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How to Find Your Ideal Client

Here at ShootDotEdit, we love to provide wedding photography editing services to pro photographers. We also love to share valuable tips and tricks to help you grow your business. This includes how to use marketing to book more clients. Marketing for your photography business allows you to place your images in front of ideal clients who are looking for a photographer. To help you learn more about your ideal clients, we reached out to Heidi Thompson of Evolve Your Wedding Business to gain her insights into the topic.

heidi thompson headshot

Heidi Thompson is the author of Clone Your Best Clients and the founder of Evolve Your Wedding Business, where she specializes in business and marketing strategy for wedding professionals. She helps wedding professionals grow their businesses and reach their goals without going crazy in the process. Her business and marketing expertise has been featured on several wedding and business outlets. This includes The Huffington Post, Social Media Examiner, Wedding Business Magazine, Sprouting Photographer, Photo Biz Xposed, Honeybook, and WeddingWire World. She is also an advisory board member for the UK Academy Of Wedding & Event Planning.

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How to Find Your Ideal Client

A lot of photographers have a fluid idea of a nonexistent, amorphous client they sort of know who they maybe want to work with. But it’s vital to have an exact target. Not only because it helps them find you, but because it helps you find them.

An engagement session black and white image with the groom holding the bride on his back.

Image by ShootDotEdit Wedding Pro, Woodland Fields

If you’re shooting a bow and arrow, and you don’t know where the target is, chances are you’re not going to hit the target. But if you know where the target is, it suddenly becomes so much easier to hit it. That’s what happens when you hone in on who your ideal client is, exactly.

Many wedding photographers say:

“I know who my ideal client is; they’re a fun couple between 20 and 35 who do not have time to plan their wedding and can afford to pay my prices.”

At face value, it appears this photographer has defined and identified their ideal target market and client. It covers the basic attributes. They’re fun, they fit within the desired age range, they don’t have time so that’s the problem they’re looking to solve, and they’re willing to pay your prices because they value what you do.

People Aren’t Demographics

There’s an enormous problem with that, though. People aren’t demographics. There are a lot of different types of people who fall into that “between 20 and 35 years old, doesn’t have time, can afford to pay my prices” group. So, is your 30-year-old a Walmart shopper or would she never be caught dead there? Is your 30-year-old covered in tattoos and loves artistic, creative things, or is she the total opposite?

Everyone is Different

As you can see, there are a lot of different types of people in any given demographic. Every person wants, values, and cares about different things. But, when you go into investigator mode and look for marketing intel, you can find the patterns that connect your ideal photography clients. From there, you can use what you learn in your marketing and attract more and more of these people to you. Here are 3 ways to get valuable marketing intel on your ideal clients.

Look at Your Reviews

Marie Burns Holzer is a wedding officiant who went through my process of getting laser-focused on her ideal client. When she was honing in on her ideal client, it occurred to her she should look to see what the couples she loved working with most said about her in their reviews.

Why? Because one of the qualities she knew she wanted in a client was that they would rave about the service she offered.

Marie started going through all of her reviews on Yelp, Facebook, WeddingWire, and The Knot to see what they had in common. A vision became clear. Her couples often don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to planning their perfect wedding ceremony, but they want a wedding that is personal and fun. They are often spiritual but not religious or are an interfaith couple. Before she knew it, she had 3 ideal client types that she could use to categorize her favorite couples! Since gaining clarity on who these people are, over 80% of her clients fit into one of these three ideal couple types. And, as a result, she is a lot happier in her work.

A Quick Reflection

Knowing how to identify her ideal clients was a big change for Marie. Like many wedding professionals, she started with basically anyone who would book her. She now looks back and reflects.

“I remember when you first started talking about your ideal client, and a light bulb just went off! I couldn’t believe that I had just been throwing my net hoping to catch anything without realizing how ineffective that was.

It also resonated with me because I was listening to you teach this while I was driving home from a wedding that was the opposite of my ideal client. I didn’t feel connected to the couple, and while they seemed happy enough with the ceremony, I felt empty when I left their celebration, which is NOT how I normally leave a wedding.

I was upset and listening to you tell me that I needed to target my ideal client specifically was revelatory!”

When you look back at your reviews, think about who the people were that wrote them. What are they like as people? What did you talk about aside from the service you provided? What do they have in common?

Related: How do you create a win with client referrals? Are you using these 5 ways?

Analyze Brands Ideal Clients Love

Study the sites your dream client loves to see what’s popular, what they’re writing about, and how they’re marketing. If you know your ideal bride buys 90% of her clothing from Nordstrom, although that’s not directly related to weddings, we’re looking at her as a whole person, so it most certainly matters. Visit the Nordstrom site and observe how are they talking about the products that they’re selling. What makes them so appealing? What language are they using? Suddenly, by playing investigator, you can pull from these other areas of their lives to use in your marketing to help you learn how to find your ideal client.

A screenshot of Nordstrom's homepage with a girl wearing a blue top with a long gold necklace.

I recently gave a presentation on this topic to a group of wedding professionals. One of them perked up and said, “I’m so happy you said that because I know that every single bride I work with is a huge Kate Spade fanatic.” If you’re not familiar, Kate Spade makes high-end handbags and accessories. So, suddenly she knew exactly where to look for inspiration on the tone and messaging for her brides.

If you don’t know what brands your clients love, ask them. You can also refer to your Audience Insights in the Facebook Ads Manager to see what other pages your fans like.

Interview Your Best Clients

It may sound scary, but by asking your best clients questions and listening, you can uncover marketing gold that will help you in your goal of learning how to find your ideal client.

I’m going to give you some questions to ask during the interview, but your job is to be an investigator. Think about the way T.V. investigators, inspectors, and detectives handle things when they’re doing an investigation. They ask a lot of questions and based on the information they receive, they ask follow-up questions.

Interviewing is about listening and digging for more information. For this interview, you’re going to do a lot more listening than you are talking. You’re going to ask a question, and then you’re going to shut up and listen intently.

two women sitting down with their elbows on the table, along with a paper, two pens, and glasses.

Questions to Ask

There are a lot of different questions you can ask for a lot of different reasons. I go into those in my book, Clone Your Best Clients, but these will get you started:

  • We all geek out on something, what do you geek out about?
  • How would your best friend or your partner describe you? (This is an especially good one because it requires people to step outside their normal frame of reference for themselves.)
  • How did you find me?
  • Where did you look for your wedding vendors?
  • What made you choose to work with me instead of another X?
  • Why did you decide to go with <whatever product or service they purchased>?

Related: Are you creating lasting relationships with vendors to increase referrals? Take a look at these 5 tips to encourage vendor referrals for your photography business!

Marketing is based on psychology. These questions will give you insight into how this person makes decisions and why they do what they do. Understanding that is going to show you what you need to do to learn how to identify your ideal client and attract them to your photography business. Your future clients will feel like you’re a mind reader, except you don’t have to read minds to do it.

Clone Your Best Clients

I know that getting inside the head of your ideal client can be hard work. That’s why I wrote Clone Your Best Clients. It’s a book that shows you how to better understand your very best clients and attract more clients just like them. If you want to work with more of your ideal clients and take the guesswork out of your marketing, this book is for you. Pick up your copy of Clone Your Best Clients here!

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BONUS: Finding Your Ideal Client

Heidi shared so many valuable insights on how to find your ideal client. We love the topic so much, we wanted to share additional insights to help you achieve your goal. In a past webinar, we connected with photography duo Jeff and Erin of The Youngrens to share some of their insights into finding your ideal client. Keep reading to learn more.

5 Steps to Find Your Ideal Client

Are you tired of shooting weddings that aren’t your style? Or working with clients that you don’t enjoy? There’s nothing more difficult than feeling dragged down by your business or dreading your shoots because you don’t connect with your clients or they don’t connect with you. It’s hard feeling unknown, unappreciated, or simply disconnected from your clientele and your art.

I strongly believe that every photographer has a unique client type that is perfectly suited for them. We talk about it all the time in the wedding and portrait photography industry. Your target audience, your perfect bride, the right clientele. All different ways to talk about the same thing, which is your ideal client. We talk about it because it’s important. In fact, I believe it’s critical to running a sustainable business that you enjoy. When you work with your ideal clients, the job becomes incredibly fulfilling. It reminds you of why you chose this profession in the first place – your art and your freedom.

When Jeff and I discovered our ideal clients in the first few years of shooting and began to intentionally shape our business around our favorite couples, our business transformed from a day-to-day job into a fulfilling artistic endeavor.

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Anyone Can Do It

The good news is that anyone can do this. And the even better news is that you are so unique, your ideal client profile is completely different from the ideal client profiles of any other photographers. The not-so-good news is that I can’t help you find your ideal client in a single blog post. The most important tasks in your business are ones that don’t come easy, right? (Check out more resources on Discovering Your Ideal Client at the end of this post).

What I CAN do, though, is put you on the right path. Here are 5 solid steps that will help you learn how to find your ideal client, and if you only work through these steps and do nothing else, you will already be ahead of the game!

1. Write Down Your Favorite Past Clients

Write down 3 to 5 of your absolute favorite past clients. If you have more than five, write them down too – the more, the better! (If you are just getting started and don’t have past clients to work with, write down friends, family, or acquaintances that you would LOVE to photograph if you got the chance.)

Related: Are you thinking about the experience you provide for clients? Find out why you need to get more photography clients!

2. Were They…?

Next to each one of those favorite clients, write down the letters P, C, and/or R next to each client based on the criteria below (you may write down one of the letters next to a favorite client, or you may write all three letters next to a certain name):

  • (P) = Were they Profitable? Did they pay you what you asked? I don’t mean ‘did they paid you the most’ – just note if they paid you your asking price, no questions asked.
  • (C) = Did you Connect? Did you connect with them personally and/or creatively? Did their wedding inspire you as an artist? Did you feel alive working with them?
  • (R) = Do they Refer you? Have they talked about you to their friends OR are they part of an ideal network to which you would like to market?

3. Focus on Your Ideal Past Clients

Look at your past clients that have two or more letters next to their name. These are the ones that are truly ideal, and you should focus your energies on them when fleshing out your target market. This is a key step to include in your process of how to find your ideal client.

The next step is to ask yourself a number of questions about these past clients, and a fuzzy picture will begin to develop of your ideal client: What was it that you liked in particular about these clients? Their style? Their values? Their personalities?

Write down as much as you can about what you loved about them, and circle commonalities if they appear. This process is valuable to help you learn how to identify your ideal client.

A notebook on a white surface with 3 pens, including 2 blue and one black.

4. Dream About Your Future Ideal Client

Set aside your past favorite clients for a moment, because the next step is to dream about your ideal client. This is where you get to infuse your wants and desires into your target market. What characteristics, styles, or values do you want your ideal client to have that maybe your current clients haven’t demonstrated? Write them down underneath your past favorite clients as a new dream client.

Related: Take a look at 3 wedding pros who turned their clients into lifelong referral sources!

5. Keep Refining

The last step is to hang this piece of paper next to your desk for you to reference, modify, develop, and refine. The more you work at this profile, the more valuable and beneficial it will become in helping you with how to find your ideal client.

There is a lot more you need to do in order to develop an in-depth ideal client profile, but this is a great first step in the process! Jeff and I actually helped photographers discover their ideal clients over the course of a two-day workshop called Discover Your Ideal Client, and that was just the beginning of their journeys.

We Are All Weird

Seth Godin wrote a book in 2011 called We Are All Weird about the end of mass marketing and the beginning of a niche economy.

In this book, he redefines two words in a really interesting way – “weird” and “rich.” Seth uses the word “weird” as a way to describes our habits. He says that we all make specific choices about how we spend our time and our money. He also says we are getting even more specific about these choices in recent years.

Know Consumer Wants

Consumers, particularly millennials, want more and more niche products that have unique stories and creative uses. We want craft coffees, craft beers, craft cupcakes, and craft food. We want meaningful products that make our world better or that serve meaningful purposes. Seth describes these individual decisions as our particular “weirds.” For example, if you choose organic lettuce at the grocery store instead of regular lettuce, Seth would say that you are making a “weird” decision.

The New Definition of ‘Rich’

As we all know, the second word Seth Godin redefines – ‘rich’ – has many connotations associated with it, but Seth redefines it in a very useful way. Seth defines ‘rich’ as the freedom and ability to make choices about the way in which one lives. If you have food, shelter, and safety, and you can decide what kind of shelter in which you would like to live or what kind of food you would like to eat, then you are rich, according to Seth, even if those choices are relatively limited.

Specific Example

Let’s apply this to wedding photography. In San Diego, I would argue that a couple has a variety of photographers and styles to choose from when their budget is above $1,500. They have the ability to pick a photographer based on style and personality, and not just based on price. If they have less than $1,500 to spend on wedding photography, then their choice has to be motivated almost exclusively by price versus style or personality, since there are much fewer photographers in that price range.

With that in mind, if you charge more than $1,500 for your wedding photography services, then your clients are rich. It may not feel like it all of the time… but they are. I promise! They are making their photography decision based on style, values, and personality as well as price.

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What If I’m Not Rich?

So how does this relate to the ideal photography client conversation? One of the most common questions I get when I coach photographers on discovering their ideal clients is this:

“How am I supposed to relate to my clients if my ideal clients are usually richer than I am?”

The answer to that question is to redefine what you mean by the word “rich.” If we’re using Seth Godin’s definition and you yourself are able to make decisions about the way you live, then you are rich just like your clients. You have ‘weird’ habits just like your ideal clients have “weird” habits. You both make decisions about what you buy and how you spend your time, and those decisions are based on a set of value systems that you both share. So what you need to focus on instead of wealth is what kinds of “weirds” and values you share with your ideal clients.

In short, you don’t have to be rich in order to serve high-end, wealthy clientele, but you DO need to understand why they spend their money the way they do. You need to understand their VALUES.

Understand Their Values

For example, does your ideal client seem to spend a lot of money on wine but not on electronics? Do they tend to spend money on big houses but drive an economical car? Do they spend money on lavish vacations but rent a small condo? Will they spend money on movies but not on fancy restaurants? Do they spend money at vintage stores but won’t shop at the mall because it’s too corporate?

These are all examples of different “weirds” that are driven by underlying values, and understanding why these kinds of decisions are being made is what we’re trying to do when we’re creating an ideal client profile.

Related: Create True Believers for your photography business and watch your referrals skyrocket!

Do I Need to Act Rich?

A second common question that quickly follows the first one is:

“Do I need to act rich? Do I need to buy a designer purse or get a black Land Rover because all of my clients have them?”

My simple answer to this question is a flat NO. If you wouldn’t ever buy a Land Rover or wear designer clothes in the first place, then you definitely shouldn’t start buying them just to impress your ideal clients. It can easily come across as fake and disingenuous. People can smell that kind of inauthenticity from a mile away. You will most like turn OFF your ideal clients instead of turning them on.

Instead, think about fitting in with your ideal clients versus matching them. If you were invited to a party that your ideal client is throwing, would you fit in with the rest of the guests? What kind of party would it be? A backyard BBQ? Rooftop cocktails? Beers in a dive bar? A home-cooked dinner in a traditional dining room?

Your Ideal Client

Remember that we’re talking about YOUR ideal client, not THE ideal client. These clients are ideal because you want to be around them, which means that you probably share similar interests and values. You should be able to easily get along with them, and fitting in shouldn’t be hard work.

Which brings me to my final (and incredibly important) point. If you’re finding that you need to act like something you’re not in order to attract or be around your ideal clients, then you’re not going after your true dream client. You’re going after a type of client that someone else has probably told you to go after. You need to rethink your ideal client profile and figure out who YOU love and enjoy, without the influence of others.

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When you discover how to find your ideal client, you set yourself up to book more who can help you grow your business. What else can you do to attract and book more wedding clients? Our Guide to Marketing for Wedding Photographers shares insights and techniques geared toward setting you up for success this year! Click the banner below to download your copy today.

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