Starting off your second full operating year in wedding photography nearly booked solid sounds about as unlikely as it does a dream for many aspiring photographers. Yet this is very much the reality for Cleveland wedding photographer Hunter Harrison. Consider too that he was not classically trained, aside from being a lifelong photography hobbyist. Then again, not many casual hobbyists build a proper dark room, including running water, at age 12. A few years ago, Hunter’s photography bug transformed into a full-fledged aspiration.
Starting off in an over-saturated market
When close friends insisted Hunter shoot their weddings, the pieces started to fall into place. Hunter became instantly ravenous for everything wedding industry. In his first year he shot a couple of weddings, and in his second year he shot 24. For the upcoming year, he booked enough weddings to leave his day job and become a fulltime photographer.
The northeast Ohio market is larger than one might think, with nearly 2.5 million people living in the Cleveland area. There are many ways to dive into a new market, but Hunter’s tech knowledge inspired him to take a unique approach. As he was starting to market himself, Hunter noticed that a significant number of people were searching Google for their specific suburbs – not greater Cleveland. Yet, most photographers in the market were aligning themselves with Cleveland. So he decided to keyword himself as a wedding photographer for his suburb of Lakewood and a neighboring one called Rocky River.
His hunch paid off. Many of his initial clients were looking for someone in the neighborhood, even if they weren’t planning on getting married there. In fact, many clients would end up having their weddings in Cleveland. Once Hunter started building his portfolio and blog, he would keyword the posts with Cleveland and has since risen up the Google search ranks as a Cleveland wedding photographer. In many ways, starting small helped him leap up faster to a bigger market.
Building a business on-brand
Since expanding to a larger market, Hunter has continued to maintain a neighborly approach to his business. He invites all clients to his home to review wedding proofs in person, to create a more familiar customer service experience. He also shares a Google calendar with colleagues in his market. If he has a fantastic bride but is already booked or she isn’t quite the right fit for his brand, he always tries to refer her to one of these colleagues. This fosters not only a spirit of cooperative competition, but a community among Cleveland photographers.
Another key turning point for Harrison’s business was paying for a re-brand. Through a recommended consultant, Harrison streamlined the look, the philosophy, even the name of his business. He had a specific target in mind of highly educated, independent adults with exciting personalities that an observer would call “an extraordinary couple.” With the help of his consultant, he was able to build a brand that spoke directly to his desired clients.
From SEO to word of mouth
The secret to his success is creating an experience in which his clients walk away feeling as though they received a gift. From the client packet with a tag and a bow, to buying a wine-loving couple a bottle of Veuve Clicquot for their engagement shoot to an unusually generous complimentary archival presentation box of 4 x 6 proofs of every single wedding image as part of the base package – Harrison’s brand touches every aspect of his business.
Like many wedding photographers, the majority of Hunter’s business comes from personal referrals. The key to good word of mouth is of course a good impression. His advice to newcomers is not to fear mistakes, but recognize that they will happen. The best thing to do is embrace the mistake, address how to rectify it and then do that as quickly as possible. That is what actually makes good customer service great. And memorable.
- Consider seeking out potentially untapped markets and neighborhoods, instead of jumping right into the biggest one.
- Invest in your brand, because the upfront cost will likely pay off in the long run.
- Do not let mistakes get in the way of excellent customer service.