for the same amount of time as you, or who have a similar background as you, it is likely that they are experiencing the same challenges as you, and that can create good opportunities for dialogue. I also think it is important to find businesses that have a similar style to me. For example, I am an outdoor, natural light, wedding photographer, so I do not normally reach out to planners that focus largely on ballroom weddings. This type of wedding is really beautiful and I fully respect their work, but our styles, businesses, and ideal clients are very different.
I would begin by sending an email to introduce myself. I would share a little about my business and comment on why I found their work inspiring. It is important to be genuine with your message. I would extend an offer to meet them for coffee or lunch. Try not to be discouraged if not everyone responds. In my experience, only about half of the vendors I contacted would be receptive to meeting with me. For those vendors that realized the mutual benefit of getting together, I would always attempt to schedule our meeting at the most convenient time and location for them. After all, I was the one reaching out to them and they were doing me the favor by meeting with me. It is important to value the time they are spending with you.
I have built some really amazing and beneficial vendor relationships in this way. I still keep in contact and work with many of these vendors on a regular basis.
GOAL: Create and build your network.
ACTION: Reach out to a vendor you have worked with in the past and invite them to lunch!
BONUS: Create opportunities for word-of-mouth referrals!
2 – Write “Thank You” notes.
This is so simple but so meaningful. I am a stationery lover at heart. I write “Thank You” notes to everyone every chance I get. It is an easy way to show your appreciation and a much more effective way than a simple email. After photographing a wedding, I generally try to send a “Thank You” note to all of the vendors I personally interacted with (including my assistant!) As a photographer, I can easily include a few prints of their work to make the note extra special. It is always a great feeling to be recognized and appreciated for your hard work.
I took this method a step further and created a few branded “Thank You” postcards with a photo I snapped on the front. The next time I see these vendors, they always remember and thank me for the card!
I follow this tip with my wedding clients as well. I try to write “Thank You” notes to all of my clients after meetings and sessions. It is important to always be genuine in your “Thank You” notes because you want the client to understand the value of their business. I have never used a generic message and I always include specific details as to why I am thankful for them!
GOAL: Maintain an existing relationship.
ACTION: Write a genuine “Thank You” note today!
BONUS: Get to use exciting stationery!
3 – Remember names and use them.
How often do you meet someone and immediately forget their name? It used to happen to me all of the time! I go out of my way to learn any vendor’s names before attending an event and then I use them. Calling a vendor by their name helps to build an instant connection. However, be advised! It is critical that you call the vendor by their correct name. I have a pretty common name: Laura. Yet, I get called “Lauren” about half of the time at events. My relationship with other vendors doesn’t necessarily suffer when this happens, but I definitely remember and have a greater appreciation for those that call me by my correct name.
Before a wedding, I memorize the names of the members of the wedding party and of the bride and groom’s immediate family. It is a game-changer when you walk into a bridal suite and already know the names of the occupants. It also helps you to connect with everyone on a more personal level.
GOAL: Build a personal relationship with a vendor and make everyone you interact with feel extra special.
ACTION: Try to memorize a few names at your next networking event or “Tuesdays Together” meetup (this is even easier if your group uses name tags!)
BONUS: Exceed the expectations of your clients!
Hopefully, with these steps you can start to build and create better vendor relationships and in return, help your business grow! Do you have any additional tips that you are currently using? I would love to hear them! Please leave a comment and share!