Are you taking advantage of the referral network in your area? Are you linked into other photographers who are sharing their leads?
Every job that I can't take, I give to someone who can. About 50% of the clients who contact me are actually referred to another photographer because I'm already booked. I feel like I've disappointed a client by telling them I'm not available, so I want to make sure that I'm referring them to someone who IS available. Going out of my way to provide this extra service to clients insures that they will be taken care of and that their future referrals will stay in my referral network.
I wanted an easy way to know who was available. In the past, I had to visit several different websites or email photographers just to make sure I wasn't sending the client to a dead end. How depressing for a client to be rejected twice in a row! But now all I have to do is check my calendar online and I can see the availability of many different photographers all at once! I can easily see who is and isn't potentially available, making it quick and easy for me to send a referral onto the client. I'm 10 time more likely to refer someone who is linked to my calendar over someone who's not linking their calendar to mine. The important part of sharing calendars online is that it is quick and easy to make a referral.
This is a win-win-win situation. The client wins because they get great service from me and they find another great photographer to work with who will take care of them. The other photographer wins because they get a highly qualified lead that has a greater chance of hiring them based on personal referral and a new urgency to book soon. I win because I have just kept a potential client in my network of friends, knowing that future referrals from that client may come directly back to me! This is why your biggest competitor should also be your best friend- especially if their style is most similar to your own. The more people you connect with, the more you will see that there's plenty of work for everyone.
If you're already part of a local photographer's group, than you already have a great group of people to help you start a shared calendar network. If you don't have a local photographer's group, or would like to start sharing with another photographer in your area whom you've never met, I suggest making your first contact with that photographer a request to send business to them. You have to be willing to give referrals, not just receive them, in order to have a strong network. If they aren't sure about the idea, send them the link to this post. ;-) While most referrals will be shared with people who have a similar style and pricing, it never hurts to link with people who are above or below your price or who have a different style in the event that the client would be much better suited to someone different from you.
I've tried several different calendar sharing solutions and I've found Google Calendar to be the easiest cross-platform solution to use, with options for syncing to your cell phone, ipod, outlook, and ical. It also has an incredible amount of privacy protection allowing you to show full details or just availability, and to make it public or only available to those you invite to view it. To link into other photographers already using this network, first set up your calendar.google.com by importing your photography calendar from a program you already use, or by entering the information manually. Once you're ready to make your calendar available to others, simply add their email to your shared calendars list! Then, to keep your google calendar update without any effort on your part, use Spanning Sync to update it for you whenever you change your ical.
I hope that you find this useful - maybe in the future I'll add a video tutorial on using google calendar, but for now I really just wanted you to start setting up a referral network with the other photographers in your area!! This is a great time to get started since your 2008 calendar is likely to still be young in its development!
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